Push for 'school choice' measure hits snag in Kansas Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republican lawmakers have hit a snag in trying to pass a proposal that would allow parents of academically struggling students to pay for private schooling with state dollars normally earmarked for public schools.

A bill that ties public school funding to the proposal failed Thursday night in the GOP-controlled Senate on a 19-19 vote. Republican leaders hoped to persuade at least a few GOP senators who voted no to switch to yes and planned to have another vote Friday.

The bill would set up education savings accounts for students who are at risk of failing in public schools. Parents could use the funds for a wide range of educational expenses to help their children, including private school tuition.

Conservative Republicans argued their proposed “Student Empowerment Program” would give parents more ways to help their children and that promoting “school choice” pushes public schools to improve.

“We’re still failing those kids,” said Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican.

The House approved the measure Thursday, 64-59, so the Senate’s approval would send it to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. She has not said whether she would sign or veto it.

The measure includes Kelly’s proposal for $5.2 billion in state aid for public schools for 2021-22. But Democrats said the measure potentially siphons off several hundred million dollars for the new savings accounts.

In the House, Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, called the measure a “Frankenstein” bill filled with “anti-public education policy.”

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