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Minutes for SB437 - Committee on Education

Short Title

Establishing the Kansas education enrichment program to provide educational awards to elementary and secondary school students for qualifying expenses for educational goods and services.

Minutes Content for Wed, Feb 14, 2024

Chair Baumgardner opened the hearing.

Staff gave an overview of the bill. (Attachment 20)

Proponents:

Representative John Eplee, M.D., said he grew up in a small town that instilled in him both core values and an academic foundation that allowed him to return to rural Kansas as a doctor. Under the KEEP program, rural students receive the funds they need to pay for resources to help them succeed like face-to-face tutoring, which is more effective than online. The KEEP program has also fostered the development of a burgeoning educational support community in rural town. Rural Kansas did not lack smart people capable of tutoring. It lacked students who could afford it. This program has done too much good to not preserve and expand it. (Attachment 21)

Shannon Pahls, Public Affairs Director, yes. every kid., explained that each child is unique, and no one understands their individual needs better than their family. This legislation creates a pathway for families to direct funding toward educational uses that meet their children's needs. This bill would ensure that even more Kansans can benefit and supplement their education with a KEEP grant. These targeted resources for families will provide Kansas students access to multiple enrichment opportunities. Access to supplementary education resources is often unevenly distributed among families, leading to educational disparities. This bill helps bridge this gap, ensuring all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, have equal opportunities to enhance their learning. (Attachment 22)

Proponent written only testimony was submitted by:

Lucrecia Nold, Public Policy Specialist, Kansas Catholic Conference (Attachment 23)

Jennifer Bruning, Executive Director, Kansas State Alliance of YMCAs (Attachment 24)

Melanie Curtis, Co-Founder, Imaginarium (Attachment 25)

Mile and Marcy Shirk, Parents (Attachment 26)

Neutral:

Tom Treacy, Deputy Assistant Kansas State Treasurer, testifying on behalf Steven Johnson, Kansas State Treasurer, said it is the Treasurer's understanding that this bill codifies the similar program created by the Office of Recovery and used funds directed by the SPARK Committee in recent years. That program used a third-party vendor to administer the accounts, and this bill anticipates that a vendor would also be selected to administer this program under the Treasures office. The Treasurer's office has experience in overseeing the state's 529 education savings program as well as the KIDS matching grant program and the ABLE savings program for Kansans with disabilities and stands ready to select a qualified vendor to manage this program if this bill is enacted. (Attachment 27)

Opponents:

Judith Deedy, Executive Director, Game On for Kansas Schools, does not oppose the principle of two $1,000 grants for students to pay for tutoring or similar services, but has multiple grounds for concern with this bill. (1) Game On opposes vouchers of any kind. (2) The bill appropriates $100m from the State General Fund which is significant and Game on would rather see those funds directed to other programs or services, such as the Special Education shortfall. (3) Clarification as to whether this bill applies only to public school students or also to private school or homeschool students would be appreciated. (4) The list of "Qualifying expenses" is overbroad and there is insufficient oversight over expenditures. (5) There is no budget for oversight in this bill. (Attachment 28)

Game On thinks this bill looks good at first glance, but lacks guardrails.

Mary F. Sinclair, PhD, Kansas PTA Advocacy Team, listed reasons to oppose this bill:

  • This bill conflicts with PTA's Standing Positions and Legislative Priorities.
  • Opposes the underlying structure of this bill.
  • The original KEEP program was structured in the context of the ESSER Federal COVID relief funds. These are one-time dollars, with specific federal allowable uses. As with other Kansas ESSER programs that will sunset at the conclusion of the federal COVID relief programs, so to should this ESSER associated KEEP program. (Attachment 29)

Lauren Tice Miller, Director of Government Relations and Elections, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), stated that the reality of this bill is $100 million of public tax dollars to subsidize unaccountable, private schools. This is the very definition of a voucher program. Also, the definition of "qualified student" and "qualifying expenses" are written broadly enough to include any student in the state of Kansas regardless of what school they are attending and for any expense the state treasurer authorizes. KNEA urges the committee to reject this bill. (Attachment 30)

Leah Fliter, Assistant Executive Director of Advocacy, Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), said this bill does not clearly state how one applies for the grants/vouchers, the deadline, or if there are any criteria associated with awarding the grants. This bill doesn't appear to set up a system of reimbursement or qualified expenses subject to receipts, but rather seems to set up an honor system that's not subject to enforcement or oversight. KASB strongly urges the committee to insert language noting that such appropriation of $100 million public tax dollars may only be made for expenses associated with a public school education. (Attachment 31)

Opponent written only testimony was submitted by:

Kevin Cole, Labette USD506 School Board of Education Member and SEK Interlocal 637 Board of Education Member (Attachment 32)

Greg Bogner, Labette USD506 School Board of Education Member (Attachment 33)

The Chair closed the hearing on SB437.