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Committees act on local elections; discuss teacher licensing

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Topeka - A Senate committee today advanced a bill that would change the election cycle so that school board, city government and other municipal elections would be held in November of even-numbered years so they would coincide with state and federal elections.

But the panel agreed not to include a provision that had been considered earlier to make those races partisan elections.

Currently, those elections are held in April of odd-numbered years, with the primaries being held in February.

Supporters of the bill hope it will increase voter turnout, which is typically very low. In the municipal elections held last April in Douglas County, for example, voter turnout was only 16.58 percent of registered voters.

Opponents, however, say they're concerned that races for school boards and city commissions will get drowned out in the advertising blitzes that usually accompany races for president, governor and Congress.

The Lawrence school board has expressed vocal opposition to changing the election cycle. Among other things, members note that the bill would make their terms of office begin in January - in the middle of an academic year. School board terms currently begin and end on July 1, which is the start of the their fiscal year.

The bill started out as a Senate bill, but the committee put the contents of it into a House bill - a process known around the statehouse as a "gut-and-go." That means if it passes the full Senate, the House could simply concur in the Senate amendments without sending it through another round of committee hearings on the House side. The bill is now known as Senate Substitute for House Bill 2141.

Teacher licensure: Education lobby groups that normally agree on most issues that come through the statehouse took opposite sides today on a bill that would loosen some requirements for getting a teacher's license.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing today on Senate Bill 430, which would exempt certain people from having to earn a college degree in education to obtain a license. Specifically, it would exempt:

• Those who already hold a license from another jurisdiction and who pass the required Praxis Series of tests.

• Those who hold an industry-recognized certificate in a technical profession and have at least five years of work experience in that field.

• And people who hold at least a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering or math - the so-called STEM fields - and have at least five years of related work experience.

Both the Kansas Association of School Boards and United School Administrators of Kansas testified in favor of the bill, saying they have long supported more flexibility in licensing teachers. KASB added, however, that it thinks teachers admitted to the profession through alternate routes should be subject to more frequent performance evaluations and should have to be rated as "effective" or better in order to keep teaching.

But the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, opposed the bill.

KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti said the organization opposes any attempt to lower the standards for being admitted to the profession. While acknowledging there are shortages of qualified teachers in certain fields, and in certain parts of the state, he said the same is true for other professions, including doctors, but few people suggest lowering the standards to enter those fields.

The committee has not yet voted on whether to send the bill to the full Senate.

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