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Kansas Ed. Department Asks For Help Clarifying New "Innovative Districts" Law

Kansas education officials are asking the state's attorney general for guidance about how to implement a new law about "innovative" schools.

Brad Neuenswander, the Deputy Commissioner for the state Department of Education, told the State Board of Education Wednesday the agency is trying to figure out how to implement a new law that creates a coalition of so-called "innovative districts."

The law is designed to give up to 29 districts flexibility in following education rules and regulations. They still must follow certain laws, like the ones regarding accreditation, school finance, and open meetings.

Critics have argued the measure lacks protection for school teachers during negotiations, since those districts could opt out of state laws regarding collective bargaining rights or choose to hire uncertified teachers.

Neuenswander says districts would have comply with the state Quality Performance Accreditation Act, which mandates districts hire licensed teachers.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office has been asked to provide a legal opinion on the law to clarify which rules and regulations can be waived.

"There's a lot of interpretation that we need to find out," Neuenswander said.

Applications will be posted and available to districts by July 1, but it's unlikely that the education staff would receive the attorney general's opinion before that date. Districts have until Dec. 1 to submit applications, which will be approved first by Gov. Brownback and the chairs of the House and Senate Education committees.

The first districts granted innovative status will have the designation beginning with the 2014-15 school term.