A Bill to Arm Teachers and a Day on Equity & Transportation

Mar 22, 2018 by

Guns for Teachers

We’ve been wondering how long it would be before Kansas legislators got around to proposing the arming of teachers in our schools. Today’s the day.

Enter House Bill 2789 and Senate Bill 424, both creating the so-called “SAFER Act.” In the clever “language that means the opposite of what it actually does” world of ultra-conservatives, the bill purports to create the “Kansas Staff As First Emergency Responders act.” In this case, the “first emergency responders” would be classroom teachers.

Under the bill, school districts can supposedly choose to arm teachers and such teachers must hold a concealed carry permit and an additional level of permit known as the SAFER permit. These teachers would then be expected to pack a weapon at school and then confront an armed assailant.  The bill makes no provision for law enforcement to determine who might be the “bad shooter(s)” and who might be the “good shooter(s)” when the SWAT team arrives to find multiple people with weapons drawn and engaged in gunfire.

But before you think this is an exercise in “local control” for school districts, a section of the bill specifically states that in schools where teachers are not armed, should an incident take place the school district is deemed to have been negligent should there be a lawsuit or other court action.

Instead of providing resources to ensure that school buildings are secure; instead of passing legislation to control the proliferation of assault rifles (the weapon of choice in mass shootings, read more here) including universal background checks; instead of providing resources for mental health providers, HB 2789 and SB 424 simply throw guns at the problem and hope Miss Smith will just go out in the hall and shoot an intruder. Problem solved.

Kansas NEA’s position is that the safest schools are gun-free schools where the only armed persons on any school campus should be trained and licensed law enforcement personnel.  Our position is an informed position having consulted with law enforcement officials who train schools, businesses and community organizations for active shooter occurrences.  Our position aligns with our long-standing core values.

We feel it important to recognize as this debate continues to grow, that more teachers names will be engraved on the Memorial to Fallen Educators in Emporia, Kansas this June including the names of those that died to protect their students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Bill Bundling in the Senate Select School Finance Committee

Four bills were scheduled to be worked today in the Senate Select School Finance Committee today and worked they were!

Two of the bills – SB 422 and SB 423 – dealt with equity issues in SB 19 found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The other two – SB 352 and SB 450 – dealt with the transportation formula.

They started with SB 450, the bill by Sen. Bollier (R-Mission Hills) that addressed the “curve of best fit” in the transportation formula. Bollier proposed two amendments, both of which were adopted. The first directs the State Board of Education to determine how best to measure the distance from school to home for the purposes of determining whether or not a student met the 2.5-mile minimum distance. The second put in a grandfather clause intended to protect districts from negative changes.

Before moving SB 450 out of committee, they took up SB 352, a bill moving the funding of the transportation formula out of the State Highway Fund and into the State General Fund. This would save $107.3 million in highway money but require either an additional $107.3 million in general fund money for schools or for schools to simply absorb the cost of transportation in their budgets.

The Committee voted to bundle SB 450 into SB 352 and pass SB 352 out of committee and on to the full Senate.

Next up was SB 422, the bill mandating a 30% LOB, requiring notice to the State Board of Education of intent to increase the LOB by March 15, requiring a protest petition for LOB increases, requiring the transfer of some LOB funds to the at-risk fund, and linking state aid to the current year LOB. Two of the provisions in this bill are intended to address equity issues flagged by the Supreme Court (see bold type).

After much wrangling, the mandate 30% LOB was removed as was the required transfer to the at-risk fund. All other provisions remained the same.

Before passing the bill as an amendment, the Committee took up SB 423 which deals with the other two equity issues addressed in the Gannon decision. SB 423 would repeal the 10% at-risk floor and the expanded uses for capital outlay funds.

The Committee bundled the two bills together and sent the bill on to the full Senate for consideration.

House K-12 Budget Committee Also Dealing with Equity Provisions

The House Committee was also dealing the transportation and equity but instead of four bills, they had one, HB 2445.

Their work is not finished but today they approved a number of amendments to the bill.

An amendment by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) would restructure a list of scheduled LPA audits required under SB 19. Her amendment would remove reviews of the successful schools model of school funding (peer reviews found them to be not credible and lacking in rigor), re-order some studies of specific programs, and require cost function analysis “refreshers” every three years. The amendment was adopted along with one adjustment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) to move the special education review to 2019 and the virtual education review to 2023.

Another Rooker amendment to strike sunset dates on CTE funding and high density at-risk was adopted. Her third amendment removed the hoops that school districts have to jump through to get capital improvement state aid. That amendment also passed.

Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) made two attempts to change a provision lowering aid for out-of-state students which is scheduled to decline from 1.0 to 0.5 over a couple of years. His first attempt would simply repeal the reduction. That amendment failed.

Smith then proposed another amendment that would allow certain students to be fully funded and funding was essentially determined by geography – distance from the border of the student’s home state school and the Kansas school of attendance and other factors. After some discussion, Smith withdrew the amendment to give time for interested members of the committee to discuss the issue and craft a new amendment.

The Committee adjourned for the day with the understanding that they will be coming back to the bill later.

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Bill Work Picking Up; Dyslexia Bill Goes to the Floor

Mar 21, 2018 by

Dyslexia Task Force Bill Passes Senate Committee

The Senate Education Committee met today to work two bills. The first was Sub for HB 2602 which establishes a Dyslexia Task Force to consider how best to identify and serve students with dyslexia.

Three amendments to the bill were adopted.

The first amendment by Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) would add the words “and other reading comprehension impairments” throughout the bill to be sure that the Task Force explores identification and support for all reading disabilities.

The second amendment by Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) would ensure that the task force had access to the services of the legislative research department.

The third and final amendment by Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) changed the composition of the task force by eliminating four legislators and adding teachers. Under the amendment, the task force will now be composed of 17 voting members as follows:

  • one member of the Senate
  • one member of the House
  • one member of the SBOE who shall serve as Chair
  • one professor employed by a state educational institution,
  • two principals,
  • four parents of children diagnosed with dyslexia,
  • one special education director
  • one elementary building-level reading specialist,
  • one elementary special education teacher,
  • one elementary classroom teacher,
  • one middle school classroom teacher,
  • one licensed psychologist or speech-language pathologist who diagnoses dyslexia, and
  • one appointee of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.

There will also be two non-voting attorneys on the task force; one from the State Department of Education and one who is familiar with dyslexia issues.

The amendment also spells out how such members will be appointed.

All three amendments passed unanimously and the bill, as amended, was passed out of committee unanimously. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Education Inspector General Bill Defeated in Committee

Senate Bill 424 which would have established an “Education Inspector General” in the State Treasurer’s Office was also worked in the Senate Education Committee today. This position appeared to be created in response to the anger conservatives felt over the distribution of school transportation funding which erupted earlier in the session.

The position was intended to run continuing audits of school districts with the intent to find inefficiencies and fraud. While some amendments were offered and some of those amendments were adopted, in the end, a motion to pass the bill out of committee as amended failed on a vote of 5 to 6. The bill will not go forward.

Senate Finance Committee Hears Transportation Bills

So the Education Inspector General bill was defeated but transportation continued to be a topic immediately afterward when the Senate Select Committee on School Finance met to hold hearings on two bills dealing with transportation.

The first bill, SB 352, would move the funding for school transportation from the Highway Department to the State General Fund. For years transportation funding has been transferred out the Highway Fund. This bill would simply change the source of those funds to the State General Fund and would have no impact on the formula.

The second bill, SB 450, was introduced by Sen. Bollier and would put into law the curve of best fit in the transportation formula. The curve adjustment has been used for many years but when it was revealed this year that it was not actually in statute there was an uproar among conservatives. The Legislative Post Audit had recommended that it be put in statute.

There have been several bills to do this but the Bollier proposal is the first to adjust the formula such that it can be adjusted easily if more transportation funding is needed and to respond automatically to rising costs.

No action was taken on either bill today.

Commissioner Watson Back in K-12 Budget Committee

Education Commissioner Randy Watson made a return appearance before the House K-12 Budget Committee today to once again review Kansans Can! and share the accreditation program the department uses.

The presentation was not terribly long today (they’ve had presentations like this before this session) and did not generate a lot of discussions.

Watson also demonstrated the use of the School Report Cards website and how it can allow policy-makers, parents, and school personnel to keep up with performance indicators and even find like school districts with whom to potentially partner for professional development.

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Consultants Present School Finance Study

Mar 19, 2018 by

Conservatives who demanded that the Legislature take no action on school finance until a new cost study was available – a study conducted under their parameters by a consultant that they chose – are now trying to distance themselves from that study and discredit it.

It was conservative Republicans who insisted on doing a new cost study, arguing that the prior studies by Augenblick and Myers and the Legislative Post Audit were outdated. “You can’t take such old studies and just adjust them for inflation!” they cried. “Times have changed!”

And so, over the objections of the Democrats, Republican House and Senate Leadership approved hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire two attorneys and a consultant to conduct a new cost study. They chose a consultant, Dr. Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University, to conduct the study and Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) told the Wichita Eagle that they had hired a consultant to demonstrate that the state was adequately funding schools.

“We’re focused on finding experts who can help show the court that funding is adequate,” Susan Wagle, R-Wichita (Wichita Eagle, Feb. 23, 2018). 

A lot of people who work under the dome thought that was just what the Legislature would get; that Taylor had been hired to give Wagle what she wanted. Republican leaders held up all discussion of school funding and a response to Gannon in anticipation of this study. See this from an article in Lawrence Journal-World on March 11, 2018:

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, also rejected the idea that the results of the study were predetermined.

“They’re unfounded in that,” he said. “We have no idea what she’s going to come back with. But we know that we have to update the study.”

Denning said the estimates that Kansas needs to add upwards of $600 million to its education budget are largely based on cost estimates done in 2002 and 2003, during an earlier school finance lawsuit, with those figures simply updated for inflation.

Today, though, Denning was leading the attack to reject or discredit the report. He challenged it on the performance thresholds that were being used, suggesting that use of the approved state ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan was not appropriate. In other words, if we lower our performance goals, we could lower the cost of education.

Denning even went so far at one point as to refer to the study as “simply an academic exercise, not a financial one.” Still, it was an “academic exercise” that Denning was hanging his hat on earlier as a way to block increases in education funding.

Conservatives have for years been swayed by the rhetoric of Dave Trabert and the Kansas Policy Institute. In fact, if the state had a dollar for every time Trabert said “money doesn’t matter” or “schools are terribly inefficient,”  there might have been enough money in the treasury to pay for this study.

Instead, the report specifically says this about funding increases:

“…a one percentage point increase in academic performance is associated with a 5 percent increase in cost. Similarly, a one percentage point increase in the graduation rate is associated with a 1.2 percent increase in cost at lower grades and a 1.9 percent increase in cost at the high school level.”  (page 61)

As for efficiency, the report noted that “the average cost efficiency score was 0.956, indicating that buildings were producing nearly 96% of the potential output, on average.” (page 63) And one slide in Dr. Taylor’s presentation said, “Systematically school districts are exceedingly good at the efficient use of their resources.”

What Can We Expect Moving Forward?

The report still needs to be fully digested by legislators. We can expect that talks will begin soon about how best to address the Gannon decision in light of this new report.

We would anticipate that conservative legislators will launch an effort to discredit the report or consider other ways to bring down costs. Denning, as we said earlier, has already hinted at reducing the state’s performance goals and referred to the study as simply an “academic exercise.”

Conservatives might also renew their calls for constitutional amendments either limiting the state’s responsibility for education funding or stripping the Supreme Court of the authority to act.

Since the consultants also suggest a longer timeline for phasing funding in, cooler heads will likely begin to discuss how long that might be as well as how to lock in increases over time even as membership in the legislature changes. It is often noted that today’s legislative decisions are not binding on future legislatures.

The study will give conservatives more to complain about but might also give Democrats and Moderates just the boost they need to put together a coalition plan to meet the Gannon ruling.

But no matter what, they need to get cracking! Briefs are due to the Supreme Court on April 30!

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New School Finance Study Released

Mar 16, 2018 by

The new school finance cost study contracted by the legislature was released at 1:00 today and, contrary to the expectations of those who thought the consultant was hired to demonstrate that the state was spending adequately on Kansas schools, the study appears to confirm what education advocates have been saying for some time.

While there is still much reading and analysis ahead of us, it appears that, at a minimum, the state needs an additional $500 million in education funding.

Dr. Lori Taylor and Jason Willis, the lead authors will be in Topeka on Monday to discuss the study with the members of the House K-12 Budget Committee and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance. At that time we hope to get more details of the study.

There are some problems in the report including a misalignment of school districts with their accompanying weighting indices. Additionally, there is at least one missing table of data.

Over the next few days we will be pouring over the report and reviewing all the math including the factors that are included in their “teacher salary index.”

If you would like to read the study for yourself, you can find it by clicking here.

KNEA Testifies in Favor of School Safety and Security Bill

The Appropriations Committee held a hearing today on HB 2773, a partial response to the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.

HB 2773 requires the State Board of Education to work with other state agencies to establish standards for school security and school safety plans. It requires schools to assess current security in their buildings and to develop safety plans in cooperation with law enforcement. The bill provides $5 million in grant money that schools may apply for to upgrade security systems. Finally, it includes the gun safety program as an opportunity for all students.

No school is required to offer gun safety training and while the NRA’s Eddie Eagle is recommended, other programs such as the 4-H program are allowed.

In testimony, KNEA noted that the bill was very well intended and worthy of passage but urged the committee not to consider this to be a solution to the problems of assaults and mass shootings in our society. Lobbyist Mark Desetti raised asked the committee to also consider gun laws in Kansas and mental health programs.

“We hope you might look inside yourself, look in the eyes of a child, and ask, ‘Have we gone too far?’ said Desetti. “We saw this week that the youth of this state and this nation think perhaps you have.”

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Bills, Bills, and More Bills!

Mar 15, 2018 by

Senate Ed Committee Considers “Education Inspector General”

In case you thought there were not enough folks supervising the K-12 education system, along comes SB 424. This bill would establish the position of “Education Inspector General” in the State Treasurer’s Office. The intent is to have someone conduct continuous audits of education spending.

The proponents – Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, Senator Ty Masterson, the owner of Freedom Bank in Johnson County, and KPI’s Dave Trabert. Masterson was quick to say that this had nothing to do with the kerfuffle over transportation funding that included a letter from Sen. Wagle and Rep. Ryckman to the State Board calling for Dale Dennis to be suspended and an investigation launched. Of course, the bill was introduced after the SBOE stood up for Dennis and the practice used for distributing transportation dollars.

And all this was put aside in Mr. Knudtson’s testimony in which he attacked both the Department and Dennis. Trabert also continued his attacks on the department and calls for millions of dollars to be pulled back from school districts.

Opposing the bill were KASB and State Board Member Jim McNiece.

No action was taken on the bill today.

More Bills Taken Up in Senate Ed

After the hearing was closed on SB 424, Chair Baumgardner turned her attention to HB 2541, a bill that adjusts tuition support for members of the Kansas National Guard. This bill passed the House on a 120-0 vote.

After the hearing, the bill was moved out of committee on a motion of Senator Hensley and placed on the Senate’s consent calendar where non-controversial bills are sent. After three days on the consent calendar, the bill will be passed, skipping the debate process.

Their next action was on HB 2542, another non-controversial bill requested by the Board of Regents that adjusts the fees that KBOR charges to private higher education institutions to cover the costs of regulation.

The bill was passed out of committee and will go to the full Senate.

Baumgardner then brought up Sub for HB 2602, the dyslexia task force bill. Baumgardner announced that she would craft an amendment to change the make-up of the committee to reduce the number of legislators and add teachers, particularly classroom teachers. As Baumgardner put it, “We need more boots on the ground representation on this task force.”

Other Senators had items they wanted to think about on this bill and Baumgardner said they would take it up next week, perhaps mid-week.

Full Senate Defeats So-Called “Campus Free Speech Act”

The Senate took a final action vote today on SB 340, a bill dubbed the “Campus Free Speech Act.” This bill would ban free speech zones on campuses and make all open areas available to anyone for rallies, literature distribution, and demonstrations. It is widely seen as a reaction to colleges that are trying to keep students safe in light of actions taking place congruent with some recent activities around the country.

The bill would allow any student to invite a speaker and the college would be required to allow the speaker. We see this as an opening for extremists on both sides to come to campus and perhaps incite potentially violent acts. One student could invite Richard Spencer, another could invite Louis Farrakhan and the university would not be able to restrict such events.

Many other issues were raised in the debate on the bill and today it was voted down on a 20-20 vote. KNEA opposed the bill.

House Tax Committee Looks at Tobacco Taxes

The House Tax Committee held a hearing today on HB 2231, a bill raising taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products. The Cigarette tax would increase by $1.50 per pack.

KNEA testified in favor of the bill. Passage would increase revenue to the state by about $90 million per year but more importantly, the higher cost of cigarettes and tobacco products would discourage youth smoking and tobacco use. Evidence shows that increases in cost also incent smoker to quit. As parents and caregivers make that decision, the health and well-being of their children improves.

Reduced smoking and tobacco usage also reduce overall health costs which impact the cost of health insurance for all Kansans.


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Dyslexia and Due Process

Mar 14, 2018 by

Dyslexia Task Force Bill Gets Senate Hearing

The Senate Education Committee held a hearing today on Sub for HB 2602, a bill establishing a Task Force to study issues around the handling of dyslexia in schools and make recommendations to the legislature. Dyslexia has become a perennial issue in the education committees.

A number of parents of students with dyslexia testified in favor of the bill as did the Disability Rights Center and KNEA.

In remarks to the Committee, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti noted that this task force, like most legislatively established education task forces, has no teachers. “Those working directly with our children have no voice on the task force,” said Desestti. “There is a belief, apparently, that teachers are waiting for groups of legislators, administrators, and parents to tell them how to do the job for which they are trained and licensed.”

Desetti also noted that one parent told the committee that her child’s second-grade teacher told her in a conference that perhaps her child was dyslexic and should be evaluated. This led to a diagnosis by a medical professional and much-needed support for her child. But another parent said that when she asked a teacher if her child might be dyslexic, the teacher told her, “We are not allowed to mention the ‘D’ word!”

“Both are true,” said Desetti. I have heard that some school administrators or boards of education have directed teachers not to suggest dyslexia as a possible explanation for a child’s reading difficulties. I also know that those classroom teachers are the  best advocates for a child after the child’s own parents.”

Here, one teacher advocated for her student with the parent. The other teacher admitted she was directed not to advocate if such advocacy included the word “dyslexia.” Kansas, Desetti noted, is one of only two states in the nation that provides absolutely no job security protection or due process for teachers. Teachers want to fight for their students but what happens to a teacher – an at-will employee – who breaks with an administration that told her not to mention dyslexia?

We want teachers who stand up for the best programs and support for every child. If our teachers had due process it would provide the platform for them to be strong advocates. We’re still looking for the Senate to take up the issue.

We Must Let Those Reps Who Voted YES on Due Process Know How Much We Appreciate Their Support

73 members of the Kansas House of Representatives voted to restore due process rights to Kansas teachers, sending the bill over to the Senate where it awaits a hearing now.

Recent news has revealed that while Kansas teachers are 42nd in the nation in teacher salaries, they are dead last in pay when compared to private sector workers in their own state. For every dollar earned in the private sector in Kansas, a Kansas teacher earns 71 cents. On top of that, the retirement system for new Kansas teachers is significantly worse than that provided in our neighboring states. And then, to add insult to injury, the Kansas Legislative Research Department reported that Kansas is one of only two states in the nation that have no job security measures – such as due process – for teachers. These are three big reasons why Kansas is struggling to find teachers to staff our classrooms and why young Kansans are choosing alternative occupations.

So we should be thanking those legislators who are trying to turn this around every chance we get.

If your Representative is one of the 73, you can click here to find a thank you note to post on your social media feeds – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, any and all channels.

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