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Kansas Board of Education approves 2 'innovative districts' despite constitutional concerns

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TOPEKA, Kansas — Two Kansas school districts have been granted sweeping waivers exempting them from most state laws and regulations governing public schools, even though the state Board of Education's own attorney thinks the law allowing those waivers is probably unconstitutional.

The McPherson and Concordia school districts on Tuesday received unanimous approval for the waivers, the first under the 2013 Coalition of Innovative Districts Act, the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1pG4CHM ) reported.

The law allows up to 29 school districts to come out from under most state regulations if they offer a plan showing how doing so will improve education.

In approving the waivers, however, the state board attached conditions and added new rules that weren't included in the statute with the intent of giving the state board more oversight and control over how the innovative schools system will work.

A panel consisting of Gov. Sam Brownback, House Education Committee Chairwoman Kasha Kelley and Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Abrams reviewed applications from eight school districts and unanimously chose McPherson and Concordia. Those two districts now comprise the Coalition of Innovative Schools Board and will review and approve all future coalition members.

The Board of Education, in granting the waivers, attached conditions that were not authorized in the law enacted by the Legislature. Those conditions were drafted by a subcommittee over lunch immediately before the discussion.

They include stipulations that the state Board of Education will appoint two representatives to the coalition board, and that the education commissioner or his designee also will serve as a voting member.

The stipulations also include that the state board will have "direct responsibility and oversight" over the coalition board; that the state board will exercise "discretionary functions" when reviewing applications; and that the coalition board must report to the state board of education at least twice each year.

Kansas Department of Education staff previously had recommended denying both districts' applications because they included requests for waivers from federal laws and regulations, including testing requirements and school nutrition regulations. The orders approved Tuesday commit the state board only to working with the districts to seek federal approval for those waivers.


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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