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Open enrollment bill receives criticism from Kansas school districts, Board of Education

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Posted at 6:38 AM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 10:02:48-05

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Several Kansas school districts are sounding the alarm over a proposed bill backed by the K-12 Education Committee that would allow students to transfer to any school district in the state.

House Bill 2553 would allow students to transfer and attend any school in the state at any time during the school year beginning July 1, 2022. By Jan. 1, 2023, each district would need to have a policy in place to determine how many transfers they can accept at each grade level.

As it stands, each district would be required to submit to the Kansas Department of Education the number of student transfers approved and denied and any reason.

“I fully believe that the money should always follow the child, we should not be bundling access points by buildings, we should be bundling access points with the child. And so, with that basic fundamental belief that the money should follow the child, it would also be true in the public school settings,” said Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta).

Williams is the chair of the K-12 Education Committee, which is sponsoring the bill.

HB 2553 was introduced last month and was heard by the committee last week. Within the next several weeks, Williams said the committee will look at all the bills they’ve heard and decide which bills can be bundled, and decide if there are any bills they want to move forward with.

“It's a great bill, so again, it comes back to the question, what's best for the kid? And I’m 100% going to tell you I'm willing to stand with what's best for the kid and everybody should be,” Williams said.

The concept of open enrollment is being practiced in other states, including Colorado, but some Kansas school districts think the practice won’t be a fit for them.

Two of the biggest school districts in the state, Blue Valley and Olathe, put out a joint statement expressing their concern.

“While we can certainly empathize with parents in lower-performing districts, both Blue Valley and Olathe are among the highest-performing districts in Kansas indeed competing nationally - and, as such, would find our districts overwhelmed with requests from non-residents. Without intending to sound elitist, it is nonetheless true that housing costs in our districts often provide a check on resident student growth now," the statement reads.

The statement went on to point out five different areas of concern stemming from HB2 553 and adding that local taxpayers would be paying for nonresident students. Also, since students can enroll at any time, the districts can't guarantee they would receive the financial resources needed to give everyone an education.

As of now, each school district has its own transfer policies.

Turner USD 202 believes local control of open enrollment should continue and released a statement as well.

“We believe that decisions made for our school district should continue to be made at a local level, where the individuals making the decisions are elected to represent the voters of USD 202. The makeup and needs of school districts across Kansas vary greatly, and what makes sense for a district on one side of the state may not make sense for a district elsewhere. It is for this reason that USD 202 is in favor of local control when it comes to enrollment decisions," it reads.

Williams said she’s aware of districts' concerns, but pointed out curriculum at districts varies. Some advanced courses and classes can be different from district to district.

“I don't understand the push back on that. I think that just because I can't afford a home in a certain district, it doesn't mean I shouldn't have the advantages that that district provides their students and there are differences,” Williams said. "In terms of the legislature should stay out of our turf? Our constitution puts the Kansas legislature above other entities and we are there to make sure the improvement of student outcomes exist.”

The Kansas Board of Education also weighed in the matter and called for lawmakers to take a closer look at the bill’s impacts on local districts.

“Frankly, it is disappointing to see this proposal, not only because of the loss of local control, but also for the promotion of distrust in local school board decision-making,"the statement read.