Keeping Students Safe from Harm

Feb 9, 2018 by

COUNTDOWN TO MARCH 1, ATTY GENERAL DEADLINE FOR SCHOOL FUNDING FIX

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It was a quiet day under the dome today with no floor action and almost no committee meetings.

Yesterday afternoon, there were hearings in both the House and Senate Education Committees. Both committees dealt with legislation intended to keep students safe from harm.

The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on SB 333, amendments to the Jason Flatt Act. The Jason Flatt Act was passed in 2016 and requires all school district employees to receive one hour of training per year in recognizing the signs of potential suicide.

SB 333 would amend the act so that school districts would have more flexibility in determining how much training, how often that training would be, and who would be required to have the training. Opponents of the amendments included family members who had experienced a suicide in their family and mental health providers who work with individuals in crisis. Senators Lynn Rogers (D-Wichita) and Bruce Givens (R-El Dorado) both spoke as proponents. United School Administrators also spoke as a proponent. KNEA spoke as a proponent with some concerns about the extent of the changes. While KNEA supports some flexibility in the selection of training programs, we asked that the legislation continue to require all school personnel receive such training. We did not support allowing a school district to choose not to provide the training to all employees who come into contact with students. Often a custodian, bus driver, or lunch server have positive relationships with students and might be an actual life-saver in a crisis.

KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti also suggested the committee remember that the state’s mental health system is in crisis due to a lack of funding and that this legislation ignores the many other places where students interact with adults such as youth sports leagues and community youth development programs.

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2578 which would amend the statutes on bullying policies to require school districts to post such policies on their websites with a prominent link on the homepage, distribute the policies to parents and guardians of students, and file a copy of the policy with the State Department of Education.

Proponents of the bill argued that it was important for parents and students to understand how the district would deal with bullying, what the consequences for bullying behavior would be, how the adults would work with students to understand and counteract bullying. By reading the plans, parents would know how incidents would be handled and might be better able to advocate for stronger plans.

Currently, bullying policies are required but whether or not they are readily accessible to patrons is all across the board. Some policies are not on websites at all, others are buried deep in those websites and hard to find. Still, some school districts have comprehensive policies that are easily accessible.

KNEA supports this legislation.

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Colyer’s “State of the State,” The Annual Dyslexia Debate

Feb 8, 2018 by

Governor Colyer Gives His State of the State Address

He’s not staking out a solid position on school funding

Governor Jeff Colyer addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate yesterday to outline his vision for Kansas. He addressed seven broad areas that he hopes the state can deal with:

  1. freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace (and particularly in the statehouse),
  2. transparency in government,
  3. abortion,
  4. job creation and in particular the aircraft industry,
  5. the crises in our foster care and mental health systems,
  6. healthcare, and
  7. public education.

On the first two issues, he lauded the efforts being made by the legislature so far in the 2018 legislative session and even suggested that the package of transparency measures introduced by Democrats are deserving of support.

“A group of legislators, led by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, have put forth several transparency proposals as well. Many of you are working hard on this issue, and your efforts deserve recognition and support.”

Colyer also announced four transparency measures that his administration will take including no longer charging Kansans for open records requests of less than 100 pages, ensuring the Administration relies on official email accounts to conduct state business, instituting performance metrics for Cabinet Agencies so Kansans can see how they perform, and launching a website to serve as a one-stop-shop for Cabinet Agencies to post open meetings, locations and materials.

The healthcare issue may be most challenging for Colyer – or may be an issue where he departs from his past positions – because he was a leader under former Governor Brownback in the establishment of the troubled KanCare system and refusal to expand Medicaid.

We, of course, were waiting for what he had to say about education and addressing the Gannon decision. We were hoping that he would lead on this issue. The Legislature, as you know, appears to be stalled or simply refusing to seriously talk about the issue while the Court deadline and the deadline set by the Attorney General are rapidly approaching.

Unfortunately, Colyer gave little direction to the Legislature about what he would sign except to provide a “framework” of four broad thoughts he wants to see in the solution. He called upon the legislature to keep our schools open, permanently end school finance litigation, phase-in increased funding, and demand accountability and improved outcomes. Missing in his message was any mention of the level of increased funding he believes is needed.

Here then is the full text of his remarks on education (to read the entire address, click here):

Finally, and perhaps the most pressing question in many of your minds, where will we go on education? And before we get to the elephant in the room, let me first thank you to the legislature for the remarkable investments you have made in early childhood education. Early childhood education works.

On my first day as governor, I had the opportunity to visit a public school in my hometown of Hays. I want you to know that your Governor is a supporter of public education. In Kansas, we invest in our schools, not because a court tells us to, but because we want to invest in our children and our future. We invest in teachers because they invest in our kids. We support things like the Kansans Can Redesign program because we are willing to do hard things for the youth of this state.

And now I want you to think about something. Governor Bob Docking, Governor Bob Bennett, Governor John Carlin, Governor Mike Hayden, Governor Joan Finney, Governor Bill Graves, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Governor Mark Parkinson, Governor Sam Brownback, and Governor Jeff Colyer. The last ten Governors of Kansas. Five Democrats and Five Republicans. Fifty years and counting. That’s longer than the Cold War. All ten governors have had the specter of education lawsuits overshadowing education. This must end now.

To some in politics, leadership is about being a bully or being the loudest, shrillest voice in the room. To others, it’s about staking out a position and never compromising. To me, leadership is about setting a vision and bringing people together to achieve common goals. And, as a former legislator, I know that you don’t appreciate being told what to do by a governor or anyone else for that matter. And I think the reaction to a recent State of the State address is plenty evidence of that.

What I learned from President Reagan is that we develop principles that allow us to resolve our issues. As the sign on his desk and now mine says, “It can be done.” With that in mind, I will offer a framework that I hope you can see fit to support:

  1. We must keep our schools open.
  2. We need a definitive solution that ends the school finance lawsuits FOR GOOD.
  3. Increased investments in K-12 Education must come through a phased-in approach that doesn’t increase the tax burden on Kansas families and ensures schools can effectively allocate any new funds they receive.
  4. Lastly, and most importantly, we must insist on accountability and improved outcomes.

I will sign school finance legislation that meets these objectives. This will not be easy, but public servants and leaders are not called to make the easy choices. We’re here to do the right thing, and the right thing is never easy.

House Education Committee Hears Bill on Mandatory Dyslexia Screening

The House Education Committee held its annual dyslexia hearing, this time on HB 2602 which would mandate screening all children for dyslexia.

Proponents generally blasted the public schools as knowing little about dyslexia, of refusing to provide support to children with dyslexia, and of not talking to or listening to parents. Opponents including USA, KASB, and Special Education Directors countered with all of the efforts being made on behalf of children under both Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and IDEA.

KNEA testified as neutral on the bill, raising concerns about its vagueness.

The bill seems to suggest that all students shall be screened for dyslexia. There are, however, questions left unanswered.

  • Are all students to be screened annually or is this a screening upon enrollment only? Is there an intent for there to be additional screenings later?
  • If all students are to be screened as a matter of course, are schools prepared to conduct such screenings? Are there enough trained personnel in our schools to handle such screenings in a timely manner?
  • If a school district screening suggests the child has dyslexia and the district then suggests that the student be evaluated by “a licensed physician, psychologist or psychiatrist” does the school district then have any obligation to pay for a follow-up evaluation?

In oral testimony, KNEA also took issue with the proponents’ complaints that schools and teachers do not advocate for children. KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti cited his own experience as both a teacher of 13 years and a parent of four children, one of whom was diagnosed with dyslexia. “Teachers,” said Desetti, “are the best advocates for your children inside the school building. They routinely argue on behalf of struggling students and often butt heads with principals and special education directors in demanding support services for those students.”

Desetti, as well as Rep. Steven Crum (D-Haysville) and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) noted that teachers in Kansas can now be non-renewed for battling with administration or the school board. Perhaps it is time to restore due process for Kansas teachers so that they can continue to advocate for the needs of their students.

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Vouchers, New Bills, & Changes in Leadership

Feb 5, 2018 by

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

Vouchers disguised as “scholarships?”

The House has a voucher bill, introduced in the Appropriations Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). This bill called the “Kansas Empowerment Scholarship Act, HB 2609, would allow a parent to sign an agreement with the State Treasurer promising to not enroll a child in the local public school. For this, the state would put 80% of the base aid that would have been spent on the child into a special fund and use that money to reimburse the parent for education expenses at a “participating learning entity.” And yes, that entity could be a homeschool providing the homeschool is registered with the State Department of Education. There would be no accountability measures on “participating learning entities.”

The Senate has a scholarship bill as well, but it’s not a voucher proposal per se. Senate bill 366, the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act, introduced at the request of Sen. Mike Petersen (R-Wichita), provides that if a student in a public high school graduates by September 20 of what would be his/her senior year, then 95% of base aid that would have been sent to the USD for that student will be used as a post-secondary scholarship provided the student is enrolled in a Kansas public post-secondary institution or a private post-secondary institution that is accredited and has a physical presence in Kansas. The other 5% of base aid would go to the school district from which the student graduated.

New Bills Introduced on Last Day for Committee Bill Introductions

Two new bills were introduced in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee today. Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) introduced a bill changing the multiplier in the transportation formula for students living more than 2.5 miles from home. Aurand told the committee this was intended to be in line with a recommendation from Post Audit.

Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) introduced a new school finance formula bill. We will be anxious to see what’s in this one. It’s the first new finance bill of the session.

Four new bills were introduced in the House Education Committee. Aurand introduced two bills; one dealing with the transfer of territory between districts and the other is a “building finance transparency act.” This bill, according to his explanation deals with letting people know how money goes from the central office to the school and is spent.

Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) introduced a bill on access to ABA therapy for students with autism. This is an issue Schwab fought for last year and in withdrawing it from consideration in the school finance bill last year, he was promised a hearing on the idea in Aurand’s education committee this year.

Finally, Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park) introduced a bill dealing with disclosure on gifts and grants to post-secondary institutions.

None of these bills are available for reading at this time. We expect them in the next few days.

Campbell Out, Patton In

Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has resigned his seat in the legislature to take the position of Budget Director in the Colyer administration. Campbell has served as chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee. House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) appointed Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) to replace Campbell as chair of the committee. We still do not know who will be taking Campbell’s committee seat.

Campbell was a fair and even-handed committee leader (facilitator, he liked to say) and we would expect Patton to lead in a very similar fashion.

Congratulations to both men. It will be up to precinct committee chairs in Campbell’s district to choose his successor.

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The Days are Ticking Down

Feb 2, 2018 by

Way back when we reported here that Attorney General Derek Schmidt appeared before the House K-12 Education Budget Committee and urged them to finish their response to the Gannon school finance decision by March 1. Under the AG’s timeline, we are down to 26 more calendar days to finish – more specifically, there are only 14 more legislative days!

So what has happened since that request was made? The House K-12 Budget Committee has met four times and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance has not met at all. The House Education Committee has met seven times and held three bill hearings (none on school finance – that’s the job of the K-12 Budget Committee). The Senate Education Committee has met 14 times although they have not considered any bills.

This is not to say there are no finance bills at all. There are two sitting in the K-12 Budget Committee right now. HB 2445 addresses all four of the provisions in the school finance formula that have been found to be unconstitutional as to equity as well as a change in the transportation formula. HB 2561 simply fixes the transportation formula. Both bills were introduced by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) in an effort to move the process along but as of today neither has had a hearing. The Senate Education Committee also has a bill amending the transportation formula, SB 327 introduced by Senator Hensley (D-Topeka), but it has not had a hearing either.

It begs the question, is the legislature dragging its feet? Why is nothing being discussed that would lead to a bill addressing the Gannon decision?

One answer coming from conservatives is that they should just do nothing and wait for a new school funding study which has been contracted and is due on March 15. This seems to be the decision. We are not convinced this is a particularly good idea. First, March 15 is after the Attorney General’s requested deadline of March 1. Further, if they wait until they receive and digest a new cost study, will there be time to craft legislation, pass it, get it signed by the Governor, and sent to the Court with enough time to prepare briefs for an April 30 due date? It’s beginning to look suspiciously as if the legislature intends to ignore the Court’s deadline. And if they plan to meet that deadline, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that would let them “show their work” as part of defending their solution.

We have no problem with a new cost study. But we have a serious problem with defiance of the Supreme Court and the possibility that schools will not open next August.

We are looking for responsible leadership in the legislature. By all means get the new study and review it carefully. But waiting for a study without doing anything to solve the immediate problem is just wrong. There is no reason that the legislature can’t now put together a plan to resolve the school finance dilemma and then use a new cost study to adjust school finance going forward. The irresponsible thing to do is pretend that a new cost study will absolve them of the responsibility of adequately and equitably funding our schools – and keeping those schools open.

 

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Taxes and Guns Today

Feb 1, 2018 by

Food Sales Tax Proposal

We started the day in the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee where there was a hearing on Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 1604, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Senators  Holland, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Pettey, Pilcher-Cook, and Rogers.

SCR 1604, if passed by the legislature and then approved by the electorate would amend the Kansas constitution to require that the state sales tax on food would be set at 4% beginning July 1, 2019, and drop to 2% on July 1, 2020. It would stay at that level thereafter.

Proponents included a grocer from Bird City who spoke of the problem of Kansans driving across the border to buy groceries in Nebraska, advocates for children’s nutrition and the poor, and a farmer from Douglas County.

As part of KNEA’s legislative agenda, we advocate for a reduction in or the elimination of the food sales tax but want it to be done as part of a comprehensive restructuring of the state’s tax system. The Department of Revenue reported that passage of the amendment would result in the loss to the state’s general fund of $128 million in revenue in the first year and $246.4 million in the second provided that the change only applied to groceries. It would be a greater loss if it also applied to restaurants. We understand that, as written, it would apply to both. Without another tax change to offset the lost revenue, we would once again be facing difficult decisions when it comes to funding state services. Senator Holland said that the intent was for it to apply only to groceries.

Kansas has the second highest food sales tax in the nation and the highest one regionally. This change would only apply to the state sales tax rate so, in the first year, shoppers would pay a tax of 4% plus any local sales tax levy.

Committee Chair Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) asked why this was in a constitutional amendment and not in a statutory change. Some Senators indicated they were open to making the change statutorily. We believe that tax rates should not be set in the constitution. Where that is done, the legislature has no ability to make adjustments in rates to deal with changing economic conditions without seeking another constitutional amendment. Tax rates should be handled via statutes, not constitutional provisions.

No action was taken on the resolution today.

Campus Concealed Carry Modified in House Vote

The full House today debated HB 2042, a bill recognizing conceal carry permits from other states and allowing such permit holders to carry a concealed firearm in Kansas.

Three amendments of interest were offered today. The first amendment by Rep. Brenda Landwehr, which passed on a vote of 82-42, lowers the age for a concealed carry permit from 21 to 18.

The second one by Rep. Barbara Ballard (D-Lawrence) would have repealed the campus carry provision in law under which anyone 21 and older can carry a gun on any campus at any time. Ballard’s amendment would return decision making on firearms policy to the campuses. Some could choose to allow firearms, others could prohibit them. Ballard’s amendment failed on a vote of 53-69.

The third amendment was offered by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). Aurand’s amendment would restrict campus carry to concealed carry permit holders only. Under current law, no permit is required to carry a concealed firearm. Aurand’s amendment was adopted on a vote of 70-52.

The bill was then advanced to final action on a voice vote. The final action vote will come tomorrow.

The end result is that, if passed and signed into law, this bill would allow any concealed carry permit holder 18 and older to carry a firearm on a post-secondary campus. Today, anyone 21 and older can carry with or without a permit.

The most interest arguments were made on the Landwehr amendment. Proponents actually argued that we should lower the age because other states have done it. Remember when your child told you,”but everyone’s doing it?” Another argument was that if one is old enough to join the military and fight for our country, one should be allowed to carry a concealed firearm. Interestingly, that’s the same argument made for lowering the drinking age to 18. There has been no bill to do that.

 

 

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A Light Agenda This Week

Jan 30, 2018 by

After ending last week in dramatic fashion, it seems the Legislature is a bit tired – at least the light schedule we’re following might indicate so. Many of the committees we routinely follow are holding meetings “on the call of the chair” and the chairs are so far not calling many meetings.

The House Education Committee met yesterday to hear reports on Communities in Schools and Jobs for America’s Graduates, two programs intended to support at-risk students and working to give them a positive, successful school experience. The Committee will hold hearings on two bills tomorrow. HB 2542 modifies fees that may be charged to Kansas private and out-of-state postsecondary
educational institutions. HB 2540 allows school districts to develop policies under which students not enrolled in the district or enrolled part time might participate in activities.

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee, in their only scheduled meeting so far this week, held a meeting today to hear a report on concurrent enrollment programs. Blake Flanders of the Kansas Board of Regents and Education Commissioner Randy Watson presented the report. This was a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee. The remainder of the week is “on call of the chair.”

The Senate Education Committee will meet tomorrow to hear a presentation by the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and then on Thursday for an overview on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

Both the House and Senate Tax Committees will meet on Thursday. In the morning, the Senate Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1604, a constitutional amendment lowering the food sales tax to 4% in FY 2019 and 2% in FY 2020 and beyond. The House Tax Committee will meet in the afternoon to hear about efforts by other states to collect internet sales taxes.

And related to last week’s drama, Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has introduced HB 2561 which would codify the state department practice of adjusting transportation funding to a “curve of best fit.” While this adjustment has not been part of the statutory formula, it has been practice for many years under direction from legislators in the 1970’s when the formula was crafted.

 

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