Attacking Employee Rights

Mar 18, 2019 by

This morning the Senate Commerce Committee, held a hearing on SB 175, which requires members of public employee unions to be notified by their employer annually of their right to drop their union membership. Some might wonder why this bill is even necessary, given that Kansas is a “right to work” er… right to work for less state. Union membership is not compulsory and is solely the personal choice of those who choose to exercise their constitutional right to assemble freely.

The impetus behind this bill comes from the main proponent in today’s hearing, the ultra-conservative-policy-pushers known as the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI). During the hearing, the anti-labor faction threatened future lawsuits and brought in anti-union celebrity Mark Janus. Ironically, while KPI has consistently kept its funding and donor lists hidden from the public, it somehow expects that public to believe that its interest is in protecting workers from themselves.

KPI believes that this bill will encourage fewer working people to join a union. That will mean lower wages and reduced benefits and with that comes the ability to cut more taxes and reduce funding to state services. In fact, KPI was up in the House K-12 Budget Committee today arguing that, when it comes to teaching our children, money doesn’t matter.

KNEA believes that all employees have the right to organize and advocate for the best interest of their profession and for their own well-being. KNEA opposes SB 175 while recognizing that this is nothing more than another well-funded attack on working professionals and on our right to choose to organize and to advocate. We will continue to track and report on this bill in the coming days.

K-12 Budget Committee Fast-tracking Williams’ School Finance Bill

Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) introduced her first school finance bill on March 12 (12 days after the date by which Attorney General Derek Schmidt had asked for the legislature to complete its work on school finance). The 81 page bill was then scheduled for a hearing on March 14. Since testimony on a bill must be turned in 24 hours before a hearing, that meant that anyone wishing to speak had one night to read and digest the bill, analyze it, and have testimony written and submitted.

KNEA, KASB, USA, and Equality Kansas all testified in opposition to the bill on March 14. Williams continued the hearing today when the Mainstream Coalition testified in opposition. A few folks testified in favor including Walt Chappell who asserted that the state already spends too much on education and Chuck Knapp who testified as an “individual citizen” but is, in reality, the CEO of JAG-K, an organization named in the bill as a special program on which at-risk funds may be spent.

Mike O’Neal who works at least part time for KPI essentially urged the committee to ignore the courts who, in his view, have no right to meddle in issues that create funding problems for the state. O’Neal suggested that funding might be better as a grant program under which districts would say what the money would be used for and promise the results they would get with the money.

Others testified in favor of only specific sections of the bill – for example, Cerner Corporation wants the sections calling for a review of graduation requirements and the establishment of an IT Commission.

The hearing closed today with no action taken on the bill. Williams has now announced that the committee will hold hearing tomorrow on SB 142, the SBOE/Kelly/Senate plan passed by the Senate last week.

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School Finance Actions & Brownback 2.0

Mar 15, 2019 by

Senate passes response to Gannon decision

Kansas Supreme Court Lobby

The Kansas Senate debated SB 142, a school finance bill that responds to the Gannon decision by increasing school funding by about $90 million and carries that increase forward through the life of the plans passed in 2017 and 2018. In later years, funding would continue to increase by the CPI inflation factor. This action adopts the recommendation of the Kansas State Board of Education and is the same recommendation that was in SB 44, Governor Laura Kelly’s school funding bill.

The bill was advanced to a final action and then adopted under an emergency provision on a final action vote of 32 to 8. KNEA supports this action. We believe that it is past time for the legislature to act and, while there are disagreements on whether this is what the Kansas Supreme Court justices intended in their ruling, it is appropriate at this time to pass the bill and send this response to the justices for their consideration. We hope the House will take up and pass this bill as quickly as possible.

Those Senators who voted NO on the school finance bill were Republicans Larry Alley (Winfield), Dan Kerschen (Garden Plain), Ty Masterson (Andover), Mary Pilcher-Cook (Shawnee), Dennis Pyle (Hiawatha), Caryn Tyson (Parker), and Susan Wagle (Wichita).

The Senate still has to take action on the rest of the K-12 budget which is now contained in SB 147 which is in the Ways and Means Committee. We urge the Senate to pass SB 147 as well.

House committee starts hearing their alternative school finance bill

Rep. Kristey Williams, House K-12 Budget Committee Chair

House K-12 Budget Chair Kristey Williams has brought forward her school finance bill – HB 2395 – and opened hearings on it. This bill is radically different from the Senate’s plan in SB 142.

While the Senate builds on the actions of the 2017 and 2018 actions, HB 2395 sharply reverses course. Instead of funding schools out for four years and providing increases in each year, the House bill cuts out the third and fourth years. The bill also repeals the provision in current law that increases funding to schools by a CPI inflation factor in the future.

While the Senate puts the increase on base aid, supporting all students and programs, HB 2395 puts less on base and puts some in a new mental health weighting and a small, restricted increase in at-risk funding. The bill also repeals the state’s commitment to reimbursing 92% of the excess costs of special education and cuts students off of bilingual weighting if they are not fluent in English in four years.

HB 2395 also enacts a voucher program and makes changes to the tuition tax credit (voucher) program to encourage more elementary children to leave the public schools under certain conditions.

There are numerous other policy changes in the bill to accountability requirements, to bidding capital projects, to developing budgets, and to collecting and reporting data. In fact, it reads almost like an ultra-conservative wish list. Many of these policy changes have been proposed many times in the past and but never adopted by the legislature.

KNEA strongly opposes this bill. The legislature has a simple job to do – fund the inflation factor and leave the formula – which has been deemed to be constitutional – alone. That’s what the Senate is working on. That’s what the House should do too.

During the first day of a scheduled two-day hearing Mark Desetti of KNEA, Tom Witt of Equality Kansas, Mark Tallman of KASB, and G.A Buie of United School Administrators all testified in opposition to the Williams committee bill. There were many other organizations and individual school districts submitting written testimony in opposition.

At this time we know of no proponents planning to appear and have heard that several groups may appear as neutral. This hearing will continue on Monday, March 18, and Committee Chair Kristey Williams has announced her intention to vote on the bill next week while making it clear she has no intention of hearing any other funding bills.

HB 2395 is the wrong answer to the Gannon decision and includes many bad policy ideas that will harm students and schools.


Contact members of the committee and ask them to reject HB 2395 and instead adopt the Senate’s plan in SB 142.


Members of the committee are Republicans Kristey Williams, Kyle Hoffman, Brenda Dietrich, Renee Erickson, Steve Huebert, Brenda Landwehr, Adam Smith, Sean Tarwater, and Adam Thomas. The Democrats are Valdenia Winn, Cindy Holscher, Nancy Lusk, and Jim Ward.


CLICK HERE to contact these representatives.

Senate adopts Brownback 2.0 tax plan

Former Governor Sam Brownback

The Senate voted on a motion to concur in the House changes to SB 22, the corporate tax giveaway bill that was expanded by the House.

As the bill originally passed the Senate it would provide about $190 million in tax cuts aimed at multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals. Passage of the bill represents a partial return to the failed tax policies of former Governor Sam Brownback. While in office, he was devoted to “trickle-down economics” under which the state grants massive tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations in the hope that the benefit will “trickle down” to working men and women in the form of more jobs and higher wages.

Instead, the Kansas state budget collapsed, services were cut, and desperate measures to balance the budget had to be enacted resulting in hikes in the sales tax, the devastation of the state highway plan, and the diversion of KPERS payments. Those service cuts have brought Kansas a compromised foster care system, prison riots, and crumbling infrastructure.

When SB 22 went across the rotunda, the House not only endorsed the cuts in the Senate version, they added a small reduction in the food sales tax (one cent) and a provision intended to force more online retailers to collect and remit sales tax. Despite the internet sales tax provision, the cost of the bill to the state budget went up even more.

While we believe a action on the food sales tax is needed in order to help low-income families, this bill is not the way to make that happen. Kansas needs to fund our schools, restore vital services decimated by the 2012 tax cuts, and balance the budget. Once we have fully recovered, it is appropriate to examine our entire tax structure to make it balanced across all tax sources and fair to both businesses and individuals.

In 2017, the Legislature reversed most of the Brownback disaster and today the state is in recovery. As we fight to address the disastrous fallout of the Brownback policy, the last thing Kansas needs to do is start taking up more large tax cuts aimed at the wealthy and corporations. Trickle down doesn’t work! It’s time to stop pretending that it ever will.

The Senate voted to accept (concur in) the House changes to the bill on a vote of 24 to 16. With this action the bill now goes to Governor Kelly who is expected to veto it. It would take 27 votes in the Senate and 84 in the House to override a veto.

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School Funding: A Tale of Two Bills

Mar 14, 2019 by

UPDATE: By a vote of 32-8, SB 142 passed the Senate this evening. We’ll have a more detailed update in tomorrow’s Under the Dome. Vote by Senator:

Voting for: Baumgardner, Billinger, Bollier, Bowers, Braun, Denning, Doll, Estes, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Givens, Goddard, Haley, Hardy, Hawk, Hensley, Hilderbrand, Holland, Longbine, Lynn, McGinn, Miller, Olson, Petersen, Pettey, Rucker, Skubal, Sykes, Taylor, Ware, Wilborn.

Voting against: Alley, Kerschen, Masterson, Pilcher-Cook, Pyle, Suellentrop, Tyson, Wagle.

KNEA SUPPORTS:

The Senate will debate and vote on SB 142 today. This is the bill that needs to pass in order to move forward towards a resolution with the Court.

SB 142 provides a $90 million inflation adjustment to school funding in response to the Gannon decision. It would enact the recommendation of the State Board of Education and is the same proposal as was in Governor Kelly’s school funding bill earlier this year. 

The Senate debate will begin at 2:30 this afternoon. Use your lunch break (or other duty-free time) to email or call your Senator and ask him/her to vote YES on SB 142.

CLICK HERE to enter your zip code and find your Senator’s contact information.

UPDATE: The K-12 Budget Committee convened another hearing today to discuss HB 2395. KNEA offered opposition testimony. The committee adjourned with plans to reconvene at a later time.

KNEA OPPOSES:

The House K-12 Budget Committee will begin a hearing at 3:30 this afternoon on HB 2395, an alternative school finance bill.

HB 2395 is the wrong answer to the Gannon decision and includes many bad policy ideas that will harm students and schools.

This bill has $42 million in new base aid funding – far less than inflation, as called for in the Supreme Court decision. Among its many policy changes, it enacts a voucher program, repeals the requirement that the state reimburse districts for 92% of the excess costs of special education, cuts funding for bilingual students if they are not fluent in English in four years, puts restrictions on at-risk spending.

This hearing will continue on Monday and Committee Chair Kristey Williams has announced her intention to vote on the bill next week.

Contact members of the committee and ask them to reject HB 2395 and instead adopt the Senate’s plan in SB 142.

Members of the committee are Republicans Kristey Williams, Kyle Hoffman, Brenda Dietrich, Renee Erickson, Steve Huebert, Brenda Landwehr, Adam Smith, Sean Tarwater, and Adam Thomas and Democrats Valdenia Winn, Cindy Holscher, Nancy Lusk, and Jim Ward.

CLICK HERE to contact these representatives.

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School finance issues take front and center.

Mar 12, 2019 by

So far in the run-up to the Kansas Supreme Court hearing on the legislature’s response to the Gannon school finance ruling, the Senate has been making some progress.

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing on Governor Kelly’s school funding bill, Senate Bill 44, earlier in the session. They did not work that bill but instead split it in two. Senate Bill 142 contains the provisions dealing with the inflation factor called for in the Court decision; Senate Bill 147 is the remainder of the education budget (about 98% of all funding).

A hearing was held on SB 142. It was passed out of committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. The provisions in this bill are exactly the same as those in SB 44. SB 147 is being discussed now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and we would anticipate it will be out soon.

At the moment, the best action to take would be to pass both SB 142 and SB 147 and send them to the Attorney General so he can prepare for the Court hearing.

As we have reported here before, we are not certain that SB 142 will meet the Court ruling. There are two interpretations of the ruling – one held by Schools for Fair Funding and another by the State Board of Education. It would serve the state well to get a bill over to the Court for consideration.

The combination of SB 142 and SB 147 represent a responsible action in response to the Court. They will not jeopardize the constitutionally-sound formula that equitably distributes funding and there is a chance that the Court will accept the inflation increase.

And then there’s the House.

House K-12 School Budget Committee chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) revealed her response to education funding. This bill, House Bill 2395, represents a wish list of extreme conservative policy agenda promulgated over the years by former Speaker Mike O’Neal and Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert.

In Williams’ bill there are many changes to the school finance formula and there are numerous accountability and accounting changes. In this case, accountability means requiring districts and the KSDE to post links on webpages. There are changes to bilingual education and at-risk education. It strips the requirement for reimbursing 92% of the excess costs of special education. It includes the vouchers for alleged bullying bill- remember the one heard in Williams’ committee earlier in the session that would give kids a voucher for even reporting bullying but would do nothing to actually address bullying. This bill with all of its log-rolled policy is over 100 pages long!

As for the Gannon response, this bill provides two years of base increases instead of the four in the other bills, bringing base state aid up to a lower amount than in SB 142. And then it removes the language placing a Consumer Price Index adjustment in the future, meaning, there would be no commitment to maintaining school funding in the future.

There is a lot to dislike in HB 2395 and more than enough reasons to vote NO including the fact that the Gannon response in this bill is almost certain to be rejected by the Court.

If the Legislature truly wants to end the cycle of litigation, the way is clear. The best thing to do right now is to take the Senate approach. Pass SB 142 and SB 147; let the Attorney General get to work and see what happens in the next hearing before the Supreme Court.

Underfunding in response to the Court’s ruling, ending future inflation factors, messing with the formula all while granting a wish list of deeply conservative policies intended to put more pressure on schools and students would take us backward.

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Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

Mar 7, 2019 by

Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

It’s big-time under the dome these days (although the light committee schedule would appear to say otherwise).

We’ve spent much time reporting on Senate Bill 22, the budget-busting tax cut bill that passed the Kansas Senate on February 7. As it passed the Senate, the bill would cut taxes by about $190 million putting a budget out of reach that would fund schools, help the foster care system, fix the crisis in Kansas prisons, and restore highway funding. The Senate version would provide about $140 million in tax cuts for multi-national corporations and lets about 9% of Kansas individual taxpayers itemize their state income on taxes even if they can’t on their federal return at a cost of another $50 million.

The Kansas House Tax Committee added a one-cent reduction in the food sales tax, costing the state about $60 million and then inserted a change in the way internet sales taxes are collected and remitted which would increase taxes to the state by about $41 million. So the House version would cost the treasury about $210 million.

After a long debate during which the House rejected all but one amendment to the bill, it was advanced to final action on a vote of 80 to 42. The only amendment that was adopted was one by Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) defining foods subject to the lower sales tax as those items that can be purchased with food stamps. Amendments by Representatives Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Tim Hodge (D-Newton) aimed at removing the corporate tax breaks and maintaining those that benefit working Kansans were all rejected on identical party-line votes of 40 to 89.

The bill is now subject to a final action vote which will take place either Friday or Monday.

A “Round-table Discussion” on KanCare expansion

Representative Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, held a days-long round-table discussion on KanCare expansion this week. KanCare is the Kansas version of Medicaid so this amounts to a discussion on the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Expansion was approved by both the House and Senate in 2016, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Sam Brownback. The House voted to override the Governor’s veto but the override fell short in the Senate.

Medicaid or KanCare expansion is needed for a number of reasons:

  • Our rural hospitals are in financial trouble and expansion would dramatically improve their chances of staying open. Some hospitals have already had to close. The first to shutter was in Independence and just last month, the hospital in Horton indicated that it may be closed. Employees were working without pay. Hospitals in Fort Scott and Oswego have also closed.
  • KanCare expansion will encourage work and job advancement among low-income parents. In Kansas, a parent makes too much to qualify for KanCare if she earns more $7,896 per year for a family of three. If she works a minimum wage job just more than half-time, she would make too much to qualify. If she gets a better job, a raise, or more hours, she would fall into the coverage gap – her income is too high for KanCare and too low to qualify for assistance to purchase private insurance. If Kansas were to expand KanCare, low-income parents could earn more without losing their health coverage.
  • Expansion would provide coverage to between 130,000 and 150,000 working Kansans who cannot afford coverage now.
  • While Kansas would be required to pay a portion of the costs (about $47 million), the bulk of the cost would come from the federal government. In 2020, 90% of the cost would come from the federal government. Kansas has already forfeited more than $3 billion in federal aid from taxes that Kansans are paying!

While both the House and Senate have voted before in favor of expansion and both would likely do so again now, the leadership in both chambers remains opposed and have worked tirelessly to block all efforts to force a vote on expansion. Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) is now the House Majority Leader and has led the efforts to block expansion. Rep. Landwehr who now holds the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee is also a strong opponent of expansion.

During the first day of the round-table, Republicans Jim Kelly (Independence) and John Eplee (Atchison) spoke in support of expansion and raised their personal experiences – Kelly with the harm to his community caused by the closing of the hospital and Eplee to his experience as a physician with the harm to Kansans who can’t get the care they need.

Read about the first day of the round-table in the Capital-Journal by clicking here.

Find out more about KanCare expansion at the website of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas by clicking here. KNEA is a member of the Alliance.

School finance moving

We reported that the first school finance bill – SB 142 – moved out of committee on Wednesday and will go to the full Senate for debate probably next week. This bill contains only the proposed inflation fix to school finance required by the Gannon decision.

It is important to understand that not everyone agrees that this bill will be approved by the Court. There are two interpretations of what the Court was requiring. This bill puts in one inflation increase and then maintains that through the following years. Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF) believes the Court wants to see an inflation increase each year along with the spending increases passed last year. KNEA’s interpretation has been the same as that of SFFF.

We would anticipate at this time that what is likely to pass is this bill along with SB 147 which is the rest of the education budget. When combined, these bills are the same as SB 44, the Governor’s school finance bill introduced at the start of the session.

We are expecting a Senate floor debate on SB 142 next week.

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School Finance Bill to Senate Floor

Mar 6, 2019 by

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing and then worked Senate Bill 142, a school finance bill to address the Gannon inflation fix.

The Governor’s school finance bill, SB 44, was split into two bills – SB 142 and SB 147 – with SB 142 referred to the Senate Select Committee on School Finance and SB 147 to the Ways and Means Committee. Together, these two bills match exactly what was in SB 44.

Complicating the discussion this week was the discovery by Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF) that both SB 44 and SB 142 were not written in a way that reflected the plaintiff districts’ interpretation of the Gannon decision. Their interprertation is that the state needed to provide an additional inflation factor above any new money in the out-years of the prior passed law. KNEA has held the same interpretation.

The State Board of Education, however, adopted a position that the requirement was to provide the inflation factor one time and then simply carry it forward. There is a large difference in funding between these two positions.

Today, SFFF presented testimony in opposition to SB 142 while KASB testified in favor saying they supported the State Board. Also in opposition was the Kansas Policy Institute essentially because they believe the Court can’t tell the legislature what to do.

KNEA testified as neutral, telling the committee that we had the same interpretation of the Gannon decision as SFFF and noting that there were two interpretations in the room. The only ones to say what the actual meaning in the Court’s decision are the justices of the Kansas Supreme Court. We noted that, under our interpretation, this bill will not end the litigation.

Said KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti, “If you send this over to the Court, SFFF will argue against it while the AG will defend it. In the end the Court will decide if this is enough or not.”

KNEA put our position this way:

We ask that the Legislature do two things.

First, leave the finance formula alone. It has been determined to meet constitutionality in terms of equity. Any alterations to the formula, any efforts to have additional funds directed in new or specific ways will simply raise the possibility of once again harming equity. The best thing to do is to put new money on base aid as this not only helps students generally but impacts other aspects of the formula such as at-risk and bilingual funding.

Secondly, provide the inflation fix in each of the out years in a way that gets us to the Montoy “harbor” accounting for inflation.

We firmly believe that if you do these two things, you will resolve the Gannon case and end this cycle of litigation.


After the hearing, the bill was brought to the table for discussion and passed out of committee favorable for passage by the full Senate. It will now go to the Senate for debate and possible action.

In the meantime, we await a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on SB 147, the rest of the education budget.

Big tax bill – SB 22 – up on the House floor tomorrow!

This year’s big tax cut bill is up for a vote tomorrow on the House floor. The bill includes a huge cut in taxes on multi-national corporations, permission for a few higher-income Kansans to continue itemization on state income taxes, a one cent reduction in the food sales tax, and a new provision allowing for collection of state and local sales tax on internet purchases.

KNEA opposes this bill as it strips over $200 million out of the state treasury before the budget has been passed and before school finance is resolved. The state is still digging out of the Brownback tax disaster; to start cutting taxes of this magnitude at this time is irresponsible.

We urge you to contact you Representative using the link below. Say, “PLEASE VOTE NO ON SB 22!”

Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan

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