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GUEST COLUMN: An innovative education for our Kansas school children

Posted on Mar. 14th, 2013
Kansas Rep. Bill Sutton
Kansas Rep. Bill Sutton
This week, the House approved a bill allowing 10 Kansas school districts to apply to become "innovative districts."

An innovative district would be released from current education statutes, regulations, and rules.

This will give district the flexibility to pioneer new ways of delivering child centric education.

There are many creative and resourceful ways to provide children with an education that will not only prepare them for life, but also instill an excitement and love of learning.

This project will provide empirical, living proof of what can happen when we free up educators and people who want to be educators to use their passions and know-how in school settings.

The Senate approved a similar bill March 7. There's a pretty good chance this will become law.

School Funding

The way that school funding is calculated in Kansas is quite complicated. Some people only site and base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) and suggest that's all we spend on students.

A more accurate representation of the amount of money spent per pupil can be found simply by taking the total number of students divided by total school spending.

That number is $12,656 per student in spending on average statewide.

School spending is often inaccurately represented and it's hard to get a clear view of the dollars actually spent. As we consider the future of education in our state and refocus our efforts on child-centric schooling, we should consider the way we calculate funding.

Is school choice coming to Kansas?

School choice legislation has been passed in 19 states, including Oklahoma and Iowa. Will Kansas be next?

I believe some form of school choice has a good chance of passing the Kansas Legislature.

I think we have a real good chance to implement this type of program for special needs students in the near future.

According to an article by the National Conference of State Legislatures, state have implemented several versions of school choice, including vouchers.

These vouchers provide state-funded scholarships to private schools—often religious—that meet minimum state standards. Schoolvoucher programs have encountered legal barriers in many states where constitutional provisions ban state support for religious schools.

These vouchers provide state-funded scholarships to private schools—often religious—that meet minimum state standards. Schoolvoucher programs have encountered legal barriers in many states where constitutional provisions ban state support for religious schools.
A relatively new private school choice policy, commonly referred to as tax credit scholarships, has successfully bypassed the legal barriers to vouchers in some states like Arizona and Florida.

This policy transfers the scholarship funding mechanism from state coffers to private, nonprofit scholarship tuition organizations (STOs). Because STOs are privately operated, they can limit scholarships to only those private schools approved by the organization. Individual and business donations to STOs can then be used for scholarships. States can offer tax credits to donors, allowing them to recoup a percentage of their donation.

Another way states support private school choice is by offering tax breaks to parents as a form of reimbursement for private school tuition and related expenses. These tax breaks are designed to make private school more affordable for low and middle-income families. Such benefits, however, may be less attractive to low-income families who pay less taxes.Legislatures often limit student and school eligibility for these programs.

Vouchers may be available only to low-income households or students with disabilities, for example. Private schools also must meet minimum standards. These standards range from requiring that schools be certified by school accrediting agencies to requiring them to administer state assessments. Private schools in Louisiana must develop a state-approved academic accountability system in order to participate in the state's voucher program.

I'd eventually like to see school choice extended to everyone coupled with an "education savings account" program that can be rolled over into college tuition to discourage private (and public) schools from raising their tuition based on the newfound buying power of their customers.

Panel backs drug testing for welfare recipients

If an applicant or recipients of cash assistance tests positives for drugs, they would be allowed to seek an additional screening. If that test comes back negative, the state would reimburse the recipient for the cost of the test.

Anyone who fails the drug screening would be required to complete a substance abuse treatment program and a job skills program. Any applicant or recipient who fails to complete these programs would be ineligible for welfare benefits.

Even after completing a treatment program, people would be subject to random testing under the bill’s provisions. If a second positive test is found, the recipient would be required to complete a second round of treatment programs. Cash benefit would be stopped until those programs are completed successfully.

If a third positive test occurs, the bill would require the termination of all cash assistance subject to applicable federal law.

If the person testing positive has a child who is eligible for welfare assistance, another person will be designated to receive those cash payments on behalf of the child. The bill would require this designated person to be approved by the state’s Secretary for Children and Families.

This person would also be subject to drug testing when a reasonable suspicion exists that drugs are being used.

In addition, if a person has been convicted after July 1, 2013, of a felony under federal or state law, including a drug conviction, they will never be able to receive Kansas welfare assistance under the bill. There is an exception, however, for first-time offenders. If convicted they would be ineligible to receive benefits for five years.

Many of the drug testing provisions under the bill would also apply to people seeking unemployment benefits who are suspected of drug use.

The state’s budget office has estimated the cost of the program at slightly more than $1 million. If welfare caseloads are reduced by 1,475 persons, the budget office estimates an annual savings of $1.1 million.