Kansas lawmakers consider reimbursement for online college courses

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Kansas lawmakers want to reimburse tuition fees for students who lost class time or were forced in online courses due to the pandemic.

A House panel on Wednesday amended the state’s higher education budget to demand that colleges, community colleges and technical schools reimburse students for 50% of the tuition fees paid for each day spent online rather than in class. The amendment would reimburse 100% for days when students have skipped class entirely.

The move is the latest in a series of steps lawmakers have taken to show their contempt for online learning in colleges and preschools.

Another House committee has approved a measure that, if passed by the House and Senate, would allow parents of K-12 students with at least 120 consecutive hours of online instruction to use state funding per student for private schools via an education savings account. .

Lawmakers have worried that students are falling behind academically and suffering psychologically in online school.

“I have spoken to many parents who tell me that their children don’t learn, that many of them watch their children cheat on their final exams because they take it together,” said Rep. Sean Tarwater , a Republican from Stillwell who introduced the amendment.

Kansas colleges completed their spring semester online last March as the coronavirus began to spread. They have adjusted the schedules and maintained some online courses to limit new infections.

“It was by no means something they chose to do, it was something they felt they had to do. It was a security measure, ”said Representative Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence who teaches at KU.

“They jostled each other like everyone else. “

Using federal relief funds, colleges have already reimbursed students for some costs for lost accommodation and food services.

Any other reimbursement would involve thousands of students. While the exact cost is unknown, it would likely run into the millions, stretching a proposed budget that already assumes a 5.5% cut in higher education.

Some students are already requesting and receiving these refunds.

Over the summer, a Kansas state student filed a lawsuit seeking reimbursement of tuition fees. Such actions have been filed across the country. Louisiana passed a bill requiring refunds last year and New York is considering a similar measure, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Starting point

Members of the House Appropriations Committee described their own children’s experiences during the pandemic era, saying colleges do not provide the education students paid for.

“Our families are crying for help, they don’t understand it,” said Tarwater, Republican from Stillwell. “It seems everyone has been healed except the families. “

The higher education budget must be approved as part of the overall state budget and pass through the entire House and Senate with the governor’s signature. Committee members said on Tuesday they expected the details of the refunds to be worked out along the way.

Like much of the state budget, the financial impact won’t be clear until officials know how much Kansas will receive in the next round of federal stimulus spending.

The Board of Regents did not immediately respond to the Star’s request for comment, but the institutions warned of impending cuts and layoffs under the existing budget.

“It was reckless,” said Representative Brandon Woodard, a Democrat from Lenexa. “We have literally just made the decision to destroy the budgets of our universities without allowing them to testify.”

“We cannot rely on the federal government, we have an obligation as a state to support our universities.”

Tarwater said he would coordinate with the Board of Regents, which governs the state’s colleges, before they are called to the committee in the coming weeks to testify on the matter.

“She’s a conversation starter,” said Rep. Susan Humphries, a Republican from Wichita. “A lot of details still need to be worked out, but it’s holding regents and universities back, keeping their feet on the fire so they know we’re serious about the money.”

The walk of the starsa Rose Williams contributed to this report.

This story was originally published February 17, 2021 2:34 pm.

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Katie Bernard covers the Kansas Legislature and State Government for the Kansas City Star. She joined The Star as a late-breaking journalist in May 2019 before joining the political team in December 2020. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.


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