Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kansas Legislature rejects school voucher program

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A bill that would have provided tax credits for those who contributed to scholarships to send students to private schools was rejected by the House on Monday.

State Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville, and chairman of the House Education Committee, said his bill would give parents an option if their child was not adapting well in public school. The student could take advantage of a scholarship and go to a private or parochial school, he said.

"Parents should have options for what is best for their children," Aurand said.

He was backed by legislators who were critical of public schools.

State Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, said public schools were beset with over-paid administrators who wanted to have a monopoly education system.

Kiegerl said his grandchildren attend private schools that have small class sizes and offer advanced programs. "Why should a single black mother in Wyandotte County not have the same opportunity to send her child to the school my grandchildren go to?," he said.

But opponents of the bill, which failed on a 55-66 vote after a lengthy debate, said many poor people would have been unable to benefit from the program. The bill was targeted to 18 school districts with large numbers of low-income students. Lawrence was not one of the districts.

Private schools wouldn't be required to accept all students, and the scholarships, which would average about $4,000, would not be enough to pay the full tuition at many private schools, critics added.

State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, tried to eliminate the bill and replace it with one that would raise public school funding by $150 million over two years to restore a portion of the cuts made to schools in recent years.

"I have a scholarship program for every child that enters public schools. I'm going to call it state aid," Ward said. His amendment failed.

Other opponents said giving tax credits would drain tax revenue to the state general fund that goes to public schools.

State Rep. Bob Brookens, R-Marion, said the measure was in conflict with the duty of the Legislature concerning public education. "Is it our duty to use tax dollars and tax policy to send Kansas money to private schools? Kansas was built on and Kansas will live or die on its public education," Brookens said.

State Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, said he feared that "schools that may not agree with your values or my values," could benefit from the proposal.