Outcry from educators over finance measure stifles meeting

Full room for hearing on #SB311 which would transfer school finance authority to Dept. of Admin on March 10, 2016. (KSNT Photo/Kaitlin Berry)

TOPEKA (KSNT) — Lawmakers and educators were set to face off Thursday over a controversial bill that would give school finance authority to the Department of Administration.

As committee Chairman Ty Masterson called the committee to order he started with an announcement, “I think this conversation has become somewhat tainted. I would like to quickly dispell some of what I’ve seen,” said Masterson.

He’s referring to certain posts that have been circulating on social media, claiming the bill was “secret,” introduced at the last minute, and only to be discussed behind closed doors.

“Due to this information and falsehood, I found this debate to be escalated to the point of irrational and emotion, and I see no point in wasting the time of the conferees, or the committee,” said Masterson.

Masterson briefly defended the bill, saying it would in no way jeopardize school funding, but instead increase accountability, transparency and consistency.

Educators never had a chance to weigh in.

“We teach our children that conflict resolution is very important, so when there’s a disagreement, a different perspective, that both sides need to be heard and a compromise reached. So that was a bit disappointing that the conversation couldn’t happen,” said Hiawatha Superintendent Penny Hargrove, who was at the Statehouse Thursday to testify against the bill.

Educators are still convinced the current system works.

“Kansas really ranks very high on educational outcomes, we spend less than the national average, and nobody that has better overall results spends less than Kansas. To us that’s a system that’s working well, so our concern was, why would we change administration of a system that seems to be getting good productive results?” said Mark Tallman, Associate Executive Director of Advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Tallman says he understands why the Chairman took the action he did.

“I think Senator Masterson was correct, I think this bill has been around for a year. The hearing was announced. There was plenty of time, the meeting was taking place. So we had no problem with the process. We were ready to debate the bill on its merits and we would do so in the future. I think it’s unfortunate if the wrong information is being circulated. I think there’s frustration on all sides.”

Although many educators made a long trek for nothing, they’re glad to see the Department of Education will retain authority of school finance for now.

Senator Masterson tells KSNT New he believes debate on this bill has been “tainted for the rest of the year.”

It does not appear the issue will be revisited, but KSNT News will be watching and will l let you know if it comes up again.

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