March 5, 2023

Rachel Mipro: Kansas education advocates see vouchers and hostility as attempts to undermine public schools

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In an interview, Marcus Baltzell, director of communications for the Kansas National Education Association, and Leah Fliter of the Kansas Association of School Boards, explained some of the problems with the proposed voucher scheme in Kansas.

While full implementation wouldn’t happen until four years after the legislation is passed, the program would allow parents to set aside a portion of public school funding — about $5,000 per student — for use at private or home schools, including unregulated, unaccredited schools.

HB2218 would also set up a 10-member board to manage the program, which would receive compensation. Critics have said the board would be slanted in favor of Republicans because of member requirements, and also might have too broad an influence on K-12 education in the state.

“If you wanted to set up a kind of a shadow board of education, if you wanted to completely circumnavigate the Constitution and the constitutional authority of the State Board of Education, this is how you would do it,” Baltzell said. “You would set up this group, you would tie it to legislation around a voucher scheme, you would then set up this board that has essentially decision-making authority over all aspects of this.”

Several approaches are being tried.

Another bill, Senate Bill 128, would give taxpayers a refundable income tax credit for K-12 children not enrolled in public schools. The bill stipulates that taxpayers who have a student enrolled in an accredited nonpublic school or a nonaccredited school registered with the Kansas State Department of Education are eligible. The tax credit would be given to Kansans starting in fiscal year 2024, as long as their student isn’t included in the enrollment of a public school district.

Fliter said legislation like this is meant to draw students and funding away from public schools by giving financial incentives for parents to switch to private education. She said lawmakers were framing the legislation as a way to give parents more educational freedom in order to popularize the idea.

“They know that the voucher thing is not popular,” Fliter said. “And so to cast it as a parent’s right over their child is another tactic. Kansas parents have many, many, many legal rights over their children. Children are minors until they turn 18. That means their parent or guardian has legal rights over their education, over everything they do. And so it’s just a somewhat cynical ploy to try to make a voucher seem more palatable.”

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