‘Really rotten bundle:’ Kansas lawmaker, education officials call bill bundling a bad practice

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee has gutted and replaced several bills, adding a form of parental rights legislation to a former naturopathy bill

By: and - March 14, 2023 8:30 am
Scott Rothschild of KASB wears a button advocating for full funding of special education

Education officials and lawmakers clash over education policy bill bundling, including legislation that combines special education funding with a voucher-like program. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A bill that formerly dealt with naturopathy has been transformed into a wide-ranging public education budget and policy bill, the latest bundle of education bills and amendments rolled into one piece of legislation.

During a Monday House K-12 Education Budget hearing, lawmakers voted to substitute several House bills dealing with the education budget for the original content of Senate Bill 113.

Amended versions of house bills dealing with the Department of Education budget appropriations were placed in the bill, along with legislation broadening eligibility for high school sports participation, bills on mental health checks and increased reporting and auditing of school safety measures, among others.

Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat, said she didn’t approve of the bundling method, though the tactic is common in the Legislature. 

“I’m used to it. I’m just not happy with their integrity,” Winn said in an interview after the Monday hearing.

Winn called SB83 a “really rotten bundle.”

Leah Fliter, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said she was primarily concerned with the addition of what she called parental rights legislation into the bill. The newly added section requires school districts to create parental portals and post curriculum, textbooks, required reading and academic test copies, among others.

“There are other parts of it that are fine because they deal strictly with the budget, but as a general premise, we oppose bundling policies with funding,” Fliter said.

Other education officials have expressed concern with the bundling bill method.

Brian Connell, an Olathe school board members, participates in a March 9, 2023, roundtable discussion
Brian Connell, an Olathe school board members, participates in a March 9, 2023, roundtable discussion at the Statehouse where he asked lawmakers to stop bundling policies together. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Brian Connell, a school board member from Olathe, said during a roundtable discussion Thursday that he was concerned about “these pile-on bills, that seem to be omnibus bills.” He said he would prefer each bill have a singular topic or issue.

“When they start bundling together, they get muddy, and then they get confusing,” Connell said. “And then we have an electorate, folks out there, who just don’t understand.”

The Republican-led committee used the same bundling practice on Senate Bill 83, which was gutted and replaced by an education bill that would establish state-funded vouchers for private schools and finance special education and teacher salaries in public schools. Critics of the bill, which include lawmakers and education officials, have said the legislation draws tax dollars away from public schools and into private schools or homeschools.

The bill would require the state to begin making payments to private school students in July 2024, taken out of special savings accounts overseen by the state treasurer at the direction of a new state board. Each eligible private school recipient would be able to draw about $5,000 annually from the state.

Rep. Adam Thomas, an Olathe Republican, said in an interview that compromise is a good thing, but education can be a “dicey” issue. Thomas said bundling bills can result in good legislation.

“I think there’s issues that Republicans want, there’s issues that Democrats want — what does that final bill look like? I don’t know,” Thomas said. “There are some issues that I would love to go across the line as solo bills. Unfortunately, oftentimes, there has to be that back and forth, and both sides got to come to the table. And while it might not be everyone’s favorite, I think oftentimes the product ends up being good.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.

Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.