Kansas Senate President Masterson tries again more limited version of his Back to School Act

Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, center, is persistent about getting his Back to School Act passed.

If you at first don't succeed, try, try again. 

At least that's the approach Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, is taking with his bill dubbed the Back to School Act, which the Kansas House approved Tuesday 77-46. 

The current act being pushed would make Kansas schools offer a full-time, in-person learning option to every student by March 31. But, it's only for the rest of this current school year, while the original proposal had this provision for perpetuity.

More:Bill requiring Kansas schools to have in-person learning by March 26 voted down

That original Back to School Act surprisingly was voted down by a handful of House Republicans, who cited issues like local control or how it didn't account for potential future events that would require school closures. Limiting the timeframe of this bill was meant to appease them.

"This bill only affects the current school year. It does not affect future emergencies," emphasized Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell. "Go back to school for the few weeks that remain in the school year."

Masterson and proponents had called the Back to School Act as necessary and important, after many schools in the state and nationwide moved to hybrid or remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They said that remote learning had harmed many students emotionally and mentally.

Opponents question need for bill

Besides local control, opponents still questioned why this bill was even necessary, especially as both sides acknowledged most schools have already gone back to in-person learning. COVID-19 cases have been going down, and the vaccine rollout is accelerating.

"If we keep hearing that this bill doesn't do that much and it's not that big of a deal, then why are we doing it aside from some potentially nefarious political reason?" said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park. 

More:CDC: Kansas now 38th in nation for most COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per capita

The tweaks satisfied most if not all of the Republicans who had voted against the original act, in the end. It will now head to the Kansas Senate, which didn't concur with the new tweaks. Both chambers will hash out their differences on the bill. 

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly wouldn't say Monday whether she would veto the new Back to School Act. But she called the act pointless and unnecessary.

"I really wish the Legislature would focus on some very important things that need to be done," she said. "This issue's taking care of itself."