Archive for Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Education department challenges ‘innovative districts’ law

June 12, 2013


The Kansas State Department of Education is questioning whether state lawmakers usurped the agency's authority under the Kansas Constitution by passing a law known as the "Coalition of Innovative Districts Act."

That law sets up a separate board that has authority to grant exemptions for as many as 29 school districts from having to comply with most state laws and regulations governing public schools.

To qualify for an exemption, the districts have to submit a plan showing how they intend to use innovative measures to improve student achievement.

The agency is now seeking an attorney general's opinion about whether that law violates Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, which gives the State Board of Education authority over, "general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state," except functions delegated to the Board of Regents.

Related document

KSDE Request for AG Opinion ( .PDF )

The state board is the governing body over the Department of Education. The board hires the commissioner, who has day-to-day responsibility for managing the department.

"It's risky for us to do this," Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said today, acknowledging that if Attorney General Derek Schmidt sides with the Legislature on the issue, it could lead to more legislative action in areas that have traditionally been reserved for the state board.

According to Lawrence School Superintendent Rick Doll, there has been no discussion among local district officials or the Lawrence school board about applying for innovative district status.

Innovative schools law

House Bill 2319 was the idea of Sen. Steve Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

It sets up a process whereby school districts can operate as a "public innovative district," which would be exempt from most state laws and regulations by submitting a plan to improve student achievement.

It passed the Legislature in early April and was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback on April 22.

The law also sets up a separate board called the Coalition of Innovative Districts to review and approve the applications. At first, the board would consist of the governor and the chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees. Those would be Brownback, Abrams, and Rep. Kasha Kelley, who is also an Arkansas City Republican.

If the coalition board approves the application, it would then go to the State Board of Education which would be required to review and approve it within 90 days, as long as it meets the requirements set out in the bill.

But agency officials say it's not entirely clear which laws and regulations would be waived under the bill. That's because all innovative districts would still have to comply with the Quality Performance Accreditation Act, part of which says that in order to be accredited a district must comply with all other laws and regulations.

Karen Godfrey, president of the Kansas National Educaton Association, the state's largest teachers union, said there is concern that some districts may try to use the law to exempt themselves from collective bargaining requirements, although she said she has not heard of any districts considering that yet.

"The ability of teachers to talk to their districts about working conditions is very important to our members," Godfrey said.

Constitutional tug-of-war

The current language about education was adopted in a constitutional amendment that Kansas voters approved in 1966. Since then, many observers say, there has been an almost constant tug-of-war between the state board and the Legislature over who has the ultimate power to set education policy in the state.

in 1973, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the powers of the state board are "self-executing," meaning that the board does not need any further authority from the Legislature to carry out its functions.

Three times since then — in 1974, 1986 and 1990 — the Legislature has proposed constitutional amendments to rein in the state board's power, but voters in the state rejected all three.

The tension came to a head again this year because of the innovative districts law, as well as a failed attempt by the Legislature to block the state board from adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, action the board finalized this week.

In the letter requesting an attorney general's opinion, the agency argues that the law usurps the state board's authority under the constitution by granting the coalition board and individual districts authority to decide which laws and regulations they will comply with.

Education news
Have a story idea?
Contact Journal-World education reporter Elliot Hughes:


yourworstnightmare 4 years, 7 months ago

"Public Innovative District" means we don't have to teach anything that conflicts with our christian ideology, such as the science of evolution and climate.

More attempts by the christian right to dumb down science education so that it doesn't conflict with their religious beliefs and so that their children won't be exposed to modern science and its methods and ideas.

Their methods are different than previous attempts at school board take-overs, but their goals are the same. Teach only the science that doesn't conflict with their religious beliefs.

kansanbygrace 4 years, 7 months ago

I only take issue with allowing these people who are extremists to pollute the image of Christians. Some of them may be Christians. They act, though, in a high and might way while demonstrating abysmal ignorance of many subjects.
I'm not so sure but that Jesus would/will say to them "I do not know you." for their insolence and disregard of those around them, to whom they are legally bound to be responsive, though they lord their position as if they were something they're not.

Greg Cooper 4 years, 7 months ago

I know it's rhetorical, but I ask: "Will this administration stop at nothing that attempts the destruction of free educational thought?"

I grew up in a family of educators, am trained as one, and have a right to speak to this issue. There is no reason for the legislature to attempt this usurpation of power and shoving of its ideology down the throats of the people of Kansas, other than that their jobs as legislators have been bought and paid for by the ultra-"conservative" (read: reactionary) money machines of the state. The idea that a bunch of citizens who have little to no training in educational methodology, let alone even higher education degrees, is laughable at best, and downright immoral at worst.

Voters who thought they were buying into a "smaller government" had better rethink their next vote. Those who thought the state was on its way to "fiscal conservatism" should, by now, see the direction as it is: more income and opportunity for those who already control the vast majority of Kansas dollars and less for the rest of us. And those who gave no thought to our kids and their futures in this state when they voted in this cabal had better take a long, strong look at the direction this state is headed.

Is the Kansas Legislature on a concerted crusade to destroy education in the name of "Christian values"? I honestly don't know. Is the concerted push into "social engineering" exhibited by the legislature bringing better lives to the majority of Kansas' citizens? Only time will tell. My opinion is that it seems as if education as we have known it is on the way out, and that the social lives of too many of Kansas's people are now not entirely their own.

Please, people, no matter your political persuasion, take a few minutes and really, truly think things through. If you really believe that the legislature, and the governor, have made our state better, by all means vote for them again. You have only the furure, and, from my viewpoint, it looks mighty dim for our children.

Dave Trabert 4 years, 7 months ago

It's sadly ironic that the Department of Education would challenge the law considering that quite a few local school districts are already making plans to take advantage of the opportunity.

Educators have complained for years about unnecessary regulations and restrictions that get in the way of educating children. The Innovative Districts Act gives a lot of educators the flexibility they want. It's a shame that KSDE is putting bureaucracy in the way of education.

Lefty54 4 years, 7 months ago

And right on cue the mouthpiece for the Koch brothers weighs in. My rule of thumb is- if the Koch brothers are for it then I'm against it.

chootspa 4 years, 7 months ago

Since it's a bill you or one of your ALEC colleagues probably hand crafted and handed to some sucker to introduce in the legislature, perhaps you can tell us exactly what regulations it exempts the schools from? They still have to comply with laws on finance, special education, and testing. They still have to comply with federal regulations.

So what exactly do you anticipate this will be used to exempt?

Paul Decelles 4 years, 7 months ago

Which educators Dave? What local school districts? Maybe the same ones who don't want the common core science standards...ya think?

oldexbeat 4 years, 7 months ago

It is sadly ironic that three professional politician with proven ugly and hateful attitutes towards the rational professional educators will want more and more power based on =- smaller government. Right. Smaller for the rightwing nuts; larger for the professional teachers. Name the districts, Dave. And name "quite a few" -- I'll be glad to check it out.

Alyosha 4 years, 7 months ago

Demonstrate the evidence for your claim that "quite a few local school districts are already making plans to take advantage of the opportunity."

Which districts specifically? What "plans" are they making, and to what end?

It's no shame that the KSDE is trying to uphold educational standards and regulations. If any teacher could teach whatever they like, regardless of its efficacy, folks will end up believing, and practicing, like Mr. Trabert here, that logical fallacies and unethical argumentation are acceptable civic practices. And that's not good for Kansas.

William Weissbeck 4 years, 7 months ago

Dave: do you care/dare to be specific about which districts or which regulations/rules they want to change. The legislative debate (almost none) was sadly lacking in illuminating reasons or a need for the law. It's one thing to legislate efficiency as a goal and purpose. Quite another to actually carry it out.

progressive_thinker 4 years, 7 months ago

The law actually increases the the amount of regulation and government bureaucracy that ALEC/Koch/Trabert so vehemently complain about.

deec 4 years, 7 months ago

Oh, look who's here defending the indefensible. I guess we know now who's REALLY behind the law.

chootspa 4 years, 7 months ago

He's part of ALEC. He probably wrote the law.

chootspa 4 years, 7 months ago

Oh, and the new process for bills to become law, in case anyone was unfamiliar

kansanbygrace 4 years, 7 months ago

The Bureaucracy Davey refers to is composed of the professionals who, until just a few years ago, had Kansas, including ESU, PSU, KU, in the very top of the educational institutions in the nation, and now, under the influence of these "people" have sunk us armpit deep with their unknowing and unsupportable opinions.

The Board of Education is the people who know, not these political hacks who have NO working experience nor earned knowledge in the field.

Yeah, I too have about half my adult life in various aspects of the education world, with operational involvement in many innovative and successful programs, many embraced nationwide, while these people have undercut them with their ideological NONSENSE.

kansanbygrace 4 years, 7 months ago

I'd like to clarify a foggy statement I made above. Just a few years ago, ESU was judged as among the very best teachers of teachers of public universities. PSU has also been highly ranked in schools of education. KU Special Education, in particular, has been in the very forefront for decades.

tomatogrower 4 years, 7 months ago

"To qualify for an exemption, the districts have to submit a plan showing how they intend to use innovative measures to improve student achievement." Or in other words, don't teach real science and make sure you tell them that the founding fathers ended slavery.

Shardwurm 4 years, 7 months ago

Based on these posts what I'm getting from the 'educators' is that as long as we give you more money you wouldn't care what the ideology behind it was. Right now the State spends over half its budget on education. Would you be satisfied if we spent 90 percent?

Would - say - an extra 50 billion dollars a year make you happy? I'll bet you wouldn't care if we had to have pictures of Jesus in every classroom if you could make $200,000 a year each and teach in luxury facilities.

Stop with the garbage. The Education Industry is about money. Period. You just embarrass yourself when you say anything otherwise.

Alyosha 4 years, 7 months ago

"The Education Industry is about money. Period. You just embarrass yourself when you say anything otherwise."

This would be a potentially interesting claim were you to be able, say, to provide evidence in support of it.

Saying something doesn't make it so.

If what you "get" from educators is "as long as we give you more money you wouldn't care what the ideology behind it was" then you're simply making things up, because I've never heard nor read any educator say any such thing.

One wonders what you have against educators such that you'd make up and spread slanderous overgeneral falsehoods about them as a class of people.

chootspa 4 years, 7 months ago

One wonders why educators are willing to work for 65% of the pay they'd get with the same education level and experience in other professions if they were just in it for the money.

chootspa 4 years, 7 months ago

I've known several people who left lucrative private sector jobs to start teaching.

palaytiasdreams 4 years, 7 months ago

I wonder how many of you that post on here actually have studied Common Core. Really truly looked into what is coming down the pipe for our KS schools? How many of you have ever stepped inside a KSBOE meeting and felt the hostility they hold toward the parents that go to speak up for their children on anything that isn't in the Board's best interest.
But when you have a Commissioner of Education who has a vote in policy decisions on the Smarter Balance, Common Core based testing consortium, as well as plays a part in the Science standards we just adopted, I say she's a bit biased in what we as a state are getting into.

Shouldn't learning be about being innovative? Shouldn't learning want to be about getting children excited? What's wrong with that? I think it will be interesting to see which schools do better. The CCSS aligned schools or the Innovative schools. What's the KSBOE afraid of?

chootspa 4 years, 7 months ago

But what does the standard say about ancient nordic mythological creatures that turn to stone in the sunlight?

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

Innovation and excitement are good things.

But, we also need to be sure that children are being educated well, and consistently.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.