Kansas House votes down school funding compromise

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas House voted down a school funding compromise early Sunday morning that would’ve taken away tenure rights for public school teachers and lowered property taxes for parents who send their students to private schools.

The 67-55 vote against the measure sends negotiators scrambling to come up with a new proposal aimed at satisfying a state Supreme Court order last month directing lawmakers to boost aid to poor school districts.

Senate and House negotiators reached the deal earlier in the day that would’ve increased spending by more than $129 million to meet the court order, but it was also included several policy changes.

Questions about the constitutionality and cost of the school choice provision caused House members to balk at the overall plan.

Hundreds of teachers were attending a state convention, and many of them packed the House gallery to watch the debate. Dozens more also stood outside the chamber and applauded after the vote.

Negotiators added several policy provisions sought by the Senate, including eliminating teacher tenure, a tax credit scholarship program and property tax reduction for private school parents. In exchange for higher overall state spending, the House accepted changes in the math used for allowing districts to raise additional local property taxes.

But in the House, members had passed their own version Friday with 91 votes from a mix of Republicans and Democrats.

Also problematic were in provisions for allowing increased local property taxes. The issue is important to Johnson County legislators who represent wealthier districts that get little state aid.

Raising the cap on property taxes gives those districts more money to spend on the classroom, including teacher salaries.

About 400 teachers were in Topeka for a delegate assembly of the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. They adjourned their meeting to come to the Statehouse to voice their concerns, particularly about the tenure proposal.

Bob Thesman, a counselor from the Blue Valley school district in Johnson County, said the tenure issue concerned teachers because of the potential impact on job security and the ability to advocate for their students.

“If you don’t have the due process rights, you could be released without any reason being given,” said Thesman, who is also a state director for NEA.

Supporters of the change argue that it gives school boards and administrators more flexibility in removing underperforming teachers in effort to improve education quality.

The compromise includes additional policies that include tax credits for school choice.

Senate negotiators backed away from a measure that would have stopped implementation of the Common Core Standards in its tracks. The provision has been sought in recent years by conservative legislators who fear the new guidelines cede too much authority over curriculum to federal authorities.

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