A possible law would allow virtual and homeschooled students to participate in sports teams and public school activities in Kansas.
But opponents of the bill, including the state high school athletics association, say the measure would undermine the academic component of participating in school activities and competitions.
Lawmakers on the House Committee on K-12 Education Budget Tuesday held a hearing for HB 2030 that would authorize non-public and part-time public school students to participate in all activities regulated by the Kansas State High School Activities Association will.
In the context of the bill, “non-public school” would refer to students enrolled in alternatives to traditional, publicly funded education such as homeschooling, virtual schools, and unaccredited private schools.
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Although a separate law passed last year allows families to enroll their children in any Kansas school district, regardless of residence but subject to space restrictions, all non-public students affected by this year’s bill would have to live within the district lines to play or participate in any school activities.
Local school districts and KSHSAA would be prohibited from creating policies that preclude such participation, although schools could still require students to pay fees for activities or enroll in specific classes that would otherwise be shared by participants in public schools would be required.
The measure comes back from the committee after failed attempts in previous years to pass legislation to open public schools’ sports teams and activities to non-public students.
While 25 states allow homeschooled students access to interscholastic activities — five of which require local district approval — Kansas is in a separate group of 20 states that do not allow participation, according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.
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Proponents say Kansas High School’s current athletic policy discriminates against private school taxpayers
John Eck, a parent of a Kansas high school student, told the committee that last semester he and his wife decided to enroll their daughter in high school only part-time, partly out of a desire to keep her higher academic, behavioral, and ethical standards as they had seen at their daughter’s high school.
But because of her daughter’s part-time public school enrollment, she was not allowed to play for the public school teams as a member of the KSHSAA, nor for unaffiliated homeschooling leagues, which exclude students who are partially enrolled in public schools.
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“Current law allows part-time students, but those students are being denied a right that homeschool students and public school students are entitled to,” Eck said. “That seems discriminatory to me. HB 2030 rightly opens up these sports leagues and puts determination back where it belongs with taxpaying parents.”
Philip Hoppe, a Colby pastor who homeschools seven children with his wife, told the committee via virtual call that he previously lived in Minnesota, a state that allows homeschooled students to participate in interscholastic activities .
“I know it can be done, and it can be done relatively easily,” Hoppe said.
Finding activities for older kids can be difficult, especially in northwestern Kansas, Hoppe said. Most communities do not have recreational leagues on the level of many larger communities in eastern Kansas, and the majority of children and youth attend schools through their schools.
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He pointed to Weskan High School, a school near the Colorado border that has withdrawn from full KSHSAA affiliation in recent years, as part of what Hoppe said is an attempt to engage students at home be able. Weskan High is now what the KSHSAA considers an ‘approved school’, meaning it is not an organization member but is eligible to compete with KSHSAA schools in non-championship events.
“This is a good bill for society and for our communities because I don’t think we want those who don’t participate in public education and those who should move too far apart,” Hoppe said.
Opponents say HB 2030 undermines the foundation for high academic standards in Kansas public schools
Bill Faflick, executive director of KSHSAA, said the organization and its 759 member schools oppose the law because it undermines the organization’s goal of simultaneously encouraging activity participation and academics.
Currently, students must meet six eligibility criteria — scholarship and academics, enrollment, age, semesters of attendance, citizenship, and transfer status — to participate in KSHSAA activities. For academics in particular, students must be enrolled in and pass at least five classes to be eligible.
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“The goal of eligibility standards is really twofold,” Faflick said. “First is holding students accountable at the grassroots level, which encourages student achievement while encouraging positive behavior and helping students academically and through the development of social-emotional skills and a positive school and community culture.
“Second, it’s about supporting a level playing field, where students who come on the same team and compete against opposing teams are held to the same minimum standards,” he continued.
Participating in sports and activities, Faflick said, are some of the best motivators for students, particularly those considered at risk of not graduating, to study and perform well in school.
The bill would then undermine that because the KSHSAA would have little, if any, oversight over non-public schools’ academic standards and minimum requirements, he said. Nothing would stop a failing public school student from dropping out but continuing to participate in activities, under the terms of the bill.
“We don’t want that for any student,” Faflick said. “We want children to be perfects, and we want children to be prepared, because of their opportunity in school, to be tutored and coached by sponsors who want the same.”
Others, like Deena Horst on behalf of the Kansas State Board of Education, said HB 2030 would harm the sense of community fostered around high school sports.
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“Having parents and grandparents who are taxpayers is not the same as being part of the student body where you participate all day with the others who participate in your community and activities,” said Horst, a member of the state board of education from Salina.
The bill, as written, also does not currently address the issue of competitive teams holding tryouts or what would happen if a non-public school student failed a tryout.
The Kansas HB 2030 discussion turns to public school criticism
Republican committee members were extremely skeptical of claims that the law would undermine high school academics, especially when many Kansas students score in the lowest two of four brackets on annual state evaluations and falling scores on national evaluations .
In contrast, homeschooling students do not participate in state evaluations, and it is difficult to assess their academic performance as a group because of the decentralized nature of homeschooling families’ approach to education.
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Rep. Susan Estes, R-Wichita, said she has concerns that the KSHSAA’s current policy is too broad, leaving little leeway for students not trying to play the system.
“We could be so careful with the bad actors that we have the unintended consequence of punishing students who[do the right thing],” Estes said.
Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican who chairs the committee, said she is dismayed that some children in Kansas are banned from attending KSHSAA events “because all the children have parents who pay rent or pay taxes.” .
“To me, when we’re talking about diversity and inclusion and the needs of a variety of children, that’s the opposite of that,” Williams said. “But that’s just me giving an opinion.”
The committee is expected to finalize the bill for possible House-wide distribution in the coming weeks.
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.