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Only three apply for 'innovative district' status
A new Kansas law that allows school districts to exempt themselves from most state regulations is attracting little interest so far, according to state officials.
According to Gov. Sam Brownback's office, only three districts have filed applications under the Coalition of Innovative Districts Act, a measure that, among other things, would allow those districts to exempt themselves from collective bargaining requirements and teacher tenure protections.
Districts must apply by Dec. 1 in order to be considered for the designation in the 2014-2015 school year.
The three districts that have applied so far are the Seaman school district north of Topeka, whose student enrollment this year is 3,928; Santa Fe Trail school district in Osage County, with 1,078 students; and the Sterling school district in Rice County, which has 504 students.
The bill was largely pushed by Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. It establishes a pilot program whereby up to 29 districts, or 10 percent of the state's total, can opt out of most state laws and regulations if they submit a plan showing how that would help them improve student performance.
The act itself does not specify which laws and regulations could be dispensed with, but it does spell out which ones could not. Those include the school finance formula, the Quality Performance Accreditation system and special education requirements, among others.
The bill passed the Legislature in early April on largely party-line votes, and Brownback signed it into law April 22.
Under the law, the Education Department has little say about granting or denying applications. The first two districts will be determined by the governor and the chairs of the House and Senate education panels. That would be Brownback, Abrams and House Education Committee chairwoman Rep. Kasha Kelley, also an Arkansas City Republican.
Thereafter, future applications are reviewed and approved by a Coalition of Innovative Districts Board, which includes one representative from each district that has already received the designation.
Lawrence school district officials announced early on that they had no interest in applying for the designation. Superintendent Rick Doll said at the time: “I don’t know what laws are keeping us from being innovative. I don’t agree with every part of every rule and regulation that governs school districts, but neither the legislators nor the governor asked practitioners on what this could be. We had no role in writing the law.”
The Kansas State Department of Education has also challenged the law. In June, it asked for an attorney general's opinion about whether it violates Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, which gives the State Board of Education authority over, "general supervision of public schools." But Attorney General Derek Schmidt has declined to issue an opinion, saying the issue is tied up with the school finance lawsuit still pending before the Kansas Supreme Court.