It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Wurst of Times…

May 15, 2017 by

Yes, it did start out as “the best of times” as the House K-12 Budget Committee over weeks of work and hours of debate crafted HB 2410, a five-year plan to phase in an increase of $750 million new dollars to public schools. It was a bill with an excellent policy structure that represented real hope for starved school districts across Kansas.

There was some debate about the total dollar amount – after all the State Board of Education had recommended a higher number – and there was some additional debate about whether or not a five-year phase in was too long, but nevertheless, supporters of public education saw that the Committee was on the right path.

But today we saw the “Wurst of Times.” And we do mean WURST!

It is said that the two things you should never watch being made are sausage and laws. Today the Committee produced a mix of bratwurst, knockwurst, andouille, and chorizo. They really did make sausage in the Committee room today.

By the end of the meeting, a robust bill that had been crafted with the idea of meeting overall funding adequacy and targeting funding to the students who need the most help, turned into the adoption of an anemic bill that- in the words of one Committee member- will have them “laughed out of court.” They took the bill through a four-hour debate and a series of motions, substitute motions, and divided motions and ended up with a bill they could only vote out with no recommendation.

At the start of the meeting today, the bill had five years of new funding; the first year at $179 million and each of the four succeeding years at $150 million for a total of $779 million over five years. After that, funding increases would equal the Consumer Price Index – Midwest. What ultimately passed had the $179 million for year one and an additional $100 million in year two after which CPI calculation would be used for a total of $279 million over two years.

Under the bill at the start of the meeting, base aid would begin at $4,006 per pupil in the first year and increase by $200 each of the next four years ending in year five at $4,806 per pupil. The bill that came out of committee would start with $4,006 per pupil in the first year and top out at an estimated $4,342 in the fifth year.

The saddest part of this sausage-fest was how the dialogue was changed. Up until today, the discussion was about our students and meeting their needs. That discussion led to the crafting of a good education policy bill and to a much more robust funding bill. Today, the consideration of student need was abandoned for a consideration of how much the politicians wanted to raise in a tax bill. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated that the most conservative members of the committee are still tied to Governor Brownback and his failed tax strategies. Reversing Brownback’s disastrous 2012 tax experiment would allow them to adequately fund our public education system and return stability to state services.

The bill now moves to the House floor where it will be debated. We remain hopeful that a strong majority of House members are committed to seeing the Brownback mess cleaned up and our schools adequately and constitutionally funded.

Remember that there are many steps remaining in this process. The bill needs to be passed by the House (hopefully after some good amendments). From there it goes to the Senate where it is subject to Committee hearings, committee amendments, and a floor debate with more amendments possible. If it comes out of the Senate in a different form from the one passed by the House, it will have to go to conference committee for those differences to be negotiated. In other words, we are far from finished. There will be opportunities to turn this “wurst” into something tasty.

 

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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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K-12 Committee Finishes Finance Plan Bill

Apr 5, 2017 by

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee met this afternoon to finish their amendments to HB 2410. They began with opening comments by Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe). Campbell said it was his intention to finish the amendment/debate work today but not to pass the bill out of committee. Instead, he hopes that the three-week legislative break in April will allow stakeholder groups, other legislators, legislative counsel, and the revisor’s office to thoroughly digest the bill. The Committee will then meet at the start of the veto session in May and “kick it out” of committee.

The first amendment to be taken up was Rep. Adam Smith’s (R-Weskan) amendment on transportation that was on hold since last week. Working with the Department of Education, Smith adjusted his amendment such that an algebra issue is fixed but he added a hold harmless provision so no districts lose money. About 25 districts will gain. The amendment was adopted. KNEA supports a hold harmless provision.

The next amendment adopted was from Rep. Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie). It changed the corporate tuition tax credit program so that eligible students would have to be from one of the schools in the lowest quartile of student achievement as determined by the KSDE. This would triple the number of schools from which eligible students may be chosen. With other amendments adopted last week, the program would limit eligible students to those direct certified by DCF as in poverty and limit receiving private schools to accredited schools that outperform the state average on either post-secondary success or ACT composite scores. KNEA opposes expansion of eligible schools and supports limiting schools to SBOE accredited schools; KNEA supports repeal of the program in its entirety.

Next were a series of amendments offered by Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). The first would disallow virtual students from out of district to be counted for the calculation of assessed valuation per pupil. This would reduce capital outlay and LOB aid (more on that in a minute) because only resident students would count in the calculation and would save the state about $3.8 million. This amendment was adopted.

Next Aurand moved to distribute the $3.8 million in savings over to career and technical education programs. This amendment failed.

Aurand’s next amendment, which passed, changes the name of the LOB from “Local Option Budget” to “Local Foundation Budget.” He asserted that this more accurately represents the fact that the LOB morphed from extra money to de facto base aid. So the LOB (mentioned above) will now be called the LFB if the bill passes.

A subsequent amendment by Aurand to require an election for any LFB funding above 30% (the last 3%) failed on a vote of 7 to 9.

With all of these amendments now disposed of, they got on to the big issue – the setting of the base state aid per pupil.

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) moved to set the base at $4040/pupil in the first year at a cost of $172 million. The base would be increased by $200 per pupil in each of the succeeding 4 years at a cost of $150 million per year. This would be a total increase of $772 million over five years. There was an 8 to 8 tie vote which was broken by the Chairman who voted no. The motion failed.

Rooker then moved to set the base at $4006/pupil in the first year at a cost of $150 million. The base would be increased by $200/pupil in each of the succeeding 4 years at a cost of $150 million per year. This would be a total increase of $750 million over five years. This motion was adopted by a vote of 9 to 6.

With the bill finished, Campbell announced that the final written product would be available sometime over the next couple of days and posted on the KSDE website along with cost runs developed by the Department.


Governor Inserting Himself in Tax Debate

The news out today on the tax reform debate is that the Governor – who created the disastrous tax experiment that has left Kansas on the brink of bankruptcy – has decided to create a new tax plan.

Word was that this plan would include keeping two brackets and mixing in a little cigarette and liquor taxes. No word on his intentions on the LLC loophole or the glide path to zero but we assume he would not dare to reverse his signature tax policies. His plan was to skirt the full Senate and House and send his plan straight to a tax conference committee, letting only six legislators have any real say in the plan.

That did not go over well with any members of the Republican caucus. Senators on the conservative and moderate sides of the caucus both blasted the idea of cutting them out of the discussion.

Now the Governor has announced that he would sign a flat tax bill should the legislature send him one. Of course, a flat tax punishes middle and low-income Kansans for the benefit of the wealthy (MORE HERE) and would do nothing to solve the disaster brought on by the Governor’s last tax plan.

Kansas needs tax reform that will reverse the Governor’s failed experiment. End the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, re-establish the third tax bracket for upper-income Kansans. Kansas desperately needs revenue to put highway maintenance back on track, to hire correctional officers and highway patrol officers, to fund the social service safety net, and to respond appropriately to the Supreme Court decision on school finance. No plan proposed yet this session would do this.

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Kansas Day Under the Dome

Jan 30, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Kansas Day celebrated in the statehouse.
  • Budget cuts- possibly to education- are being discussed as part of a strategy to deal with a $350 million shortfall.
  • Cuts to KPERS not included in House Appropriations committee report.
  • Consolidation of district purchases and health care plans will be heard in committee later in the week.
  • Hearing in House committee this week on bill allowing colleges to restrict guns on campus (identical to Senate bill from last week).
  • A comprehensive, sensible, long-term plan for dealing with Governor Brownback’s revenue disaster introduced as a bill in House Tax committee.  Plan known as “Rise Up Kansas!” has support from several organizations including KNEA.
  • New concerns have been raised regarding the new rules for Working After Retirement from both employers, employees and retirees.
  • To see a complete explanation of the rules and exceptions please see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARschools.pdf

Today is the day for legislators to celebrate Kansas Day. This includes showing a film about the writing of “Home on the Range” and a performance of the song by Michael Martin Murphey on the Senate floor.


Budget Talks Happening; Rumors Still Abound

There were few committee meetings today but that does not mean things are not moving. Committees are moving toward presenting a solution to the $350 million shortfall in the FY 2017 budget. There are still moving parts and some still believe there might be some level of across the board cuts which would include the possibility of cuts to education.

The education report before the House Appropriations committee does not include the Governor’s irresponsible cuts to KPERS funding. The full committee will take up the issue later this week.

Also up this week will be hearings on a bill to consolidate school district purchases on a state level and another to consolidate school district health care plans. Both were part of the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study and both were included in the Governor’s budget plan. Some people believe the discussion of the health care consolidation will be canceled while the await an upcoming report on the issue by the Legislative Post Audit Division. While both of these bills were introduced as a courtesy to the Governor and to spur discussion, neither seems to have much popular support at this time.

Meanwhile, the tax committees continue to examine various tax solutions with an eye to reversing the damage that is being done to Kansas by the reckless 2012 tax cuts touted by Governor Brownback as just the thing to provide “a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Kansas economy.” This week the House Taxation Committee will be looking at sales tax exemptions; income tax brackets and the glide path to zero income tax; taxes on cigarettes, liquor, and motor fuel; and how retirement benefits are taxed.

Also up this week will be a hearing on the House version of the bill to allow colleges to determine whether or not firearms may be carried on campus. The hearing in the Senate last week found lots of support for repealing the current law which requires colleges to allow guns after July 1, 2017 unless they provide security at all entrances to every building. The Senate hearing happened on the same day it was revealed that Rep. Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) left a loaded handgun in a committee room. Thankfully it was found and turned in to police by a responsible adult and not picked up by one of the hundreds of school children that tour the Capitol every day.


Rise Up Tax Plan Introduced

With an eye to fixing the damage done by the disastrous 2012 tax plans, a new comprehensive proposal was introduced today in the House Tax Committee.

The RISE UP plan as it is called was put together after lots of research and examination of what changes would provide for a restored Kansas. Among the components of the plan are the repeal of the LLC exemption, ending the glide path to zero income tax, adding a new higher income tax bracket, reducing the sales tax on food, and adding an increase in the motor fuels tax. KNEA is among the organizations supporting RISE UP along with Kansas Action for Children, AFT/KOSE, the Kansas Contractors Association, and the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.

Read more about the Rise Up plan at www.riseupkansas.org.

Also introduced today was a bill by the Kansas chapter of the American Cancer Society that would raise the cigarette tax by $1.50/pack and the tobacco products tax by an equivalent amount. This would be a greater tax increase on cigarettes and tobacco than the Govenor’s proposal. Brownback has sought a cigarette tax increase of $1.50 and was given a $0.50/pack increase in an earlier session. He has recommended an additional $1.00/pack this year.


Working After Retirement- WAR

The topic of Working After Retirement is again the subject of study for a subcommittee of the House Financial Institutions and Pension Committee. The subcommittee is Co-Chaired by Representatives Jim Kelly and Representative Dan Hawkins.  New concerns have been raised regarding the new rules for Working After Retirement from both employers, employees and retirees. The subcommittee met on Monday to hear and review the concerns from school districts, local governments, and KNEA.

At the center of the concerns are the number of exemptions to the rules for WAR. Currently, anyone who retirees from an employer with employees covered by the KPERS system has a $25,000 annual earnings cap. For example, if an employee retires and returns to work they have a $25,000 earnings cap in a calendar year. Once that cap is reached then the employee must stop working or basically “Unretire”. There are exceptions to the rule including those retirees who are “grandfathered” in under the previous rules that reached sunset on July 1, 2016.

To see a complete explanation of the rules and exceptions please see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARschools.pdf  Pages 2-3 offer an explanation to exceptions for K-12. For Community College and Tech College employees and retirees see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARcommtech.pdf which has the explanations of exceptions for Community College and Tech College employees.

KNEA’s position is that the new rules are complicated and need to be simplified for all those involved with Working After Retirement. There are times that intelligent and well-meaning people sometimes over complicate a problem while working to solve that very problem. If there is an unfilled teaching position, no matter what the cause of the opening, it is important to find a qualified and willing person to fill that position. The new rules seem to be a hindrance to the hiring of a willing and qualified applicant based solely on the fact that they had previously worked for a KPERS employer. Working towards simplifying the rules for both employers and employees is a goal that KNEA would recommend.

The subcommittee will most likely meet again on Wednesday after the regular meeting of the House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee.

 

 

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Brownback’s Fiscal Disaster Continues

Sep 6, 2016 by

Financial cliff or fiscal risk and dangerous challenges regarding the risk in investing and finance management pit falls with a highway in the shape of a dollar symbol on the edge of a hazardous cliff.

Kansans are unhappy with Brownback AND his legislative allies

Under the leadership of Governor Sam Brownback and the willing participation of conservative Republicans in the legislature, the state budget continues its long collapse.

Just the other day, it was revealed that tax receipts for August were off yet again; this time by $10.5 million. Nearly every month since the Brownback tax policy passed by his conservative legislative allies in 2012 took effect, collections have missed the mark. Even after Brownback and his allies passed the largest tax increase in state history, dramatically increasing sales taxes and slashing your income tax deductions, revenue continues to decline.

Last month state agencies were directed to prepare budgets showing what a 5% cut would look like. And with the August revenue collections being off once again, it’s looking more and more likely that those cuts could be a reality for agencies already reeling from the loss of funding.

And while you might think that $10.5 million is not really a lot of money in a state budget, remember that the revenue collection estimates have been repeatedly ratcheted down as collections come in below expectations.

All of this is having an impact on the Brownback allies. After being ignored by their representatives in the House and Senate, Kansas voters have decided to take matters into their own hands and in the August primary election, many of Brownback’s allies were ousted in favor of more moderate, responsible Republicans. And let’s not forget that there is another chance for voters to be heard in the November election.

Those Brownback allies still in office but facing a challenge in the November election are Senators Dennis Pyle, Steve Fitzgerald, Jim Denning, Julie Lynn, Mary Pilcher Cook, Ty Masterson, Rob Olson, Mike Petersen, and Susan Wagle and Representatives Kevin Jones, Jene Vickrey, Keith Esau, Amanda Grosserode, James Todd, Willie Dove, John Bradford, Tony Barton, Marvin Kleeb, Scott Schwab, Ron Highland, Ken Corbet, Lane Hemsley, JR Claeys, Marc Rhoades, Will Carpenter, Pete DeGraaf, Joe Scapa, John Whitmer, and Kyle Hoffman.

Voters have choices in all of those races this November and it’s beginning to look like living a life of fealty to Sam Brownback instead of to your constituents might not be good for your electoral health.

A new poll commissioned by Republican Senate Leadership is bad news for those on the above list. When asked if they would vote for a Senator who supports the Brownback agenda, 57% of voters say they would cast their ballot for the Democrat. Only 21% of voters have a favorable view of Brownback and only 19% look favorably upon the legislature – the legislature that has blindly followed Brownback down the path to fiscal collapse. A full 75% of voters called the Brownback tax plan unfair.

Voters were asked which issues were of greatest importance to them. Leading the pack was K-12 education, the number one issue for 35% of voters. Tied for second place at 15% were state government spending and job creation.

You can read all about the poll in a Topeka Capital-Journal article. Click here.

 

 

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