State education board to oppose nonstudents playing high school sports

? The Kansas State Board of Education said Monday it wants to clamp down on the practice of high schools recruiting athletes from home schools and private schools, and it plans to oppose a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would make such activities permissible.

Gary Musselman, executive director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, told the board that Senate Bill 60, which was introduced in the 2015 session, “is the biggest challenge on our horizon.”

“We’re educators first,” Musselman said while delivering the association’s annual report to the board. “We’re not entertainment. We’re not Parks and Recreation.”

Senate Bill 60 was introduced last year by the Senate Education Committee. It would provide that any student who is a resident of a school district must be allowed to participate in any activities the school district offers, regardless of whether the student attends a school in that school district full time.

It passed the Senate in February, 30-9, and was sent to the House for consideration. It was never acted upon by the House Education Committee, but it remains alive for the 2016 session.

It was intended to benefit home-school students whose families still pay taxes to their local public schools, even though they don’t send their children to those schools.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, spoke in favor of the bill during a House committee hearing, along with many parents who home-school their children. According to the minutes of that meeting, Knox argued that rural areas have few opportunities available outside the public school system for parents of students not enrolled in the public schools on a full-time basis.

But Musselman argued that such a law would be similar to requiring state universities to allow any college-age Kansan to play on their sports teams, even if they are not enrolled at the school.

State board member Deena Horst, R-Salina, said she has heard repeated concerns, none of which she could confirm, that some high schools have been recruiting students from home schools or small private schools by allowing them to enroll in just one class per day.

Musselman acknowledged that is a concern, but he said the Kansas association lacks the resources to investigate such claims.

“Unlike some of my colleagues in other states, I have never hired a private investigator to go sit on a kid’s house,” Musselman said. “Sometimes, I wish I could.”

Later in the meeting, board Chairman Jim McNiece, R-Wichita, said that should be one of the nonbudget issues that the board takes to the Legislature next year.

“It was pretty far-reaching,” McNiece said of the bill.

On other issues, board member Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, said the board should take a stand on a proposal aimed at preventing conflicts of interest on local school boards by barring anyone from serving on a local board if he or she works for a company that does business with the district, is employed by another district, or has a sibling or parent who is employed by any district in the state.

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis told the board that the bill, House Bill 2345, was halted by legislative leaders last year and will probably undergo major revisions before it’s considered next year.

And Horst said she wants to urge lawmakers to provide additional funding and resources for guidance counselors, which she said will be critical to meeting the new vision for education that Commissioner Randy Watson unveiled last month.