Kansas House candidates on the issues: Open enrollment

Kansas House of Representatives candidates answer a question about "open enrollment." File photo.

In the summer, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of November’s general election. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for seats in the Kansas House of Representatives.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. See the candidates’ responses to yesterday’s question about the current state of abortion access in Kansas.

Kansas House District 27

Christi Pribula (Democrat)

Many school districts spoke up against the open enrollment bill that is set to be enforced in 2024, as well as the Kansas Board of Education, which stated “Frankly, it is disappointing to see this proposal, not only because of the loss of local control, but also for the promotion of distrust in local school board decision-making.” I concur with the Kansas Board of Education and with Blue Valley School District and have concluded that it is an unfunded mandate on school districts that will direct more funds from the operating budget to administer the program instead of the classroom. This bill requires school districts to accept all transfer students no matter when they transfer during a school year without any guarantee of funding to follow that child. Class sizes will balloon and with classes at capacity due to transfer students, what happens to a child who moves into district boundaries during the school year? 

It is important to note that school districts already had and do have their own transfer policies. Ultimately, transfer policies are best managed at the local level where the decision-makers are those elected in that district. Given the diverse needs across Kansas, what is sensible for one is often not sensible elsewhere – and that is why local control matters. Public schools are a public good and we should fund them fully, including special education, so that every child can access a quality education no matter where they live in Kansas. We need to look no further than our neighbor, Missouri, and the crumbling public education system that is forcing some Missouri schools to 4 days a week or virtual programs. Each of these unfunded mandates imposed by the Kansas Legislature is designed to further build distrust in our local school districts. We must call out these attempts to disrupt our public education system and vote accordingly – at this point, the only party in Kansas that supports our public education system are Democrats. 

Sean Tarwater (incumbent Republican)

Did not respond.

Kansas House District 28

Carl Turner (incumbent Republican)

Yes, no money leaves the public school system and it is the schools themselves that determine if they have space / capacity to take students from out of district. It gives a lifeline for some students to improve their education opportunity if their local school does not meet their needs.

Ace Allen (Democrat)

No. Gov. Kelly signed this bill because the general school funding bill was held hostage to it. The Olathe and Blue Valley school districts are opposed to it because it would strain their resources at all levels. They argue that, should there be a net inflow of outside students, there is no way to know whether the districts have sufficient resources (teachers, space, supplies) to accommodate them. The bill provides no guarantee that “net inflow” schools and districts would receive additional state financing to accommodate those students. This is especially consequential in terms of serving special education children. The school districts slam this “open enrollment” bill as a logistical, administrative, and fiscal nightmare.

Kansas House District 29

David Soffer (Republican)

I think it’s important we include our principals, teachers, administrators and board members at the table, along with parents, before open enrollment goes into effect. My policy with respect to anything education, is making sure everyone has an ability to have a say in our education policies, let alone before we implement them. I have been in touch with administrators and school board members in Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission and there is concern in what this means for each school district. We need each Kansas student to have access to great schools, but we also need to make sure we work with all parties to get the best possible policy. Next year, I hope our legislature takes the time to review the implementation of this program and makes sure that we get this right. I look forward to working with every party intimately on this issue when elected.

Heather Meyer (incumbent Democrat)

I don’t support “Open Enrollment” because it will put even more financial and staffing strains on school districts across the state, and removes local control from our School Boards and School Districts. This legislation was passed at a time when our districts are already facing staffing shortages and grappling with issues regarding teacher retention and financial stability, and we heard from many Superintendents & Administrators who said that they did not support this legislation for those very reasons. Furthermore, our school districts already have well established transfer procedures and guidelines in place, and this legislation will cause many of our districts to max out on classroom size, and cost local taxpayers more. 

What is also important to note, is that this legislation was one of many bills brought by out-of-state special interest groups, and was designed to erode the stability of our public school system, while ignoring the real issues of equity that many of our students & districts are already facing. 

I cannot support legislation that ignores the testimony of our educators, districts, and superintendents, and I will continue to listen to our public school professionals, put our students and teachers first, and vote against any bill that would jeopardize the stability of our public school system.

Kansas House district 48

Dan Osman (incumbent Democrat)

No. I wrote an entire article in the BV Post about it back in April. You can read it here.

Whether you currently have kids attending, or you indirectly benefit because good schools bring great jobs, education is the true foundation of our thriving community. It concerns me when the state Legislature passes legislation that’s a ticking time bomb for Blue Valley and all five of the public school systems in Johnson County.

Here’s how it works. Say you’re a parent in Miami or Wyandotte counties. You want to send your child to the Blue Valley School District. First the district makes a determination by grade as to availability. Then, you fill out an application to come and your child now gets to attend classes for the year.

This law will create a convoluted mess that could either, a) take funding out of Johnson County schools to give to other districts, or b) require Johnson County schools to provide an education to students outside the county with no additional compensation or reimbursement.
In the example above, the parent continues to pay taxes in their home county, but it’s Johnson that absorbs all the local costs.

These costs aren’t just monetary. I’ve heard from too many teachers across Johnson County about how thin they’re stretched. They’re overworked. They’re underpaid. Their job requirements keep increasing with no end in sight.
What will be their breaking point?

I’ve listened to all five superintendents of districts within Johnson County. Not a single one spoke in support of this bill.

HB 2615 passed by one of the closest margins this session: 63-59. It takes 63 votes to pass a bill on “final action,” meaning if even a single Johnson County legislator had switched their vote to no, I wouldn’t be writing about this.

We have the chance to turn this around. It isn’t implemented until June of 2024 which means a dedicated legislature in 2023 can reverse this law before it goes into effect.

Terry Frederick (Republican)

The Legislature passed this bill last session to allow parents to consider options for their children. It should be noted that the Governor agreed with the Legislature when she signed the legislation into law. As Legislators, we should be open to consider different ideas to allow parents to do what is best for their children. If a school district agrees that they have the space available as provided in the new law and a child needs the environment that the district could provide to ensure success, why wouldn’t we all be for this solution? Ultimately, our goal should be to ensure that all Kansas children have academic success in school.

While we are talking about schools, it is important to also discuss school funding.  I have continually stated that I support the full funding of our schools to ensure the academic success of our children and grandchildren.  This year, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed HB 2567 into law which fully funded our public schools for the 2022-2023 school year.  I would have voted for the bill.  Surprisingly, my opponent voted against this bill. You can see his Nay vote at this link.   https://tinyurl.com/4nkec5km   If HB 2567 was good enough for the Legislature to pass and for the Governor to sign, why didn’t my opponent vote for it and why does he continue to tell the residents of House 48 that he voted to fully fund our schools?

Kansas House District 8

Pam Shernuk (Democrat)

When elected, I will vote to reverse the harmful “open enrollment” law that was passed last session. Enacting this law would mean that local taxpayers would be paying to educate non-resident students and would require local school districts to add additional manpower and resources to coordinate the open enrollment process. Because Blue Valley is known for its outstanding special education resources, it is likely that Blue Valley and surrounding school districts would receive an influx of special education students which would ultimately result in the district out-spending its resources. Our public schools are the biggest economic driver in Johnson County. People and businesses don’t move here for the beautiful mountains and beaches, they move here for the outstanding public schools and quality of life we are able to provide. Enacting this law would jeopardize future growth and would negatively impact prospective businesses and residents from moving here.

Chris Croft (incumbent Republican)

Did not respond.

Kansas House District 16

Linda Featherston (incumbent Democrat)

The only thing that makes me comfortable about the 2024 start date is that it gives Kansans a chance to reach out to their legislators and pressure them to fix things.

A recent mailer calling me “Liberal Linda” criticized me as being too partisan, and the first item listed was the fact that I “voted against Gov. Kelly’s education funding.”  (In case readers haven’t figured this out, voting against the leader of thy party is the opposite of partisanship.)  In the case of this bill, I was me voting against open enrollment (aka open borders) and not fully funding special education. 

I am the only legislator fortunate enough to represent parts of the Blue Valley, Olathe, and Shawnee Mission School Districts.  Every public school district in Johnson County addressed the our delegation (at least those that showed up) about open enrollment.  They cited many ways that open enrollment will reap havoc on staffing and funding in their districts.  Additionally, there are rapidly growing districts in Johnson County that have real concerns about having enough space for children that are regularly moving into the district, let alone having room for children from other districts.  

Those who support open enrollment contend that it will help students in lower performing districts attend schools in higher performing districts.  This is disingenuous at best because there is no funding for transportation.  How exactly are children from other districts supposed to get to and from school while their parents are at work without transportation being provided?  

Open enrollment is another example of legislative overreach.  Our local districts already have transfer policies in place. We do not need the Legislature interfering in this locally established process.  New construction of Johnson County public schools is funded by bonds voted on and paid for by residents of the district.  It disrespects local voters and tax payers to ask them to pay more than their fair share of construction expenses.  Quality schools and first rate facilities have a big impact on our home values and business investment in Johnson County.  People want to live where they know their children will get an excellent education and where investing in a home is a smart financial move.  Legislative overreach in the form of open enrollment undermines all of this.

Ed Roitz (Republican)

Did not respond.

Kansas House District 20

Carrie Rahfaldt (Republican)

As someone who works in our schools, “Open Enrollment” feels a little daunting considering how large some of our class sizes and building enrollments are currently. I’m curious how implementation will go and what it will look like.  I wouldn’t say I’m completely “comfortable”, but I do have hope in the fact that the school boards have the ability to set capacity “guard rails” for attendance for each school building so that the current students and staff aren’t overwhelmed with students transferring from other districts. Many things must be prioritized when setting these guard rails including projections for future growth and SPED program needs since they are bound by FAPE to provide services to everyone who qualifies. As a mom, however, I can’t help but think about the kids who could now possibly have an opportunity for a better education, something they would not have had before, and I am excited for them and the opportunities that could lie ahead.

Mari-Lynn Poskin (incumbent Democrat)

My primary opposition to the “open enrollment” bill is that it tramples local control. The KS GOP platform states, “Local control should be preferred and considered when enacting laws and regulations, larger government units should not interfere with local, more efficient and responsive solutions” and specifies elected school boards in its statement about Federal mandates, “Kansas Constitution guarantees local control of schools by elected boards, held accountable to their constituents…” Why would an unfunded state mandate be any different?

While the open enrollment policy bill eventually passed in the education appropriations bill (HB 2567), which is problematic in and of itself and should also be a topic for robust discussion, testimony on the measure is found under HB 2553. Opponent testimony to this policy outweighed proponent testimony 3 to 1. Of note, proponent testimony included an Oklahoma State Senator, whose state saw the largest decrease in 2022 ACT scores and where passage of HB 1775 has decimated the accreditation of Tulsa and Mustang Public Schools Districts. It also included an out of state organization, ExcelinEd, which advocates for siphoning public funding to private schools.

On the other hand, opponent testimony came from the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas State Board of Education, Kansas Superintendents, including BVSD, OlatheSD and DeSoto SD, school principals and Kansas citizens. They noted several areas of concern that make me uncomfortable with the policy taking effect in 2024.

For the school boards in District 20, SMSD and BVSD, it will create an undue administrative burden and take resources away from the classroom. Special education needs cannot be considered in the transfer policy and will further deplete our general education resources since the majority party refuses to fully fund special education according to statute.

From testimony: “The nature of the strong business climate in Johnson County, with many businesses reporting the quality of schools as a primary determinant in locating there, leads to our districts having a number of new residents enrolling throughout the year.“ Filling our classrooms to full capacity at the start of the year will lead to overcrowding and reduced opportunities for resident students.

Because it does not fund transportation for students who transfer under the policy, it does not really accomplish the goal of allowing low income students access to other districts. This legislation is poorly thought out and Kansans deserve better from its legislature.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item #5;

Kansas is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid access under the Affordable Care Act. Projections suggest expanding Medicaid would help 150,000 Kansans who can’t currently afford coverage get insured. Do you support expanding Medicaid in Kansas? Why or why not?