Quiet Day One of Wrap-up Session

Apr 26, 2018 by

Day one of the 2018 legislative wrap-up session was a quiet one. A number of conference committee reports were adopted and some new bills were introduced. The House was done shortly after noon today and the Senate later in the afternoon. Neither chamber planned to work into the night as this is the day of annual Legislative Shrimp Peel, an event to raise money for Kansas Special Olympics.

School Finance Measures

Of the bills introduced in the House, several were addressing the error in SB 423, the school finance bill. We don’t have the numbers yet and they won’t be available online until later but here’s what we understand about three of them:

HB 2796 – This would repeal the mandatory LOB provision that caused the error, restore other LOB provisions that had been changed, and adjust BASE aid accordingly.

HB 2797 – This would somehow amend the mandatory LOB provision so that the lost $80 million would be restored but we believe would keep the mandatory 15% LOB levy.

HB 2798 – This would strike provisions requiring school districts to adopt a minimum local option budget and transfer funds from the supplemental general fund to certain categorical funds; restore certain provisions relating to local option budgets and adjust the BASE aid accordingly.

There was another bill read in – probably HB 2799 – that would do what HB 2798 does and increase BASE aid by adjusting how the cost of living index was applied. It would also increase special education aid to the statutory 92% reimbursement and repeal a cap on bond and interest payments.

There is also a bill in the Senate (we do not have a number yet) that we understand is the same as HB 2796.

We will be keeping an eye on these bills as the session continues.

The KPERS Repayment

Yesterday we reported on a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would prepay $82 million in money owed to KPERS. KNEA supported the GBA. The House Appropriations Committee not only supported it, they augmented it by increasing the payment to $192 million before passing their budget bill out of committee.

In response to good revenue projections, the budget committees now have the ability to not just afford the school finance costs in SB 423 but to do good work in other areas as well. These revenue projections are why there is a move to increase the funding in the school finance plan which would, in turn, raise the chances of the plan being constitutionally adequate thus keeping our schools open and ending the need for a special session.

But after adding the increased spending to the budget bill, the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) that would lapse all the new spending if the Supreme Court did not accept the school finance plan. House Minority Leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said the Landwehr amendment was cruel in that it “dangles money” in front of constituents only to pull it back based on the Court ruling. 

The Landwehr amendment was adopted after an 11 to 11 tie vote with Committee Chair Troy Waymaster (R-Bunker Hill) breaking the tie with his YES vote.

In other words, don’t count on the KPERS restoration just yet.

The House will debate the budget bill tomorrow.

House Doesn’t Take the Senate’s Massive Tax Cut

The House did take action today on Sub for HB 2228, the Brownbackian tax cut bill passed by the Senate on April 7. Because the Senate put the plan in a House bill, the House could not amend it, only vote to concur or non-concur in the changes.

Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) made a motion to non-concur in the Senate changes and send the bill to a conference committee. That motion was passed on a voice vote. What this action means is the chances of the House adopting the Senate tax cuts is remote but what tax cut bill might emerge from conference is anyone’s guess.

KNEA continues to believe that Kansas would be best served if legislators would resist the urge to cut taxes while we are only 10 months into recovery from the disastrous Brownback tax experiment.

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Are We Ready for Tomorrow?

Apr 25, 2018 by

The Legislature is set to return on Thursday, April 26 and at the top of everyone’s list of questions is “What about the school finance error?”

Maybe not everyone’s, but it’s on the top of our list!

We’re working on rumors and some good intelligence gathering to try and figure out how things will go down come Thursday.

First, we know there is a planned fix for the error which is tied to Rep. Clay Aurand’s (R-Belleville) effort to mandate a certain level of LOB effort and label it as part of BASE aid. The error can be fixed simply by repealing that provision and we are hopeful that will be the first order of business.

Of course, in the meantime, the state has received more good news about revenue collections and that has spurred a lot of talk about what to do with this “extra” money.

Rumor has it that the some in the House will again try to add to the school finance bill perhaps by pursuing either an amendment offered earlier by Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to change how the CPI was calculated in determining  a funding level or one by Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) that would boost the reimbursement of special education funding to the statutory 92%. Both amendments were considered in floor debate on SB 423 earlier and were not adopted, having received only 41 and 43 votes respectively.

If SB 423 is amended to fix the LOB issue and restore the $80 million, we believe there is a chance that the Court will still believe the bill falls short of constitutional adequacy either for the overall increase or for the five-year phase in. Such a Court decision could result in a special legislative session this summer. There is also a chance the Court could call this bill a “good faith effort” and give the Legislature another year to augment the future-years in the plan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If either the Trimmer or Pittman amendments were to be added, it increases the chances that the Court will approve the plan but it may also create a greater challenge getting the bill through the Senate – we are confident Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Denning (R-Overland Park) will oppose such increases. We just can’t predict what might happen to the 21 votes in the Senate if the bill gets costlier.

KNEA supports the Trimmer and Pittman amendments because both align with our Legislative Agenda and priorities. But we also believe that, should they be offered and fail, that is not a reason to vote NO on the $80 million fix. To allow SB 423 with the error to stand as the proposed solution to Gannon would be irresponsible, to say the least. And it would guarantee a negative reception in the Court, a special summer Legislative Session, and the possibility that our schools will be closed come August.

Now throw into this the Senate’s massive, “Brownbackian” tax cut bill, HB 2228. This bill, which now goes to the House, gives away more than $500 million in new tax cuts and tax adjustments. Coincidentally, the new school finance bill with the fix costs more than $500 million. Passage of HB 2228 cancels out the revenue needed for SB 423!

The Court has been very clear that they want a school finance plan that has the money in it. They have essentially said, “show us the money.” To pass a $500 million finance plan concurrent with a $500 million tax cut would be a disaster. Remember that in the early stages of Gannon, the State argued that there was no revenue for increased school funding and the Court responded that the money was there but the Legislature gave it away in the 2012 Brownback tax cuts. Deja Vu all over again!

Our hopes for the next nine days?

Fix the mistake. Repeal the Aurand LOB amendment. That will restore the bill to the level of funding that was intended on April 7 and take care of new equity challenges.

If the votes are there to increase the funding, do so. We support full funding of special education – we always have and always will. If such amendments are not adopted, pass the underlying bill that fixes the error. Do not use a desire to do more as an excuse to not fix the underlying problem.

Resist the temptation to cut taxes again. Kansas is still in recovery from the Brownback disaster. Things are looking good but this is not the time to cut taxes. We still have to meet school funding adequacy and we also need to address the mess in our foster care system, the challenges faced in public safety, the restoration of funds taken from the highway program and KPERS, and many other vital services. Tax cuts can wait. Remember that voters in 2016 sent many new legislators to Topeka specifically to restore our revenue system. It’s only been 10 months since that happened.

Good Revenue News Means We Can Have Necessary Things Again

We, like all Kansans, are happy to see continuing good news about revenue collections. We’ve repeatedly exceeded estimates thanks to the work of a bipartisan group willing to vote to repeal Brownback’s income tax changes and then vote to override his veto of their action. It looks like the state is on a path to stability once again. We’re not out of the woods but, as Sam would have said, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”

The revenue news means different things to different legislators. Some, as we noted earlier, want to go back to handing out tax cuts as if we had already satisfied the Court school finance ruling, restored the highway plan, paid KPERS back, found the 70 missing children in DCF, and so much more.

In truth, the news means that while we can have some necessary things, we still have a lot to do to get back to our beautiful Kansas.

For the first time in a long time, the legislature is looking at budget profiles with ending balances above zero. In fact today the budget committees are looking at reports that show the state meeting the required 7.5% ending balance. HB 2228, the tax cut bill would wipe that out of course but in the meantime, they can look at other things to fix.

Governor Colyer has submitted a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would take funds above the 7.5% ending balance and make an early payment to KPERS. The Legislature is supposed to be making back payments to KPERS by 2020 and this GBA would bring a portion of that payment up now. KNEA supports this GBA. It is critical that KPERS be paid back and the sooner, the better.

This one opportunity and action should be enough to convince responsible lawmakers to step back from the temptation to return immediately to the tax policy decisions that led Kansas to the brink of disaster. We don’t need another radical tax cut – that’s how the Legislature created the problems we are facing today. Now that things are turning around, we hope the Legislature will focus on restoration of services and programs that have made Kansas a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Join with Our Partners and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Irresponsible Tax Cuts

KNEA is working with other organizations to make sure that our state has ample time to recover from the Brownback experiment before considering any reductions in taxes. As they return to Topeka, it’s important for them to hear that voters want them to act responsibly to ensure our economic and budget recovery. Please take the time to email your Legislators.

Click here to send a message to your Legislators.

 

 

 

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Still a Lot to be Concerned About!

Apr 19, 2018 by

The School Finance Mistake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Away the Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell your Representative to reject Sub for HB 2228.

Speaking of Giving Away Revenue…

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

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

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

Read about Kobach’s news conference by clicking here. 

A Constitutional Amendment Still Looms

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

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

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

Changing the constitution is a distraction, not a solution.

Urge your legislators to vote NO on constitutional amendments.

 

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The Error and What to Do

Apr 10, 2018 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 9, 2018 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KNEA and the School Finance Bill (SB 423)

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

The bill does a number of good things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TOO MUCH TO WRITE, SO LET’S GO TO THE VIDEO…

Apr 5, 2018 by

Mark Desetti, Director of Government Relations with Marcus Baltzell, Director of Communications.

 

CLICK HERE to contact your Senator.

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