Turnaround! The Halfway Point is here.

Mar 1, 2019 by

ALERT: Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan
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At the halfway point, a lot of stuff goes away

Turnaround was Thursday, February 28. That was the day by which bills had to have passed their chamber of origin in order to be considered by the second chamber. Unless…

There’s always an “unless,” isn’t there?

Most committees are subject to strict timelines. For example, the Kansas House and Senate Education Committees (and actually most committees) stopped work on Monday, Feb. 25, because the 26th through the 28th were reserved for time on the floor in order to pass as many bills as possible. But all of this means that if a bill did not come out of one of the four education committees (House Ed, Senate Ed, House K-12 budget, and Senate Select School Finance) on Monday, there was no way it would be considered on the floor and so no way it could pass the chamber of origin. Since those committees are subject to the timelines, any bills not passed technically die.

But House or Senate leadership could “bless” a bill – keep it alive for the second half by referring it to a timeline exempt committee – like Appropriations in the House or Ways and Means in the Senate – before adjourning for the turnaround break. And one should never forget that anything can be resurrected in the form of an amendment either on a bill that is now being considered by a committee of the second chamber or on the floor of either chamber.

What bills have passed and head across the rotunda?

The House has passed and sent to the Senate two bills of interest to KNEA.

House Bill 2144 is the community college reporting bill. This started out as a terrible bill placing all kinds of restrictions and requirements on community colleges relating to reporting, tax limitations, and limitations on capital spending. The House Education Committee amended out all the worst stuff and then further amended it with some language requests from the community colleges. The bill now requires demographics reporting by the Board of Regents and public notice of what courses transfer to all regents institutions. You can read the amended bill here. It now goes to the Senate.

Senate Bill 9 requires the state to repay $115 million in previously withheld employer contributions to KPERS. The last two years employer contributions to KPERS were withheld in order to balance the budget in the aftermath of the Brownback tax disaster with promises to pay them back over time. This bill has also passed the Senate and is now on the Governor’s desk.

The Senate has passed and sent to the House six bills of interest to KNEA.

Senate Bill 7 allows school boards to change the timing of the election of school board officers to adjust to the change of school board elections from April to November.

Senate Bill 9, repaying $115 million to KPERS (See above).

Senate Bill 16 allows at-risk money to be used for evidence-based programs including Jobs for America’s Graduates, or JAG, and Boys & Girls Clubs. We believe this is already allowed and wonder why it is necessary.

Senate Bill 71 eliminates the expiration of the postsecondary technical education authority and requires a report to the Kansas Legislature.

Senate Bill 128 changes the number of required fire, tornado and crisis drills. Monthly fire drills would drop to at least four per year, tornado drills would drop to at least two per year with one in September and another in March, and at least three crisis drills would be required per year during school hours.

Senate Bill 199 creates the AO-K to Work program allowing certain adults without high school diplomas or GEDs to earn a “high school equivalency credential” by participating in career pathways and earning an industry accepted credential.

What bills did not make it out of committee?

House bills of interest to KNEA that did not go to the floor.

  • House Bill 2071 creating the Proud Educator license plate. This bill was on the House floor for debate but passed over and did not return to debate.
  • House Bill 2166 requiring a financial literacy course for high school graduation (committee actually voted no on a motion to pass it out).
  • House Bill 2183 requiring a computer science course for high school graduation.
  • House Bill 2233 requiring school districts to give every teacher $500 to purchase school supplies.
  • House Bill 2256 establishing the community leadership service act.
  • House Bill 2287 restoring due process for Kansas teachers.
  • House Bill 2288 establishing the student and educator religious freedom of speech act.
  • House Bill 2330, a bullying bill based on one written by Walt Chappell.
  • House Bill 2078, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill responding to Gannon.
  • House Bill 2106, Rep. Jim Ward’s school finance bill responding to Gannon.
  • House Bill 2108 allowing at-risk funds to be used for evidence-based programs (the same bill was passed by the Senate as SB 16).
  • House Bill 2145 re-appropriating unspent special education funds to special education.
  • House Bill 2150 granting a private school voucher to any student who alleges bullying happened.
  • House Bill 2207 putting limits on requirements districts might place on contractors bidding on school construction/repair/remodeling.
  • House Bill 2257, the bullying bill proposed by Equality Kansas.

Senate bills of interest to KNEA that did not go to the floor.

  • Senate Bill 47 creating the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act and creating a post-secondary scholarship for a student who graduates from high school at the end of the junior year.
  • Senate Bill 52 restoring due process for Kansas teachers.
  • Senate Bill 148 putting limits on requirements districts might place on contractors bidding on school construction/repair/remodeling.
  • Senate Bill 44, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill responding to Gannon.
  • Senate Bill 142, a two-year school funding fix in response to Gannon.
  • Senate Bill 156, a school finance bill increasing the at-risk weighting.

The status of Senate Bill 22, the multi-national corporation tax cut bill

As we have reported here before, SB 22 passed the full Senate on a vote of 26 to 14 and was sent to the House. The Senate version of this bill provides nearly $190 million in tax cuts, most of which go to multi-national corporations. About 25% of the cut in this bill goes to a few individual taxpayers who will be allowed to itemize deductions on their Kansas income tax form even if they can’t on their federal form.

Under the Trump tax cuts, many people who used to itemize can no longer do so because of the increase in the standard deduction on the federal tax form. This could result in some Kansas taxpayers paying more in state income taxes.

During floor debate, Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said the bill benefits “working Kansans” but in reality it does not. Wagle noted in debate that without this bill about 9% of Kansas individuals are wealthy enough that they can still itemize under the new federal law. If SB 22 were to pass, another 9% of Kansas individuals would benefit from itemizing on their Kansas taxes. Those individuals would be a higher income levels. In other words, 82% of Kansans would get no benefit at all while multi-national corporations would.

The bill was amended in the House Tax Committee to include a one-cent reduction in the food sales tax and a new provision that would require all online vendors to collect and remit Kansas sales tax once they hit a threshold of $100,000 in sales in Kansas. This amended version of SB 22 now goes to the House floor and will likely be taken up shortly after legislators return on March 6.

KNEA strongly opposes Senate Bill 22. Kansas is now on the road to recovery after the disastrous impact of the Brownback tax policies. This is not the time to be considering another massive corporate tax giveaway.

We urge all Kansans to contact their representatives and tell them to vote NO on Senate Bill 22. Use the link below to contact your legislator. Let’s balance the budget, fund our schools, fix our foster care system, mend our corrections department, and fund our highway program. These are our shared priorities.

ALERT: Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan
CLICK Here to contact your legislator
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Some action, but still no funding solution.

Feb 26, 2019 by

Community College bill revisited, amended, and passed again; Religious “freedom of speech” bill dropped from consideration

The House Education Committee on Monday had been scheduled to work two bills – HB 2144 on community college reporting and HB 2288, the so-called “student and educator freedom of religious speech act.”

After a major amendment taking the worst parts of the original HB 2144 out of the bill, it was passed as a bill simply requiring community colleges to let students know which courses were transferrable to Regents institutions and to report some student demographic data. On a motion of Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) the bill was brought back to committee for reconsideration (this was possible because it had not yet been read in on the floor of the House and so was still under the control of the committee).

Smith had a small amendment brought to him by the community colleges that does not change the bill significantly but eases the burden on the colleges. The Smith amendment was adopted and the bill was again voted out of committee favorably for passage.

HB 2288 was sponsored by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and had Representatives Arnberger, Bergquist, Blex, Burris, Capps, Carlson, B. Carpenter, Collins, Delperdang, Dove, Garber, Helmer, Hoheisel, Houser, Howard, Humphries, Jacobs, Mason, Owens, Seiwert, E. Smith, Tarwater, Thimesch, Thomas, Vickrey, Waggoner and Wasinger, all Republicans, as co-sponsors.

The bill granted students rights they generally have under current law but would have implied in Kansas statute that teachers and other employees could violate the constitution in promoting their own religious beliefs with students. Kansas law today says that parents have control of their children’s “religious and moral” upbringing but HB 2288 would have granted educators broad rights to promote their own religious beliefs. Teachers carry their own personal religious beliefs with them at all times but in the public school, school employees aren’t allowed to promote those beliefs with students.

The bill was supported in the committee hearing by Rep. Erickson and a representative of the Family Policy Alliance. Opponents were KASB, KNEA, and the Mainstream Coalition. The bill, if passed, would encourage behavior among school employees that is clearly illegal under the United States Constitution as demonstrated by a long history of case law. As a result, lots of costly litigation would likely follow.

On Monday, the Committee had the bill on their agenda to work and vote on but at the last minute, Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka) who was chairing the committee in the absence of Rep. Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center), conferred briefly with Erickson and then adjourned the meeting without taking an action.

It would appear that the bill is now dead.

Bills on interest moving on the floor

Three bills of interest to KNEA were debated in the chambers today – one in the House and two in the Senate. All three bills were advanced and will face final action votes on Wednesday.

In the House, consideration was given to a bill sponsored by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta), HB 2006, which would require the Legislative Post Audit to review state economic development incentive programs every two years with an eye to determining if the state is getting a good return on investment.

These programs – and there are a lot of them – grant tax breaks or incentives to companies with the understanding that good paying jobs will be created in Kansas but there has never been a review to determine if jobs are actually being created.

The bill was amended to put them on a three year review cycle to ease the burden on the LPA and then passed. It will face a final action vote on Wednesday.

This is a good bill and Williams is to be commended for her efforts on this issue. The bill is long overdue. We urge legislators to pass the bill.

In the Senate there were votes on SB 128, a bill changing the requirements on emergency drills. Currently schools must hold one fire drill every month, this bill changes that to at least four per year. The bill reduces the number of tornado drills to at least two per year with one in September and one in March and requires at least three crisis drills to be held during school hours.

Overall, the number of drills is reduced and more focused. The bill will face a final action vote on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 16 also came up for debate. This bill would allow at-risk dollars to be spent on evidence-based student programs and specifically allows expenditures on Jobs for America’s Graduates and the Boys and Girls Club in addition to Communities in Schools which is listed in current law. The bill really doesn’t do much as schools can use their funds for this currently and at their discretion.

There was an attempt by Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) to amend two years of inflation funding increases into the bill. His rationale was that the Senate so far was not taking action on school finance and the Attorney General had expressed a desire to have school finance done by March 15 if there were no changes to the formula and March 1 if there were.

His amendment was defeated on a vote of 12 to 28 with all Republicans voting NO. All Democrats and John Doll (I-Garden City) voted YES for school funding.

SB 16 was then advanced without the Hensley amendment and will be considered for final action on Wednesday.

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A Bill to Arm Teachers and a Day on Equity & Transportation

Mar 22, 2018 by

Guns for Teachers

We’ve been wondering how long it would be before Kansas legislators got around to proposing the arming of teachers in our schools. Today’s the day.

Enter House Bill 2789 and Senate Bill 424, both creating the so-called “SAFER Act.” In the clever “language that means the opposite of what it actually does” world of ultra-conservatives, the bill purports to create the “Kansas Staff As First Emergency Responders act.” In this case, the “first emergency responders” would be classroom teachers.

Under the bill, school districts can supposedly choose to arm teachers and such teachers must hold a concealed carry permit and an additional level of permit known as the SAFER permit. These teachers would then be expected to pack a weapon at school and then confront an armed assailant.  The bill makes no provision for law enforcement to determine who might be the “bad shooter(s)” and who might be the “good shooter(s)” when the SWAT team arrives to find multiple people with weapons drawn and engaged in gunfire.

But before you think this is an exercise in “local control” for school districts, a section of the bill specifically states that in schools where teachers are not armed, should an incident take place the school district is deemed to have been negligent should there be a lawsuit or other court action.

Instead of providing resources to ensure that school buildings are secure; instead of passing legislation to control the proliferation of assault rifles (the weapon of choice in mass shootings, read more here) including universal background checks; instead of providing resources for mental health providers, HB 2789 and SB 424 simply throw guns at the problem and hope Miss Smith will just go out in the hall and shoot an intruder. Problem solved.

Kansas NEA’s position is that the safest schools are gun-free schools where the only armed persons on any school campus should be trained and licensed law enforcement personnel.  Our position is an informed position having consulted with law enforcement officials who train schools, businesses and community organizations for active shooter occurrences.  Our position aligns with our long-standing core values.

We feel it important to recognize as this debate continues to grow, that more teachers names will be engraved on the Memorial to Fallen Educators in Emporia, Kansas this June including the names of those that died to protect their students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Bill Bundling in the Senate Select School Finance Committee

Four bills were scheduled to be worked today in the Senate Select School Finance Committee today and worked they were!

Two of the bills – SB 422 and SB 423 – dealt with equity issues in SB 19 found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The other two – SB 352 and SB 450 – dealt with the transportation formula.

They started with SB 450, the bill by Sen. Bollier (R-Mission Hills) that addressed the “curve of best fit” in the transportation formula. Bollier proposed two amendments, both of which were adopted. The first directs the State Board of Education to determine how best to measure the distance from school to home for the purposes of determining whether or not a student met the 2.5-mile minimum distance. The second put in a grandfather clause intended to protect districts from negative changes.

Before moving SB 450 out of committee, they took up SB 352, a bill moving the funding of the transportation formula out of the State Highway Fund and into the State General Fund. This would save $107.3 million in highway money but require either an additional $107.3 million in general fund money for schools or for schools to simply absorb the cost of transportation in their budgets.

The Committee voted to bundle SB 450 into SB 352 and pass SB 352 out of committee and on to the full Senate.

Next up was SB 422, the bill mandating a 30% LOB, requiring notice to the State Board of Education of intent to increase the LOB by March 15, requiring a protest petition for LOB increases, requiring the transfer of some LOB funds to the at-risk fund, and linking state aid to the current year LOB. Two of the provisions in this bill are intended to address equity issues flagged by the Supreme Court (see bold type).

After much wrangling, the mandate 30% LOB was removed as was the required transfer to the at-risk fund. All other provisions remained the same.

Before passing the bill as an amendment, the Committee took up SB 423 which deals with the other two equity issues addressed in the Gannon decision. SB 423 would repeal the 10% at-risk floor and the expanded uses for capital outlay funds.

The Committee bundled the two bills together and sent the bill on to the full Senate for consideration.

House K-12 Budget Committee Also Dealing with Equity Provisions

The House Committee was also dealing the transportation and equity but instead of four bills, they had one, HB 2445.

Their work is not finished but today they approved a number of amendments to the bill.

An amendment by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) would restructure a list of scheduled LPA audits required under SB 19. Her amendment would remove reviews of the successful schools model of school funding (peer reviews found them to be not credible and lacking in rigor), re-order some studies of specific programs, and require cost function analysis “refreshers” every three years. The amendment was adopted along with one adjustment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) to move the special education review to 2019 and the virtual education review to 2023.

Another Rooker amendment to strike sunset dates on CTE funding and high density at-risk was adopted. Her third amendment removed the hoops that school districts have to jump through to get capital improvement state aid. That amendment also passed.

Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) made two attempts to change a provision lowering aid for out-of-state students which is scheduled to decline from 1.0 to 0.5 over a couple of years. His first attempt would simply repeal the reduction. That amendment failed.

Smith then proposed another amendment that would allow certain students to be fully funded and funding was essentially determined by geography – distance from the border of the student’s home state school and the Kansas school of attendance and other factors. After some discussion, Smith withdrew the amendment to give time for interested members of the committee to discuss the issue and craft a new amendment.

The Committee adjourned for the day with the understanding that they will be coming back to the bill later.

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Some Finance Talk but What about Due Process & Bullying?

Mar 12, 2018 by

What About Bullying and Due Process?

The Due Process Bill (HB 2757) and Bullying Policy Bill (HB 2758) have both been passed by the House and are not sitting in the Senate Education Committee. There has been no word yet as to whether or not Committee Chair Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) will schedule hearings on the bills.

KNEA supports both bills and has asked the Chair to consider holding hearings.

We urge our members to contact Committee Chair Baumgardner and Vice Chair Larry Alley (R-Winfield) and politely ask them to hold a hearing on these bills. They are both important to our teachers and our students.

CLICK HERE to send a message to Senate Ed Committee Chairpersons encouraging them to hear both bills.

Beginning to Talk About School Finance…Kind Of

The House K-12 Budget Committee and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance both held bill hearings today that are beginning to sound like addressing school funding issues.

In the House Committee, Chairman Fred Patton (R-Topeka) held a hearing on HB 2636, a bill repealing some provisions of a law passed in SB 19, last year’s school finance bill. These provisions had the State Board of Education reviewing bond proposals if those bonds would be in excess of 14% of the district’s assessed valuation. The bill put a number of restrictions on the SBOE in those reviews – most specifically that the applications for additional bond authority do not exceed the total principal amount of general obligation bonds retired in the immediately preceding school year. And if total applications exceed that amount, the SBOE must prioritize applications.

HB 2636 would repeal all of these restrictions.

Proponents of the bill including KASB, USA, KSSA, a number of school districts, two large construction groups, and two investment banking groups. The only opponent was Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute.

No action was taken on the bill today.

Later, in the Senate committee, Chair Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) held a hearing on SB 423 which would repeal two provisions of SB 19 that the Supreme Court found to be violations of equity.

The first of those provisions was the 10% at-risk floor under which a district that had fewer than 10% of its students eligible for free lunch would receive at-risk funding as if they did have 10%. There are only two school districts in the state that would have qualified.

The discussion indicated that some Senators still cannot seem to understand that poverty is used as a proxy for at-risk because there is a significant correlation between living in poverty and the potential for not finishing school. The money, while generated by poverty, does not follow the child. It is used to provide at-risk program support for any student who meets factors for at-risk behaviors regardless of the student’s wealth.

The second issue being repealed in the bill is the expansion of uses of capital outlay funds. SB 19 allows school districts to use capital outlay funds for utilities and property and casualty insurance. Prior to this year, this was not allowed. The Supreme Court determined that this too violated equity.

Passage of the bill would address two of the four equity issues the Court flagged.

No action was taken today.

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Mostly quiet today… mostly.

May 8, 2017 by

As legislators returned to the statehouse today, most were looking forward to a week of steady, but not necessarily frantic work.  The full House gathered briefly this morning, but our attention was drawn to the Old Supreme Court room where the House K-12 Budget Committee was to meet.  And meet they did, for about 2.5 hours to work on Proposed Substitute for House Bill 2410.  This is the bill the committee is working to amend, tighten, and present as the fix to school funding that will hopefully pass court muster.

Last week, former Senator Jeff King who has been hired as legal counsel, basically said that it is time for gamesmanship to end and that the Supreme Court ruling on adequacy was a very direct charge to provide full constitutional funding for all public schools and that particular attention should be given to students identified as “at-risk.”  King’s remarks essentially shut down the argument brought by some staunch conservatives that adequacy was only about at-risk students and not about providing full constitutional funding for all public schools.

Still, some ideologies are hard to break, to whit, Rep. Brenda Landwehr was one of the first to speak at the opening of the committee meeting.  Landwehr expressed- in no uncertain terms- her belief that the current bill up for consideration failed to deliver mechanisms for accountability and the consequences necessary to punish districts who did not meet new accreditation requirements due to lack of adequate academic progress.  It seems that the “test and punish” culture of “no child left behind” is something Landwehr refuses to leave behind.  Others like Rep. Scott Schwab agreed with Landwehr.  “We’re in a catch 22” Schwab lamented, stating that new accreditation requirements fail to address individual failing schools within a district (although he admitted there are few), and that the cycle would eventually mean “I’m back in court.”  Rep. Melissa Rooker, one of the bill’s chief architects, was able to assure the committee that there are mechanisms in place to ensure accountability while also providing for paths to success and improvement.

More amendments followed, all were carried favorably, although some after vigorous discussion.  Chief among them were:

  • Provision to “grandfather” districts such that none lose transportation funding under a move to a new transportation formula.
  • Amendment by Rep Rooker to count pre-k at risk students in current year rather than previous year so that more can access a special pool of state funding for building new early childhood, at-risk programs.  Rooker suggested that although the pool of money was relatively small $2 million, it was one more step the legislature could take to show that it recognizes how “extraordinarily important” early childhood and at-risk programs are.
  • Another Rooker amendment seeks to tighten language under the current definition of “at-risk.”  (See a draft of proposed changes here).

One final amendment proposed by Rep Landwehr, but ultimately withdrawn, sought to impose upon the KSDE to create a new report to the legislature.  This report would be a “quick look” style report of information gathered from other existing reports.  Several committee members were opposed to adding this unfunded responsibility to KSDE, citing increased pressure on staff and resources to create a report that essentially duplicates other reports.  KSDE’s venerable Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis responded in his typical endearing and folksy way to a committee member who asked if this would present an increased workload on already stretched staff.  “I’ll be shot if I say yes, but I’d be lying if I say no.”  Landwehr ultimately withdrew the amendment but promised to revise it and bring it back to the committee.

No announcement was made for the next committee meeting time, although legislative schedules show a standing meeting throughout the week.

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