CV NEWS FEED // Kansas lawmakers are debating a bill that Catholic critics say targets private schools by opening the door to creating artificial barriers to the success of their sports teams in statewide championships.
Between 2015 and 2021, the state’s 28 private high schools – of which 12 are Catholic – won 25% of all state championships. As of 2021-2022, private schools account for fewer than 8% of all high schools in the state.
Supporters of H.B. 2003 say it’s necessary to correct the imbalance.
The proposed legislation adds three words to section 1, paragraph 5 of an existing law, K.S.A. 72-114, to read: “Establish a system for the classification of member high schools according to student attendance and other factors.”
The change will allow the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) to determine those “other factors.” The additional criteria could hinge on each school’s championship record and its student body’s socio-economic demographics, according to Jeff Hines, principal of Paola High School, a public school.
The resulting multiplier could compel private schools – and in particular Catholic schools – with a successful track record to compete against public schools with larger student bodies.
But in a recent interview, Hines argued this would “make this more fair” for public schools such as his own, which has historically struggled to win against the Catholic schools.
Hines, whose three children attend Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School, asked: “Why should dozens of schools start a season with no chance whatsoever to be successful in the postseason?”
Critics of the bill say advocates like Hines and KSHSAA are sending the wrong message to students.
“This proposal says to all the kids in Kansas that it is more important to win state championships than it is to participate,” said Jamie Finkeldei, associate superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita and president of the Kansas Association of Independent and Religious Schools.
He calls the bill “unnecessary, punitive, and counterproductive.”
Former Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp commented that the bill “is clearly meant to punish Catholic schools,” which make up the majority of private schools in Kansas:
With almost no government financial support, Kansas Catholic schools achieve success not only on the field, but more important, they do a superior job of educating our children also on the academic and spiritual fronts. They should be thanked not attacked because of their religious dedication and commitment.
In his testimony to the state legislature, Finkeldai noted:
(The proposal) punishes private schools who have won five or more state championships in the last five years… However, there are 23 public schools who meet the criteria of winning five state titles in the last 5 years. Between 2015-2021, those 23 public schools won 28% of all state championships.
“Why are those 23 public schools not subjected to the same multiplier? Second, what do all of these successful schools have in common?” he continued:
If five state championships in the last five years is too many, then there is no fair or just reason why KSHSAA should not apply the modifier to all schools. The common denominator between almost all these successful schools is that they are almost all suburban schools with low free and reduced lunch counts.
“To characterize this issue as exclusively a private vs. public school issue is patently unjust,” Finkeldai concluded.