Tuesday, July 22, 2014

BROWNBACK: Understanding Kansas education funding bill

By SAM BROWNBACK, Kansas Governor | 5/2/2014

In the weeks since the Kansas Legislature passed House Bill 2506 and since I signed it on April 21, much has been said and reported about the bill and what it does or doesn’t do.

Education is one of the core functions of Kansas government, and, as governor, strengthening our schools is one of my primary goals. In line with this high priority, the bill contains good, strong education reforms that benefit Kansas students, teachers, and local districts.

In the weeks since the Kansas Legislature passed House Bill 2506 and since I signed it on April 21, much has been said and reported about the bill and what it does or doesn’t do.

Education is one of the core functions of Kansas government, and, as governor, strengthening our schools is one of my primary goals. In line with this high priority, the bill contains good, strong education reforms that benefit Kansas students, teachers, and local districts.

It not only meets, but exceeds the requirements for establishing “equity” put forth in the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent Gannon decision, by putting $61 million into Kansas classrooms and providing $84 million in property tax relief annually.

Additionally, this legislation returns control to individual school districts and counties, thus allowing local officials — those who are best positioned to understand the dynamics of their community — to make decisions in the best interest of their students.

Among the reforms included in HB 2506 are measures for alternate certification that will allow experts in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) finance/accounting and Career and Technical Education to teach in Kansas high schools.

The bill also supports expansion of innovative school districts, provides bonuses to teachers who attain national certification, and allows corporations to provide scholarships that will help low-income families achieve a dream of a better education for their children. The funds for these scholarships create opportunities for existing charitable groups to receive contributions and fund scholarships.

It makes a critical investment in our Regents Universities, providing sustained funding for our institutions of higher education. Our universities fuel our economic engine by creating a highly skilled workforce and nurturing the next generation of Kansas teachers, doctors, business people and others.

These important aspects of the bill have been lost in the discussion. One reform about which much has been said is teacher tenure. Far from abolishing teachers’ rights, this legislation merely ends the state-mandated requirement for tenure and returns control over this issue to local individual school districts, where it belongs. Districts remain free to negotiate tenure into their teacher contracts as they see fit, and teachers remain entitled to the same Constitutional and civil rights protections as people in other professions.

Passage and signature of this bill also ensures there will not be any interruptions to funding or local option budget authority that would have required layoff notices to be sent to teachers and administrators across the state.

This bill, combined with existing education initiatives including the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program and reading initiatives for at-risk students, is a comprehensive investment in Kansas schools and our students.

Though we might not agree on all of these issues, we can agree that educational excellence is vital to the future of our great state, and I look forward to working with all Kansans toward that brighter future.

Sam Brownback is Kansas governor.

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