Kansas Lawmakers Gave Schools the Money They Wanted. Here’s What’s Next on Their 2020 Wish List
By Stephan Bisaha
Kansas educators want lawmakers to act on health care, bullying and college credits when the Legislature convenes later this month.
For over a decade, the school funding battle has dominated any conversation about education in Topeka. But with a school funding plan in place, educators are no longer on the legal offensive. Instead, school lawyers have become watchdogs, making sure the Legislature keeps the education dollars flowing.
With funding knocked off the top rung of the K-12 agenda, here’s what educators want Kansas politicians to do in 2020.
Schools want to be reimbursed for the health services they provide to students covered by Medicaid.
The National Association of School Nurses says that would provide better care for students and better funding for that care. A 2015 decision by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services opened the door for schools to get reimbursed, though they need state action.
Kansas educators are also dipping their toes into the Medicaid expansion debate.
The Kansas Association of School Boards says a lack of health care gets in the way of student learning. The association wants the Legislature to cover more Medicaid eligible students. But the group doesn’t have a stand on a broader Medicaid expansion, leaving it to lawmakers to figure out how to get there.
Kansas’ education department wants high school students better prepared for college.
To do that, some Kansas schools offer classes that let students earn high school and college credits for the same work. The catch: Students still have to pay to get those college credits.
Wichita Public Schools and other districts want to pay for those credits for at-risk students who can’t afford the tuition and fees. The schools just need a legislative thumbs-up first.
“It’s an opportunity for access,” said Tiffinie Irving, deputy superintendent of Wichita Public Schools. “They are completing the same course as peers in their classroom. Only some students are able to afford to pay for that, to get the college credit.”
Educators want to offer more classes with college credit. But to do that, they’re asking the Legislature for more funding to train teachers for the advanced degrees they need to teach those classes.
Protecting immigrant students
The political conversation about immigrant students in Kansas used to be confined to higher education. During his 2018 run for governor, former Secretary of State Kris Kobach called for ending in-state tuition rates for undocumented students.
Going into 2020, educators want to protect undocumented K-12 students.
The Kansas Association of School Boards points to the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyer V. Doe, which guaranteed undocumented students the right to a public school education in the United States.
The association wants to make sure that immigrant children held in Kansas facilities, like the Chase County Jail, receive an education.
At the association’s December conference, a large majority of educators voted to update the group’s legislative agenda to say Kansas should “provide safe, secure treatment and to minimize trauma for immigrant children, whether in detention or in public schools.”
But some districts opposed the addition. They said that the language was too political and would alienate the Republican-led Legislature.
Vaping and bullying
Kansas created two education task forces this year — one to cut down students vaping and the other to reduce bullying.
Based on the vaping task force report, the state’s board of education recommended schools ban visitors from vaping on school grounds. Students and staff would be restricted from having any vaping devices at school.
The Kansas Association of School Boards wants the Legislature to revisit its Indoor Clean Air Act to include vaping. That would keep most public spaces — such as restaurants and near doorways — vape-free.
On bullying, the association cautions against a strong legislative action. Instead, it advocates for making sure any state action keeps discipline firmly in local hands. The anti-bullying task force recommends schools build relationships between students and staff. Educators warn that state action often focuses too much on punishment.
“We share the concern about addressing bullying,” said Mark Tallman, the association executive director with the Kansas Association of School Boards, “but … you’re most successful by trying to put things in place to address student attitudes and relationships.”
Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio - focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.