Proposed school ‘voucher’ bills could be harmful to public education in Kansas, opponents say

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Public school advocates in Kansas are concerned lawmakers are looking to use tax dollars to subsidize private school and home schools.

The so-called “voucher” bills would funnel tax money to private and home schools. The bills are being looked at and are expected to be taken up by lawmakers quickly.

One of the bills, House Bill 2119, would allow qualifying students to have the money put in a savings account to pay private school tuition or other approved school costs, like tutoring or educational services. 

Parents would be notified of their child’s eligibility for the program, then enter a written agreement with the state treasurer to open an account for the eligible student.

While the bill is said to provide financial help to “at-risk” students, opponents of the bill say the wide range of eligibility is one of the main issues with the bill, which doesn’t guarantee that students who are severely at-risk will get the help they need.

“A modest income student from a large family could qualify, even if they’re doing fine in school right now, and a truly struggling child in poverty,” said Mark Tallman, a spokesperson for the state’s school board association. “There’s absolutely no guarantee that, that child could take advantage of this. We don’t know whether the school would accept them, or whether the family would be involved to make that happen. These are bills to say they are helping struggling kids, but neither the current program [n]or this program actually require[s] that to be the case. “

Another proposed bill which lawmakers discussed Tuesday, House Bill 2068, would expand a program that uses tax credits to help low-income students attend private schools, allowing all Kansas students eligible for federally subsidized free-and-reduced priced lunch to participate.

Some supporters of the bill have pointed to the differences in private and public school operations during the coronavirus pandemic, in which private schools are able to operate with more in-person classes given the limited class size.

However Tallman, said that same disparity between private and public school operations, is the reason these bills should be opposed.

Tallman told Kansas’ Capitol Bureau that private schools are more likely to have the flexibility to stay open because of their ability to place a limit on enrollment, whereas public schools do not have that option. If the bill were to pass, he fears public schools could be left with limited resources to help students that are struggling.

Tallman said private schools should be held to the same standard as public schools if they’re expected to receive public funding.

“What sounds like a way to give people choice is not really going to give everyone a choice, as long as the school can choose its students,” Tallman said. “If private schools want public funding, there has to be the similar expectation of what you do with that, how you’re accountable and who you serve.”

A hearing on House Bill 2119 is set to take place at the Kansas State Capitol Thursday, February 4.

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