Guns for Teachers, Security for Schools, & School Finance

Mar 27, 2018 by

A packed committee room greeted the House Insurance Committee early this morning as they took up HB 2798, a bill essentially forcing school districts to arm teachers as the legislative response repeated mass shootings in schools, the Parkland Student Movement and the March for Our Lives held this past weekend.

The bill popped up unexpectedly late last week and Friday afternoon was scheduled for a hearing this morning.

Proponents of the bill started their testimony first. Bill sponsor, Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) went first followed by Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover). You’ll remember Masterson put an amendment on another firearms bill that would allow the carrying sharpened throwing stars in our schools. Those are currently prohibited but Masterson’s nephew was suspended for bringing one to school. His amendment would allow them in school unless you intended to use it to harm someone. So I guess you could ask as kids come in…

Anyway, because, as the proponents were fond of saying today, “There’s nothing we can do stop mass shootings in our schools,” they want to arm teachers. Let the teacher get her kids safe and quiet, then just pull out a gun and go in search of the shooter is apparently the solution to gun violence in schools.

Other proponents were the Kansas Rifle Association (our state NRA), a high school teacher and Iraq war veteran from Wichita, and a gun range owner/former security officer.

Opponents started with KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti followed by Shawnee Mission Interim Superintendent Rick Atha, David Smith from KCK Public Schools, Olathe Public Education Network, The Mainstream Coalition, Moms Demand Action, Kansas Interfaith Action, a mother who spent time in lockdown at school with her kindergartener during a false alarm, a mom and attorney from KCK (pointing out many legal flaws in the proponents arguements), two parents from Education First Shawnee Mission, a parent from Blue Valley Schools, a school secretary from Lawrence, and a woman whose daughter was a victim of gun violence and is now raising her grandchildren. You can view a segment of today’s testimony as posted by Loud Light- facebook https://www.facebook.com/BeALoudLight/ –  (including that by KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti beginning at 09:01 below).

Written opposition testimony.

In addition, there were more than 300 pages of written testimony in opposition to the bill.

It is clear that there is overwhelming opposition to this bill. We will continue to watch this bill to see if Chairman Vickrey intends to work the bill and attempt to send it to the full House. If you have not yet weighed in on this bill with the members of the House Insurance Committee and your own legislator, we would urge you to do so now.

More on School Safety

Later, in the full House, debate was taken up on HB 2773, the safe and secure schools act.

This bill does some good. It sets standards for school security, it sets standards for school safety plans, it requires school districts to create school safety plans and it provides $5 million in matching grants for school security upgrades. It also allows school districts to offer students firearm safety training so they know what to do should they encounter a weapon.

While KNEA supported this bill in a hearing, we were clear to state that it does very little to address the problem of violence in our society and shootings in our schools. It is a mere band-aid on a wound from an assault rifle. But it is a step in the right direction.

A number of amendments were offered on the bill on the House floor today that were supported by KNEA but did not pass. One was an amendment by Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) who tried to strip out reference to the NRA and the Eddie Eagle program relying instead on Kansans to make decisions for Kansans. The amendment failed on a vote of 49 to 75.

An amendment by Rep. Henry Helgerson (R-Wichita) would have provided for ongoing funding or school security improvements through fees on firearms and ammunition – $1.00 per gun purchase and 1 cent per bullet purchase. As the bill is, funding is $5 million total and ends after one year. The Helgerson amendment failed on a vote of 35 to 88.

Rep. Brett Parker offered an amendment to provide $100,000 to survey school employees about what they would like to have to address the issue and to repeal the law that currently allows school districts to let teachers carry firearms in classrooms. (No districts do.) The amendment was divided into two parts. A vote on the funding for the survey failed on a vote of 50 to 72.

Most interesting to us was the debate on the second part, repealing the ability of school boards to allow concealed carry on school campuses. Proponents of guns in classrooms like Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) or Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) argued in favor of the sanctity of “local control.” Of course, whenever there is a vote on granting institutions of higher education or municipalities local control over gun issues, they argue the critical importance of state mandates. So, if local control results in more guns – YES. If local control resulted in fewer guns – NO. This is the very definition of hypocrisy. This amendment failed on a vote of 44 to 79.

The bill was advanced to a final action vote which will come tomorrow.

Over in the Senate

The full Senate debated three bills and advanced all three to final action.

The first bill was Sub for HB 2602 establishing the dyslexia task force. This bill, strongly supported by KNEA was advanced on a voice vote with little discussion.

Next (although much later) was SB 352, a bill dealing with transportation funding. This bill moves the funding of school transportation from the highway department to the state general fund and then establishes a new “curve of best fit” (codifying what the state department of education has been doing for years). This bill also generated little discussion and was advanced on a voice vote.

The third bill was SB 422 which deals with equity issues in the Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling.

SB 422 would repeal two provisions of SB 19 – the 10% at-risk floor and the expansion of capital outlay expenditures as called for in the Court ruling.

Additionally, it would use the current year to determine LOB state aid while requiring districts to notify the state of an intent to raise LOB by March 15. It would also allow the protest petition process for any increases in LOB over 30% and repeal any high LOB that had not been subject to an election (none that we know of).

There was an attempt by Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) to repeal the notice requirement since it comes before the Legislature sets budgets for the coming year, but that effort failed.

Senator Hensley (D-Topeka) then offered an amendment to deal with adequacy by proposing a $200 million increase in funding each year for three years as called for by the State Board of Education. The amendment failed on a vote of 10 to 28 with all nine Democrats and Independent John Doll (I-Garden City) voting YES.

A subsequent Hensley amendment would raise funding by $151 million in 2018-19, and $150 million in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for a total of $451 million (the “maintain the status quo” figure in the new cost study). That amendment failed on a vote of 10-26 again with Independent John Doll joining the Democrats in support.

The bill was then advanced to final action.

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More from yesterday…

Mar 20, 2018 by

While we only reported on the school finance cost study yesterday, it was not the only thing to happen!

The House Appropriations Committee amended and the passed out of Committee House Bill 2773, the school safety and security bill. This bill, which is supported by KNEA, does several things:

  • requires the State Board of Education to work with other agencies to establish state standards for school security,
  • requires the State Board of Education to work with other agencies to establish state standards for school safety plans,
  • requires local school districts to work with local law enforcement agencies to review their school security provisions,
  • requires local school districts to develop school safety plans,
  • permits local school districts to offer every student an opportunity to participate in a firearms safety program based on the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Hunter Safety program, or another research-based firearms safety program. Schools would not be required to offer such programs nor would students be required to participate.

There were a couple of amendments. The committee added the State Fire Marshall to the state agencies with whom the SBOE must consult. This amendment was requested by the Fire Marshall.

An amendment by Rep. Aurand (R-Belleville) would have stripped out the requirement that local districts offering firearm safety would have to offer programs that met the SBOE standards. His argument was that if the program was optional, why should the local board be prohibited from offering the program of their choice?

The Aurand amendment passed but a subsequent amendment from Rep. Sutton (R-Gardner) specified that any program must meet those standards. An interesting bit of flipping for sure!

The bill was passed out of committee and now goes to the full House for consideration.

Senate Finance Committee Considering Mandatory LOB

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing today on SB 422 which would mandate that every school district issue a 30% Local Option Budget.

The bill is most likely another attempt to ensure that the Supreme Court consider LOB dollars as foundation aid. Most districts are at or beyond 30% now but some are still below. For those districts, it would be a mandatory property tax increase.

The bill was opposed by agricultural interests and the school lobby stayed neutral.

The bill also attempts to fix the two LOB provisions found by the Supreme Court to violate equity. There is still some debate about whether or not this bill does that adequately.

No action was taken on the bill today.

School Finance Study Powerpoint

The powerpoint from yesterday’s presentation by Dr. Lori Taylor and Jason Willis is now available for your reading pleasure.

Click here to view a PDF version of yesterday’s presentation.

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Bills, Bills, and More Bills!

Mar 15, 2018 by

Senate Ed Committee Considers “Education Inspector General”

In case you thought there were not enough folks supervising the K-12 education system, along comes SB 424. This bill would establish the position of “Education Inspector General” in the State Treasurer’s Office. The intent is to have someone conduct continuous audits of education spending.

The proponents – Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, Senator Ty Masterson, the owner of Freedom Bank in Johnson County, and KPI’s Dave Trabert. Masterson was quick to say that this had nothing to do with the kerfuffle over transportation funding that included a letter from Sen. Wagle and Rep. Ryckman to the State Board calling for Dale Dennis to be suspended and an investigation launched. Of course, the bill was introduced after the SBOE stood up for Dennis and the practice used for distributing transportation dollars.

And all this was put aside in Mr. Knudtson’s testimony in which he attacked both the Department and Dennis. Trabert also continued his attacks on the department and calls for millions of dollars to be pulled back from school districts.

Opposing the bill were KASB and State Board Member Jim McNiece.

No action was taken on the bill today.

More Bills Taken Up in Senate Ed

After the hearing was closed on SB 424, Chair Baumgardner turned her attention to HB 2541, a bill that adjusts tuition support for members of the Kansas National Guard. This bill passed the House on a 120-0 vote.

After the hearing, the bill was moved out of committee on a motion of Senator Hensley and placed on the Senate’s consent calendar where non-controversial bills are sent. After three days on the consent calendar, the bill will be passed, skipping the debate process.

Their next action was on HB 2542, another non-controversial bill requested by the Board of Regents that adjusts the fees that KBOR charges to private higher education institutions to cover the costs of regulation.

The bill was passed out of committee and will go to the full Senate.

Baumgardner then brought up Sub for HB 2602, the dyslexia task force bill. Baumgardner announced that she would craft an amendment to change the make-up of the committee to reduce the number of legislators and add teachers, particularly classroom teachers. As Baumgardner put it, “We need more boots on the ground representation on this task force.”

Other Senators had items they wanted to think about on this bill and Baumgardner said they would take it up next week, perhaps mid-week.

Full Senate Defeats So-Called “Campus Free Speech Act”

The Senate took a final action vote today on SB 340, a bill dubbed the “Campus Free Speech Act.” This bill would ban free speech zones on campuses and make all open areas available to anyone for rallies, literature distribution, and demonstrations. It is widely seen as a reaction to colleges that are trying to keep students safe in light of actions taking place congruent with some recent activities around the country.

The bill would allow any student to invite a speaker and the college would be required to allow the speaker. We see this as an opening for extremists on both sides to come to campus and perhaps incite potentially violent acts. One student could invite Richard Spencer, another could invite Louis Farrakhan and the university would not be able to restrict such events.

Many other issues were raised in the debate on the bill and today it was voted down on a 20-20 vote. KNEA opposed the bill.

House Tax Committee Looks at Tobacco Taxes

The House Tax Committee held a hearing today on HB 2231, a bill raising taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products. The Cigarette tax would increase by $1.50 per pack.

KNEA testified in favor of the bill. Passage would increase revenue to the state by about $90 million per year but more importantly, the higher cost of cigarettes and tobacco products would discourage youth smoking and tobacco use. Evidence shows that increases in cost also incent smoker to quit. As parents and caregivers make that decision, the health and well-being of their children improves.

Reduced smoking and tobacco usage also reduce overall health costs which impact the cost of health insurance for all Kansans.

 

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Dyslexia and Due Process

Mar 14, 2018 by

Dyslexia Task Force Bill Gets Senate Hearing

The Senate Education Committee held a hearing today on Sub for HB 2602, a bill establishing a Task Force to study issues around the handling of dyslexia in schools and make recommendations to the legislature. Dyslexia has become a perennial issue in the education committees.

A number of parents of students with dyslexia testified in favor of the bill as did the Disability Rights Center and KNEA.

In remarks to the Committee, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti noted that this task force, like most legislatively established education task forces, has no teachers. “Those working directly with our children have no voice on the task force,” said Desestti. “There is a belief, apparently, that teachers are waiting for groups of legislators, administrators, and parents to tell them how to do the job for which they are trained and licensed.”

Desetti also noted that one parent told the committee that her child’s second-grade teacher told her in a conference that perhaps her child was dyslexic and should be evaluated. This led to a diagnosis by a medical professional and much-needed support for her child. But another parent said that when she asked a teacher if her child might be dyslexic, the teacher told her, “We are not allowed to mention the ‘D’ word!”

“Both are true,” said Desetti. I have heard that some school administrators or boards of education have directed teachers not to suggest dyslexia as a possible explanation for a child’s reading difficulties. I also know that those classroom teachers are the  best advocates for a child after the child’s own parents.”

Here, one teacher advocated for her student with the parent. The other teacher admitted she was directed not to advocate if such advocacy included the word “dyslexia.” Kansas, Desetti noted, is one of only two states in the nation that provides absolutely no job security protection or due process for teachers. Teachers want to fight for their students but what happens to a teacher – an at-will employee – who breaks with an administration that told her not to mention dyslexia?

We want teachers who stand up for the best programs and support for every child. If our teachers had due process it would provide the platform for them to be strong advocates. We’re still looking for the Senate to take up the issue.

We Must Let Those Reps Who Voted YES on Due Process Know How Much We Appreciate Their Support

73 members of the Kansas House of Representatives voted to restore due process rights to Kansas teachers, sending the bill over to the Senate where it awaits a hearing now.

Recent news has revealed that while Kansas teachers are 42nd in the nation in teacher salaries, they are dead last in pay when compared to private sector workers in their own state. For every dollar earned in the private sector in Kansas, a Kansas teacher earns 71 cents. On top of that, the retirement system for new Kansas teachers is significantly worse than that provided in our neighboring states. And then, to add insult to injury, the Kansas Legislative Research Department reported that Kansas is one of only two states in the nation that have no job security measures – such as due process – for teachers. These are three big reasons why Kansas is struggling to find teachers to staff our classrooms and why young Kansans are choosing alternative occupations.

So we should be thanking those legislators who are trying to turn this around every chance we get.

If your Representative is one of the 73, you can click here to find a thank you note to post on your social media feeds – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, any and all channels.

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School Day: Due Process, Bullying, & Transportation

Mar 8, 2018 by

House Passes Due Process, Bullying Procedures

On final action today the House of Representatives passed the restoration of due process (HB 2757) for Kansas teachers on a vote of 73 to 48. The debate had taken place yesterday (see details in yesterday’s Under the Dome).

For all but one of the conservatives who blasted the idea of mandating due process for school districts as usurping local control, they had no problem at all passing an unfunded bullying mandate on the very next bill. You see, for conservative Republican legislators, local control is allowed when it disrespects a working man or woman but is perfectly acceptable when they want to force someone else to bend to their will. In other words, if I want to stop something, I cry “We must respect local control!” If I want to force something on you, “Local control is not sacrosanct.”

To find out how your representative voted on due process, click here. 

HB 2757 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The House also passed HB 2758, the bullying procedures bill that mandates that school districts provide copies of bullying policies to all parents, post them on district websites with a prominent link on the homepage, and include certain additional items in district bullying plans.

KNEA supports this bill. The final action vote was 119 to 1 with the only NO vote being cast by Rep. Michael Houser (R-Columbus). Houser was the only conservative non-hypocrite on local control. In his explanation of vote he said if he opposed due process on the basis of local control, he would oppose another mandate for the same reason.

Transportation Bills Heard in K-12 Budget Committee

The K-12 budget committee held a hearing today on two bills changing the transportation formula.

HB 2697 would change the multiplier in the formula from 2.8 to 5 which would better address costs.

HB 2561 would codify the “curve of best fit” which is not in law but had been used for decades in the distribution of transportation funding.

These bills would dramatically improve transportation funding and, frankly, if we can’t get kids to school, they won’t be learning!

Many superintendents were in the committee room today to testify in favor of the bill. Additionally, there were many more superintendents who submitted written testimony in support.
There were no opponents to the bills.

Three conferees appeared as neutral. The first was Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) who addressed a bill that he had introduced on behalf of some constituents who found themselves in a different school from the prior year and were billed for transportation. Due to distance the families had free transportation one year and got a bill the next. Tarwater asked the committee to amend his bill in.

A parent from Johnson County (a constituent of Tarwater?) also appearing as neutral. Telling the story Tarwater just finished from the point of view of a parent. She had a very compelling story to tell about safe routes for schools.

The final conferee as neutral was Mike O’Neal representing the Kansas Policy Institute (we all know the KPI as Dave Trabert’s organization backed by dark money and set up to oppose school funding). O’Neal was generally happy that the legislature was responding to the LPA studies.

Senate Defeats Attempt to Call a Convention of the States

The Senate this afternoon took up a final action vote on SCR 1611, a resolution calling for a convention of the states to potentially re-write the entire U.S. Constitution.

There is a movement in the nation by those who believe the United States Government is, in their words, “out  of control.” To that end, they wish to have a convention of the states which is allowed under the U.S. Constitution for the purpose of bringing forth amendments to the constitution to “rein in the federal government.”

The problem with this is that once called, the entire constitution would be open to re-writing. Additionally, delegates to the convention are selected by politicians. Under the common amendment process – used successfully 27 times in our history – elected representatives propose amendments and the states individually vote to ratify those amendments. Such amendments are handled one at a time and not as a block re-write of the document.

In the end, the vote was 22 to 16. Since it takes a 2/3 majority – 27 votes – to pass such a resolution, it failed.

A real win for common sense!

 

 

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Due Process and Bullying Bills Both Advance to Final Action

Mar 7, 2018 by

After a vigorous debate and two attempted amendments, the House advanced to final action on a voice vote, HB 2757 which would restore due process to teachers in Kansas.

Early in the debate, Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) offered an amendment to expand due process to all state and municipal employees.  He admitted he was opposed to teacher due process but said if it’s good for teachers it ought to be given to all public employees. It was clear to everyone present that his wish was to amend up the bill enough to pull supporters off and ultimately kill the bill.

Plenty of representatives pointed this out at the well and after a long debate, the amendment was rejected on a vote of 38 to 82.

Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) then offered an amendment to make this bill into his two-tiered system- this was the same amendment that was rejected by the Education Committee which he chairs. Under the Aurand amendment, teachers who had earned due process prior to the repeal in 2014 and were continuously employed in the same school district would have those earned rights restored. New teachers would have a decidedly different system. Under their system, while they could appeal a non-renewal to a hearing officer, the hearing officer could only consider the district’s evidence and the teacher could not provide evidence to the contrary. It’s like going to traffic court but being prohibited from making your case. Under Aurand’s system, real due process would end for all teachers as the veterans retired.

The Aurand amendment was rejected on a strong voice vote.

After the end of debate, the bill was advanced to a final action vote on a vote of 72-48 (a division vote, not a recorded vote).

Take time tonight to email your Representative. Ask him or her to support both HB 2757 (due process) and HB 2758 (bullying policies). 

Click here to use KNEA’s Contact Your Legislator portal. 

The saddest part of the day was listening to all of the teacher-bashing from conservatives. Rep. Kristey Williams, after letting everyone know she had been a teacher and was related to many others, gave a long lecture on teachers who sexually harass students and seemed to imply that due process could not be restored because teachers might use that as the opportunity for them to join the “me too” movement and allege sexual harassment by employers.

As was reiterated time and again during the debate, due process is simply that, a process by which teachers can redress a decision they believe was unfair and do so before an impartial officer.  Due process has never and will never usurp criminal law in cases of sexual misconduct or any other criminal offense.  Unfortunately, it appears Rep. Williams and others just don’t seem to comprehend that reality.

Some of the objection the conservatives used to hide their disdain for due process was instead framed as “local control.” Yes, local control, the catchphrase for why we can’t treat teachers like professionals. The conservatives are all for local control- until they’re against it. And when are they against it?

  • When they decide to stop cities and counties from making local property tax decisions.
  • When they are passing mandates prohibiting municipalities from using prevailing wages – a benefit for workers – in granting contracts.
  • When they are telling school districts what employee training they must offer and how much of it is acceptable.
  • When they are mandating NRA gun training in our schools.
  • When they are prohibiting colleges and universities from controlling access to their buildings by armed individuals.

According to these conservatives, school districts need local control over due process so their professional teaching staff remains at-will employees who can be fired at any time for any reason or for no reason at all.

So after spending a considerable amount of time trying to say that local control was sacrosanct, they turned their attention to a bill mandating additional procedures for all school districts regarding how they deal with bullying – HB 2578.

To be clear, KNEA supports HB 2578. KNEA supports mandates on our schools if those mandates will help our students. For that reason, we have supported this and other bullying bills. We supported Erin’s Law that requires training in recognizing signs of child sexual abuse. We supported the Jason Flatt Act that requires training in recognizing signs of possible suicidal tendencies in children. Who traditionally opposes them? KASB – under the argument of “local control” just as was clarified to be their position on HB 2757.

So for those of us in the gallery, it was like watching a conservative split screen. “We must allow local  control on due process!” “We can’t dare allow local control on bullying policies!”

The only hiccup in the passing of HB 2758 was an amendment offered by Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) which would have added three more mandates (notification of parents when their child was bullied, mandatory counseling for the target of bullying, and mandatory counseling for the bully). Additionally, it would have added a laundry list of consequences bullies would face. The list, Tarwater explained, was just a list of suggestions, not mandates.

The full House chose to keep the bill clean and rejected the Tarwater amendment on a voice vote.

After the due process bill had passed and while closing on the bullying bill, Rep. Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) told the body about all the teachers bullying students and being protected by the union. It was a truly offensive morning.

Here’s what people like Willie Dove seem to ignore. When I came to KNEA way back in 1998, I was immediately dispatched to a number of Kansas school districts where I provided resources and training for whole school staffs in programs for teachers to use in combating bullying and helping kids be allies of the targets and strong against the bullies.

KNEA – the UNION – was providing bullying prevention training to schools districts long before the legislature considered this to be an issue. KNEA – the UNION – was at the forefront of protecting our children.

Now that Rep. Dove and his friends know this (providing they read this blog), they understand that KNEA is the organization supporting legislative mandates on schools that protect our children and KNEA is the one organization that was providing bullying training long before the legislature even recognized it as a problem, I’m sure they’ll be issuing an apology.

But frankly, if I wait for that apology, they’ll likely have to deliver it to my grave.

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