Colyer is Governor and We Continue to Debate Home Schooler Participation in Activities

Jan 31, 2018 by

CLICK HERE to read full KC Star report.

With cannons and brass bands, the transition from Sam Brownback to Jeff Colyer was announced. Colyer was sworn in and gave his first speech in a crowded rotunda. Brownback now departs to take up his duties as a special ambassador for religious freedom. Colyer meanwhile might want to distinguish himself from the unpopular Brownback as he takes on the role of Governor and considers his campaign for election to a full term in 2018. We’ll be anxious to see how things go!

Today is the day for the annual KSHSAA participation debate

After the ceremony, the House Education Committee convened to hold two bill hearings.

The first bill was HB 2542 which makes some changes to fee structures the Board of Regents charges to private and out of state institutions of higher education. These fees are used to pay for regulatory activities – KBOR is required to regulate these institutions. The bill also removes a sunset on the fees. There were no opponents to the bill and KBOR was the only proponent.

The second bill was more controversial. HB 2540 would allow public school boards to adopt policies that would allow home-schooled students to participate in school activities regulated by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

Under the bill, such policies would be permitted but not required. The policies would also require participating homeschool students to be in a school registered with the State Board of Education, meet immunization requirements, and meet age and academic requirements for participation (although academic requirements are met by the parent saying they have been met).

A representative to the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas and two home-schooling parents appeared as proponents while the KSHSAA, KASB, and USA appeared as opponents. Most questions were directed to KSHSAA Executive Director Gary Musselman who put on a vigorous defense of the association’s rulemaking process and the integrity of protecting school activities.

There are now options for kids to participate providing they are enrolled for at least one hour per day in the brick and mortar public school.

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A Light Agenda This Week

Jan 30, 2018 by

After ending last week in dramatic fashion, it seems the Legislature is a bit tired – at least the light schedule we’re following might indicate so. Many of the committees we routinely follow are holding meetings “on the call of the chair” and the chairs are so far not calling many meetings.

The House Education Committee met yesterday to hear reports on Communities in Schools and Jobs for America’s Graduates, two programs intended to support at-risk students and working to give them a positive, successful school experience. The Committee will hold hearings on two bills tomorrow. HB 2542 modifies fees that may be charged to Kansas private and out-of-state postsecondary
educational institutions. HB 2540 allows school districts to develop policies under which students not enrolled in the district or enrolled part time might participate in activities.

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee, in their only scheduled meeting so far this week, held a meeting today to hear a report on concurrent enrollment programs. Blake Flanders of the Kansas Board of Regents and Education Commissioner Randy Watson presented the report. This was a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee. The remainder of the week is “on call of the chair.”

The Senate Education Committee will meet tomorrow to hear a presentation by the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and then on Thursday for an overview on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

Both the House and Senate Tax Committees will meet on Thursday. In the morning, the Senate Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1604, a constitutional amendment lowering the food sales tax to 4% in FY 2019 and 2% in FY 2020 and beyond. The House Tax Committee will meet in the afternoon to hear about efforts by other states to collect internet sales taxes.

And related to last week’s drama, Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has introduced HB 2561 which would codify the state department practice of adjusting transportation funding to a “curve of best fit.” While this adjustment has not been part of the statutory formula, it has been practice for many years under direction from legislators in the 1970’s when the formula was crafted.

 

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With Dozens of Education Pros in Attendance, State Board Sends Clear Message

Jan 26, 2018 by

Today, the Kansas State Board of Education conducted an unscheduled meeting to respond to yesterday’s letter from House Speaker Ron Ryckman and Senate President Susan Wagle accusing Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis of distributing certain transportation funds without authority to do so.  The letter also directed the board to suspend Mr. Dennis from employment while an investigation is conducted.  CLICK HERE to read the complete details behind this accusation.

Over the last 24+ hours, the education community throughout Kansas has expressed rock-solid support for Mr. Dennis.  That support overflowed on social media but also within the boardroom at today’s hearing where dozens of education professionals gathered as a show of solidarity.

Upon convening the meeting, it was announced that there would be two closed executive sessions.  The first was for the purpose of consulting with board attorneys and the second was to discuss how to handle the employment issue relative to Mr. Dennis and in response to the Ryckman / Wagle letter.  After the second closed-door session, a motion was put forth by board member Sally Cauble.  In her motion, Cauble stated that the board’s duty was to advise Commissioner of Education Randy Watson when requested regarding employment matters.  Further, Commissioner Watson had requested guidance from the board.  Cauble’s motion recommended to “fully support continued employment for Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis and his staff.”  The motion passed 9-1 with board member John Bacon being the sole no-vote (according to media reports).

While today’s proceedings captured the attention of nearly everyone within the education profession, our soon-to-be Governor, Jeff Colyer, was conspicuously silent and thus far has not weighed-in on the issue.  However, four former Kansas Governors, as well as several state leaders, pledged support for Mr. Dennis prior to today’s hearings.

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Wagle, Ryckman Launch Diversionary Attack on Deputy Ed Commissioner Dale Dennis

Jan 25, 2018 by

GOP Leaders Demand that Dale Dennis be Suspended

Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) sent a strongly worded letter to Jim Porter, Chairman of the State Board of Education demanding that the Board put Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis and other KSDE staff members on administrative leave and calling for an investigation into whether or not Dennis violated the state law on school transportation funding.

At issue is the distribution of funds in addition to the regular transportation formula that has been done annually for many years so that children in high-density school districts can safely transport children to school. (Look below for a more detailed explanation of the issue.)

The action of Wagle and Ryckman is making a mountain out of a molehill. The practice has been addressed many times in open legislative committees and never hidden from legislators. Legislators have struggled for years with the transportation formula and this practice was initiated long ago in order to provide safe routes to school.

Further, Wagle and Ryckman are interfering in the operation of the State Department of Education which functions under the State Board of Education. SBOE Chairman Jim Porter made this point clear to the Lawrence Journal-World saying, “It is not the responsibility of the Legislature to staff the Department of Education.”

Anyone involved with education in Kansas knows Dale Dennis as a man of integrity, a man who serves the Department and advises the Legislature on issues of school finance – and has done so for many years. This perhaps is why members of House and Senate are coming to his defense.

Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), Chairman of the House Education Committee, has issued a statement saying, “I have worked closely with Kansas Dept. of Education, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis and have found him to be consistently straightforward, diligent, and honest. I have deep respect for him and trust in his work.”

It seems so far that Wagle and Ryckman have little support. So far the only person publicly supporting the Wagle/Ryckman demands is Secretary of State and Gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach.

Take Action!

We urge all our readers to call their representative and Senator and ask if they support the Wagle/Ryckman attack on Dale Dennis. We also urge you to contact your State Board of Education member and urge him/her to support Dale and reject the demands of Wagle and Ryckman.  Tell your elected officials to end their politically-motivated overreach!  The State Board of Education will meet tomorrow afternoon starting at 1:00 to consider their response and action.

KNEA, KASB, USA, KSSA, and AFT Issue Joint Statement in Support of Dale Dennis.

CLICK THE IMAGE TO VIEW THE JOINT STATEMENT OR CLICK HERE

 

The Post Audit and the Transportation Funding Question

According to an analysis of the transportation formula conducted by the Division of Post Audit, the formula is adjusted using a “statistical curve of best fit.”

“…a statistical “curve of best fit” is used to estimate per student transportation costs based on student density. Student density is the number of students who live at least 2.5 miles from a school divided by the square mileage of the district. Each district’s per-student cost (calculated in the previous step) and density are plotted on a graph. Statistical regression techniques are used to determine a “curve of best fit” through the data points. This curve represents the estimated per-student cost of providing transportation services at each density point.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, p 8)

This has been done outside of the statutory transportation formula. The LPA found that

“Over the past five years, KSDE’s minimum funding level has provided a total of $45 million more in transportation funding than allowed by law. Figure 1-2 shows the effects of KSDE’s minimum funding level for high-density districts in each of the last five years. As the figure shows, districts have received a total of $8.0 million to $11.5 million in additional funding each year for the last five years.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, p 13)

The Kansas Department of Education provided an explanation of how this came to be.

“The following is a historical explanation for how we arrived at the current line of best fit. Many years ago, at a time the Legislature was discussing the school finance formula, they were making every effort to not discriminate against high-density school districts. KSDE staff was called to the State Capitol and told that the purpose and intent were for KSDE to flatten out the line of best fit so that it would not be disadvantageous to those school districts with high-density per pupil. At that time, legislators were having difficulty defining in writing the line of best fit for high-density school districts. However, they verbally provided KSDE with their definition of line of best fit.

The theory legislators had at that time was to split the line of best fit for high-density school districts by choosing the median expenditure as a minimum funding level. That theory has been in effect for many years. This calculation has been explained and reviewed before numerous legislative committees over the years and met their criteria.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, Appendix A, p 34)

The Division of Post Audit recommended that the practice be codified as part of the transportation formula. Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has introduced a bill – HB 2445 – that would do just that.

 

 

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Courts & Committee Wrestle With Due Process

Jan 24, 2018 by

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Kansas NEA supports full restoration of due process and fair dismissal rights for all Kansas teachers.

Action in the Supreme Court

Today, Kansas NEA General Counsel, David Schauner, argued before the Supreme Court that the action taken by the Kansas Legislature in 2014 effectively took away earned property (due process rights) and did so without any due process and in violation of the 14th Amendment.  Today’s case was brought before the court on behalf of two teachers, KNEA members, who are unwilling to allow their property rights – and ultimately those of thousands of their colleagues – to be taken from them by the government without challenge.  If these teacher members of KNEA prevail and the Supreme Court finds that the state did unlawfully strip them of their rights in 2014, it will not mean a full restoration of due process for all Kansas teachers.  However, with a bill to do just that sitting in the House Education Committee, KNEA and its members are demonstrating absolute resolve and determination to restore these rights for all Kansas teachers.

An attorney for Flinthills USD 492, where one of the teachers worked prior to having been terminated without cause in 2015, argued that the only recourse for citizens challenging an action of the Legislature was to cast a ballot in an election.  One of the Justices asked the school district’s attorney if he believed that a dead-of-night ‘lock-in’ by the legislature represented sufficient due process to pass a bill that had no hearing and was amended to include the elimination of due process for teachers.  He answered in the affirmative.

We can’t help but wonder how the complainant school districts in the ongoing Gannon school funding case reacted to hearing an attorney representing a school district argue that the only remedy for what may be a defective legislative process is a vote on election day.  Apparently, this school district believes that once voted into power, the Kansas Legislature has unlimited authority to pass any law, anytime, and without any opportunity for public input – including the taking of property.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by anyone with an eye on the current Kansas Legislature that the chambers have a long history of defective and deceptive practices.   An investigation by the Kansas City Star found that the Kansas Legislature has made a practice of working in secret, refusing to identify themselves as bill sponsors and routinely practicing a procedure known as “gut and go” in which bills are stripped of their original contents and filled with completely unrelated policy in order to advance ideas that might find opposition in a public hearing.

Just this week, bills have been introduced to clean up these processes and afford citizens true transparency in order to see clearly what their elected officials are doing in Topeka.  We believe that Senate Substitute for House Bill 2506 passed in 2014 is the living legacy of a legislative defect.  It was the bill that log-rolled the elimination of teacher due process and a number of other controversial issues into it, while most Kansans were sound asleep.

As for today’s case, we’ll have to wait and see if the Supreme Court agrees with KNEA and with many in the Legislature today that defective Legislative processes shouldn’t cost citizens their 14th Amendment property rights.

Action in the House Education Committee

What might have started as a promising hearing in the House Education Committee ended as it did last year with the Chairman, Rep. Aurand (R- Belleville) ignoring the will of the committee.  A bill before the committee (HB 2483) seeks to restore due process only for those teachers who earned it prior to legislative action to eliminate due process in 2014 AND who have also maintained uninterrupted employment in the same district.  No other teachers would have due process rights nor could they earn them.  Effectively, this bill creates a two-class system and as those who would have their rights restored leave the profession, due process would be phased out entirely.

The only proponent of this bill was the committee Chairman Rep. Clay Aurand.  Rep. Aurand first sought to use the tiered KPERS system as an analog for what this bill would accomplish.  KNEA’s lobbyist Mark Desetti pointed out in his comments that the KPERS tiered system came about through many discussions, open hearings and in response to a need to stabilize the system.  However, due process rights were stripped from teachers without any hearing (or even a bill introduction) and in the dark of night in April of 2014 and only after Representatives were locked into the House Chamber to secure a final vote.

Rep. Aurand continued to suggest that compromise is needed in order to craft a new fair dismissal policy for teachers.  What Aurand failed to acknowledge is that a compromise would require one group (KNEA) to forfeit one of its core values.  KASB has already stated a position indicating support for having school boards be the final arbiter in termination disputes. In effect, they have no need to compromise because their position is already assured.  It should be noted that Rep. Aurand is also a sitting school board member in Kansas.

Comments from committee members indicate that a majority support fair dismissal procedures for all Kansas teachers.  As the hearing drew to a close, Rep. Stogsdill (D- Prairie Village) made a motion to bring last year’s bill (HB 2179) which restores due process for all teachers, up for action in the committee.  However, Chairman Aurand ruled the motion out of order.  He then stated that he has no intention of working either bill without substantive compromise.  Rep. Ousley (D- Merriam) then pointed out that Rep. Aurand acknowledged earlier during the hearing that the full House of Representatives passed the bill restoring full due process for all teachers last year, establishing a House position.  Rep. Ousley suggested that Chairman Aurand was directing the House to compromise their own position.  It would appear that Chairman Aurand believes that the will of a committee Chair should supersede the will of the majority of the Kansas House of Representatives.

No further action has been indicated at this time.  We will continue to advocate for the full restoration of due process rights as they existed prior to 2014.  We will keep you informed as the session moves forward.

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