UPDATE: Since this piece original ran, the bill has been updated as SB58. The Kansas Senate is set to vote on the legislation April 1.
A Kansas Senate panel approved Tuesday legislation establishing an educational bill of rights for parents of public school children.
The bill is aimed at the idea of educational transparency and ensuring parents have increased access to and oversight of their child’s curriculum and materials. Modeled after recommendations of the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C., the Kansas legislation was supported by seven people and opposed by more than 100 people who submitted testimony to the Senate Education Committee.
Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican and former school principal, said the provisions are needed to ensure parents who feel their complaints went unanswered during the pandemic have clearly defined rights.
“We’ve seen the outcome of parents expressing their opinions at school board meetings and being labeled as domestic terrorists,” Erickson said. “This bill is positive in that it reasserts parents’ rightful responsibilities in regard to their children, and their involvement in the school process.”
However, Democrats on the panel said the bill was redundant, as parents already have the right to access this information and questioned the intent if this right already existed.
“It feels like there’s an insinuation here that there’s no transparency at our public schools,” said Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park. “Asking the teacher, there’s so many avenues to doing that and my biggest concern is after two years of a pandemic with a lot of intense criticism of our public schools, it just doesn’t feel very supportive at these times.”
The measure now goes to the Senate floor for consideration by the full chamber.
Adam Proffitt, budget director for Gov. Laura Kelly, said during a February hearing the legislation would require school districts to absorb millions of dollars in costs associated with the formation of online portals of curriculum information and evaluation of library materials. He said the House bill had the potential to increase lawsuits involving school districts.
Beyond reaffirming parental rights to learn more about the curriculum presented to their children, Senate Bill 496 would require schools to avoid K-12 materials that promote “racially essentialist” doctrine in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Proponents said this was a direct response to concerns about critical race theory.
A similar measure in the House also creates a misdemeanor offense to deter exposure to obscene materials in schools.
“When I was teaching, I did have the occasion when I would have a child because of their religious beliefs their families didn’t want them to be involved in certain things,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, a Kansas City Democrat and retired educator. “I guess I’m trying to understand this piece and how when it comes to a learning activity, what exactly that would mean.”