Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia: Penultimate Meeting?

Nov 29, 2018 by

The Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia met this week in an effort to begin (and hopefully finish) drafting their final report to the Legislature which is due on January 30, 2019. It didn’t take long to become clear that more time would be needed.

They did hear from each of their four subcommittees and begin to discuss the draft reports from each. Those subcommittees and their members are:

  • The Subcommittee on Evidence-Based Reading Practices, Rep. Brenda Dietrich, chair. Members are Jennifer Bettles, Jaime Callaghan, Christine Middleton, and Sonja Watkins.
  • The Subcommittee on Pre-Service and In-Service Professional Development, Dr. David Hurford, chair. Members are Alisia Matteoni, Jeanine Phillips, Jeri Powers, and Angie Schreiber.
  • The Subcommittee on Screening and Evaluation Process, Sen. Bruce Givens, chair. Members are Sarah Brinkley, Tally Fleming, and Jennifer Knight.
  • The Subcommittee on Current State and Federal Law, Laura Jurgensen, chair. Members are Mike Burgess and Lori McMillan. This subcommittee is made up of the ex-officio, non-voting members of the Task Force.

Each of the first three reports generated significant discussion which quickly challenged the agenda set by Task Force Chairman Jim Porter. Dietrich and Hurford both were also carrying edits to their reports as well as suggestions that certain recommendations would be abandoned or dramatically altered.

Among all the recommendations, perhaps those generating the most discussion and concern were the ones dealing with teacher training.

One recommendation under evidence-based reading practices calls for the State Board of Education to “provide training for all Kansas teachers to create dyslexia-friendly classrooms by incorporating strategies and approaches described in Dyslexia in the Classroom: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (IDA).” The limits to the ability of the SBOE to require training to all teachers including those in private and unaccredited schools ran up against the desire by many on the Task Force to see that every teacher in every kind of school, every teacher from pre-K through high school, creates a dyslexia-friendly classroom.

Similar discussions arose during the discussion of the report on pre-service and in-service professional development. Some wanted to see new master’s degree programs established in dyslexia, others sought endorsements. Some wanted specific numbers of annual hours of training for all teachers, others argued that such annual trainings would end up being something “people just sit through mindlessly like the blood-borne pathogens training.” A recommendation calling for the creation of new positions as “Classroom Dyslexia Educator,” “Dyslexia Practitioner,” and “Dyslexia Trainer/Supervisor” will likely be dropped.

Near the end of the meeting, Laura Jurgensen, an attorney and chair of the Subcommittee on Current State and Federal Law, urged each of the groups to be very precise in their language. They must consider the impact of phrases like “all teachers” and “all districts” and to remember that everything has a cost. Jurgensen pointed out that monies for education are directed to certain programs and tasks. Any recommendation that has a fiscal impact would require either shifting money from some current programs and efforts or finding a new funding stream.

Chairman Porter will ask that the Task Force, in some form, be maintained in order to have annual meetings for the purpose of evaluating progress. Staff pointed out that this Task Force will cease to exist on January 30 but that the Legislature could create another one or one could be appointed by the Governor or the State Board of Education.

It is noteworthy that no subcommittee had recommendations for the Legislature. All recommendations are directed toward the State Board of Education and some would naturally fall to the State Board of Regents.

The Task Force will meet again on January 10 at which time they will work to finalize the recommendations and to merge the four subcommittee reports into one document.

The subcommittee reports are not currently available online.

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Close Elections Shaking Out

Nov 19, 2018 by

We had an unusually large number of Kansas House races that were remarkably close and those that are looking at absentee and provisional ballots as a result are now becoming closer to resolution.

In House District 72, on election night incumbent Democrat Tim Hodge was down by 84 votes. After the canvass, Hodge was found to have won re-election by 92 votes.

In House District 111, Democrat Eber Phelps was down by 40 votes to Republican challenger Barbara Wasinger. After the canvass, Wasinger’s lead was whittle down to 32 votes. Phelps has asked for this race to go to a hand recount.

In House District 48, Democrat David Benson was ahead on election night by 36 votes over incumbent Republican Abraham Rafie. After the Johnson County canvass was completed, Benson had won by 82 votes.

In House District 25, Democrat Rui Xu was ahead of incumbent Republican Melissa Rooker by 51 votes on election night. After the Johnson County canvass was completed, Xu had won by 121 votes.

At this point, the Democrat/Republican balance in the House would appear to be unchanged from 2017-18. Democrats lost five incumbents but elected five challengers over Republicans. The House will most likely be 40 Democrats and 85 Republicans. It is still possible that Phelps could win re-election in HD 111. If he does, the divisions would be 41 Democrats to 84 Republicans.

What Color is Kansas?

Pundits and broadcasters often refer to Kansas as a “deep red” state meaning that it is so Republican that Democrats are very unlikely to ever win. And yet when Kansans elect Governors, an interesting phenomenon occurs – one that even Kris Kobach noted in his concession speech on election night. Since 1954, no Republican governor has been succeeded by another Republican and no Democratic governor has been succeeded by another Democrat.

When you look at county by county election maps, it would appear that Kansas is deeply red. But in reality, Kansas is far more “purple” than one might think.

Kansas State Representative Adam Smith (R-Weskan) comes from one of reddest areas in our state. Smith thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at Kansas and consider things like population density and actual voting trends to make a new electoral map of Kansas and the results are fascinating.

When Smith looked at the two counties that appear the reddest (Wallace and Wichita Counties) and the two that appear the bluest (Douglas and Wyandotte Counties), he noted that those two red counties delivered a total of 1279 votes while those two blue counties delivered 81,762 votes. This explains why a state-wide Democratic candidate can win nine counties and win over a Republican taking 96 counties. The nine counties won by Democrat Kelly are, for lack of a better expression, “where the people live.”

So Smith adjusted the map in two ways. First, he made the size of counties proportional to their population. Johnson County becomes very large while Wallace County shrinks. Secondly, he put the counties on a color scale from deep red to deep blue based on the ratio of votes cast for Republican candidates to votes cast for Democratic candidates. If the ratio is 9:1 Republican, the county is deep red; if 9:1 Democratic, the county is deep blue. A 1:1 ration would be purple.

The resulting map is fascinating! Kansas would appear to be a very purple state – a centrist, moderate state. Take a look:

If you want to read Representative Smith’s full explanation, click here!

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We Had an Election!

Nov 7, 2018 by

Governor-Elect, Laura Kelly

The 2018 election is finally over and the preliminary results are in. It’s what you might call a “mixed bag.”

On the one hand, on the federal level, the Democrats have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Kansas is part of that change with the defeat of Kevin Yoder and the election of Sharice Davids in CD 3 which includes Johnson and Wyandotte Counties and part of Miami County. The new House of Representatives is likely to act as a check on President Trump and especially the wishes of his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Kansas has also elected a Democratic Governor and sent Kris Kobach back to the private sector- although no one really believes he will be gone for long. The extreme conservative ideology of the Brownback administration will be replaced by an administration known for cooperation and compromise. We look forward to that!

But there are some significant changes to the Kansas House of Representatives and the possibility of big changes in our Senate as well despite the fact that only one Senate seat was on the ballot this year.

So what follows is our preliminary analysis. We should let you know that we are working off the Secretary of State’s preliminary election results and final results won’t be available for a while yet. While not likely, it is possible that some results could change.

Additionally, we warn you that when looking at new Republican legislators it is sometimes difficult to be certain whether they will fall into the Moderate or Conservative camps once they start voting. We rely on the wisdom of those who have some familiarity with them but it’s not a scientific analysis!

Here we go!

The Democrats

The House Democratic Caucus has declined by one seat, going from 40 to 39. While six incumbent Democrats lost their re-election bid (Adam Lusker HD 2, Debbie Deere HD 40, Tim Hodge HD 72, Ed Trimmer HD 79, Steve Crum HD 98, and Eber Phelps HD 111), five new Democrats were elected making it almost a wash.

The six incumbent Democrats who lost were all defeated by Conservative Republicans.

The five new Democrats are Susan Ruiz in HD 23 who defeated Moderate Republican Linda Gallagher, Rui Xu in HD 25 who defeated Moderate Republican Melissa Rooker, Brandon Woodard in HD 30 who won an open seat where incumbent Randy Powell retired, Mike Amyx in HD 45 who will replace retiring Moderate Republican Tom Sloan, and Dave Benson in HD 48 who defeated Conservative incumbent Abraham Rafie.

Three of the new Democrats are replacing Moderate Republicans while two took seats from Conservatives.

The Moderate Republicans

Moderate Republicans picked up four seats currently held by Conservatives: Mark Samsel HD 5 replaces Conservative Kevin Jones who lost his primary for Congress, J.C. Moore HD 93 who defeated Conservative John Whitmer in the primary and went on to win the general, Nick Hoheisel HD 97 who will replace retiring Conservative Les Osterman, and Bill Pannbacker HD 106 who will replace retiring Conservative Clay Aurand.

But Moderate Republicans lost three seats they currently hold to Democrats in the general (Gallagher, Rooker, and Sloan) and an additional six Moderates will be replaced by Conservatives who defeated them in the primary. Those six are HD 8 where Chris Croft defeated Patty Markley, HD 28 where Kellie Warren defeated Joy Koesten, HD 39 where Owen Donohoe will replace retiring Shelee Brim, HD 74 where Steven Kelly defeated Don Schroeder, HD 75 where Will Carpenter defeated Mary Martha Good, HD 80 where Bill Rhiley defeated Anita Judd-Jenkins, HD 87 where Renee Erickson will replace retiring Roger Elliott, and HD 104 where Paul Waggoner defeated Steven Becker.

That’s a loss of 11 Moderate Republican seats offset by three Democrats resulting in Conservatives taking eight Moderate seats.

The Coalition

So with Democrats down by one seat and Moderate Republicans down by 11, the Conservatives will have a solid block that can control leadership elections and then the appointment of committee chairs and vice chairs.

In analyzing the Democrat/Moderate coalition that managed to reverse the Brownback tax disaster and restore a sound school finance system, we must look at a couple of factors. First, Democrats usually vote as a solid block in favor of public education which means there will almost certainly be 39 votes in support of public education issues. Sadly 39 votes cannot pass good legislation or defeat bad legislation. That means the Democrats must have the support of 24 Republicans to get to the necessary 63 vote majority.

Our legislative agenda is tied to the ability of Democrats and Moderate Republicans to work together to overcome the Conservative plurality. We believe that the new House will have just enough solid Moderate Republicans to reach the 63 vote threshold with the 39 Democrats. There are also an additional eight or nine Republicans who vote sometimes with the Conservatives and sometimes with the Moderates. If we can move some of those Republicans to support the coalition, we might be okay.

That’s where the cooperation comes in. With diminished numbers of Moderate Republicans and Democrats, it will be more important than ever that these two factions work together and cooperate in developing and passing good legislation that helps our schools and keeps our state moving forward.

In the Senate

While only one seat was up in the Senate- a special election to finish the term of SD 13 currently held by Richard Hilderbrand who was appointed to the seat when former senator Jake LaTurner became State Treasurer. Hilderbrand survived a challenge from Democrat Bryan Hoffman to retain the seat so the Senate remains 30 Republicans, nine Democrats, and one Independent.

But the actual membership and make-up of the Senate will be changing.

Democratic Senators Laura Kelly and Lynn Rogers were elected as Governor and Lieutenant Governor meaning new Senators will be selected to replace them. Republican Senator Vicki Schmidt was elected as Insurance Commissioner and a new Senator will be selected to replace her. These selections are made by the precinct committee chairs in the District representing the party of the departing Senator. So Democratic precinct committee chairs in SD 18 will pick a Democratic replacement for Kelly, Democratic precinct committee chairs in SD 25 will pick a Democratic replacement for Rogers, and Republican precinct committee chairs in SD 20 will pick a Republican replacement for Schmidt.

There is no telling yet who their replacements might be. They could be chosen from out of the House meaning some new House members would then need to be selected in the same manner or they could select entirely new people. In the case of Vicki Schmidt, the selection depends on the ideology of the precinct committee chairs. If they are mostly conservatives then Moderate Republican Schmidt could be replaced by a Conservative.

There is also much speculation about two other Senators. Independent John Doll left the Republican Party to run as Greg Orman’s running mate. What will he decide to do? Will the Republicans welcome him back? Will he stay as an independent or will he become a Democrat? Will he decide to resign from the Senate? The other one is Republican Senator Barbara Bollier whose public endorsements of Democrats Laura Kelly for Governor and Sharice Davids for Congress brought the wrath of Senate Republican leadership down upon her. What will happen to her if she returns as a Republican? Will she be given the worst assignments or welcomed back? Might she become a Democrat or another Independent?

So the Senate is still up in the air as to how it will look come January.

We have a new Governor!

We are very excited that the election of Laura Kelly as Governor means the door has finally been shut on the extreme conservative administration of Sam Brownback.

Kelly and her Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers are staunch supporters of public schools and public school educators. Kelly has twice won the KNEA “Friend of Education Award” and Rogers has served as a member of the Wichita Public Schools School Board. Both are known for an ability to reach across the aisle to seek compromise for the good of the state.

We are confident that Kelly will do her utmost to include all legislative factions in the process of crafting good legislation to address the issues facing Kansans but also that she will be willing to use her veto pen should she be presented with legislation that turns back the progress made during the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions.

We look forward to working with her throughout her time as Governor.

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YOUR VOTE COUNTS. SO, CAST IT!

Nov 5, 2018 by

Have you voted yet? We really want to know because EVERY VOTE COUNTS!

You don’t have to look far to see how important every vote is. Just this past August, right here in Kansas, Kris Kobach won the GOP primary for Governor by just 343 votes out of 314,890 cast. And in Kansas House District 104, moderate and pro-public education Representative Steven Becker lost to an extreme conservative by just 9 votes  out of 4,081 cast.

(By the way, if you live in HD 104 in Reno County, don’t count Becker out – write him in!)

We’ve said this so many times before but it is still true. Why risk being the one vote that could have made a difference? VOTE!

We came across this article on NPR, Why Every Vote Matters — The Elections Decided By A Single Vote (Or A Little More), and found it to be the best argument for making sure you get to the polls to cast your vote. Our favorite story in the article is the election in which Kevin Entze, a police officer from Washington state, lost a GOP primary in a state House race by one vote out of more than 11,700 cast. And then he found out that one of his fellow reserve officers forgot to mail in his ballot. “He left his ballot on his kitchen counter, and it never got sent out,” Entze told Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Every vote really does matter to public school educators because every aspect of your professional life is impacted by the decisions politicians make.

How much funding your school gets is decided by the politicians elected as state Senators, Representatives, and Governor. How much you get paid and what your health benefits will cost is determined by the politicians on your school board. They also decide when you get new textbooks, what your supply budget will be, and how many students will be in your classroom. Rules for renewing your license are determined by the politicians on the State Board of Education.

You have to abide by their decisions and so you must use your vote to protect your profession.

So, if you have not yet voted in this election, you simply have to do so tomorrow, November 6.

You can’t let the weather deter you. You can’t let yourself lose track of the time and get there too late. Casting your vote is the most important thing you will do tomorrow for your career, your profession, and your students.

 

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