Regulation-Free Kansas Schools Want Rules Back

Nov 13, 2018

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.

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