- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Opponents of a measure that would consolidate school districts told lawmakers this week they worried the plan would lead to school closures and a loss of local control over education.

Dozens of people submitted testimony during a Kansas House committee meeting Wednesday about the bill, which would require 98 of Kansas’ 105 counties to have one unified school district per county.

Twenty-two counties already fit that requirement. Kansas’ seven most populous counties would be allowed to have multiple districts if each has more than 1,500 students, The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1SKoOaX ) reported.

Tom Benoit, a member of a coalition of rural districts called Schools for Quality Education, said at the meeting any consolidation should be local patrons’ decision.

In the 1950s, Kansas had about 2,800 school districts, and by the end of the 1960s, it had a little more than 300. Opponents worry the bill would have the same effect because small districts lose control of their boards through consolidation.

“It begins the dismantling of local school districts,” said Carolyn Dunn, Stafford County economic development director. “When schools close, it doesn’t just contribute to decline directly, it accelerates it.”

Republican state Rep. John Bradford says Kansas residents are receiving incorrect information, making them believe the bill would close schools. Bradford defended his bill, saying it wouldn’t lead to the effect patrons of rural and small districts fear.

“It does not close schools, it does not affect teachers, nor does it fire principals,” Bradford said. “It does not sell school buses, it does not change any boundaries except by the State Board, it does not affect any students, it does not kill any mascots, it does not affect the football teams and it does not increase any time that students ride the school buses.”

At the meeting, 41 people submitted testimony against the bill, and three people supported it.

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This story has been updated to correct that Bradford is a Republican, not a Democrat.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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