Topeka Education Commissioner Bob Corkins on Thursday retreated from his plan to create a voucher system that would use state tax dollars to send certain students to private schools.
"Now is not the time for the state board to make a pronouncement on this issue," Corkins said. "This idea has not received the full public debate it needs before expecting the board to act on it."
Corkins, hired in October by a 6-4 majority on the State Board of Education, had pushed hard to get the board to recommend that the Legislature approve a voucher program.
But the proposal was slammed by education groups.
And last month, board member Ken Willard, a Republican from Hutchinson, who is part of the 6-4 majority, said he wouldn't vote for a voucher proposal after a number of school officials in his district told him it was a bad idea.
That would have made the vote 5-5 on vouchers. The issue had been on the board's agenda for its meeting Tuesday, but it will now be withdrawn.
Education board member Bill Wagnon, a Democrat from Topeka, whose district includes Lawrence, said Corkins was right to drop the voucher proposal.
"The whole idea of vouchers was a diversion of where we need to be in terms of our commitment to education," Wagnon said.
Mark Desetti, director of legislative and political advocacy for the Kansas National Education Assn. said the voucher proposal was "completely inappropriate."
Under the proposal, children with special needs or identified as at-risk of failing could have received state funds to enroll in private schools.
Corkins said he was trying to provide more school choices to meet students' needs.
But the private schools wouldn't have had to comply with the same state regulations as public schools, nor would they have been required to take all eligible students, the KNEA argued.
Desetti said Corkins' proposal stirred up bad feelings between public schools and the Education Board.
"He just came out swinging with a particular agenda, and it did frustrate educators. Pulling back is a good idea and may appease some people," Desetti said.
Though backing off the voucher plan, Corkins said he would ask the board to seek legislation aimed at establishing more charter schools.
Kansas has 26 of the schools, which are free of some state regulations and offer programs aimed at specific groups of students.
Currently, charter schools must be approved by local school boards. Corkins wants legislation that would allow charter school applicants to appeal to a state panel, if a local school board rejects the charter application.
Desetti said KNEA opposed the charter school proposal, too. He said Kansas charter schools were successful because they were held accountable by local school officials and that Corkins' measure would remove that accountability.