Government Transparency May Be Coming

Jan 23, 2018 by

A series of articles in the Kansas City Star starting back in November revealed to the public what insiders under the dome have known for years – the Kansas legislature often operates in secret.

Things have become much worse in recent years with the actions of agencies now often hidden and with information apparently withheld.

The Star articles revealed three very disturbing trends in the Legislature.

  1. Nearly all legislation is introduced anonymously,
  2. the prevalence of a procedure known as “gut and go” is used to pass legislation on “hot button” issues that would cause many Kansans to object, and
  3. committee votes, where most decisions are made, are kept unrecorded making it impossible to really know how legislators are voting on issues.

There are other issues as well but those three make following a bill from start to finish and understanding how legislators vote nearly impossible.

The revelations in the Star series and the public outcry since has resulted in enough pressure on legislators that they appear to be ready to make some changes.

The first statutory change is in a proposal by Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) that would require bills introduced in committee to include the name of the person who requested them and follow the bill through the legislative process.

This week, House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) ordered committee chairs in the House to stop allowing bills to be introduced without identifying the sponsors. Earlier, Ryckman had told the Star’s Editorial Board that there would be “unintended consequences” if members started putting their names on bills. He was referring especially to the “gut and go” procedure under which a bill is amended by removing all of the original language and inserting something entirely unrelated. It would be troublesome to have sponsored one idea and then have your name on a totally unrelated idea later.

The Star also reported that in the 2017 legislative session 94% of bills that became law had no sponsor listed and that half of the abortion bills passed in the last 10 years were the result of a “gut and go” amendment.

Today the House and Senate Democrats offered a list of proposals that would end much of the secrecy in Topeka including changes in legislative procedures and more restrictions on lobbyists.

So it is just possible that it will be easier to track legislation in the future!

And if you are counting, 14 of 70 bills introduced in the House as of last Thursday carried the name of one or more sponsors. The other 56 are anonymous committee bills.

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A Due Process Bill? Otherwise a Quiet Week

Jan 22, 2018 by

When is the restoration of due process, not the restoration of due process?

The answer is when it is written in the form it is in House Bill 2483.

Some people mistakenly believe that HB 2483, a bill by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), would restore due process or fair dismissal protections to Kansas teachers but it only does so selectively.

Under HB 2483, if you are a teacher who had already earned due process prior to June 30, 2014, AND have been continuously employed by the same school district ever since, you get due process.

If for some reason you changed districts? You do not ever get due process.

If you are a teacher hired since 2014? You do not ever get due process.

If you were teaching prior to the repeal but had not yet earned due process? You do not ever get due process.

If you earned due process prior to the repeal and promise never, ever to leave your current district? You’re the winner! You get and keep your due process.

House Bill 2483 establishes a two-tier teaching profession in Kansas. There are older, veteran teachers that the legislature would deem worthy of due process and then there are new teachers who can never be considered worthy of due process. The message to potential teachers is clear – “you will never be good enough for us.” We can envision the classic grumpy old man sitting on his porch and mumbling about “this generation!”

Our position has never waivered. All teachers must be able to earn due process/fair dismissal protections. We believe that a school district must rigorously evaluate teachers and document their performance in the classroom. If after three years a teacher has been determined to be competent and is offered a fourth year of employment, then that teacher must be given a reason for non-renewal and have the opportunity to have the documentation for that reason reviewed by an impartial third party.

We don’t hold this position just for veteran teachers. We hold this position for ALL teachers.

After a three year probationary period – during which a teacher may be non-renewed for any reason without recourse to an impartial third party – a teacher has the right to be told why he/she is being non-renewed and have the opportunity for impartial third party review.

House Bill 2483 does not restore due process – it lets due process protections for teachers die a slow death. Eventually, as all our veteran, “grandfathered” teachers retire, due process will end entirely. There is no restoration of due process in HB 2483.

The legislature needs to take HB 2483 and amend it so that all teachers once again have the right to earn due process. It is time to right the wrongs of the 2014 Kansas legislature and show Kansas teachers that they are respected and trusted.

HB 2483 will have a hearing in the House Education Committee at 3:30 on Wednesday.

A very quiet week

Every Thursday we get a sneak peek at the upcoming legislative calendar for the next week. Then we look for any additions to the calendar on Friday. We did this as usual last week and found that very few of the committees we follow most closely had prepared agendas. Mostly it was “Meeting on call of the Chair.”

Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee? Meetings on call all week. House K-12 Budget Committee? Meetings on call all week. House Taxation Committee? A report on the state of the Kansas economy on Monday, then on call for the rest of the week. The House and Senate Education Committees will meet the Kansas Teacher of the Year Team on Tuesday. The Senate Committee will also meet to hear about mental health arrangements and career and technical education while the House Committee will hold hearings on HB 2483 (see above) and HB 2485, a school transportation bill calling for students to be transported when there is no safe route to school.

We’ll keep watching the calendar for changes and listening for “called committee meetings,” but it’s looking right now like a relatively quiet week under the dome.

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Still Gathering Info; Thinking About the Prospects

Jan 17, 2018 by

KSEdTalk- LEGISLATIVE LANDSCAPE 2018, CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

These early days of a legislative session leave us wondering what we have to report to you every day! Legislators might be thought of as “hunter/gatherers.” While hunting for ideas and solutions, the spend a lot of time gathering information.

So it has been so far this year. In the committees we follow most closely – Appropriations, Ways and Means, the Tax Committees, the Education Committees, and the Education Budget Committees – we have been treated to many of the same presentations. These include:

  • Reviews of the impact of SB 19, the tax bill passed last session. What we know- Things are looking up but it’s still early – we should know a lot by April. And the new federal tax bill is likely to help make our revenue picture a “wild ride” (legislative staff said that not us!) with the first impact being a large influx of income tax cash as taxpayers sent in their last estimated tax payments in December rather than January to ensure those payments could still be deductible on their 2017 federal income tax form.
  • Reviews of the deliberations of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision. This committee assembled a collection of data but chose not to forward any recommendations to the full legislature. The most talked about part of their report is their study of the impact of an 18% cut to all state agencies except K-12 education as a means of raising the $600 million they believe is needed to meet the Court’s ruling.
  • Reviews of the evolution of the education article in the Kansas Constitution (Article VI). The current language was drafted by a legislative committee in 1965 and by the public in 1966. Prior to 1966, it was the language of the Wyandotte Constitution. A number of legislators have been floating the idea of pressing a constitutional amendment to stop the Supreme Court from determining the school funding formula to be unconstitutional on the basis of adequacy.
  • Reviews for recent changes to KPERS including the impact on the unfunded actuarial liability of withholding state KPERS contributions as part of balancing the budget.
  • Presentations by Education Commissioner Randy Watson on the state of education in Kansas today.

It’s a lot of data!

 Is $600 million the number?

It would seem that $600 million is the number under the dome. The Governor proposed $600 million, meeting the SBOE or the three-judge panel recommendations would take about $600 million, the Special Committee premised their discussion including consideration of budget cuts to raise $600 million, so it sounds a lot like consensus. (We recognize that there is a core group of legislators who don’t want to increase school funding at all.)

But of course, at the same time, the legislature has contracted for a new school funding study. That study is expected to be presented to the legislature on March 15. And that’s another problem.

The Court expects briefs to be filed on April 30. Attorney General Schmidt and the state’s attorney, Art Chalmers, both asked the legislature to finish their work by March 1 in order to meet that deadline. A few legislators have begun to float the idea of waiting until that study is complete. But to do so would jeopardize their ability to argue in the Supreme Court.

There are several things the legislature needs to do to get this task accomplished.

  • They need to deal with the four unconstitutional inequities in the new formula. This is a relatively easy task and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has already filed a bill to fix those problems (HB 2445).
  • With that done, they can focus on the level of funding they need. Again, the SBOE, the three-judge panel, and the Governor have all indicated about $600 million.
  • They need to decide how to put that money into the system. The Governor suggested a five-year phase-in. We don’t know if the Court will accept a time frame of that length but most people agree there will be some kind of phase-in.
  • And finally, they need to make sure the money is available. They must show the Court that they are serious by presenting evidence that the money for a phase-in will actually be there. This might take additional revenue measures and it will certainly include evidence of increasing revenue collections.

These are the discussions we hope to see beginning very soon.

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The State of Our State…

Jan 10, 2018 by

Read more from CJOnline http://cjonline.com/news/state-government/education/2018-01-09/brownback-s-offer-600-million-k-12-budget-shifts

Last night, Governor Brownback delivered his final State-of-the-State address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature. And what a speech it was. It is roundly being attacked by his former allies, the most conservative Republican Legislators, with JR Claeys (R-Salina) actually tweeting, “The governor has waved the white flag of surrender from the dome, and tossed every ally he had left under the bus…Then put the bus in reverse…Then lit fire to the bus.” Wow.

Usually a final speech is a time to reflect on the accomplishments of one’s administration but this speech was short on accomplishments and long on “dreams.”

Among those accomplishments were the opening of the state’s longest hiking and biking trail, a reduction in adult obesity, the opening of the National Soccer Training Center, moving the American Royal from Missouri to Kansas, and a rising quail population. There were a few economic wins included in his list such as the opening of a new milk drying plant to serve the large dairy farms in southwest Kansas and our growing wind energy industry but overall, it did not read like a bragging list of major accomplishments.

The K-12 Education Proposal

The second part of the speech is what angered his one-time allies. Brownback announced that his budget would include $600 million in new K-12 education funding to be spread out over five years. The conservatives have been fighting the Supreme Court and arguing that money doesn’t matter in education. They have tried to say that the Court should be satisfied with just a few new dollars targeted specifically to at-risk students. They were certain they had an ally in Sam Brownback and are looking at his proposal as turning his back on his loyal followers (see JR Claey’s quote above).

On the surface, there is nothing alarming in the Governor’s education proposal. He would put $200.8 million in new education funding in fiscal year (FY) 2019 and an additional $100 million in each of FY 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. Most of the 2019 increase has already been passed as part of SB 19 in the 2017 session.

He then cites three expectations of the school system based on this new money. Specifically he wants by the 2022-23 school year:

  1. To reach a 95% statewide graduation rate,
  2. To attain a statewide post-secondary effectiveness rate of 75%, and
  3. To continue to move schools statewide toward the Kansans Can model for school redesign launched by the Kansas Department of Education.

As a means to achieve these three goals, the Governor sets the following five strategic objectives for Kansas school districts to meet by the 2022-2023 school year:

  1. Have the highest teacher pay average of our neighboring states, including having a higher teacher pay average than the State of Missouri by the 2018-2019 school year;
  2. Increase the number of school counselors and school psychologists in Kansas schools by 150.00 FTE positions each year;
  3. Have 50 schools participating in the Kansans Can school redesign project;
  4. Offer 15.0 credit hours of dual credit coursework to every Kansas high school student, at no cost to students (including tuition, fees or books), through a partnership between Kansas high schools and the state’s institutions of higher learning; and
  5. Offer every Kansas high school student, at no cost to the student, the choice of taking either the ACT college entrance exam or the Work Keys assessments (for attainment of the National Career Readiness Certificate) during his or her high school career.

In terms of the goals, it is hard to find something to argue with in this proposal.

What, of course, is up in the air is whether or not the Supreme Court will accept such a long phase in. We believe it is likely that they will allow the remedy to be phased in over time but five years might be too long. The last phased in remedy was in 2006 in response to the Montoy decision and the legislature failed – for a variety of reasons including the 2008-09 economic collapse – to fulfill the promises made at that time. Later, when the economy was in recovery and revenues were on the rebound, instead of going back to the phase in, the legislature, under the direction of Governor Brownback, gave all new revenue away in the disastrous tax cuts of 2012.

Now comes the interesting part. The Governor has proposed a dollar amount that is very likely to be supported by Democrats and Moderate Republicans, leaving the conservatives in the position of either taking that number or cutting the proposed funding for schools. It is not lost on anyone under the dome that the 2016 legislative elections were about taxes and school funding.

What happens to a dream deferred?

So asked Kansas native Langston Hughes in one of his most famous poems.

We bring this up because the third portion of the Governor’s speech was about dreams – dreams that we would argue have been deferred thanks to his own policies that devastated the revenue system for Kansas.

Brownback said, “A dream spoken sets up the architecture for the creative efforts of free men and women to build upon.” How true that is.

Then he went on to call out his dreams – and perhaps the dreams of many Kansans. These are his dreams quoted from his speech:

“My dream for Kansas is to be the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business.”

“I dream that education in the state is tailored to each student’s needs and desires.”  

I dream of leading the country in developing new treatments to heal old maladies using your own adult stem cells.”

“I dream of a future Kansas exporting wind electricity across America.”  

“Dream with me of a growing and diversifying Air Capitol of the World.”  

“I dream that Kansas will continue to be and grow as a major financial services hub.”

“Dream with me of feeding the world.”  

“I dream of reconciliation between the races.”

“I dream of a culture of life.”

This is the speech that he could have and should have given in his 2011 State-of-the-State address. Today these are simply dreams deferred while he pressed an agenda of massive tax cuts that simply starved the state’s ability to pursue those dreams.

It is what the 2018 Kansas Legislature does and what happens in the 2018 Kansas elections that will determine if dreams can be pursued or if, in the words of Langston Hughes, “they dry up like a raisin in the sun.”

To read the Governor’s speech, click here.

To see Budget Director Shawn Sullivan’s presentation to the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees, click here.

To view a video reaction to the Governor’s speech by Heidi Holiday of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Sarah LaFrenz of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Kansas NEA Governmental Relations Director Mark Desetti, click here.

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