Much “Heavy Lifting” Remains on Taxes and School Finance

May 11, 2017 by

School Finance Bill Still Not Done

Snoopy Lifting Weights

The K-12 Budget Committee met again today hammering out a couple more amendments but not getting any closer to finished. In fact, by the end of the meeting it looked as if things my actually ratchet up tomorrow.

First order of business today was to deal with Aurand’s amendment to repeal the cost of living weighting and replace it with his “Local Excellence Budget,” a 5% local property tax levy that the 140 school districts with the lowest number of at-risk children could access to provide enrichment experiences for their students. After all the discussion they’ve had about how the Court was focused on at-risk students and closing achievement gaps, it seems counterintuitive to adopt a plan to give more money to students who are not at-risk, but adopt it they did on a 9-8 vote where Chairman Campbell had to cast the tiebreaking AYE vote. They voted immediately afterwards to repeal the cost-of-living weighting.

Also up for more debate was Schwab’s amendment requiring school districts to pay for ABA therapy if the parents of a child with autism asked for it. If adopted (and it has not been yet) any time a parent wanted ABA therapy for their child, the district would be required to provide it. ABA therapy is highly intensive (usually 20 to 40 hours per week of one-on-one therapy by specially trained therapists) and quite costly.

A few years back the state mandated that insurance companies provide coverage for ABA therapy. The typical cost to a premium, according to Schwab, is 27 cents/month. He argued based upon that figure that the cost to school districts is minimal. But the fact is that insurance providers do not cover what is provided by the school system; so under Schwab’s amendment, a district would have to find funds from either special education (if it’s in the student’s IEP) or their general fund if it’s not. Either way, the cost would be tremendous.

We also believe it is inappropriate for the legislature to mandate one specific therapy – or curriculum or teaching method or reading program – over another. The IEP process established under federal law calls for mutual agreement between parents and school officials on the best approach to meeting a child’s individual needs. Where there is disagreement, the law establishes a rigorous due-process system for parents to pursue.

ABA therapy may be considered as an intervention now and if it is determined that such therapy is the best course for an individual student, it can be used. Mandating that it must the used at the request of one member of the IEP team is counter to IDEA which requires that the team consider each child’s needs on an individual basis.

After much debate, Schwab withdrew his motion with the promise of bringing it back tomorrow with some adjustments.

Towards the end of the meeting, it became clear that some are thinking about using tomorrow to find ways to change the funding in the bill. There was a discussion of repealing the third “boutique” weighting, ancillary school facilities weighting, and perhaps increasing the LOB cap. These discussions lead to a testy conversation in which it became clear that, despite the Chairman’s stated desire to kick the bill out of Committee tomorrow, all bets would be off if they went down the road of changing the funding.

This should make for a lively and perhaps very long Committee meeting tomorrow.

The Odd Couple on the Tax Bill

What one normally would expect under the dome is for the Democrats and moderate Republicans to be a coalition of nearly all issues. That was not the case yesterday in the Senate vote on HB 2067, the latest income tax bill.

We will tell you that HB 2067 was an improvement over HB 2178, the earlier tax bill that the Senate passed and then failed to override the Governor’s veto but much has happened since then to change the calculus.

First, HB 2178 was before the Gannon decision. The bill would have reversed much of the Brownback tax disaster and filled the budget hole but there was nothing in it for funding increases to K-12 education. HB 2067, coming after the Gannon decision, needed to not only fund the budget but also to provide for an increase to K-12 funding ($150 million in the first year, $300 million in the second and so on). A fiscal profile shared during the Senate debate found that HB 2067 would have been over $170 million short in fiscal year 2019. In other words, while the bill reversed Brownback’s disastrous experiment and funded the budget, it would not have provided for ongoing funding for schools under the Gannon decision.

Sen. Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), the majority leader and de-facto leader on tax issues for Senate leadership, promised that there would be a follow-up bill to provide funding for schools. But Denning has a serious credibility problem. He told Democratic leaders he would vote to override the veto of HB 2178 if the House did and then reneged on his promise. And lately he’s been touting seriously bad ideas for school funding including tacking a $9.00/month charge onto utility bills. Democrats don’t trust that Denning will bring a school funding solution forward or that, if he does, it would be based upon fair tax policy.

So the no votes on HB 2067 yesterday came from an odd couple of Democrats who want a bill big enough to reverse the Brownback failed experiment, fund the budget, and fund our K-12 education system going forward enough to satisfy the Courts and keep schools open come August and hard right conservatives who are still in full support of Brownback as the state collapses.

Moderate Republicans and two Democrats voted aye, relying on a promise from Jim Denning of a separate bill for school funding that would come later. We would hope going forward that, if the solution is to be two bills, they would insist on those two bills being voted on at the same time.

The fact is that Denning is just as likely to bring a trailer bill forward that is insufficient- or based on very bad ideas like the utilities tax- as he is to simply not bring anything forward at all.

At this point it is important for elected representatives who are supporters of Kansas and Kansas schools to dig in and tell leadership the following:

  1. that they intend to end this session with an end to the Brownback failure,
  2. with a balanced budget,
  3. with increased school funding that satisfies the Gannon decision.

Moreover, they won’t end the session by passing unfair or inadequate funding bills, and they want a “trust but verify” relationship with Denning and Wagle. If leadership want to run two bills, then bring both forward together, run them on the floor back to back, and vote on them at the same time. No games. No hollow promises. Action.

 

 

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No Finance Bill Yet; Tax Debate in Senate

May 10, 2017 by

TAKE A 1-QUESTION OPINION SURVEY ON THE SENATE TAX PLAN BELOW

The K-12 Budget Committee met again today continuing to work on HB 2410. They started by adopting the Communities in Schools amendment from Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) that simply eliminates some old language that is no longer applicable to the program.

Rooker then offered a motion to reconsider the amendment adopted yesterday on requiring schools to pay for ABA therapy for a child with autism if requested by the parent and supported by a medical recommendation. The Committee reviewed a letter from a KSDE attorney informing them that the requirement would violate the federal IDEA law by removing the IEP team from decision-making. The motion angered the maker of the amendment, Scott Schwab (R-Olathe), who said he was not going to act based on the opinion of one lawyer. It was Schwab who yesterday asserted that schools were sending children with autism to pet shops to pet puppies as therapy. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) then weighed in declaring that our public schools were failing children with autism. When the vote was taken, it was eight to eight to reconsider. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) cast a NAY vote breaking the tie and defeating the motion.

Next was an amendment by Landwehr that would require the State Department to present an annual report on accreditation to the Legislature and Governor. The amendment was adopted.

Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) returned to his amendment from yesterday on the corporate tuition tax credit program. Yesterday the amendment would have removed the requirement that private schools receiving students would have to out-perform the trend data on post-secondary success or the statewide average ACT scores. He withdrew the motion yesterday to rework it so that high schools accepting students would still have to meet those requirements but elementary schools would not. The new motion was adopted.

Another Aurand amendment on the corporate tuition tax credit program changed the definition of an eligible student from one direct certified by the Department of Children and Families back to an at-risk student (defined as on free lunch). He then added that 50% of those children would have to be direct certified by DCF. The amendment passed.

Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie) expressed concern about language in the bill directing the SBOE to create an accreditation system based on student performance. He noted that the SBOE has just completed that work. The Revisor was directed to seek language that puts that section of the bill in the present tense and bring it back tomorrow.

The final amendment offered came again from Aurand. This one would repeal the Cost of Living weighting and replace it with a Local Enhancement Budget. This LEB is intended to allow districts to raise local property taxes to get money to spend on non-at-risk students for enrichment opportunities beyond the required curriculum. Schwab asked that the motion be divided. Part A of the motion would be establishing the LEB; part B would be repealing the Cost of Living weighting.

There was plenty of back and forth of this amendment raising many concerns. So many in fact that the committee ran out of time.

They will meet again tomorrow with the intent of addressing the Karleskint concerns, voting on the LEB motion, and giving Schwab the chance see if he can rework the ABA amendment to address the concerns of the KSDE legal team. Campbell hopes to vote on the bill on Friday.

Senate Takes Up a Tax Bill

It came as a surprise to everyone today that the Senate would take up a tax bill. House Bill 2067 was put together by the Tax Conference Committee and it was decided that it would be voted on today.

HB 2067 is a match of SB 30, the tax bill that was pulled from consideration in the House when it was found that it did not have enough support to pass.

HB 2067/SB 30 is a good policy bill in that it reverses the most damaging parts of the disastrous Brownback tax policy. It would restore the three income tax brackets, repeal the LLC income tax exemption, and end the glide path to zero. But unfortunately, while the bill would fill the holes in the budget, it would not provide the funds necessary to pay for HB 2410, the school finance plan crafted in the House. And one thing Legislative Counsel Jeff King told both the House K-12 Committee and all the Senate is that in order to pass Court muster, the state must show that the money is there. It is not there in HB 2067/SB30.

Passage of the bill would mean that they would be forced to develop yet another tax increase to address school finance. There are no promises or plans from Senate leadership on what that “trailer bill” would be or what tax it would raise.

Initially, the Senate voted the bill down on a vote of 18 – 22. They then reconsidered the action and voted to not adopt the bill, sending it back to conference where it can be used as the shell of a new tax plan.

Here’s what former State Budget Director Duane Goossen had to say to legislators about the plan:

Before you lend your support to something short of a full fix, I urge you to request the following of legislative leadership:

    1. Assurances of support. Legislative leaders should commit to upholding the position of the chamber. If they are unwilling to do that for a compromise similar to Senate Bill 30, it should serve as a red flag for legislators that it may not be a compromise at all. Rather, it is more likely a maneuver to lower the bar for negotiations and push through something much smaller that fails to restore stability to the state’s budget.
    2. A plan for schools. Failure to comply with a Supreme Court order to adequately fund public education will put schools in high danger of closing in August. If a tax package does not produce enough revenue to cover this, another funding source for schools should be clearly identified before voting on tax reform. As former Senator Jeff King stated in addressing the House K12 Budget Committee on Thursday, “if you promise to put in money, you have to have the money.”

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No Movement Today; Back to Work Next Week

May 5, 2017 by

The Legislature wrapped up business early today with no progress on the tax issue which is keeping things in limbo.

There have been several tax bills proposed but all pulled back when it was clear from caucus meetings that the votes were not there to pass them.

This is not necessarily bad news. Remember that we are only five days into the veto session and legislators are working to find the “sweet spot” at which a tax bill will raise enough revenue to stabilize the budget and fund our schools and still get enough votes to override an expected veto from Governor Brownback. This will take some time.

In the meantime, it is important for Kansans to let their Senators and Representatives know that it is time to abandon the failed Brownback tax experiment and that they must hold out until the solution fills in the budget holes, provides for KPERS and KDOT, and funds education at a level acceptable under the Gannon decision. What’s the key? Don’t vote for anything less!

The House K-12 Budget Committee meeting for today was cancelled. We expect they will meet again on Monday to pass out HB 2410, the school finance bill.

There had been rumors that they would stay in session through the weekend but the lack of progress on taxes has apparently made that unnecessary. Both Chambers will be back on Monday, convening at 10:00 am.

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It’s All About Keeping Your Word

May 4, 2017 by

Legislative Counsel Advises K-12 Budget Committee

Inside the foyer of the Kansas Supreme Court “within these walls the balance of justice weighs equal”

Former Senator Jeff King has been hired as legislative counsel to advise the Legislature, particularly on the school finance issue. King appeared before the K-12 Budget Committee today to discuss the Gannon decision and HB 2410.

There was some presentation as King shared lessons from the 2005 Montoy decision and subsequent legislative actions and his thoughts on the decision in Gannon.

King was then asked a number of questions but we think there were some important takeaways from the discussion.

First, King told the Committee to make sure they provide the funds that are promised. If you say you’re going to give the schools $150 million new dollars each year for five years, vote for a plan that provides the funding. This was the lesson from the Montoy settlement. The Legislature promised several years of funding and then reversed. The Court will not allow that to happen this time.

Secondly, don’t think that the focus in the Gannon decision on the performance of the lowest quartile of students means the amount provided for the other three quartiles is sufficient. The Court did not say it was sufficient. Don’t plan on taking money from the top three quartiles and redirecting it to the lowest quartile.

Finally, build a legislative record that demonstrates how your decisions were reasonably calculated to address the Court ruling and the needs of Kansas school students. Part of King’s job is to help them assemble that record.

The Committee may meet again tomorrow at which time they will consider any other technical amendments to the bill and possibly pass it out of committee. Depending on what else happens in the House and Senate, this could be delayed until Monday.


Tax Decisions Remain Stalled

The challenge of assembling a tax and revenue package that restores stability to the state revenue stream and provides funding both to meet the state budget as a whole and to adequately fund the K-12 education system must be quite difficult.

We have seen several plans float to the surface only to be pulled and sent back for alterations. We also continue to hear more about different factions working to put together a plan to run up the flagpole.

Part of the discussion is whether it is better to rip off the band-aid and have one vote on a big package that does it all or to take several votes on smaller packages that add up. Politically, we believe that ripping off the band-aid is the way to go. Tax votes are always hard so just do what needs to be done in one big vote. The easiest way to fix the problem is to simply repeal the failed Brownback tax experiment and return to the stable system we had in 2012. But that does not appear to be in any of the legislative discussions.

At a minimum, we believe the plan they pass must repeal the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, and re-establish a progressive three-bracket structure. The plan must be structured to fully fund KPERS, stop sweeping money from the highway fund, and provide for adequate funding of K-12 education to meet the Gannon ruling.

And while we are all frustrated that this has not already been accomplished, we need to remember that today is day four of a potentially 24-day session. There is still plenty of time for them to meet, debate, and craft the appropriate plan.


NEA Statement Regarding Federal Action to Repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act

American Health Care Act plays Robin Hood in reverse

Students and families stand to lose health care, while the law guts protections for people with pre-existing conditions

WASHINGTON – May 04, 2017 –

The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a controversial and deeply flawed plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement regarding passage of the American Health Care Act.

“The American Health Care Act (AHCA) plays Robin Hood in reverse. It fails to deliver better, cheaper health care for all Americans, instead giving massive tax cuts to the rich while causing 24 million people to lose coverage.

“This bill will slash funding to the Medicaid program that serves millions of students including those with disabilities. Apparently, snatching health care coverage from children and families was not enough for House Republican leaders and the Trump administration. The act also allows states to jettison existing essential health benefit requirements and to remove protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Bottom line, this bill is harmful and irresponsible. Families should not have to face the threat of bankruptcy due to unaffordable medical bills.

“We urge the U.S. Senate to stand with American families and reject the harmful and deeply flawed AHCA.”

To learn more about the specific concerns NEA’s nearly three million members have with the legislation, please click here.

Follow us @NEAMedia

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at www.nea.org.

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Logic, Budgets, and Taxes

May 3, 2017 by

We have a belief in the logical order of decision making. That is, since the state is out of money and can’t fund its current budget, there will need to be a revenue/tax bill passed that allows state services to continue. We also know that the legislature must meet the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon. So our logic is to approach this in a specific order. First, pass the new school finance formula that determines how much money is needed for K-12 education. Second, pass a state budget that spells out funding for all state agencies/services. Finally, pass a comprehensive tax plan that allows the budget to be funded.

Putting the tax bill first constrains actions on the budget and school finance.

But logic does not always apply under the dome.

Right now both chambers are arguing about tax policy while the school finance formula and budget are stalled.

Many legislators are fighting for the application of a logical order. They want to make only one more vote on taxes and they want that vote to both fill the state’s budget hole and fund our schools.

Yesterday a planned tax vote in the Senate was pulled and today the same thing happened in the House. That’s not bad news. It is a result of legislators making the case for logic and denying votes for a bill that does not solve the two problems they face.

What it is important to remember now is that we are only three days into this veto session and the legislature has 24 days available and budgeted. There is no reason to panic and ignore rational decision making. And while we all want this done, it is more important that it be done right.

K-12 Budget Committee Considers Taxes in School Finance Bill

Within this ongoing debate about how much in taxes and what to pay for, the House K-12 Budget Committee met today to talk about the possibility of putting dedicated tax increases in the school finance formula bill to pay education increases.

The first part of the discussion was simply whether or not that was constitutional under the “two-subject” rule. Since the bill already contains at least one tax provision – renewal of the statewide 20 mill property tax levy – it would appear to be legal, provided that the proposals in the bill specifically reference paying for provisions in the bill.

After some discussion including asking questions of House Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), there did not appear to be consensus on whether or not this was a good idea. One problem brought up by several legislators is that even if this legislature put the taxes in the bill and targeted them to education, future legislatures would be free to sweep those revenues for other purposes.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow to hear from Jeff King, the attorney hired by the legislature to advise the Committee on the likelihood that this bill would be found to be constitutional.

Tax Agreements Scheduled for Votes; Votes Cancelled

Things indeed seem messy in the quest to find a tax bill that will fill the holes, fund our schools, and get enough votes to override an expected veto by the Governor (84 in the House; 27 in the Senate).

The first tax bill this session (HB 2178) easily passed both chambers before being vetoed by Governor Brownback who insists that his failed tax experiment is working. The House secured 85 votes for an override but the Senate failed to get to 27.

It was said that the Senate would be voting yesterday on a new tax bill but the bill in question would not have raised enough money to fix the problems facing the state right now let alone fund a new school finance bill. Leadership did not bring the bill forward for a vote.

Instead, the tax conference committee met again to hammer out another bill, this time putting it in a Senate bill so that the House would vote first. That vote was expected after lunch today but again, the vote was delayed. As we write this update, we are waiting for the House to reconvene. Rumors under the dome are that the bill is still short of what is necessary for funding and so is also still short of the needed votes. If this is true, it is very likely that there will be no vote today.

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Session adjourned, but what have we truly accomplished?

Apr 7, 2017 by

The Legislature has adjourned the regular session and your representatives are headed for home. The House, which was last to adjourn, was out by 11:54 am. Legislators will be home the rest of April and return to Topeka for the veto session – more commonly these days called the wrap-up session.


The biggest issues of the 2017 session remain unresolved.

  • They did pass a budget but it does not balance.
  • They failed to pass tax reform that will fund our vital state services going forward.
  • They have not yet passed a new school finance formula although it is assembled and awaits a vote in committee in May to send it to the floor for consideration.
  • They failed to expand Medicaid, denying 150,000 Kansans access to health care.

Their accomplishments? They successfully defended the National Rifle Association by ensuring that come July 1, 2017, Kansas community colleges, tech colleges, and universities will be wide open for firearms. Anyone can carry a firearm on any post-secondary campus at any time unless the campus can provide metal detectors and security staff at entrances. It didn’t matter that parent organizations, student organizations, faculty and college administration – even General Richard B. Myers, the retired military hero and current president of Kansas State University – wanted the law changed to allow campuses to control weapons. It only mattered that the NRA wants our campuses to be open to all guns all the time.  

The last attempt to address the guns on campus issue happened on Tuesday, April 4, when Rep. Jim Ward (R-Wichita) made a motion to bring a related gun bill to the floor for debate. Ward’s motion failed when it only got 44 votes. All 40 Democrats voted to bring the issue to the floor for debate; they were joined by only four Republicans – Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee), Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), and Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence).

They also successfully declared pornography to be a public health issue in Kansas and prohibited Kansas from doing business with any company that is boycotting Israel.

Brownback State of the State

So, despite the reality in Kansas today – a reality in which Gov. Brownback remains the most unpopular governor in the United States with overwhelming public opposition to the tax disaster he forced upon Kansas in 2012 – the legislature has been unable to muster enough votes to override his vetoes of reasonable tax reform and the expansion of Medicaid, leaving Brownback to believe his ideology and policies are invincible. He will continue to cling to his failed policies as long as the legislature remains unwilling to stand up for their constituents.

The attitude of the obstructionists in the legislature can best be seen in the comments and votes of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). After voting to sustain the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion, she told the press that the state just did not have the money to do this. Yet earlier in the session, Landwehr voted NO on HB 2178, the first comprehensive tax reform bill that would have reversed much of the Brownback disaster. And she then voted NO on the motion to override his veto of that bill. The argument that the state does not have the money would sound more honest if she had actually joined with those who were trying to solve the money problem.

While HB 2178 would have been a great step in the right direction, with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon school finance case, we know now that it would not have gone far enough. Since then, the legislature has done nothing serious to return to common sense tax policy. They have sent out bills to raise cigarette and liquor taxes, they have thought about motor fuels tax increases, and yesterday after the Governor expressed support for a “flat tax” bill, the Senate defeated that bill on a vote of 3-37. KNEA opposes the flat tax bill because it radically raised taxes on low and middle-income Kansans while essentially protecting the wealthiest. The flat tax bill would have been a massive tax increase on lower income individuals and a minor tax increase on the wealthiest.

There is a way out of this disaster but it takes some courage. Some legislators are now floating the idea of repealing the 2012 tax cuts and going back to the income tax as it was before Brownback conned the legislature into passing his disastrous experiment. These legislators would end the glide path to zero, and put 330,000 businesses back on the tax rolls while reinstating their business loss deduction. They would reinstate the third tax bracket on higher income individuals while providing middle-class relief by reinstating deductions for child and dependent care, medical expenses, and home mortgage interest.

A proposal of this sort would raise enough revenue to bring our state back from the abyss and allow the legislature to stop robbing the highway fund, to respond appropriately to the Gannon decision, and even expand Medicaid.

We are well past the time for gimmicks and protecting a failed Governor. When the legislature returns on May 1 their first order of business needs to be reversing the failed tax policies of 2012 and 2013. And they need to find the resolve to stand up to the bully on the second floor in order to save this great state.

Your legislators will be back home from now until May 1. It is critical that they hear from their constituents; from Kansans who want good roads, excellent schools, and support for those facing difficult challenges. Tell your legislators that you’ve had enough of the Brownback experiment. It is a failed experiment and it is time to reverse it.

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