The Kansas Senate unanimously approved legislation Thursday requiring compilation of an annual academic report card on thousands of children in foster care.
Kansas would be the second state to initiate this type of tracking mandate. If passed into law, the Kansas State Department of Education and the Kansas Department for Children and Families would report on high school graduations, standardized test scores, suspensions or expulsions and enrollment in at-risk programs of foster children in accredited public and private schools.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she stumbled across the data shortage after learning neither DCF nor KSDE knew how many of nearly 8,000 Kansans in foster care were graduating from high school last year.
She said the best estimate was 38% of seniors in foster care earned high school degrees. That is less than half the state’s overall rate of 87% as of 2018.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of curve you want to put on the grading scale, 38% is always going to be an F and I think foster care kids deserve better,” Baumgardner said. “It’s not going to solve all issues. It is going to give us real data.”
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, added: “This is music to my ears.”
Meanwhile, the Kansas House adopted a bill requiring school districts to pay the cost of liability insurance when high school students participate in technical training programs off district property. The idea was developed because business owners were loath to let students on job sites or into workshops where risk of injury existed, said Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell.
“We need more businesses to open their doors to these kids to let them in ... so they can be workforce-ready when they graduate,” Tarwater said.
He said House Bill 2507 was crafted because participating businesses didn’t want the cost of liability protection through worker compensation programs to increase. Instead, the bill makes school districts insure students as if they were on campus in a shop class.
“On the surface, it looks like a good bill,” said Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-Kansas City. “I just don’t know how the school districts are going to absorb this.”
The Kansas Senate also adopted a bill allowing public school districts to enter into agreements with higher education institutions to enable enrollment of high school students in dual-credit courses and for the first time allow school districts to subsidize tuition costs.
It would alter existing Kansas law forbidding local school boards from covering all or part of tuition for students concurrently enrolled in high school and a nonprofit college. Under Senate Bill 335, any student who spent time in the Kansas foster care system while in high school would have the cost of tuition, fees and books waived for these dual-enrollment courses.
In addition, the Senate approved a bill clarifying authority held by the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which oversees registration of sign-language interpreters for people with disabilities. It allows revocation or suspension of registrations if a person is found to be incompetent, negligent or guilty of a crime.
“Senate Bill 230 will help the state provide safer and more reliable communication access for those with hearing loss or speech impairments,” said Baumgardner, the Louisburg Republican senator.
A sign-language interpreter was on the Senate floor during deliberations for benefit of people in the visitor gallery.
Sen. Richard Billinger, R-Goodland, said the two-dozen smaller schools within his Senate district didn’t have resources to hire certified sign-language personnel to meet the needs of students or their parents.
“There are a lot of interpreters out there who have not gone through this process,” said Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha.