How NOT to End the “Cycle of Litigation” and New Democrats in the Senate

Dec 12, 2018 by

Republican Leaders Want to Toss Out the Constitutional School Finance System?

If we had a dollar for every time that Republican leadership in the Kansas House and Senate last year said they want to “end the cycle of litigation over school finance,” we would be retired today.

Of course, back then we thought nothing of these statements because we, too, want to see an end to the cycle of litigation because that means our schools would be both adequately and equitably funded. That’s what everyone wants – or so we thought.

This is why it came as such a surprise when we read in the Wichita Eagle that House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) told an audience in Johnson County that they were interested in tossing out last year’s school finance plan and starting completely over. Why? According the the Eagle article, it’s because “Republican leaders are skeptical the state could pay for the change and say the funding plan may need to be changed instead.”

In essence, they don’t want to fund schools adequately.

Here’s what we know about last year’s plan and the status of the current school finance litigation:

In response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.

The Court subsequently ruled that the new formula met the equity test but was still somewhat short of adequacy. The adequacy ruling was based on the fact that the phased-in increases in school funding did not account for inflation. Evidence showed that inflation would eat up about $90 million of increased funding in the out years of the plan. Essentially, a $100 million funding increase next year would only be a $10 million increase in funding after accounting for inflation.

The Court directed the Legislature to return and deal with the inflation issue.

Given that the Wagle/Denning school funding study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor found the state to be shortchanging schools by as much as $2 billion, the Court’s call for dealing with inflation only after the additional $525 million provided by the Legislature seems modest. But apparently, Republican leaders are not interested in meeting the Court ruling.

There are two ways currently to end the cycle of litigation.

One is to address the inflation issue in the out years of the 2018 legislation and then provide an ongoing mechanism to maintain the funding level so established.

The other is the Ryckman/Denning way which is to ban litigation. They would rather just pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting school finance lawsuits and then not worry whether schools are adequately funded at all.

We believe that the best approach for the Legislature to take in 2019 is to first leave the constitutional school funding formula alone – why mess with the good work done to get a constitutional formula written and passed?

Then, address the inflation issue in last year’s legislation. Thanks to the hard work the Legislature did in reversing the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, revenues are coming in better than expected and adding the inflation increase is affordable.

Finally, resist the temptation of prohibiting the public from going to court. All citizens must have the option to go to court if they feel aggrieved and the court system must not be politicized. We must honor our system of checks and balances under which the Legislature makes the laws but the citizens can ask the court to review whether or not those laws are constitutional. The proposed constitutional amendment is a slippery slope which could result in dismantling the very system our founders envisioned and established.

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate

The Senate Democratic Caucus will welcome three new members when they convene for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Two are replacements for newly elected Governor Laura Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers.

Kelly, who is still technically the Kansas State Senator from SD 18 covering parts of Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Pottawatomie Counties will be replaced by Vic Miller who is currently representing HD 58 in the Kansas House of Representatives. Rogers, currently the Kansas State Senator from SD 25 in Wichita, will be replaced by Mary Ware, a community activist from Wichita.

The third new Democratic Senator is a familiar face to those who watch the Kansas Legislature. Senator Barbara Bollier from Johnson County has switched party affiliations and will join the Democratic caucus. We can now officially say “Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills).”

With Bollier’s switch, the Democratic caucus increases by one member for 2019.

In a press release, Bollier had this to say of her decision, “I’ve been a proud Kansas Republican for 43 years. I always embraced the common-sense policies of Governor Bill Graves, US Senator Nancy Kassebaum, and President Eisenhower. But during the last eight years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Republican leaders’ hardline rhetoric, contempt for compromise, and obsession with putting political power before children and families. With this recent election, it has become clear that the majority of the Republican Party does not accept moderate Republicans any longer.”

In welcoming Bollier to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said, “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”

Bollier has long been an advocate for health care, public schools, and pro-family policies. Bollier came into conflict with Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) over her endorsement of Laura Kelly for Governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for Congress. (Niermann lost the Democratic Primary to Sharice Davids who was elected to Congress in November.) Wagle stripped Bollier of important positions in the Senate – most notably her leadership position on the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. As the only physician in the Senate, Bollier was a natural fit for such an important committee.

Bollier has also been a staunch supporter and defender of public schools, students, and the educators who staff those schools. Bollier was a member of the Senate Education Committee.

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New House Leadership Teams Elected

Dec 3, 2018 by

Members of the Kansas State House of Representatives met today to elect leaders for the upcoming legislative sessions. We knew going in that there were going to be some challenges to the current leadership team and the results showed a few upsets.
Republicans re-elected Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, to a second term as speaker, 80 to 4, over Rep.-elect Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee. Donohoe, who has been re-elected to the House after some time out of the Legislature, had announced his challenge to Ryckman some time ago with hints that Ryckman was not conservative enough.
While retaining Ryckman as Speaker, the more conservative Republican caucus ousted Republican moderate Don Hineman, R-Dighton, as Majority Leader. Hineman was defeated by conservative Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, on a vote of 48 to 35.
Rounding out the Republican team are Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, as Speaker Pro Tempore; Les Mason, R-McPherson, as Assistant Majority Leader; Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, as Whip; and Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, as Caucus Chair.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats in the House elected Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, as Minority Leader over Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, 24 to 16. Ward had served as Minority Leader for the last two years.
They also narrowly ousted Assistant Minority Leader Stan Frownfelter, D-Kanas City, with Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, winning 21 to 19.
Rounding out the Democratic leadership team are Jim Gartner, D-Topeka, as Whip; Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, as Agenda Chair; Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, as Caucus Chair; and Eileen Horn, D-Lawrence, as Policy Chair.
 
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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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