Lawmakers agree to new education policy

The Kansas Senate offered a compromise when it comes to enrollment counts for state appropriations.


State News

March 26, 2024 - 1:21 PM

The Kansas State Capitol Building

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate found compromise on legislation Monday setting ground rules for student enrollment counts tied to state appropriations that could serve interests of growing public school districts and support school districts with declining populations.

Senators offered preliminary support for a plan permitting districts to choose between reporting the current school year’s enrollment for budget purposes or using average enrollment from the past two years. The logic was districts taking in more students would prefer up-to-date enrollment figures so they would be compensated for new students, while districts with downward enrollment trends would benefit from the two-year average approach.

The deal, if endorsed by the Kansas House and Gov. Laura Kelly, would only allow the two-year average option during the 2024-2025 school year. The state’s cost of providing this softer glide path for urban and rural districts with declining enrollments would be about $4.6 million.

“This is critically important for schools with declining enrollment because it allows them to gradually adjust to a decrease in enrollments without suffering significant and abrupt loss in funding,” said Sen. Elaine Bowers, a Concordia Republican who said most school districts within her Senate district were losing students.

When debate started on Senate Bill 386, it would have mandated school districts calculate state revenue based on enrollment in either the current or preceding school year. As it stands now, the state would move to that enrollment and budget method in the 2025-2026 academic year.

Sen. Mary Ware, D-Wichita, said the original version of the legislation would have put the state’s largest school district in a financial bind. She said the Wichita school district had already negotiated two-year agreements with teachers and support staff based on the current school finance formula tied to enrollment.

However, Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said the state’s special treatment of declining-enrollment districts would lead to a reckoning. She said Kansas had 10 districts with fewer than 100 students each, and one district with less than 20 students. “This is not an issue that is going to go away,” she said.

The original version and amended version of SB 386 represented a change from current law. Existing statute required school districts and the Kansas State Department of Education to determine state aid based on enrollment counts from the previous year. However, an exception allowing a district experiencing a decrease in enrollment between the second-preceding school year and the preceding school year to set funding based on headcounts in the second-preceding year.

School health care

Rep. Ron Bryce, R-Coffeyville, said it was time the Legislature required parental consent for children in schools to receive health care services.

The House delivered tentative approval for Senate Bill 287, which included a requirement professional licensing agencies sanction health providers who violated the statute. On Tuesday, the bill was approved by the House on a vote of 85-37. The Senate hasn’t voted on the legislation proposed by Rep. Susan Estes, R-Wichita.

Many school districts offer standard consent forms to parents or guardians at the outset of the school year, but the bill would mandate permission for dispensing prescription or nonprescription drugs, administering a diagnostic test with the minor’s body fluid or conducting ongoing behavioral health treatment to anyone under 18.

“The bill basically requires parents consent to treat a child in a school facility,” Bryce said during House floor debate on the bill. “Just who’s children are they anyway?”

Bryce, a physician licensed to practice medicine in Texas but not in Kansas, has been a proponent of laws blocking health professionals from advocating for gender-affirming care of minors. He said such transgender care was comparable to treating depression by performing a lobotomy.

Opposition to the bill emerged from the Kansas Board of Nursing, Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of pediatrics, Kansas Mental Health Coalition, Kansas School Nurses Association, Equality Kansas, Kansas Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas Association of School Boards and others.