Kansas’ Black Legislative Caucus event reveals ideological disagreement on school vouchers

Boyd’s take: Difference of opinion illustrates Black lawmakers ‘not a monolith’

By: - March 13, 2023 4:05 pm
Members of the Black Legislative Caucus in Kansas — Rep. Barbara Ballard, Rep. Brad Boyd, Sen. David Haley and Rep. Marvin Robinson, left to right — discuss education policy and other issues after meeting with Gov. Laura Kelly. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Members of the Black Legislative Caucus in Kansas — Rep. Barbara Ballard, Rep. Brad Boyd, Sen. David Haley and Rep. Marvin Robinson, left to right — discuss education policy and other issues after meeting with Gov. Laura Kelly. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Rep. Brad Boyd followed up the Black Legislative Caucus’ meeting Monday with Gov. Laura Kelly by expressing opposition to a bundled bill blending state-funded vouchers for private schools and financing for special education and teacher salaries in public schools.

Boyd, an Olathe Democrat on the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, said during a news conference of caucus members that education policy rolled into Senate Bill 83 could harm Kansas by drawing tax dollars away from public schools and into private schools or homeschools. In addition, he said, the reform would encourage private schools to cherry pick student applicants.

“When I hear school choice, I hear schools being able to choose what students they want to accept,” Boyd said. “When we take money from public schools, we’re hurting the least of us.”

The lone Republican in the Black Legislative Caucus, Wichita Rep. Patrick Penn, said he disagreed with Boyd’s characterization of the school choice legislation awaiting a vote by the full House.

“I do want to provide a little bit of pushback,” Penn said. “The education-as-choice piece is not about the schools choosing what students they want. If we do school choice, not only do we increase the competition in the school space, we put the parents firmly in the driver’s seat.”

Penn said he was optimistic the bundled bill would receive bipartisan support in the House and Senate and gain Kelly’s signature.

During the caucus news conference, Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said it wasn’t appropriate for Penn to initiate a back-and-forth debate on K-12 education policy and spending. Haley’s objection, raised while Penn was speaking for a second time about vouchers, prompted Penn to gather his belongings and walk out.

“Please stay here, Representative Penn,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat who chairs the Black Legislative Caucus. “The whole point of this press conference is to say that while we disagree we should be respectful and hear everybody out.”

After the dust settled, Boyd stated the obvious for a handful of reporters taking notes.

“It’s important for you all to see that, as Black folks, we are not a monolith,” Boyd said. “We are diverse folks. You know, we don’t agree on everything.”

Rep. Ford Carr. D-Wichita, said during a news conference of the Black Legislative Caucus that he was disappointed by demise of a bill preventing fines and fees from being assessed against a juvenile or that person’s parent, guardian or custodian. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Faust-Goudeau said she was frustrated there weren’t more than nine Black members of the Kansas Legislature — two in the Senate and seven in the House. It’s a problem of minority voters not showing up for elections, she said.

Faust-Goudeau said the Republican majority had the privilege of setting the legislative agenda in the Kansas statehouse, but that often meant voices of her constituents weren’t heard.

“We want our constituents to know that we are addressing their concerns as well,” she said. “Year after year, we say, ‘I introduced the bill. I didn’t get a hearing. I introduced a bill. It made it through one chamber, not to the governor’s desk.’ We are here today to say things have to change. They must change.”

Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House, said she spoke to Kelly about issuing a veto of House Bill 2238. It would require girls and women in kindergarten through college to participate in sports teams based on gender assignment at birth. The measure was approved by the House 82-40 and by the Senate 28-11.

The governor vetoed a comparable bill in 2022, and the House fell short of the two-thirds majority required of an override.

“I personally would have to tell you that I feel discrimination of any kind in unacceptable,” Ballard said. “When we met with the governor, I expressed that to her as well. I would hope she would continue to veto it because it’s just totally unacceptable.”

Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, said he was concerned about derailment of a bill prohibiting fines, fees, costs, court expenses, reimbursements or other financial obligations to be assessed against a juvenile or a juvenile’s parent, guardian or custodian after July 1.

House Bill 2073, containing that juvenile corrections policy shift, was stricken from the House calendar in February.

“That was quite a disappointment to me,” Carr said. “I just don’t think it sends a very good picture to the children, certainly, of the state of Kansas or to just the constituents as a whole.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.