Topeka Republicans in the Kansas House introduced an education bill Thursday that would fully restore funding for poor districts.
But the bill also includes several policy changes favored by conservatives. Those include changes in teacher licensing requirements; opening more avenues for establishing charter school programs; doubling the number of districts that can exempt themselves from state regulations under the “public innovative districts” program; and setting up a new “performance and efficiency commission” to study ways of reducing education costs.
Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the panel would begin discussing that bill Monday.
Meanwhile, the Senate Ways and Means Committee is expected to begin discussing its own bill Friday. And while details of that bill were not yet available late Thursday, committee chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, has said it will also link increased funding to new policy initiatives.
The two committees had planned to begin debating proposals Thursday, but leaders pushed back the timetable in order to finish drafting their initial bills.
The House bill introduced Thursday includes language from other education bills that had been introduced previously this session. They are packaged together with an appropriations bill that adds an additional $104 million in “equalization aid” to subsidize the local option budgets of lower-wealth school districts.
It also strikes language in an existing statute that prevents the state from transferring general fund money into another fund to equalize local districts’ capital outlay levies — money they raise to pay for new computers and equipment, building maintenance and repair and other big-ticket items. That would free up about $25 million in state aid to flow to districts that qualify for that aid.
If that funding is enacted, the Lawrence school district would receive about $1 million in additional state aid for its LOB, but that would not give the district any additional spending authority. Instead, it would replace money currently being raised through local property taxes, allowing the district to lower its tax levy by about $1 million, or $23 per year in tax for the owner of a $100,000 house.
The source of at least part of that money would come from changes the bill would make in funding for at-risk pupils and transportation aid.
The Lawrence district does not qualify for capital outlay equalization aid.
The other policy measures bundled into the House bill include:
• Doubling, from 29 to 58, the number of school districts that can become exempt from most state regulations if they offer a plan showing how doing so will help them improve student performance.
• Establishing a nine-member “K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission” whose job would be to “study and analyze current K-12 school district spending and make recommendations to the Legislature regarding opportunities to make more efficient use of taxpayer money.”
• Loosening requirements for people to obtain teaching licenses in certain academic fields and for people who already hold valid teaching licenses from other states.
• Expanding charter schools by authorizing cities, counties and higher education institutions to establish charter schools. Currently, only local school districts can establish them, with approval from the Kansas State Board of Education.
• And establishing a corporate scholarship tax credit program that would offer tax credits to businesses that contribute to scholarships for lower-income students to attend private or parochial schools.