Still a Lot to be Concerned About!

Apr 19, 2018 by

The School Finance Mistake

There’s been lots of talk about the school finance bill (SB 423) error and what to do about it. Governor Colyer signed SB 423 into law and at the same time urged the Legislature to waste no time in fixing the error so that the bill matches what everyone thought they were voting on back on April 7.

The $80 million error is the result of an amendment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). Aurand has been pushing amendments to require a certain level of LOB authority in an effort to “get credit” for the state for more funding than the state was actually providing. Essentially, he wants the Court to believe that, since LOB levies are not being used for enrichment as per the original intent, those levies should be credited as state aid. Of course, the reason the LOB is not being used for enrichment is because the state has not even kept pace with inflation in what is provided to schools.

To get this “credit,” Aurand has proposed amendments to mandate a certain level of LOB authority. He has tried various levels from 30% down and when he finally put the level at 15%, he got what he wanted. SB 423 contains a provision mandating that every school district levy a 15% LOB. Aurand has been pressing this issue since Montoy and his fellow legislators finally agreed when he put the mandate at a level that all school districts were now meeting anyway.

But what his amendment did was make that 15% levy part of the “new funding” in SB 423, lowering the actual amount of new money by $80 million. Without that new money, the Court is highly unlikely to approve SB 423 – as it is, they may not approve it.

When the Legislature returns on April 26, the first order of business ought to be fixing SB 423. One way to do that is to strip out the Aurand amendment. We know that some will be trying to do that. We have also heard that with the bill opened up again, some legislators may try to do all kinds of mischief. Remember that the bill passed with the smallest possible majorities. While most legislators speaking on the issue have expressed a desire to simply fix the error and move on, there are others who have openly called this an opportunity to change the funding entirely.

Tell your legislators to fix SB 423 so that it matches what was intended on April 7.

Giving Away the Money

Then there is Sub for HB 2228, a disaster of “Brownbackian” proportions.

One would think after the disastrous Brownback tax experiment of 2012 and the struggle to reverse it in 2017, legislators would have little appetite to once again damage the state’s revenue stream. But one would think that only if one had never met the Kansas Senate.

The 500 or so KNEA members gathered outside the Senate chamber on the evening of April 7 had the pleasure of listening to a long and complicated tax debate as the Senate worked HB 2228. The bill is a mad hodge-podge of tax changes, some worthy and some disastrous but the best words to describe it are “experiment” and “uncertainty.”

The bill is expected to cost the state treasury a half-billion dollars over the next five years and, coincidentally, the new school finance bill will provide a half-billion dollars to schools over the next five years! It was almost as if the Senate was looking for a way to justify voting NO on SB 423!

Less than one year after the Kansas Legislature ended the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, why would they pass a new tax plan riddled with uncertainties?

Fortunately, it is not passed yet! The House will have a chance to end this new disaster when they return on April 26. They will not be able to amend HB 2228, only to vote to concur or non-concur in the Senate changes to this House bill.

The best thing the House could do is to kill Sub for HB 2228. There is no good reason to jeopardize the state’s recovery from the Brownback experiment. Instead of unaffordable tax cuts, Kansas needs to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and communities.

Tell your Representative to reject Sub for HB 2228.

Speaking of Giving Away Revenue…

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor, held a news conference in Wichita where he announced that, if elected, he will work hard to restore the failed Brownback Tax experiment. But he will do it differently. He will start by slashing budgets and then restoring the tax experiment. He also promised to veto any tax increases and sign a pledge never to raise taxes.

We’d like to hear his ideas for restoring the highway plan, paying back KPERS, funding our public schools, and making higher education affordable.

Kobach has lots of competition in the Republican nomination race including Governor Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, and former State Senator Jim Barnett. The most prominent candidates in the Democratic Primary are State Senator Laura Kelly, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, and former Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty. We look forward to hearing what all of the other candidates have to say about tax policy and state revenues.

Read about Kobach’s news conference by clicking here. 

A Constitutional Amendment Still Looms

We must oppose any attempt to change the state constitution. Lawmakers should work together to fully fund all of our state’s priorities, including education. Eliminating judicial oversight of the education weakens us all.

The position the state is in today was not created by the schools or the Courts. It was created by past Legislatures who avoided their responsibility to care for our state and the services we share as common priorities. Education is certainly one of those priorities but so are the social service safety net, public safety, good roads and highways, and health care.

We should never say that Kansas can’t have both good schools and good highways, good schools and safe communities. This is not a zero sum game in which everyone is fighting everyone else for a piece of a limited pie. We can make the pie bigger. We can apply our state sales tax to online retailers (HB 2756). We can increase tobacco taxes (HB 2231, SB 376). We can modernize our tax code. In truth, there is much that can be done if we have the will.

Changing the constitution is a distraction, not a solution.

Urge your legislators to vote NO on constitutional amendments.

 

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The Error and What to Do

Apr 10, 2018 by

Just when we thought we were done (until the Supreme Court rules), we get the news of an error in SB 423, the school finance bill. And not just a little thing – a big thing. An $80 million thing.

Let’s first put to rest any conspiracy theories. Bills and amendments are drafted by the Office of the Revisor of Statutes which is staffed by attorneys with special expertise in drafting statutory language. They work very hard and do a terrific job but every once in a while there are errors. Some errors are simply typos; others are due to misinterpretations of what a legislator wanted to do. They rarely rise to the level of this error but it obviously can happen.

The Revisors at this time of the session are working under extreme stress. They are being assigned demands for multiple amendments and struggling to keep up with all of the changes being made to many bills as the Legislature works through piles of stacked up bills. They work through the night to get everything ready for the next morning. They don’t go home when the Legislature adjourns for the day but work late into the night and early hours of the morning so things are ready to go the next day. They are stressed and sleep deprived.

There is no conspiracy. There is a mistake and mistakes can be fixed.

There will be trailer legislation written to correct the error. The Legislature can return on April 26 and quickly pass such legislation if they cooperate with each other, respect the democratic process, and decline to seek political points or advantage at the expense of our schools.

We know that Senate Republican leadership was opposed to this bill because they don’t believe our schools need additional funding despite multiple studies showing the schools do. Those opposed to this bill because they did not want to fund schools believed just as much as anyone that the bill provided $500 million over five years. They also know that a majority of Senators voted to pass the bill with that understanding. We hope that leadership will not stand in the way of fixing this error and will honor the decision made at the end of the session.

We know that many members of the House had worked very hard to increase the funding in the bill. They were not successful. While we would love to have had support for the increases proposed, that is not what ultimately passed. We hope that those legislators will not stand in the way of fixing this error and will honor the decision made at the end of the session.

We want to reiterate that we are not convinced that SB 423 as it was understood to be on April 7 will satisfy the adequacy ruling in Gannon. It may, but it is just as likely that it won’t. But we believe in the system. We believe that what the Legislature understood they passed on that night needs to go before the Court. We believe that the Attorney General and the plaintiffs should prepare briefs based on that understanding and we call upon the Legislature to fix the bill on April 26 so that it matches the understanding of that night.

We don’t need finger-pointing. We don’t need to play some “blame game.” We don’t need to try to score political points. We need to respect what was intended on April 7 and move to the Courts. We call upon all members of the Kansas Legislature to do just that.

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We Have a School Finance Bill! (and a couple weeks rest)

Apr 9, 2018 by

The anti-education leadership of the Kansas Senate was thwarted late Saturday night and a stalwart band of Kansas teachers was there to witness it.

Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) did their best to stop a school funding bill from passing but in the end, House Sub for SB 423 passed by the slimmest of majorities.

The House had passed and sent to the Senate HB 2445, a bill providing more than $500 million in new money phased in over five years for Kansas public schools. The Senate had passed SB 423, a school finance bill half the sum of the House version and loaded with policy provisions. Negotiations began in a House/Senate Conference Committee on Friday and were not going well. No progress was being made on the big question – how much more funding would be provided to our schools to meet adequacy?

On Saturday, the House made a strategic move. They brought the Senate school finance plan (SB 423) which was sitting on the calendar, up for debate and in a series of amendments removed the Senate plan and inserted their own with a couple of changes. They inserted two provisions from the Senate finance plan. One would have provided $500,000 to fund the mentor teacher program; the other would provide $2.8 million to pay for the ACT and three ACT WorkKeys assessments required to earn a national career readiness certificate to each student enrolled in grades 9-12. To keep the overall funding the same as in the original HB 2445, they reduced the amount put into BASE aid by $3.3 million (expected to be a reduction of about $6/pupil) to cover the cost of the assessments and the mentor teacher program.

Other amendments offered by Democrats to either increase the BASE by changing the calculation or increase the reimbursement of the excess costs of special education were not adopted.

The bill was then passed on “emergency final action” on a vote of 63 to 56 and sent to the Senate.

This action was not welcomed by the Senate. Before they could take up the bill it would have to be “read in” or announced as part of a “message from the House.” To avoid reading the bill in, the Senate launched an hours-long debate over a massive tax cut bill – a bill that would reduce revenues by the amount of education spending increases in what had become House Sub for SB 423.

Senate Leadership was hoping to run out the clock on the session and kill the school finance bill. In an even-numbered year, they cannot go past midnight on the 90th day without passing an adjournment resolution that would allow an extension of the session. With Saturday being day 90, once midnight hit, all unfinished business would be dead.

Getting the bill read in took a special procedural motion organized by Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia). His motion was successful and the bill was now available for action.

Once the tax bill was voted on, the Senate moved on to SB 423. There was a motion by Sen. Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick) to concur in the House changes to the bill – in other words just to pass what the House did and send it to the Governor. Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover), who believes schools have more money than they need right now, made a substitution motion to non-concur and send the bill to conference. Masterson’s motion would have put us right back into the committee that was not making progress on negotiating a compromise.

The Masterson motion failed on a vote of 17 to 21 and debate on the motion to concur continued.

It was then that conservatives who wished to kill the bill began to filibuster it in an attempt to drag out the discussion past midnight when everything would die. Remember that adjournment resolution that hadn’t been voted on? We needed that to extend time.

Through another series of complicated procedural motions, an adjournment resolution was adopted and sent to the House. And from there, things went further south! It seems there was a date error in the resolution such that Sine Die – the official end of the session which happens a couple weeks after the end of the veto session – was instead set at the very end of the veto session. The reason there is a gap between the end of the veto session and Sine Die is to give the Legislature the chance to react to any last gubernatorial vetoes.

The House passed its own adjournment resolution with the correct dates. Problem is, they now had two different adjournment resolutions. Senate leadership and the conservatives redoubled their efforts to extend the debate until midnight to kill the school finance plan.

But the House saved the day. At 11:59 pm, the House adopted the Senate’s adjournment resolution with the error and with seconds to go, the session was extended. The debate could go on. It was then that the wind went out of the conservatives’ sails. The filibuster ended shortly after midnight and the motion to concur was adopted on a vote of 21 to 19. The bill was passed and is on its way to Governor Colyer who has said he would sign it.

KNEA and the School Finance Bill (SB 423)

KNEA supported SB 423. You will hear some say that this bill is not going to satisfy the Gannon ruling. Those folks think we should have opposed the bill and demanded more funding. So let’s be clear about this bill and why KNEA supported it.

The bill does a number of good things:

  • It keeps our school finance formula (the mechanics of distributing funds) sound while fixing the four equity issues targeted in the Gannon decision,

  • It provides more than $500 million in additional school funding above the increases schools received this year under the 2017 school finance bill (SB 19),

  • It fixes the transportation formula and increases the multiplier under that formula to provide additional transportation funding,

  • It creates a new mental health pilot program creating partnerships between schools and community mental health centers to better deal with children in crisis – a program we hope will be found to be successful and then replicated across the state.

Like others, we believe that there is a chance the Court will find the adequacy level in this bill lacking. It is slightly below the State Board’s request and it is certainly significantly below the recommendations in the new cost study (a study, by the way, ordered by the conservatives in an effort to prove that schools already were adequately funded). We continue to believe that schools need more funding to make up for years of frozen funding and many rounds of funding cuts.

We found this year that we had strong support in the House to move a good bill but the same level of support was not there in the Senate. We believed that the funding level in Sub SB 423 could garner enough support in the Senate to pass and were equally certain that higher funding would jeopardize the passage of the bill in the Senate.

We were also very much aware of the deadlines for response to the Court. The Court, in their ruling, specified very tight timelines for consideration of the Legislature’s response to Gannon.

  • Concurrent briefs are due on April 30,
  • Response briefs are due on May 10,
  • Oral arguments will be conducted on May 22, and
  • The Court’s decision will be communicated by June 30.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt had asked the Legislature to have the bill done by March 1. When earlier this week it appeared that Senators Wagle and Denning were intent on ignoring the Court deadline, AG Schmidt sent a letter to Legislative leadership in both chambers imploring them to pass a bill by April 7 to give his office time to write their briefs.

Waiting was no longer an option. A bill needed to be passed or the Court would have no option but to announce that schools would not open in August. It was time to get something out and we wanted that something to represent a good faith effort by the Legislature. We certainly believe that Sub SB 423 has a chance of not being accepted as adequate by the Court. We remain firmly convinced that the plan originally passed by the Senate would result in a closure order.

We still may face that order. We still may face a special legislative session in July after the ruling. But waiting longer because either “this Legislator” wants to defy the Court and “that Legislator” believes more money is needed was not likely to result in an ability to move the legal process along.

We anxiously await the oral arguments and the Court’s decision. We really believe that, for the sake of the students we serve and for the school employees we represent, this was the time to move forward. We shared that position with others in the education community including school districts, the Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators, and many parent organizations. We are proud of our efforts in support of our schools, our members, our students and their parents.

Tomorrow we will talk about the many players in last week’s drama; friends, enemies, and even some frenemies!

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Pushing an Anti-KNEA Agenda; and Changing Our Constitution

Apr 4, 2018 by

Aurand Takes His Anti-KNEA Attitude Into Conference

In the conference committee on HB 2602 establishing the dyslexia task force, Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) went to work immediately in an attempt to keep teachers off the task force. Aurand apparently believes teachers have nothing to offer on education issues. Aurand, who has led the effort in the House to keep teachers from being treated as professionals, personally working tirelessly to stifle those legislators who seek to return due process rights to teacher, took his fight against teachers and KNEA in particular to the negotiating table today.

Senator Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisville), the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, had amended the task force bill to add four teachers (one special education, one reading specialist, one elementary classroom, and one middle school classroom) to the task force. Two of those positions would, under the bill passed unanimously but the Senate, have been appointed by the Kansas NEA.

Aurand led things off by asking for the teachers to be removed and replaced by legislative appointees. Baumgardner pushed back asserting that it was critical to have teachers – boots on the ground in working with children. Through the back and forth negotiations, Aurand tried repeatedly to take the teachers out and then, if they had to stay, make them legislative appointees.

Baumgardner, along with Senator Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) and Representatives Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City) and Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka) argued forcefully to keep both the teachers and the KNEA appointments. Eventually, it was agreed to keep the teachers but to give authority to the Chair and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate and House Education Committees to make two joint appointments – one legislator and one classroom teacher.

The agreement will now be put into a conference committee report and submitted first to the Senate, then the House for adoption.

House Judiciary Committee Takes Up Constitutional Amendment to Strip Kansans of the Right to Seek Relief in Court for School Funding Inadequacy

The House Judiciary Committee to record fast action in pressing a constitutional amendment, first dramatically amending and then passing a proposed amendment on Article VI of the Kansas Constitution.

  • Introduced on Thursday, March 29.
  • Informational briefing on Monday, April 2.
  • Public hearing on Tuesday, April 3.
  • Shoved out of committee on Wednesday, April 4.

In four work days, the Legislature decided to change our constitution in a radical way, stripping from the citizens of Kansas the right to seek relief in the judicial system when the Legislature fails to provide for the education of their children.

An amendment by Committee Chairman Blaine Finch would separate adequacy from equity in school finance considerations. The Legislature gets to decide what is adequate funding with no review permitted. The Legislature also gets to decide how to equitably distribute funding but the court would be allowed to review that.

If this is passed, and the funding increases in HB 2445 were to pass, a future Legislature could decide to cut or end the future funding increases in the bill and there would be no ability for any citizen to challenge that decision.

Let’s make it clear – the schools are not breaking the state budget. KASB provided evidence to the committee that the share of the state budget going to K-12 education has not changed over the years. The state budget was broken by the ill-advised and failed 2012 Brownback tax cuts championed by the same people who are pressing this amendment.

Committee Democrats and some Republicans explained their intentions to vote no in eloquent remarks before the vote. Republican Representatives Elliott, Cox, and Becker, and Democrats Bishop, Carmichael, Highberger, Curtis, Miller, Kuether, and Hodge all spoke against the amendment.

HCR 5029 passed on a vote of 12 to 10.

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Lots happening! Read to the end! Wagle & Denning to hold school funding hostage!

Apr 3, 2018 by

House Has a Do-over; Passes School Funding Bill

The House had one bill on general orders today and just like yesterday it was HB 2445, the school finance bill.

Once again Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) came to the well to carry the bill and once again Representatives came forward to argue its merits and offer amendments.

The first amendment came from Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita). Announcing that he was offended that school districts could use tax dollars to sue the state, he offered an amendment to ban school districts from using state tax money to sue the state. He asserted that our schools were failing to provide an education and that all money should be spent “in the classroom.” On a roll call vote, the amendment failed 49 to 74.

Next came an amendment from Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam) to remove the designated school districts in the community mental health pilot program and direct the State Board of Education to choose districts. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) the author of the program argued that the districts had been carefully chosen. Ousley said he liked the program but wanted his constituents to have a chance to be part of it. The amendment failed on a division vote of 37 to 84.

Rep. John Eplee (R-Atchison) had an amendment to return language on out of state students to the way it was drawn in SB 19 last year. That bill ratcheted down funding over a period of years eventually having those students funded at .5. It was amended in committee to have some students drop to 0 based on certain geographical considerations. The Eplee amendment was strongly supported by southeast Kansas legislators and was adopted on a voice vote.

Rep. Francis Awerkamp (R-St Mary’s) offered today’s voucher amendment. This one would direct that if a school district sued the state, parents could demand an account in the State Treasurer’s office funded with 75% of a child’s school aid to be used as a voucher to attend a private school. The amendment failed on an overwhelming voice vote.

Rep. Chuck Weber (R-Wichita) came to the well to say that he had intended to offer an amendment under which this funding bill would only become law if the constitutional amendment now being considered in the House Judiciary Committee was passed. But, he said, he had changed his mind and while he still supported the constitutional amendment, he would not offer an amendment linking it to this bill.

No further amendments being offered, a motion to advance the bill to final action was adopted on a roll call vote of 71 to 53.

Now for some drama.

Majority Leader Don Hineman (R-Dighton) offered a motion to move the bill to emergency final action (usually final action votes happen the next day). That motion failed on a division vote of 82 to 42 (it takes a supermajority or 84 votes to pass).

After a pause and some scrambling on the floor, Rep. Keith Esau (R-Olathe) offered a motion to reconsider that action. It would take a supermajority (84 votes) to reconsider; then another supermajority (84 votes) to advance the bill to Emergency Final Action; then a simple majority (63 votes) to pass the bill.

The motion to reconsider passed on a voice vote. The motion to move the bill to final action passed on a roll call vote of 88-36. the bill then got a preliminary vote of 67-57. Rep. Whitmer then explained his NO vote decrying a bill that “throws money at an inefficient system.” That explanation moved the final vote to 71 in favor, 53 opposed.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Committee Continues to Work, Then Passes a School Finance Bill, SB 423

We don’t really know what to think of the Senate Select Committee on School Finance bill to address the Gannon decision. Okay, well, we DO think this: the Court will reject it.

The bill increases the BASE over five years from the current year’s $4,006 to $4,258 in 2018-19, $4,334 in 2019-20, $4,412 in 2020-21, $4,492 in 2021-22, and finishing at $4,574 in 2022-23.

In addition to this, there are some add-ons in fiscal year 2019 specifically:

  • Additional Special Education Aid; $12 million ($44 million in HB 2445),
  • 400 new slots for pre-school at-risk; $1 million,
  • Additional Parents as Teachers; $3 million,
  • The mental health/USD pilot partnership; $10 million (also in HB 2445),
  • ABC early childhood intervention program; $1.8 million,
  • ACT and WorkKeys funding; $2.8 million,
  • Concurrent enrollment pilot program; $1.5 million,
  • Mentor teacher program; $500,000 (also in HB 2445),
  • Professional Development; $1.5 million (also in HB 2445).

We don’t have a complete and official analysis of how much this plan puts into education but word is that is in the neighborhood of $250 million over five years.

House Committee Holding Hearing On Constitutional Amendment

The Hearing on HCR 5029 is ongoing at this time. We will report on this fully tomorrow.

BUT! Senators Susan Wagle and Jim Denning – Republican leaders in the Senate – have announced their intention to hold all legislative action hostage to passage of a constitutional amendment banning the Supreme Court from ruling in school finance litigation.  

Read about it by clicking here.

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