Regulation-Free Kansas Schools Want Rules Back

By Stephan Bisaha – Kansas News Service/KMUW

Seven Kansas school districts freed from some state rules now say getting that special status isn’t worth the effort.

Those districts are part of the Kansas Department of Education’s “Coalition of Innovative School Districts” program that started in 2013. Districts that join have the freedom to ignore state oversight on some of the ways they run their schools in exchange for pursuing novel approaches for improving student achievement.

The coalition uses the program to loosen teacher licensure and state assessment requirements. The relaxed rules for hiring teachers and instruction has come under criticism from some unions and education advocates who argue that the regulations are needed to maintain high standards.

“We think all of those kind of things are important and should never have been essentially done away with to begin with,” said Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for the Kansas National Education Association.

Despite the extra freedom, the districts asked the Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday to release them from the program.

McPherson and Concordia needed to reapply this year to remain part of the coalition. But they felt that their concerns regarding regulations were already addressed by other programs and legislation that loosened guidelines for school districts across the state. Some of the new rules are based on experiments conducted by the coalition.

“The state has caught up,” said Quentin Breese, the superintendent for Concordia Public Schools. “The state board has been very progressive in that process.”

With McPherson and Concordia leaving, the other five districts decided to do the same instead of letting the coalition “die a slow death,” as some superintendents described the situation.

“We, as a unified group, felt the best course of action was just to ask for release,” said Bill Mullins, superintendent at Marysville Public Schools.

The districts said they will continue to collaborate with each other, but as an informal network instead of as a group that must report its progress to the Kansas Legislature. The superintendents also expressed confidence that the state is better positioned to deal with future restriction issues that may arise.

“We fully believe that teacher barriers that may come about, they will address,” said Adrian Howie, superintendent of Hugoton Public Schools. “They don’t need us challenging that part of it.”

Stephan Bisaha is an education reporter for KMUW and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids, and graduated from Valley Heights High School in May of 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. After stops at KFRM and KCLY radio in Clay Center, he joined KNDY in 2002 as a board operator and play by play announcer. Derek is now responsible for the digital content of Dierking Communications, Inc. six radio stations. In 2005 Derek joined the staff of KCFX radio in Kansas City as a production coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, which airs on over 94 radio stations across 12 Midwest states and growing. In 2018 he became the Studio Coordinator at the Cumulus Kansas City broadcast center for Kansas City Chiefs Football.