Short Days; No Movement on Taxes or School Funding also NRA’s Hired Legislative-guns Fire Back & Agreement Reached on Working After Retirement

May 17, 2017 by

With the completion of the school finance bill (Sub for HB 2410) done Monday evening and a new proposal on taxes (complete repeal of the Brownback tax failure), things seem to have come to a block under the dome.

The school finance bill is ready but as of yet no debate has been set for the floor. And we have yet to see the tax proposal together.

The Senate Select Committee on Education Funding is already studying the House bill, having scheduled briefings on it and announcing today that there would be a hearing beginning tomorrow. So the Senate Committee is not wasting any time and working as if the bill has already passed. The interesting twist in this is that the bill we will be testifying on in the Senate is the one that came out of the House committee and there is a strong possibility that the bill will be changed dramatically in House floor debate. On the positive side, this speeds up the process a little bit.

We are of course wondering why the hold-up and can only speculate. Leadership may be debating whether to deal with taxes or schools first or perhaps they are trying to persuade enough Republicans to support the anemic bill that came out of committee. Whatever it is, we are in a holding pattern for right now so keep checking back here for updates.


Conservatives Block Effort to Give Colleges Control Over Guns

Brownback and his allies in the legislature who owe their allegiance to the National Rifle Association (NRA), passed legislation that allows guns to be carried just about anywhere by anyone at any time. This means that starting on July 1, 2017, anyone can carry a concealed weapon into a hospital including the state mental hospitals or in any building on any college campus. The only way they can be prohibited is if the hospital or college were to secure every entrance with metal detectors and security guards at an enormous cost to the institution.

How bad is it? Brownback, who happily signed the bill into law, suddenly found out what it did and asked the legislature to give him $24 million to secure the state hospitals so that guns could be prohibited. Can you imagine what it would cost to secure the University of Kansas or Kansas State or any of our other post-secondary institutions including community colleges?

Several attempts have been made this year to change the law to allow colleges and hospitals to have control over guns in their facilities and, despite there being overwhelming public support for keeping guns off campus – support from parents, students, faculty, and administration – the NRA has kept a tight control over the Kansas House and Senate.

Yesterday a bill came up in the Senate that would have blocked guns in the hospitals. An attempt by Senator Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) to change the law for college campuses ran into a buzz-saw of NRA talking points leveled at her by Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover), Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), and Senator Rob Olson (R-Olathe). Olson maintained that more people are killed by cell phone usage in cars than all other causes of accidental death and noted that killers seek places with a “no guns” sign because they know they will be safe targets. He asserted that law enforcement can’t get to a scene quickly enough and that every law-abiding citizen ought to be able to pull out a handgun and fire back.

Olson then offered a motion to refer the bill back to the Federal and State Affairs Committee (one with a more NRA-friendly membership) but at that point Senator Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka) offered a substitute motion to refer it back to the Ways and Means Committee from which it had originally come. Schmidt’s motion prevailed and the bill was sent back to committee.

Without further action, all community colleges, technical colleges, and universities in Kansas will become gun zones on July 1, 2017. Anyone will be permitted to carry a concealed weapon anywhere on campus at any time.  We believe this includes campus daycares and public health clinics operating as part of joint programs with colleges.  No permit will be required; no training will be required.


KPERS & Working After Retirement (W.A.R.)

The Conference Committee on Pensions has come to an agreement to simplify the requirements that address Working after Retirement for KPERS covered positions. The contents of the changes were put into House Substitute for Senate Bill 21.

The bill addresses the many issues that arose after the 2016 set of changes were implemented.

Our position is to simplify the rules governing W.A.R.  Additionally, the rules for W.A.R. must make it possible to put the best possible person in a KPERS covered position.  These changes reflect this position.  Below is a summary published by KPERS and would take effect January 1, 2018 if passed by the Legislature: 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD KPERS SUMMARY

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School Finance! School Cuts?

Mar 15, 2017 by

Senate Likely to Debate Rescission Bill Tomorrow

Governor Brownback and Senator Susan Wagle

The rescission bill (Senate Sub for HB 2052) we discussed earlier this week will almost certainly be up for debate tomorrow afternoon in the Senate. The bill does not contain any cuts to state agencies but Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) told the press today that she intends to offer an amendment containing across the board cuts to state agencies for fiscal year 2017 (which ends on June 30) during the debate.

Wagle has not said what level those cuts might be except that they will be less than 5%. The Senate earlier was to consider a bill with a 5% cut to K-12 education but it was pulled from debate when it became clear it could never pass. Whatever the cuts turn out to be, if passed they will apply to both K-12 and higher education.

We do not believe there is support in the Senate for any cuts but it’s best to be ready!

TAKE ACTION NOW! CLICK HERE

More Discussion on School Finance Bill

The House K-12 Budget Committee has spent the last three days trying to come to a consensus on what will be in the “Chairman’s Bill” on school finance. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has announced that his bill will be ready early next week. He then plans to give a little time for it to be digested by the committee and stakeholders before holding hearings which he suggested may last several days.

So far it appears that the formula will be similar to the old formula – likely a base amount with weightings to get to special needs such as at-risk and bilingual students. There was some discussion about how those weightings should be calculated. Today there seemed to be a general consensus to stick with free lunch for at-risk although there could be an effort to create a “blended” formula combining free lunch with students receiving services through a Department of Children and Families program. There was also an effort today to add additional all-risk funding for students not meeting at least two of the KSDE at-risk indicators. This would be similar to the old “non-proficient” at risk. KNEA has been a strong proponent of this to ensure that students who live in wealthy communities but are not performing satisfactorily get the help they need to be successful.

Not much has been said about other parts of the old formula including capital outlay, new facilities weighting, and ancillary weighting. Also brought up in passing were declining enrollment weighting and cost of living weighting but there was little discussion. It is hard to tell if these will be included in the Chairman’s bill or not.

There was support today for all day Kindergarten and pre-school school readiness programs as well as mentoring for teachers and professional development.

Two contentious issues surfaced yesterday when Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) suggested an expansion of the tuition tax credit or voucher program and Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) suggested merit pay for teachers. Neither were discussed in depth.

Also unknown is how the bill might address accountability. Some believe accountability belongs with the State Board of Education and KSDE while others seem to want it addressed in the finance bill.

It is possible that this will be a bare-bones proposal. The Chairman told his committee members to feel free to prepare to offer any amendments they may have in mind.

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Guns on Campus & The Misunderstood Legend of Bernard P. Fife, Tuition Tax Credits, Pensions and more…

Mar 9, 2017 by

Guns on Campus Gets Another Hearing

The issue of allowing firearms on college and university campuses is a hot topic this year as post-secondary institutions approach a July 1, 2017, deadline by which they must install security measures (metal detectors and staff) at every entrance if they plan to prohibit concealed weapons on campus. As you can imagine, the cost of such security would be prohibitive making it almost a certainty that campuses will be open to guns beginning in July.

Bills have been introduced to repeal the deadline essentially allowing each institution to decide how to handle weapons on campus for themselves. Those bills had hearings earlier in the session and went nowhere.

But today the House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on HB 2220 which would prohibit post- secondary institutions from adopting any policies about firearms at all. Under this bill, anyone could carry a weapon anywhere on campus at any time – a kind of wild west approach to college campuses. And despite the fact that the institutions oppose the bill, student and faculty groups oppose the bill, and parent groups oppose the bill, the fact that the NRA was there to support it appears to carry more weight.

Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) tried to crack jokes about the situation saying that if Barney Fife had been allowed to keep his bullet in the chamber instead of his pocket, he could have stopped more crime.  Of course, most know that the bumbling but lovable character played by the late Don Knotts was prohibited from keeping a loaded weapon due to his penchant for misfiring his pistol.

No action was taken on the bill today.


Tuition Tax Credit (Voucher) Bill Hearing Postponed

The hearing on HB 2374, the expansion of the tuition tax credit or voucher bill, was canceled for tomorrow. It will be moved to Wednesday of next week. KNEA will be there to oppose the bill.


Senate Committee Working on Pensions

The Senate begins work on pensions in the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee chaired by Senator Jeff Longbine. The committee has begun pension work by hearing testimony from the Executive Director of KPERS Alan Conroy who reviewed the KPERS System with the committee (KPERS 101) and a review of Working After Retirement issues. The Senate committee will hear testimony next Wednesday regarding HB 2268 which is the House version of updates to Working After Retirement. The Senate committee will hear testimony on Tuesday of next week regarding their version of an update of Working After Retirement covered in SB 138. Look for summaries and current information next week in Under the Dome.


Long-time Education Research Staffer, Sharon Wenger, Retires

We are sad to say that Sharon Wenger, the Legislative Research Department’s staff member assigned to the education committees will be retiring after tomorrow. Anyone of you who has ever attended an education committee meeting in the statehouse would have seen Sharon answering questions and providing resource materials for committee members. It’s not only the legislators who love and admire Sharon, we lobbyists do as well. Her expertise, her demeanor, and her smile will be missed. And as jealous as we are, we can still manage to wish her well and thank her for her years of service to education in Kansas.

Sharon was honored today by the House Education and K-12 Education Budget Committee members.

 

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Senate Kills Gov’s Tax Bill; Then There’s Guns, Vouchers, and Efficiencies

Mar 8, 2017 by

Brownback’s Tax Bill Goes Down in Flames

The Senate yesterday debated Governor Brownback’s tax proposal (SB 175) which would simply raise alcohol and tobacco taxes and increase registration fees on businesses in a hopeless attempt to get out of the massive budget hole created by his reckless tax cuts.

The Senate clearly recognized this and killed the bill by passing an amendment to strike the enacting clause on a vote of 37 -1. The enacting clause indicates when the bill would become law and by removing the clause, the underlying bill can never become law. The motion is the equivalent of killing the bill.

One would think that this action would send a clear message to the Governor that the Senate, like the House, wants tax reform that brings Kansas back from the edge. Of course, the Governor is sticking to his failed policies like a pit bull on a rib bone.

This vote moves the Senate to consideration of a better tax reform bill and that’s the good news.


House Committee to Talk Guns on Campus Tomorrow

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee will be hearing HB 2220, a bill that would prohibit post-secondary institutions from adopting any policies governing concealed weapons on campus. This is the opposite of earlier attempts to allow those institutions to prohibit firearms on campus.

HB 2220 essentially makes college campuses wild west institutions where anyone can do whatever they want with firearms. Under this bill, no campus could restrict where guns were permitted or who could carry them. Campuses would be completely unregulated when it came to firearms.

KNEA opposes this bill and has called for the passage of legislation to allow colleges to make these decisions.


K-12 Budget Committee to Take Up Radical Expansion of Tuition Tax Credits (i.e. Vouchers)

On Friday, the K-12 Education Budget Committee will hold a hearing on HB 2374, a bill expanding the corporate tuition tax credit program. Under current law the state allows corporations to pay the tuition of at-risk children in Title 1 schools to attend a private school. The corporation gets a 90% tax credit for this. That means the state is giving away $10 million in taxpayer money to send a few kids to unaccountable private school.

We are always fascinated by legislators and lobbyists like Dave Trabert who continually demand more and more accountability and testing in public schools but are perfectly okay sending millions of dollars to unaccredited private schools that report no results to the state at all. But then, we’ve been here a long time and hypocrisy should not surprise us.

At a time when the Court has determined that our public schools are not adequately funded and that many in the legislature are still calling for cuts to public education; at a time when the state faces a two-year budget hole of over $800 million, it is irresponsible to continue to give away tax money for which there is no accountability whatsoever. The best thing for the legislature to do at this time is to simply repeal the program entirely and put that $10 million back in the budget where it belongs to serve all Kansans.


School District Purchasing, Health Care Consolidation Discussion

Last week Secretary of Administration Sarah Shipman called together education stakeholder groups to discuss two of the “efficiency” recommendations that were included as part of the Governor’s budget this year.

Brownback included a requirement that all school districts centralize purchasing through the Department of Administration. State agencies currently use this system and the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study had suggested that there would be significant savings to the state if school districts joined.

He also included an A&M recommendation that school districts consolidate into one health insurance plan like the State Employees Health Plan.

Bills were filed that would accomplish both of these requirements.

The K-12 Education Budget Committee was skeptical about the potential savings and asked Secretary Shipman to bring people together to discuss both issues and come up with recommendations.

KNEA joined KASB, USA/Kansas, the Wichita schools, and Greenbush at the meeting. Also present was the anti-government Kansas Policy Institute.

Today Secretary Shipman reported on the results of the meeting to the committee. In short, the recommendation was that the negatives far outweighed the positives and that there was no way to deliver any savings in 2018 even if the bills were passed.

Committee Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) announced that he would not work the bills but instead let them lie until next year. He will also report to the Appropriations Committee that the bills would not have saved any revenue in 2018.

Representative Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) also pointed out that neither bill would provide a penny of savings to the state unless the legislature reduced school funding by an amount equivalent to the savings instead of letting any savings be redirected to classroom programs.

 

 

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Due Process, Health Care and EDUCATION CUTS!

Feb 8, 2017 by

Hearing Set on Due Process Bill

Rep. Clay Aurand, Chair of the House Education Committee, has announced that a hearing has been scheduled for HB 2179 which would restore due process protections for Kansas teachers who have completed a probationary period. The bill re-enacts the law as it was prior to repeal in 2014.

Due process was repealed in 2014 without ever having been introduced as a bill and without any public announcement or hearing. The repeal was enacted after midnight as a floor amendment to a must-pass school funding bill. With it attached to the finance bill, the bill was unable to receive the needed 63 votes to pass until House leadership enacted a call of the House under which members are locked in the chamber indefinitely. Eventually – about 4:00 am as we recall – a 63rd vote was gained through pressure and exhaustion.

HB 2179 has 45 legislative co-sponsors from both parties. We look forward to a fair hearing and having a vote on the bill in committee next week.


LPA Study on Health Benefit Consolidation

The Division of Legislative Post Audit today released their study on the feasibility of consolidating school district health benefit plans into one mega-plan similar to the State Employee Health Plan (SEHP). The idea was raised as a possible cost saver in the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study. They suggested a savings of about $80 million per year. Finding himself short of cash in setting a budget, Governor Brownback leapt on the idea and called for this to happen by January 1, 2018.

Unfortunately for the Governor, the LPA indicates that even if they decided to move forward, it could not be done so as to gain any savings in 2018.

Beyond that, the savings are lower in the LPA study. They suggest perhaps $38 million in efficiency savings and another $25 million by shifting costs onto employees. What they did was look at what happens if you put school employees in a plan modeled on the SEHP. Doing this would significantly reduce benefits for school employees by raising deductibles, increasing co-pays, and increasing the out-of-pocket maximum per year. The state would then “claw back” those savings leaving school districts with less budget authority. The savings garnered by reducing benefits would not go to the employees as pay raises but to the state general fund presumably to shore up Brownback’s reckless tax cut program.

Passage of a plan to make this consolidation happen is basically a cut to school employee compensation across Kansas by $25 million.

There will be a hearing on a bill to enact the consolidation on Monday. KNEA will be there to oppose the bill.

CLICK HERE to read the full LPA report.

CLICK HERE to read the healthcare report highlights.


Senate Voting Tomorrow to Cut Education, Pass Inadequate Tax plan

The full Senate will convene tomorrow to vote on two bills. Senate Bill 27 would cut education funding by $154 million – $128 million from K-12 and another $23 million from higher education.

Their tax bill, SB 147, would raise income tax rates for all Kansans, repeal the low-income tax exemption for those earning less than $12,000/year, and repeal the LLC loophole but does nothing to end the glide path to zero which is the root of future revenue declines. There is much debate about what it would raise – perhaps $280 million in 2018.

The problem with this bill is that it does not go nearly far enough in solving the revenue crisis facing Kansas. The budget holes Kansas now faces in 2017 and beyond are enormous. Most analysts believe the state will need to raise at least $580 million just to break even and not accounting for any pending decision in the Gannon school finance lawsuit.

Kansas NEA has released a statement along with USA/KS, KASB, KSSA, and others calling on the Senate to vote NO on SB 27 and to send SB 147 back to committee for more work.

CLICK HERE to email your Senator.

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Taxes, Cuts, and Revenue

Feb 8, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Senate unveils two-pronged strategy to restore a portion of state revenue.
  • Tax bill SB 147 does not solve shortfall and fails to address long-term problems.
  • SB 27 is a bill to cut funding to K-12 and Regents institutions to grab another chunk of revenue to fill the Governor’s revenue hole.
  • Full senate to convene on Thursday to debate both bills.
  • Rise Up Kansas plan gets committee hearing today.
  • KNEA joined 13 proponents from various organizations to support the bill.
  • 5 groups opposed the bill including Americans for Prosperity, Kansas Policy Institute and Kansas Chamber of Commerce among others.

 

The Senate has crafted a two-pronged plan, approved by Senate President Susan Wagle, that includes a tax bill which seeks to increase revenue (SB 147) and a bill which cuts funding to K-12 education and higher ed Regents institutions (SB 27).

The tax bill (SB 147) would raise approximately $280 million in new revenue. Unfortunately, the Brownback-created revenue hole is so deep, this plan is far short of what is needed to reverse the tax cuts of 2012 and 2013. Additionally, SB 147 is not a comprehensive, long-term solution.

The funding-cut bill would reduce spending in FY 2017 by $154 million. Most of the reduction would come after taking $128 million from K-12 education with another $23 million from Regents institutions. Overall, this plan cuts K-12 education by 5%, higher education by 3%, and the Schools for the Deaf and Blind by 1%.

The leadership of the Senate plans to convene the full Senate at 8:00 am on Thursday and work both bills.

We oppose the tax bill because it does not fully address the disaster brought on by the Brownback cuts. Passing this plan, even coupled with cuts, would require the legislature to address continuing shortfalls going forward with more tax increase votes likely. We support a comprehensive tax plan that restores funding such that vital state services can be adequately funded.

We also oppose the draconian cuts to K-12 education and higher education. When the Governor is challenging higher education institutions to provide a $15,000 undergraduate degree, it is counterproductive to cut state funding for our colleges and universities. As for the K-12 cuts, any cuts run counter to common sense as we await the decision on adequacy by the Kansas Supreme Court.

We are pleased to see that the House Taxation Committee appears to be on a more rational path, examining a proposal to raise enough money to restore fiscal stability to Kansas.

We urge the Senate to amend the tax bill to include a comprehensive solution or send SB147 back to Committee. While the tax bill is a move in the right direction, it falls far short of what is necessary to put Kansas back on sound financial footing. We urge the senate to vote no on SB 27, the “cuts bill.”

We believe that both chambers need to develop comprehensive tax policy bills that provide for the restoration of funding necessary for vital state services. We do not wish to be in a position to consider still more cuts and more tax increases indefinitely into the future.


Rise Up Plan Gets Hearing!

The Rise Up tax reform plan supported by KNEA, Kansas Action for Children (KAC), AFT/KOSE, the Kansas Contractors Association, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG) and others got its day in Committee today.

The first proponent of the plan was Duane Goosen, the former budget director for Governors Graves, Sebelius, and Parkinson. Other proponents included KCEG Executive Director Heidi Holliday, Wesley McCain of Healthy Communities Wyandotte, KAC President Annie McKay, Christina Ostmeyer of Kansas Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, Scott Englemeyer of the Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, Rob Gilligan of KASB, Bob Totten of the Kansas Contractors Association, Reverend Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan of the Kansas Interfaith Alliance, KNEA’s Mark Desetti, AFT/KOSE Executive Director Rebecca Proctor, Ashley Jones-Wisner of Healthy Kids Kansas, and Scott Anderson of Hamm Companies (highway construction firm).

Opponents kicked off their arguments with Dave Trabert, anti-government zealot with the Kansas Policy Institute, Jeff Glendening with Americans for Prosperity, Tom Palace with Independent Petroleum Marketers, Tom Whitaker of Kansas Motorcarriers Association (opposing only motor fuel tax increase), Eric Stafford of Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

One neutral conferee from Kansas Association of Counties.

13 proponents to 5 opponents (where 1 opponent only opposes the motor fuel tax).

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