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ALEC-based charter school bill getting second chance

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Lawrence schools are on spring break this week, a fact that sparked some fear in the newsroom that there wouldn't be much education news for a few days. But Kansas lawmakers appear to be picking up the slack.

Specifically, the Kansas Senate Education Committee worked through a pile of bills Monday, including one that would create new opportunities for establishing charter schools in Kansas.

Senate Bill 196, the Kansas Public Charter School Act, is nearly identical to a bill that the House Education Committee rejected last week. It's based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC is a conservative, free-market-oriented organization made up of legislators, corporations and foundations. It produces model legislation usually geared toward lowering taxes and reducing government regulation that has been introduced in statehouses around the country.

For those who aren't familiar with charter schools, they are a special type of school, usually set up within a public school district but operated independently, either by a private company, nonprofit organization or some other public entity. Most are exempt from some laws or regulations that govern traditional public schools.

Charter schools have been a favorite topic of conservatives for several years, for several reasons. Advocates tend to like the idea of injecting free-market competition into the public school system, breaking up what they see as a government monopoly on education funding. Charter schools also provide a testing ground for a fundamental free-market principle: the idea that removing the shackles of government regulations - including things like collective bargaining for teachers - will unleash innovative thinking and creative ideas that will improve education overall.

Critics, on the other hand, view charter schools skeptically. They say there is little evidence to suggest the schools perform any better than traditional schools when they deal with comparable student populations. And they fear that the charter school movement is really aimed at busting teachers' unions and channeling public education dollars to what are essentially private schools.

To date, Kansas has had a fairly limited charter school law. Public school districts are the only entities that can authorize a charter school. Many districts, including the ones in Lawrence and Topeka, have authorized their own. But outside organizations have to petition their local district and get permission to open one. And even then, the State Board of Education has the final say on approving the charters.

SB 196 would open up the process by giving the Kansas Board of Regents, cities and counties and the governing board of any public or private post-secondary institution the power to authorize a public charter school.

The State Board of Education would still have the final word in granting a charter, but the bill would greatly limit the board's discretion in making that decision.

The nugget of the bill, though, lies in two other key provisions.

One would provide a 100 percent tax credit for private contributions to a public charter school. That means that for every dollar donated to a charter school, the state general fund would have one less dollar with which to fund education and other state services.

The other is an almost blanket exemption from any state laws or regulations governing public schools, except those related to public health and safety, civil rights and nondiscrimination and handicapped accessibility. There would be no requirement for the charter schools to recognize teachers' unions.

Last week, an almost identical bill failed to win passage in the House Education Committee. But the Senate Education Committee is now working on its own version. The Senate panel was expected to vote on the bill Monday, but that vote has been delayed until Tuesday.

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  • Comments

    Mike Ford 1 year, 1 month ago

    Some religious nut school down by Ottawa is already getting alec or koch grants. I've dealt with their naive students already. I guess they have to teach brainwashing somewhere.

    4

    just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 1 month ago

    "ALEC is a conservative, free-market-oriented organization made up of legislators, corporations and foundations."

    They aren't interested in a "free market." They want government to be nothing more than a tool for corporations to shield themselves against any sort of scrutiny or restrictions from the general public, and to be held harmless for any damage they inflict.

    6

    weeslicket 1 year, 1 month ago

    anyway. dave trabertsy will be along any moment now to remind us.

    2

    chootspa 1 year, 1 month ago

    I think the bill is idiotic for many reasons, most of which have already been outlined in the article, but this struck me - private, for-profit higher education institutions can make their own charters under this? Wow.

    I could see an argument for allowing public higher education institutions to make a public charter if they wanted to run a lab school for student teaching. They could probably get clearance for such a measure through the school board with no problems. I don't see any of them clamoring for a chance, but I could see the argument. Still a solution in search of a problem, but not crazy. They're still public institutions and would have an interest in public education.

    I don't like the idea of parochial schools getting public funds, and this comes dangerously close to that if private religious higher education institutions are able to set up publicly funded charters. It may not even be constitutional in this state.

    But private for-profits, which would be included under "any governing body of a public or private higher education institution" opens up the door for University of Phoenix Charter School - or worse . Any shady, fly-by-night for-profit can come and suck on the public education teat without the regulation and oversight we require of public schools. That's all sorts of messed up.

    Kansas: privatizing the profits and socializing the risks.

    6

    Greg Cooper 1 year, 1 month ago

    Here is what the KNEA (Kansas National Education Association) says about the bill:

    "•It allows corporations a 70% tax credit for "scholarships" of up to $8,000 for low income students with IEPs to attend a private school. (p 6, lines 5-16) •It creates yet another massive hole in the state budget - potentially a $10 million hole in revenue collections annually. This at the same time that the budget committees are proposing enormous reductions in post-secondary education funding and even the elimination of the state match for very low income families in the state's 529 college savings plan. (p 6, lines 21-22) •It provides a "benefit" for students on IEPs but again there is nothing to say the IEP must be implemented or followed at all. •It asserts that non-accredited schools are every bit as good as accredited schools. •It requires no reporting whatsoever on the performance of students granted such scholarships - there would be no accounting to the state of whether or not this program ever benefited even one student. •It does all of this at the same time the state has been found to be underfunding the public school system in Kansas and is about to enter mediation in an attempt to settle the Gannon lawsuit before going into further litigation. •It does this following year of cuts in funding to the public schools of Kansas."

    Is this what we want to do, Kansas? Is this how we want schools to operate?

    As if there were not enough crackpot, anti-education bills coming from the Statehouse, Alec and KPI, now we have to fight this?

    5

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