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

Dec 12, 2018 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New House Leadership Teams Elected

Dec 3, 2018 by

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

Nov 29, 2018 by

The Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia met this week in an effort to begin (and hopefully finish) drafting their final report to the Legislature which is due on January 30, 2019. It didn’t take long to become clear that more time would be needed.

They did hear from each of their four subcommittees and begin to discuss the draft reports from each. Those subcommittees and their members are:

  • The Subcommittee on Evidence-Based Reading Practices, Rep. Brenda Dietrich, chair. Members are Jennifer Bettles, Jaime Callaghan, Christine Middleton, and Sonja Watkins.
  • The Subcommittee on Pre-Service and In-Service Professional Development, Dr. David Hurford, chair. Members are Alisia Matteoni, Jeanine Phillips, Jeri Powers, and Angie Schreiber.
  • The Subcommittee on Screening and Evaluation Process, Sen. Bruce Givens, chair. Members are Sarah Brinkley, Tally Fleming, and Jennifer Knight.
  • The Subcommittee on Current State and Federal Law, Laura Jurgensen, chair. Members are Mike Burgess and Lori McMillan. This subcommittee is made up of the ex-officio, non-voting members of the Task Force.

Each of the first three reports generated significant discussion which quickly challenged the agenda set by Task Force Chairman Jim Porter. Dietrich and Hurford both were also carrying edits to their reports as well as suggestions that certain recommendations would be abandoned or dramatically altered.

Among all the recommendations, perhaps those generating the most discussion and concern were the ones dealing with teacher training.

One recommendation under evidence-based reading practices calls for the State Board of Education to “provide training for all Kansas teachers to create dyslexia-friendly classrooms by incorporating strategies and approaches described in Dyslexia in the Classroom: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (IDA).” The limits to the ability of the SBOE to require training to all teachers including those in private and unaccredited schools ran up against the desire by many on the Task Force to see that every teacher in every kind of school, every teacher from pre-K through high school, creates a dyslexia-friendly classroom.

Similar discussions arose during the discussion of the report on pre-service and in-service professional development. Some wanted to see new master’s degree programs established in dyslexia, others sought endorsements. Some wanted specific numbers of annual hours of training for all teachers, others argued that such annual trainings would end up being something “people just sit through mindlessly like the blood-borne pathogens training.” A recommendation calling for the creation of new positions as “Classroom Dyslexia Educator,” “Dyslexia Practitioner,” and “Dyslexia Trainer/Supervisor” will likely be dropped.

Near the end of the meeting, Laura Jurgensen, an attorney and chair of the Subcommittee on Current State and Federal Law, urged each of the groups to be very precise in their language. They must consider the impact of phrases like “all teachers” and “all districts” and to remember that everything has a cost. Jurgensen pointed out that monies for education are directed to certain programs and tasks. Any recommendation that has a fiscal impact would require either shifting money from some current programs and efforts or finding a new funding stream.

Chairman Porter will ask that the Task Force, in some form, be maintained in order to have annual meetings for the purpose of evaluating progress. Staff pointed out that this Task Force will cease to exist on January 30 but that the Legislature could create another one or one could be appointed by the Governor or the State Board of Education.

It is noteworthy that no subcommittee had recommendations for the Legislature. All recommendations are directed toward the State Board of Education and some would naturally fall to the State Board of Regents.

The Task Force will meet again on January 10 at which time they will work to finalize the recommendations and to merge the four subcommittee reports into one document.

The subcommittee reports are not currently available online.

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Nothing Good is Ever Said in These Last Three Weeks

Oct 18, 2018 by

We have entered the worst period of every election cycle – the last three weeks before election day. This is the time that is designed for creating doubts, generating confusion, and taking the voter’s mind off what is really at stake.

For us, in Kansas, there is much at stake in this election. Fundamentally, this is about whether we continue to make progress on restoring the state budget and funding our schools or we turn back and embrace the failed economic policies of Sam Brownback once again.

You might think we are talking about the race for Governor – and we are – but it is so much more. In 2016 voters sent a wave of new Democratic and Moderate Republican legislators to the House and, working together, that coalition did marvelous work. They reversed the failed Brownback tax plan even delivering enough votes to override his veto. They voted to expand Medicaid and again the House delivered enough votes to override Brownback’s veto (sadly the Senate fell short). They delivered a new school finance formula modeled on the one Brownback’s allies repealed and while that formula is still considered somewhat inadequate in funding, it has been found to be structurally constitutional. And the House twice voted to restore due process protections for teachers that Brownback’s allies had stripped in 2014.

All of these important votes were accomplished not by the Democrats or the Moderate Republicans but by the Democrats and Moderate Republicans working as a coalition – as a team – to deliver results for the people of Kansas.

The political goal of KNEA and our Political Action Committee (KPAC) has been to preserve and increase the membership of that coalition. To that end, we promised legislators of both parties that if they stood strong for the issues we believe in, we would stand strong with them at election time.

Unfortunately, a number of our Moderate Republican friends lost their bid for re-election, falling in the primary to a conservative candidate allied with Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and the remnants of the Brownback majority. This makes it critical now that we support and re-elect every member of the House Democratic Caucus and every remaining member of the Moderate Republican Caucus. And at the same time, we must help Democrats defeat some of the conservatives in those races where a moderate Republican does not exist. 

Simply put, we need more coalition seats. Trading coalition seats does not build our capacity to pass good legislation and defeat bad legislation. Trading seats is a zero-sum game.

We acknowledge that a Democrat who defeats a Moderate Republican is very likely to be a solid vote for good policy and school funding. But it does not strengthen the coalition’s ability to hold off the conservative agenda. The only way we build legislative strength is to defeat more Brownback/Kobach ideologues.

We also acknowledge that there is another alternative – electing a Democratic House majority; electing 63 Democrats. That would mean holding the 40 Democratic seats they now have and defeating another 23 Republicans. We have yet to meet anyone who believes that is possible in one election cycle.

So when KPAC considers recommending candidates, we do it with one thing in mind – how can we elect a pro-public education majority in the legislature. Not “how can we elect a Democratic majority.” Not “how can we elect a Moderate Republican majority.”How can we elect a pro-public education majority of legislators regardless of party? 

So in these last three weeks, voters are being bombarded by mail that has little to do with policy and everything to do with sowing doubt and confusion. It is mail filled with references to obscure votes alleged to prove a candidate is evil. It is mail about their personal lives or something once “liked” on Facebook. It is mail with a photo of the time they were in the same room as Nancy Pelosi or Kevin Yoder.

Here is what we suggest. Don’t read the mail. Throw it in the recycle bin, shred it, line your birdcage with it. Just don’t read it. Instead turn to organizations you trust. We hope that includes KNEA. But maybe it’s the Mainstream Coalition or Moms Demand Action. Maybe it’s the Fraternal Order of Police or the Kansas Organization of State Employees. But go to them and look at their candidate recommendations/endorsements. And then cast your vote for those candidates. You’ll be doing the right thing.

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25% of Kansas Voters Set to Determine Your Future!

Oct 1, 2018 by

Cartoonist, Nick Anderson, 2014

Voting is the cornerstone of democracy. That’s why it always amazes and frustrates us that so few people eligible to vote actually cast a ballot. In 2014, the last time Kansas was electing a Governor, only 50.8% of registered voters bothered to vote. Think about that! For every two Kansans, one did not vote! Just 25% of voters (half of those that bother to vote) could decide your future.

Are you satisfied to let half of all Kansans registered to vote to decide what that future will be? Every election is important, but this year’s race for Governor offers us a particularly sharp contrast. Will the next Governor return to the Brownback tax policy or continue to move forward? Will the next Governor honor the school finance plan passed by the legislature or repeal it? Will the next Governor fund highway maintenance or steal for KDOT?

The decision is up to us. And it should be up to ALL OF US!

No matter where you sit on the broad political spectrum, please vote. Let’s find out once and for all what the MAJORITY of Kansans want, not just the half that shows up.

You can vote early by mail. You can vote early in person. You can walk into your polling place on November 6. But however you do it, please support our democracy. Please vote.

Your Source for Voting

https://www.ksvotes.org is your one-stop-shop for voting. Go there to check your registration – make sure you haven’t been purged from the voter files. Go there to register to vote if you aren’t now registered. Go there to request an advance voting ballot if you’d like to vote from home. In your pajamas.

There’s a bonus for early voting!

Campaigns run on money. And no campaign treasurer wants to spend money they don’t have to spend. That’s why, once advance voting starts, a good campaign treasurer will check the voting rolls daily to see who in that district has already voted. If your name comes up as having cast a ballot early, they take you off the mail list to save money. So you see, if you vote early, you can stop most, if not all, of the nasty campaign mail from filling your mailbox! Now that’s a deal worth voting early for!

I Vote for Public Education!

Some candidates will say they support education, and they’ll do just about anything to fool the public into thinking they mean it.  Often they’ll trot out a teacher who will say great things in support of the candidate, hoping that you and I don’t look at their record.  Take the race between Sharice Davids and Kevin Yoder for Congressional District 3 as an example.  While Yoder has found a retired teacher to appear in a commercial, Davids has the backing of educators throughout her district.  And as a KNEA/KPAC recommended candidate, Davids has been through a rigorous interview process conducted by currently licensed classroom teachers who determined that hers is a candidacy that truly represents support for public education.

Or look to the Governor’s race for another example.  Secretary of State Kobach makes splashy headlines for what sounds like a pro-education policy, but when you investigate his rhetoric you discover that his promises- like his funding to the classroom slogan- actually will result in cuts.  Why?  Because he’s not telling you that he believes that only certain very specific things qualify as necessary for “classroom instruction.”  Everything else like support services, technology, and specialists would only be funded at the local level- meaning that a child’s opportunity would depend a whole lot on their zip code.

If you would love to vote but just aren’t sure who the pro-public education candidates are, we’ve got just the thing for you!

The KNEA Political Action Committee (KPAC), made up of KNEA members from across the state, have done the hard work of interviewing and analyzing the candidates for public office. They have identified which candidates are the best on issues related to our public schools, our school employees, and our public school students.

Click here to see the list of all KNEA/KPAC recommended candidates.

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Former Governor Graves Endorses Laura Kelly for Governor

Sep 4, 2018 by

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Laura Kelly has landed a big name endorsement today with a video release from former Republican Governor Bill Graves.

Graves, who served two terms as Kansas Secretary of State followed by two terms as Governor, becomes the latest in a growing line of Republican leaders who are publicly supporting Kelly over Republican Kris Kobach. In his endorsement message, Graves lauds Kelly as a leader that brings people together – across the aisle – to solve problems. “Laura has integrity, and I know she will bring Kansans together regardless of party to solve problems,” Graves said.

Other prominent Republicans who have endorsed Kelly are former Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, State Senator Barbara Bollier, State Representative Joy Koesten, and former President of the Kansas Senate Dick Bond.

Bollier has been criticized and punished by Senate President Susan Wagle for daring to put a candidate over party. Bollier was stripped of her position on the Senate Health Committee. Bollier, as a physician, is a natural for that committee. House Republicans were warned to keep their endorsements to themselves if they can’t endorse Kobach. Rep. Koesten was defeated in her primary campaign by a conservative Republican.

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