School funding fix may get linked to teacher licensing, other policy changes

? The Senate budget committee plans to craft a bill that would tie additional funding ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court to other education policy issues, including loosening standards for teacher licensing.

Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said today that he hopes to pass one “education budget” that would bundle funding for public schools, an alternative licensing bill and possibly other education issues in a single bill.

“I think it’s better to attach any policy you do with funding for that area of government,” Masterson said. “I do intend on building an education budget that has policy pieces in it.”

The Supreme Court ruled March 7 that the state needs to provide more funding to poor districts to subsidize their local option budgets and capital outlay budgets. The Legislature cut funding in those areas when the Great Recession hit in 2009, creating what the Court said were unconstitutional inequities among rich and poor districts.

Restoring full funding in those areas would cost about $130 million, according to state education officials, but the Court did not give an exact dollar amount for what it would take to cure the inequities.

The alternative licensing bill has divided the education community. Lobbying groups representing school boards and school administrators testified in favor of it during a hearing in Masterson’s committee last week. But the Kansas National Education Association, the teachers’ union, opposed it, and some members of the Kansas State Board of Education have said they, too, have reservations.

The bill would allow people to teach without earning an education degree if they already have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math – the so-called STEM fields -or industry recognized certificates in a technical profession, as long as they have five years of related work experience and a commitment from a school board that wants to hire them.

It would also exempt teachers with out-of-state licenses who pass the professional entrance exams, known as Praxis tests, for their field.

“There is interest in that policy,” Masterson said. “So I intend to build a bill that includes both policy and appropriation, and so we’ll consider what policy we want.”

State board of education member Deena Horst, R-Salina, said today she has reservations because the state board already allows alternative pathways to get a teacher’s license. She said the priority should be to ensure teachers are both knowledgeable about their subject area and trained in the practice of teaching.

The state board has been considering making its own changes to licensing requirements for career and technical education, special education and out-of-state teachers. The board is expected to receive formal recommendations for those changes in April, but it is not yet known how similar those may be to the Senate proposal.

Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said today he supports the proposed legislative changes because they would put local districts, rather than the State Department of Education, in charge of approving the additional training that prospective teachers would need. Currently, he said, people moving from technical industries into teaching must also enroll in a four-year training program approved by the state while they are teaching.

Doll said the Lawrence district has had difficulty in the past recruiting qualified teachers for some of its technical education programs, especially in areas such as auto mechanics and welding. And starting in the 2015-2016 school year, the district will need more of those teachers when it opens its new College and Career Center.

Masterson said linking the funding to policy issues such as licensing could help win the support of some conservatives who otherwise might not be willing to approve additional school spending.

“If you’re a conservative person who doesn’t want to add the money we’re talking about, it’s kind of like value shopping,” he said. “If I’m going to spend this much money, I want to know what I’m going to get for my dollars.”

In addition to the licensing bill, there are several other education policy bills pending in the Legislature of interest to conservatives, including one that would greatly expand charter schools and others that would block implementation of new standards for English, math and science.

Normally, the Legislature passes a single, “omnibus” budget that includes funding for all state agencies. But last year it passed a two-year budget, which means the budget for next year is already in place. That gives lawmakers more flexibility this year to pass budget revisions for individual agencies.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that panel will start working Thursday on a bill to address the issues raised in the Gannon case.

“The entire legislature, House and Senate, is seeking to satisfy the Gannon issues,” Rhoades said in an email. “At the same time, as Sen. Masterson has said, there are policy issues which could be addressed as well, especially relating to issues of adequacy and outcomes.”