Kansas teachers ask lawmakers to fully fund special education, support public schools

By: - April 25, 2023 6:07 pm
Tracy Taylor Callard, 2002 Teacher of the Year, spoke in support of public schools during an April 25, 2023 teacher rally. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Tracy Taylor Callard, 2002 Teacher of the Year, spoke in support of public schools during an April 25, 2023 teacher rally. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas teachers of the year rallied at the Statehouse to push for a clean K-12 education funding bill, joined by Gov. Laura Kelly in an attempt to sway lawmakers before the veto override session begins. 

Kelly, who showed up to support the teachers during their Tuesday gathering, said the school funding debate had been longstanding, but she was confident a fully funded school bill would arrive at her desk by session’s end. 

“Right now, the issue is fully funding our schools and not diverting public funds to private schools,” Kelly said. 

The 13 teachers present for the gathering asked for a school funding bill that fully funds Kansas public schools and special education, as well as one that doesn’t send tax dollars to private schools not held to the same standards as public schools.

During the regular legislative session, neither chamber attempted to take up the proposed K-12 education funding bill. 

That bill was criticized because it was a massive piece of legislation that blended state funding for K-12 education with provisions from about nine other bills, including funding for mental health needs in schools, a form of parental rights legislation, and an extension of the statewide mill school finance levy. 

Some form of a K-12 education funding bill is expected to be discussed and voted upon in the next few days. 

Throughout the legislative session, public education has been criticized by some lawmakers, who say Kansas students are graduating without the ability to read or write. 

Some legislators have also supported “parental rights,” the idea that parents need to be granted additional oversight of classrooms to prevent their children from being taught radical ideas. 

Shannon Ralph, 2015 teacher of the year, said teachers were being treated unfairly by those holding such assumptions. 

“I think it’s fair to say that teachers are generally feeling attacked, and it’s confusing to me because you will not find more genuine, giving, loving people. Teachers are there for kids. It’s just very confusing to me,” Ralph said. 

Tracy Taylor Callard, 2002 teacher of the year, echoed Ralph’s sentiment. 

“I think we all know public schools are under attack,” Callard said. “If you watch television, if you are on social media, you see that we’ve been demonized.” 

Another piece of legislation, a much-debated voucher program that would allow unregulated private schools to receive state dollars and put federal COVID-19 relief funds toward special education, was canned by the Legislature. It might return in the coming days.

On Monday, Kelly vetoed a form of parental rights legislation that would allow parents to withdraw their children from courses or lessons they find objectionable.

Kelly said all of her vetoes, which include more than 20 bills and budget line items, were made after careful consideration. 

“It’s  a record I’m proud to hold,” Kelly said. “I have looked very carefully at the legislation, I’ve signed those that I thought were in the best interest of the state, and I vetoed those that I didn’t think were in the best interest of the state.” 

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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.