Attacking Employee Rights

Mar 18, 2019 by

This morning the Senate Commerce Committee, held a hearing on SB 175, which requires members of public employee unions to be notified by their employer annually of their right to drop their union membership. Some might wonder why this bill is even necessary, given that Kansas is a “right to work” er… right to work for less state. Union membership is not compulsory and is solely the personal choice of those who choose to exercise their constitutional right to assemble freely.

The impetus behind this bill comes from the main proponent in today’s hearing, the ultra-conservative-policy-pushers known as the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI). During the hearing, the anti-labor faction threatened future lawsuits and brought in anti-union celebrity Mark Janus. Ironically, while KPI has consistently kept its funding and donor lists hidden from the public, it somehow expects that public to believe that its interest is in protecting workers from themselves.

KPI believes that this bill will encourage fewer working people to join a union. That will mean lower wages and reduced benefits and with that comes the ability to cut more taxes and reduce funding to state services. In fact, KPI was up in the House K-12 Budget Committee today arguing that, when it comes to teaching our children, money doesn’t matter.

KNEA believes that all employees have the right to organize and advocate for the best interest of their profession and for their own well-being. KNEA opposes SB 175 while recognizing that this is nothing more than another well-funded attack on working professionals and on our right to choose to organize and to advocate. We will continue to track and report on this bill in the coming days.

K-12 Budget Committee Fast-tracking Williams’ School Finance Bill

Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) introduced her first school finance bill on March 12 (12 days after the date by which Attorney General Derek Schmidt had asked for the legislature to complete its work on school finance). The 81 page bill was then scheduled for a hearing on March 14. Since testimony on a bill must be turned in 24 hours before a hearing, that meant that anyone wishing to speak had one night to read and digest the bill, analyze it, and have testimony written and submitted.

KNEA, KASB, USA, and Equality Kansas all testified in opposition to the bill on March 14. Williams continued the hearing today when the Mainstream Coalition testified in opposition. A few folks testified in favor including Walt Chappell who asserted that the state already spends too much on education and Chuck Knapp who testified as an “individual citizen” but is, in reality, the CEO of JAG-K, an organization named in the bill as a special program on which at-risk funds may be spent.

Mike O’Neal who works at least part time for KPI essentially urged the committee to ignore the courts who, in his view, have no right to meddle in issues that create funding problems for the state. O’Neal suggested that funding might be better as a grant program under which districts would say what the money would be used for and promise the results they would get with the money.

Others testified in favor of only specific sections of the bill – for example, Cerner Corporation wants the sections calling for a review of graduation requirements and the establishment of an IT Commission.

The hearing closed today with no action taken on the bill. Williams has now announced that the committee will hold hearing tomorrow on SB 142, the SBOE/Kelly/Senate plan passed by the Senate last week.

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School Funding: A Tale of Two Bills

Mar 14, 2019 by

UPDATE: By a vote of 32-8, SB 142 passed the Senate this evening. We’ll have a more detailed update in tomorrow’s Under the Dome. Vote by Senator:

Voting for: Baumgardner, Billinger, Bollier, Bowers, Braun, Denning, Doll, Estes, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Givens, Goddard, Haley, Hardy, Hawk, Hensley, Hilderbrand, Holland, Longbine, Lynn, McGinn, Miller, Olson, Petersen, Pettey, Rucker, Skubal, Sykes, Taylor, Ware, Wilborn.

Voting against: Alley, Kerschen, Masterson, Pilcher-Cook, Pyle, Suellentrop, Tyson, Wagle.

KNEA SUPPORTS:

The Senate will debate and vote on SB 142 today. This is the bill that needs to pass in order to move forward towards a resolution with the Court.

SB 142 provides a $90 million inflation adjustment to school funding in response to the Gannon decision. It would enact the recommendation of the State Board of Education and is the same proposal as was in Governor Kelly’s school funding bill earlier this year. 

The Senate debate will begin at 2:30 this afternoon. Use your lunch break (or other duty-free time) to email or call your Senator and ask him/her to vote YES on SB 142.

CLICK HERE to enter your zip code and find your Senator’s contact information.

UPDATE: The K-12 Budget Committee convened another hearing today to discuss HB 2395. KNEA offered opposition testimony. The committee adjourned with plans to reconvene at a later time.

KNEA OPPOSES:

The House K-12 Budget Committee will begin a hearing at 3:30 this afternoon on HB 2395, an alternative school finance bill.

HB 2395 is the wrong answer to the Gannon decision and includes many bad policy ideas that will harm students and schools.

This bill has $42 million in new base aid funding – far less than inflation, as called for in the Supreme Court decision. Among its many policy changes, it enacts a voucher program, repeals the requirement that the state reimburse districts for 92% of the excess costs of special education, cuts funding for bilingual students if they are not fluent in English in four years, puts restrictions on at-risk spending.

This hearing will continue on Monday and Committee Chair Kristey Williams has announced her intention to vote on the bill next week.

Contact members of the committee and ask them to reject HB 2395 and instead adopt the Senate’s plan in SB 142.

Members of the committee are Republicans Kristey Williams, Kyle Hoffman, Brenda Dietrich, Renee Erickson, Steve Huebert, Brenda Landwehr, Adam Smith, Sean Tarwater, and Adam Thomas and Democrats Valdenia Winn, Cindy Holscher, Nancy Lusk, and Jim Ward.

CLICK HERE to contact these representatives.

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Bullying for Vouchers; Re-amortizing KPERS

Feb 14, 2019 by

When is a bullying bill not a bullying bill? When it’s a voucher bill instead!

Today in the K-12 Budget Committee, Chairperson Kristey Williams held a hearing on a bill which purports to help victims of bullying, but which really advances a voucher scheme. According to many advocates who track these bills, this bill was born from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) a conservative think-tank and driver of conservative policy and was recently passed and put into law in the “sunshine state” of Florida. Like the Floridian version of the bill, this bill is entitled the “Hope Scholarship Act” and its proponents – including legislative sponsors Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and Susan Humphries (R-Wichita) – believe that it would give families a choice to transfer bullied students to both public and private schools. Proponents included the bills co-sponsors as well as lobbyists from American’s for Prosperity, the Kansas Policy Institute (both Koch-aligned “think tanks” and the Kansas Catholic Conference.

In its current form the bill, HB 2150, would allow students to receive up to 96% of base aid for the purposes of leaving their current district and moving to a new school. In order to receive this “voucher” students only need to report that they believe bullying has occurred; they don’t actually have to have been the target of a bully. The district where the report was received would have 15 days to offer those students the voucher option. There would be no requirement that the alleged bullying actually took place – the report is sufficient to trigger the voucher.

The opponents of this bill pointed out its many flaws. Chief among them is the fact that the bill does nothing to address the root cause of bullying, leaves the bully in place to victimize others without any intervention services, all while sending the message to the bullied student that the only way to solve their bullying is to ship them out. Ironically, the bill does pay for the victim’s bus fare off campus as there is a provision to include transportation costs for the student to get to the new school.

As the opponents outlined a litany of concerns, other committee members asked the bill co-sponsors if it was possible that a private school could – in fact – tell a bullied child, “we don’t want you,” and deny admission even with a voucher. After responding with a conflated argument about schools’ rights to tell students how they may or may not dress, it was agreed that private schools could – for example – tell bullied LGBTQ kids that they are unwanted.

A very impassioned plea came from Liz Meidl representing the Mainstream Coalition who carries significant expertise in SPED research and the effective application of SPED programs in public schools. She shared a story of a student who was essentially told by a private Catholic school in Wichita that she was no longer welcome as a student at the school. Rep. Brenda Landwher questioned Ms. Meidl first suggesting and then openly accusing her of making an “insulting accusation” about the Wichita Catholic Diocese. Landwher went on to say that she would be shocked if a Catholic school had unfairly treated any children, let alone the child in this particular anecdote.

We would ask our readers to educate yourselves on all bills that impact education policy, because many – like this one – sound good in title, but really carry a different purpose entirely. Hiding a voucher bill within a bill which purports to address issues of bullying where the resolution of the issue is to send the victim away simply empowers the bully and stigmatizes the target.

We support providing adequate and equitable resources for our schools, educators and parents of both the victims of bullying and the bullies themselves rather than shifting more dollars to private schools via another voucher scheme. And if you read about a “school choice” program, remember that this is exactly what it is – the school gets to choose the students they will take, not the parents.

There will be another, more rational bill to address school bullying issues up for a hearing next week.

KNEA was joined in opposing this bill by KASB, United School Administrators, Schools for Quality Education, the PTA, Game on For Kansas Schools, the Mainstream Coalition, Equality Kansas, the Kansas Council for Exceptional Children, Olathe Public Schools, and Basehor-Linwood Public Schools.

KPERS Re-amortization bill killed on the House floor

House Bill 2197, Governor Kelly’s proposal to re-amortize KPERS in order to bring down the required payments by spreading them out over additional years (remember – it’s like refinancing your home loan) was debated on the House floor this morning and defeated on a vote of 36 to 87. All Republicans were joined by Democrats Tom Burroughs (Kansas City), Henry Helgerson (Wichita), Tim Hodge (Newton), and Jeff Pittman (Leavenworth). Elizabeth Bishop (D-Wichita) and Greg Lewis (R-St. John) were absent.

During debate, three amendments were offered, none of which were adopted.

And amendment by Rep. Pittman to add a three-tiered cost of living adjustment for current retirees failed on a vote of 49 to 73, getting 10 Republican and 39 Democratic votes. Another two-tiered cost of living amendment was offered by Rep. Dave Benson (D-Overland Park) but failed on a vote of 48 to 75. A third amendment offered by Rep. Cindy Neighbor (D-Shawnee) would have immediately put $115 million into KPERS as in the recently passed Senate bill but was ruled non-germane on a challenge by Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita).

Republicans voting to support both cost of living amendments were: Ken Corbet (Topeka), Tom Cox (Shawnee), Diana Dierks (Salina), Brenda Dietrich (Topeka), Ronald Ellis (Meriden), Ron Howard (Wichita), Jim Karleskint (Tonganoxie), Fred Patton (Topeka), and Tom Phillips (Manhattan). Democrat Henry Helgerson (Wichita) voted no on both. All other Democrats voted yes (Elizabeth Bishop was absent). Republican Bradley Ralph (Dodge City) voted yes on the first COLA amendment and no on the second. Republican Greg Lewis (St. John) was absent.

Actions by both the House and Senate have put Kansas in a difficult place when it comes to financing the priorities of the state – education funding, Medicaid expansion, repairing the broken foster care and prison systems, and restoring the highway fund. Senate actions on Senate bills 22 and 9 would take about $307 million out of the treasury before the budget has even been considered. Now the House has refused the re-amortization proposal which would have saved money in the treasury.

These issues still have a long way to go before they are finally resolved – luckily we are a bicameral Legislature and it takes action by both chambers to make something happen. Keep watching and be ready to take action when we need you to!

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Cast your vote like it is the most important one. Because it just might be.

Oct 5, 2018 by

The race for Kansas Governor to determine if we free-fall back into the Brownback policies that brought ruin upon our schools and our state (and made him the least popular Governor in America) OR if we move forward with common sense policies that support our constitution, our schools, and our students- has been and continues to be a dead heat.  This week, the Kobach campaign is pulling out all the stops to energize their extreme-right base to vote as President Donald Trump will be taking time away from federal investigators to host a campaign rally in Topeka.

Speaking of the Trump / MAGA / Kobach rally, we’ve been asked what’s the best way to counter the anti-public education, anti-worker, anti-civility message President Trump will likely bring with him on Saturday.  The answer is astonishingly simple.  Vote.

The purpose of a rally like the one we’ll be hearing about on Saturday is three-fold.

First, it is an effort to energize the conservative base of voters to get out and vote for two highly toxic candidates.  Kobach’s polling has consistently shown that his overall UNFAVORABILITY is higher than his favorability.  Not surprising given that he’s promised to double-down on Brownback’s ruinous policies.  On the federal ticket, President Trump is also expected to endorse Watkins over Paul Davis as a last-ditch effort to convince voters that Watkins didn’t deserve the attacks leaders in his own party levied against him during the primary season- calling him a charlatan and a phony.  The problem is, it turns out he is exactly what they claimed, a phony.  Instead of the “high-adventure hero” he has claimed to be, Watkins’ highest adventure might be leaving one of his residences in Alaska to take a trip to Kansas- you know the state he wants to represent but allegedly doesn’t reside in.

Second, Trump’s rally is an effort to dominate the media cycle for his endorsed candidates.  He wants to draw attention away from the real issues and real solutions the opponents of Kobach and Watkins are addressing with potential voters.  The simple fact is, this event will dominate the media cycle.  Efforts to piggy-back that cycle with counter-activities would come at a great expense while pulling focus towards the circus rather than the real issues at stake during this election season.  CLICK HERE to view alternatives to the Trump rally.

Third, speaking of pulling focus, the energy spent on counter-activities might energize some voters who may have been waiting for a reason to get involved.  While that’s certainly not a bad thing, spending time, energy and money trying to out-shout Trump zealots, is probably futile.  Take a look at the most recent polling data in the image above. The most important data in the poll is that 15% of likely Kansas voters are undecided.  Instead of spending time trying to convince those Trump zealots that they’re wrong, we encourage you to work Saturday (and every day until election day), to convince those undecided voters that there is only one candidate for Governor who supports public education, ALL students, and our constitution.  That candidate is Laura Kelly.

One final thought.  We’re hearing from members and non-members that they’re worried about voter-turnout during the mid-terms because they know that candidates like Sam Brownback and Kris Kobach get elected in Kansas when voter turnout is low.  Their worry is justifiable, and that’s why Kris Kobach has worked so hard to disenfranchise voters and to make registering to vote and the act of voting difficult and frightening for people of color and people whose priorities are living day to day.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  You can register to vote right now.  You can apply for an advance ballot to vote by mail from home right now.  You can encourage and assist 5, 10, or 50 others to vote right now.  The only real question and the only real reason for worry is, will you?

KPAC Withdraws Recommendation in HD 15

There has been wide reporting in the news media that Chris Haulmark, a candidate for Kansas House of Representatives District 15, has been accused of abusive relationships with women over a number of years and as late as 2017.

Haulmark has denied many of the specific allegations but admits that he has had a history of troubled relationships with women exacerbated by anger issues. Haulmark has sought intensive therapy in dealing with these issues.

KNEA leaders and members of the Kansas NEA PAC have determined that there is doubt as to whether or not Mr. Haulmark has the temperament to serve in such an important position. To that end, the Kansas NEA PAC has decided to withdraw its recommendation of Mr. Haulmark for election to the Kansas House.

We sincerely hope that Mr. Haulmark continues to seek help with these issues and can build healthy and respectful relationships in the future. Additionally, we hope that the victims of abuse receive support services to assist them in dealing with the trauma of abuse.

To read more about this issue and the allegations, we would refer you to this report in the Kansas City Star.

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New Poll Shows “Dead Heat” in Race for Kansas Governor

Aug 30, 2018 by

Topeka – As we move into the final two months of campaigning ahead of the November general election, new polling indicates Senator Laura Kelly and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are in a “dead heat.” Senator Kelly was recently announced as the recommended candidate for governor by the Kansas NEA PAC which commissioned the poll conducted by Public Policy Polling.  

The candidates for governor were tested twice in the poll, once where all candidates were only identified by name and party affiliations and again where respondents were read a positive platform message about Kelly, Kobach and Orman individually. The results of these two samples are indicated as follows:

 

         

“Two things should jump out at voters from this poll,” KNEA President Mark Farr said. “First, Greg Orman’s role in this election is that of a distant spoiler. Second, voter turnout by those who really care about public education in Kansas will determine who our next Governor is. In my mind, a vote for Greg Orman is a vote for Kris Kobach. If we take Kobach at his word, public schools will be starved of resources, the courts and constitution will be ignored and when public schools are shut down, our tax dollars will be gifted to private, for-profit schools.”

The poll also indicated while Kobach’s propensity to seek the media spotlight has earned him more recognition statewide than Kelly (87% to 60% respectively), a full 11% more voters who know Kobach view him unfavorably than favorably.  Thirteen-percent (13%) more voters who know Orman view him unfavorably than favorably. By contrast, Laura Kelly enjoys a positive favorability rating. Of voters who know her, 14% more view her favorably than unfavorably.

“Laura Kelly and her running mate Lynn Rogers have proven themselves as advocates for students and for strong public schools time and again,” Farr said. “They have promised to work to restore respect for the educators who dedicate themselves to protect and to teach our students. When the election is over, we will either collapse backwards into a doubling-down on the policies Sam Brownback wrought on this state or we will continue to move forward with a champion of public education in Laura Kelly. This poll is a really a call to stand up, support our kids and our public schools and above all else, to vote.”    

Public Policy Polling conducted this poll with results based upon responses from 877 likely Kansas general election voters. The telephone survey was completed between Friday, Aug. 24 and Sunday, Aug. 26.

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Contact: Marcus Baltzell, KNEA Director of Communications

marcus.baltzell@knea.org 785.232.8271

CLICK HERE for poll results.

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