Capitol Update: Rep. Jo Ella Hoye talks school funding bills being considered at Kansas Statehouse

"Policy choices can have lasting consequences that affect our kids," said Democratic Rep. Jo Ella Hoye in her Capitol Update column addressing school funding concerns. Above, Rep. Hoye at the Post's 2020 candidate forum.

Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, Rep. Jo Ella Hoye and Sen. Cindy Holscher are scheduled to send updates this week.

Below is the submission from Democratic State Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, who represents District 17.

It’s week 4 in the Kansas Legislature, and if you haven’t tuned in yet, now’s the time to pay attention. One of my committee assignments is House K-12 Education Budget, and this week, we’ll be working bills that divert public tax dollars to private schools without transparency or accountability for the schools receiving public funding.

HB 2068 is an expansion of the state’s tax credit voucher program for private schools. It expands eligibility from students who meet the criteria for academic risk at the 100 lowest performing elementary schools to any student eligible for a free or reduced lunch and who attend any public school in Kansas.

The committee engaged in an intense discussion about the program’s accountability. Receiving schools can be accredited by authorities outside of our state accreditation system and are not obligated to the same reporting and enrollment requirements as public schools.

HB 2119 would create education savings accounts using our public tax dollars to fund private school tuition for students who attended schools that were in the hybrid or remote learning modes at any time this year or last. This could cost Shawnee Mission School District millions of dollars that would be tough to absorb.

Some lawmakers are using the pandemic as an excuse to launch inflammatory rhetoric toward our teachers, administrators, and school districts. School Boards across the state comprising volunteers who step up to serve have been left to reimagine the delivery of education, prevent children from going hungry, and navigate heated ideological battles throughout the pandemic. Our educators were already doing more with less and have had to overcome so much; they are heroes.

Emergency funds provided by the CARES Act were distributed to schools based on the Title I funding formula. Kansas schools lost more Federal Title I funding than any other state in 2019, and Shawnee Mission School District lost over $1 million in Title I funding which led to the elimination of Title I status for 5 of 13 Title I schools in our district. The legacy of the infamous block grant that froze school funding for two years impacted our state share of emergency aid to schools. Policy choices can have lasting consequences that affect our kids.

The pandemic has required all of us to improvise, adapt, and overcome. This is a public health emergency. Proposing these extreme policy changes as a reaction to the past year is irresponsible. Students have been and will continue to be impacted by this disaster, and our Constitutional obligation is to “provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools…” The Kansas Supreme Court found the 2019 school funding formula to be adequate, but we will not be fully funding our schools until 2023.

As an elected official and parent of a remote third grader at Rising Star Elementary, I will be a good steward of our tax dollars while ensuring that we allocate funding where students really need it.

I’m honored to represent our families in Topeka.