Topeka — The Special Committee on Education met for two days and heard hours of testimony on school funding and student achievement, but not one word from anyone with the Kansas Department of Education.
"I find it odd that we have a Department of Education that doesn't have the time to speak with us," said Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park.
Chairwoman Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, said she invited Education Department officials to testify to the committee and was disappointed no one took her up on the invitation.
Instead, the committee heard from representatives of the Kansas Policy Institute, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Kansas Association of School Boards, and legislative staff.
State Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said she and other top administrators had scheduling conflicts that prevented them from talking to the committee. "All of our schedules were full," she said. DeBacker said Education Department officials received their invitation late last week to talk to the committee, which met Wednesday and Thursday.
But DeBacker said the Education Department's annual convention was held Monday through Wednesday in Wichita. Also on Wednesday was a meeting of the Council of Superintendents in Salina. And on Thursday, Education Department officials were in Eudora for a Teacher of the Year function.
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, and U.S. Reps. Tim Huelskamp and Lynn Jenkins, all of Kansas, rallied around approval of a $35.2 million federal grant to build a new middle school at Fort Riley. The grant was awarded as part of the Department of Defense Installations and Environment fund, according to a release from Roberts' office.
The Geary County school district will match a portion of the funding, $6.7 million, for a total of $41.9 million to demolish and build the new middle school on post.
The school’s groundbreaking is expected Jan. 22 with doors opening in 2014. The school will hold roughly 700 students.
"Last year, I toured the school, and it was clear it was in need of modernization and we had to address the overcrowding," Roberts said. "Men and women in uniform who protect and defend our nation, should not have to worry about the quality of the schools where they send their children,” he said.