Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

Feb 22, 2019 by

Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

House Education Hears Religion Bill

The Kansas House Education Committee met this week to hold a hearing on House Bill 2288, the Student and Educator Freedom of Religious Speech Act. This bill, brought by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and co-sponsored by 27 additional Republicans, would essentially allow religious proselytization by students and teachers in public schools.

The bill puts many restrictions and requirements on public schools so that religious speech and the distribution of religious materials could not be managed. If passed, the bill would open up our schools to lots of lawsuits from both advocates of religious speech and those who ardently defend the separation of church and state.

Currently, students are generally allowed to engage in religious speech at school although some limits can be placed on it. Under the federal Equal Access Act, high school students must be given access to facilities equally – so that if the high school has clubs using facilities, they cannot tell a religious club they can’t – they have equal access. Students can engage in student-initiated, student-led prayer. But students cannot be compelled to participate and teachers cannot be active participants.

One section of this bill grants very broad rights to teachers to engage in and even assist in religious activities at school. This includes everything from wearing religious clothing to decorating their desks with religious items.

Teachers do not shed their religious beliefs “at the school house doors,” however, they do agree to not promote their beliefs in the school. It has been noted in legal cases that children in elementary and middle schools are very impressionable and have a tendency to look at their teachers as role models. If a teacher were to decorate his or her desk with religious items that promote his or her own beliefs, it could lead to a student questioning the religious lessons taught at home. And Kansas law currently, in the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (60-5301 through 60-5305), prohibits activities that would “(i)mpair the fundamental right of every parent to control the care and custody of such parent’s minor children, including, but not limited to, control over education, discipline, religious and moral instruction…

The bill was supported by Rep. Erickson, the Family Policy Alliance, a wrestling coach, and a broadcaster. Opponents were KASB, KNEA, the PTA, and the Mainstream Coalition.

The House Ed Committee also worked two bills.

HB 2144 by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) originally put many restrictions on community colleges. The bill was opposed by the Association of Community College Boards of Trustees.

A large balloon amendment was brought on Thursday that stripped out everything except two sections dealing with reporting transparency. One section would require community colleges to post the courses for which credit is fully transferable to 4-year institutions. The other section requires the collection of data with lots of student demographic information.

The balloon amendment was adopted and the bill was passed out of committee. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

The second bill worked was HB 2166, the bill mandating a course in financial literacy for high school graduation. Again, a balloon amendment was offered that stripped out the mandatory course and instead said that if a school offered a course in financial literacy, they district needed to adopt a policy under which a student could take that course for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment would also require the Kansas State Board of Education to allow the course to be counted as 1/2 credit of mathematics and the Kansas Board of Regents to recognize the class for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment was adopted but a motion to pass the amended bill out of committee failed. The bill is now out of consideration. Of course it can come up as an amendment somewhere else so we will continue to watch for it.

House Tax Committee considers bill to ensure Kansas gets sales tax on internet sales

The House Tax Committee held a hearing on HB 2352 which would adjust tax policies to meet a new court decision that will allow states to better collect sales tax on internet purchases.

Currently, Kansas collects sales taxes on internet vendors who have a physical presence in the state. If one makes a purchase from a vendor that does not, it is quite possible that the vendor will not collect and remit Kansas sales tax. Kansas taxpayers have the opportunity to report such purchases on their income tax returns and pay the sales tax at that time but it is believed that very few people actually do that and there is no way to find out. Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton), in talking to a conferee who admitted to paying such taxes on his return, asked if he felt he was taxed for his purchases or for his honesty.

This bill sets a threshold for sales in Kansas by an internet vendor such that the vendor would be required to collect and remit Kansas sales tax after meeting the threshold ($100,000) in sales. Some states have also set a threshold of a number of transactions in the state – for example, the vendor had 200 purchases from the state – but this bill does not include such a provision.


The House considered two bills of interest this week.

Senate Bill 9 which would direct the state to pay $115 million to KPERS this year to pay back contributions that had been withheld was advanced to final action and will be voted on Friday. If it passes, it goes to the governor.

HB 2071, which would establish a “proud educator” license plate, was up for debate but was passed over apparently so that a legislator can get an amendment prepared to add a “Don’t Tread on Me” (Tea Party) license plate to it. We will see if it comes back on Friday.

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Bullying and Budgeting

Feb 20, 2019 by

A solid week of bullying bills!

This is turning out to be the week of the bully under the dome. It started with a Valentine’s Day hearing on HB 2150, a bill that allowed any child who reported bullying – just reported it; it didn’t have to happen to him/her and it didn’t actually have to happen at all – to be offered a voucher to attend a private school where, we guess, bullying must not happen.

Okay, it wasn’t a bill to address bullying, it was a bill to create vouchers. Now this week, we have hearings on two more bullying bills.

One, HB 2257, was drafted by Equality Kansas, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ Kansans. Equality Kansas took the time to confer on their draft with education organizations including KNEA and was receptive to suggestions resulting in a bill that is generally considered the best one out there at this time.

The second bill is HB 2330. This bill was based on the infamous Walt Chappell drafted bill that was so much overkill that even advocates for stronger bullying laws opposed it. The bill was given to freshman Representative Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville) who worked to purge it of some of the more onerous provisions. Samsel has also reached out to KNEA, KASB, and USA for input in the hope of creating something that everyone can agree to – perhaps a melding of HB 2257 and HB 2330. Complicating the problem is that the bills are having hearings in two different committees!

Bullying legislation is a perennial issue in the statehouse with education organizations looking for local control on the issue and other organizations seeking statutes with “more teeth.”

KNEA opposed HB 2150 for what it is – a voucher bill. We are appearing neutral on the other two and encouraging legislators to deal with this issue as they did with the other perennial issue, dyslexia. Last year, with the leadership of Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), a controversial dyslexia bill was transformed into the establishment of a task force made up of teachers, administrators, State Board members, parents, legislators, and advocacy organizations.

The Dyslexia Task Force met over the summer and fall and managed to collaboratively develop a set of recommendations – unanimously adopted by the members of the task force – that will hopefully satisfy all of the interested parties. We believe the same process should be used to come up with a solution to bullying that helps schools, protects students, and deals with the underlying issues.

HB 2257 had a hearing today; HB 2330 will get a hearing tomorrow. And that voucher bill, HB 2150? It is scheduled for a vote in committee tomorrow.

Money mess

Since budgeting, spending, and taxes are all intertwined, we thought it best to let you know where things are as of today.

The mostly corporate tax giveaway, SB 22, has passed the Senate with 26 votes and is getting a hearing in the House Tax Committee today and tomorrow. It reduces revenue by nearly $190 million.

Both the Senate and House Tax Committees are hearing bills this week to lower the food sales tax rate. Lowering the rate by one cent, from 6.5% to 5.5% would cost the state about $60 million.

The Senate has also passed SB 9 which would require the state to immediately pay back $115 million in funds delayed to KPERS. This bill has had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee and was voted out of committee favorably. It awaits action in the full House probably this week. It represents a reduction of $115 million from the treasury which would make the budget harder to balance.

Governor Kelly had recommended the re-amortization of KPERS in order to lower the immediate costs and help balance the budget. Her re-amortization bill was soundly defeated on the House floor.

So lots of things are happening that will make it more difficult to balance the budget and meet the priorities for Kansas that Governor Kelly highlighted in her state of the state address – funding schools, repairing the foster care system, hiring correctional officers to end the crisis in Kansas prisons, and expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans.

We are approaching the half-way point of the session. There is much still to be done!

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Sad news; Then hearings on buying classroom supplies & taxing food

Feb 19, 2019 by

Representative Greg Lewis resigns for health reasons

In very sad news today, Rep. Greg Lewis (R-St. John) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. Lewis won re-election in November after a bruising primary. In December he found himself with vision problems, feeling lightheaded and unstable. During the holidays, he found himself facing a diagnosis of a serious cancerous brain tumor that grows rapidly.

Facing surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, Lewis realized he needed to focus all his energy on his health and family.

Rep. Greg Lewis has been a steadfast supporter of public schools, school employees, and public policy that supports a good quality of life in Kansas. We will miss Greg tremendously and pray that both Greg and his family might have the strength to face this challenge.

A stipend for every teacher?

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2233, a bill that would require all school districts to provide a stipend of $500 to every teacher for the purpose of buying classroom supplies.

Sounds good? Well, not necessarily. The bill does not include any funding so school districts would be forced to take this money out of other funding sources. So they might have to reduce money for pay raises, or covering health insurance premium increases, or providing more classroom instructional support.

Further, the bill is written in such a restrictive fashion that the $500 can be used for essentially only those things that are on supply list sent to parents every year. The stipend cannot be used to purchase anything that is not entirely consumed in the school year it was bought. So if you want to buy books for your classroom library or a class set of novels, you can’t. And even though food products are entirely consumed, food is specifically prohibited by the bill. So no use trying to use the stipend for cooking projects in your classroom; forget the Kindergarten Thanksgiving feast!

Three things need to happen before this bill is a good idea: 1) schools need to be fully funded as per the Gannon decision; 2) an additional appropriation must be made to pay for this bill ($17.350 million); and 3) the bill needs to be rewritten such that the teacher can decide for him/herself what is necessary to move children to higher levels of achievement.

Should Kansas lower the food sales tax?

Kansas is one of only seven states that imposes the full sales tax on groceries and our rate is the second highest in the nation.

House Bill 2261 would lower the state food sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5%. The bill had a hearing in the House Tax Committee. KNEA has a position supporting the reduction or repeal of the food sales tax. Our testimony in support of the bill focused on the impact of the food sales tax on low-income families and their ability to purchase nutritious fresh foods for children.

Others supporting the bill included rural communities, pediatricians, healthy food advocates, dietitians, and local health departments. Opponents were the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Kansas Action for Children testified as neutral, telling the Committee that there were other options to do the same thing such as expansion of the food sales tax credit or making that credit fully refundable.

No action was taken on the bill at this time.


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House Pensions Committee passes out KPERS reamortization bill

Feb 13, 2019 by

The House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee has decided to send Governor Kelly’s KPERS re-amortization bill to the full chamber for debate. We provided you with an examination of the issue here in Under the Dome earlier; you can re-read that explanation by clicking here.

The motion and second were made by two substitute committee members sent in for the day by Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe), an action that makes one wonder what political tricks are at work here. Cynics in the Statehouse speculate that this is just an attempt to put a bill on the floor that the Governor wants to see passed and then kill it.

So far the Republican leadership in the Legislature seems to be focusing on how best to stop anything the Democratic Governor would like to do. Governor Kelly’s agenda is to fully fund public schools, expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 150,000 uninsured Kansans, and repair our damaged foster care system. Additionally, the state needs to deal with crisis in our public safety system (the Department of Corrections) and find ways to stop robbing the state highway program as roads continue to crumble.

Despite these needs, Senate Republicans have chosen to give away $192 million in corporate tax breaks and breaks for the wealthiest Kansans, and immediately send $115 million to KPERS. Many have asked why many of these same officials have only recently shown an interest in shoring up KPERS after a decade of supporting Brownback’s policies of raiding KPERS to sustain his failed experiment (CLICK HERE). Taking $307 million out of the treasury will make it all but impossible for the Governor to address the desperate needs of Kansas schools, foster care, health care, corrections, and highways. It appears that Senate leadership is now leveraging the KPERS issues they were complicit in creating in order to simply wreck the budget priorities of their political rival who is now our Governor.

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Funding and curriculum mandates

Feb 12, 2019 by

Senate Committee on Education Finance continues hearing on SB 44

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance continued their hearing on Senate Bill 44, Governor Kelly’s school funding bill intended to end the Gannon school finance lawsuit by addressing the last Gannon ruling.

The Supreme Court last ruled that the actions taken by the legislature in 2017 and 2018 had effectively created a constitutional school finance formula but that they were off on adequacy of funding because of the phase-in of funding increases.

After addressing all equity issues in the formula, the legislature had decided to return to the funding level that resolved the earlier Montoy decision and was abandoned due to the Great Recession and the failure of the Brownback tax disaster. So they picked an adjusted dollar amount but then chose to phase that amount in over several years.

The result is that, while the Court thought the approach was right, the legislature would have to account for inflation – the legislature would need to increase funding such that inflation increases were met. SB 44 is based on the Kansas State Board of Education’s calculations and Schools for Fair Funding, the organization representing the lawsuit school districts, told the committee that if this bill passes with no other changes to the formula, they would stipulate that it meets the Gannon ruling.

School districts, KASB, KNEA and parent groups, like Game on for Kansas Schools and the PTA, and many other education advocacy groups, were united in support for the bill. The only opponent was the Kansas Policy Institute, the Koch-funded organization that supports corporate tax giveaways and seeks to block all school funding increases. KPI asserted in testimony that the Court has no right to rule they way they do and that money doesn’t influence student achievement.

Contact members of the Senate and ask them to support Senate Bill 44 without amendment. It’s time to fully fund our schools and get out of court!

You can email any Senator using this format: firstname.lastname@senate.ks.gov. Members of the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance are Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Anthony Hensley, Bud Estes, Dan Goddard, Dan Kerschen, Carolyn McGinn, Pat Pettey, and Eric Rucker.

House Ed Committee considers mandating more courses

The House Education Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on the first of two bills mandating new course requirements for Kansas high school students. The bill heard on Tuesday was one that seems to appear annually which mandates a financial literacy requirement. Brought to the committee by Rep. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, the bill would require all Kansas high school students to take and pass a course on financial literacy in their junior or senior year.

While no one disputes the importance of financial literacy, school advocates opposed the mandate. As reported by the Kansas State Department of Education, 92% of Kansas schools offer financial literacy now with 28% putting the course in their graduation requirements.

Opposition to the bill focused on several concerns:

  • The mandate would be difficult to implement due to a lack of qualified instructors;
  • The mandate would deny students the opportunity to take other elective courses and possibly interfere with the ability to earn an industry certificate in a CTE program; and
  • The real problem with financial issues faced by adults has more to do with crippling student debt and the predatory practices of payday and title lenders and credit card companies.

Opponents to the mandate included KASB, the Kansas State Superintendents Association, KNEA, and Game on for Kansas Schools. Supporters were Rep. Erickson and Walt Chappell and the Kansas Realtors Association who indicated that student debt was hampering the ability of young people to buy homes. Sadly, passage of HB 2166 will not do anything about student debt.

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