Vouchers, New Bills, & Changes in Leadership

Feb 5, 2018 by

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

Vouchers disguised as “scholarships?”

The House has a voucher bill, introduced in the Appropriations Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). This bill called the “Kansas Empowerment Scholarship Act, HB 2609, would allow a parent to sign an agreement with the State Treasurer promising to not enroll a child in the local public school. For this, the state would put 80% of the base aid that would have been spent on the child into a special fund and use that money to reimburse the parent for education expenses at a “participating learning entity.” And yes, that entity could be a homeschool providing the homeschool is registered with the State Department of Education. There would be no accountability measures on “participating learning entities.”

The Senate has a scholarship bill as well, but it’s not a voucher proposal per se. Senate bill 366, the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act, introduced at the request of Sen. Mike Petersen (R-Wichita), provides that if a student in a public high school graduates by September 20 of what would be his/her senior year, then 95% of base aid that would have been sent to the USD for that student will be used as a post-secondary scholarship provided the student is enrolled in a Kansas public post-secondary institution or a private post-secondary institution that is accredited and has a physical presence in Kansas. The other 5% of base aid would go to the school district from which the student graduated.

New Bills Introduced on Last Day for Committee Bill Introductions

Two new bills were introduced in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee today. Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) introduced a bill changing the multiplier in the transportation formula for students living more than 2.5 miles from home. Aurand told the committee this was intended to be in line with a recommendation from Post Audit.

Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) introduced a new school finance formula bill. We will be anxious to see what’s in this one. It’s the first new finance bill of the session.

Four new bills were introduced in the House Education Committee. Aurand introduced two bills; one dealing with the transfer of territory between districts and the other is a “building finance transparency act.” This bill, according to his explanation deals with letting people know how money goes from the central office to the school and is spent.

Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) introduced a bill on access to ABA therapy for students with autism. This is an issue Schwab fought for last year and in withdrawing it from consideration in the school finance bill last year, he was promised a hearing on the idea in Aurand’s education committee this year.

Finally, Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park) introduced a bill dealing with disclosure on gifts and grants to post-secondary institutions.

None of these bills are available for reading at this time. We expect them in the next few days.

Campbell Out, Patton In

Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has resigned his seat in the legislature to take the position of Budget Director in the Colyer administration. Campbell has served as chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee. House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) appointed Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) to replace Campbell as chair of the committee. We still do not know who will be taking Campbell’s committee seat.

Campbell was a fair and even-handed committee leader (facilitator, he liked to say) and we would expect Patton to lead in a very similar fashion.

Congratulations to both men. It will be up to precinct committee chairs in Campbell’s district to choose his successor.

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Courts & Committee Wrestle With Due Process

Jan 24, 2018 by

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Kansas NEA supports full restoration of due process and fair dismissal rights for all Kansas teachers.

Action in the Supreme Court

Today, Kansas NEA General Counsel, David Schauner, argued before the Supreme Court that the action taken by the Kansas Legislature in 2014 effectively took away earned property (due process rights) and did so without any due process and in violation of the 14th Amendment.  Today’s case was brought before the court on behalf of two teachers, KNEA members, who are unwilling to allow their property rights – and ultimately those of thousands of their colleagues – to be taken from them by the government without challenge.  If these teacher members of KNEA prevail and the Supreme Court finds that the state did unlawfully strip them of their rights in 2014, it will not mean a full restoration of due process for all Kansas teachers.  However, with a bill to do just that sitting in the House Education Committee, KNEA and its members are demonstrating absolute resolve and determination to restore these rights for all Kansas teachers.

An attorney for Flinthills USD 492, where one of the teachers worked prior to having been terminated without cause in 2015, argued that the only recourse for citizens challenging an action of the Legislature was to cast a ballot in an election.  One of the Justices asked the school district’s attorney if he believed that a dead-of-night ‘lock-in’ by the legislature represented sufficient due process to pass a bill that had no hearing and was amended to include the elimination of due process for teachers.  He answered in the affirmative.

We can’t help but wonder how the complainant school districts in the ongoing Gannon school funding case reacted to hearing an attorney representing a school district argue that the only remedy for what may be a defective legislative process is a vote on election day.  Apparently, this school district believes that once voted into power, the Kansas Legislature has unlimited authority to pass any law, anytime, and without any opportunity for public input – including the taking of property.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by anyone with an eye on the current Kansas Legislature that the chambers have a long history of defective and deceptive practices.   An investigation by the Kansas City Star found that the Kansas Legislature has made a practice of working in secret, refusing to identify themselves as bill sponsors and routinely practicing a procedure known as “gut and go” in which bills are stripped of their original contents and filled with completely unrelated policy in order to advance ideas that might find opposition in a public hearing.

Just this week, bills have been introduced to clean up these processes and afford citizens true transparency in order to see clearly what their elected officials are doing in Topeka.  We believe that Senate Substitute for House Bill 2506 passed in 2014 is the living legacy of a legislative defect.  It was the bill that log-rolled the elimination of teacher due process and a number of other controversial issues into it, while most Kansans were sound asleep.

As for today’s case, we’ll have to wait and see if the Supreme Court agrees with KNEA and with many in the Legislature today that defective Legislative processes shouldn’t cost citizens their 14th Amendment property rights.

Action in the House Education Committee

What might have started as a promising hearing in the House Education Committee ended as it did last year with the Chairman, Rep. Aurand (R- Belleville) ignoring the will of the committee.  A bill before the committee (HB 2483) seeks to restore due process only for those teachers who earned it prior to legislative action to eliminate due process in 2014 AND who have also maintained uninterrupted employment in the same district.  No other teachers would have due process rights nor could they earn them.  Effectively, this bill creates a two-class system and as those who would have their rights restored leave the profession, due process would be phased out entirely.

The only proponent of this bill was the committee Chairman Rep. Clay Aurand.  Rep. Aurand first sought to use the tiered KPERS system as an analog for what this bill would accomplish.  KNEA’s lobbyist Mark Desetti pointed out in his comments that the KPERS tiered system came about through many discussions, open hearings and in response to a need to stabilize the system.  However, due process rights were stripped from teachers without any hearing (or even a bill introduction) and in the dark of night in April of 2014 and only after Representatives were locked into the House Chamber to secure a final vote.

Rep. Aurand continued to suggest that compromise is needed in order to craft a new fair dismissal policy for teachers.  What Aurand failed to acknowledge is that a compromise would require one group (KNEA) to forfeit one of its core values.  KASB has already stated a position indicating support for having school boards be the final arbiter in termination disputes. In effect, they have no need to compromise because their position is already assured.  It should be noted that Rep. Aurand is also a sitting school board member in Kansas.

Comments from committee members indicate that a majority support fair dismissal procedures for all Kansas teachers.  As the hearing drew to a close, Rep. Stogsdill (D- Prairie Village) made a motion to bring last year’s bill (HB 2179) which restores due process for all teachers, up for action in the committee.  However, Chairman Aurand ruled the motion out of order.  He then stated that he has no intention of working either bill without substantive compromise.  Rep. Ousley (D- Merriam) then pointed out that Rep. Aurand acknowledged earlier during the hearing that the full House of Representatives passed the bill restoring full due process for all teachers last year, establishing a House position.  Rep. Ousley suggested that Chairman Aurand was directing the House to compromise their own position.  It would appear that Chairman Aurand believes that the will of a committee Chair should supersede the will of the majority of the Kansas House of Representatives.

No further action has been indicated at this time.  We will continue to advocate for the full restoration of due process rights as they existed prior to 2014.  We will keep you informed as the session moves forward.

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A Due Process Bill? Otherwise a Quiet Week

Jan 22, 2018 by

When is the restoration of due process, not the restoration of due process?

The answer is when it is written in the form it is in House Bill 2483.

Some people mistakenly believe that HB 2483, a bill by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), would restore due process or fair dismissal protections to Kansas teachers but it only does so selectively.

Under HB 2483, if you are a teacher who had already earned due process prior to June 30, 2014, AND have been continuously employed by the same school district ever since, you get due process.

If for some reason you changed districts? You do not ever get due process.

If you are a teacher hired since 2014? You do not ever get due process.

If you were teaching prior to the repeal but had not yet earned due process? You do not ever get due process.

If you earned due process prior to the repeal and promise never, ever to leave your current district? You’re the winner! You get and keep your due process.

House Bill 2483 establishes a two-tier teaching profession in Kansas. There are older, veteran teachers that the legislature would deem worthy of due process and then there are new teachers who can never be considered worthy of due process. The message to potential teachers is clear – “you will never be good enough for us.” We can envision the classic grumpy old man sitting on his porch and mumbling about “this generation!”

Our position has never waivered. All teachers must be able to earn due process/fair dismissal protections. We believe that a school district must rigorously evaluate teachers and document their performance in the classroom. If after three years a teacher has been determined to be competent and is offered a fourth year of employment, then that teacher must be given a reason for non-renewal and have the opportunity to have the documentation for that reason reviewed by an impartial third party.

We don’t hold this position just for veteran teachers. We hold this position for ALL teachers.

After a three year probationary period – during which a teacher may be non-renewed for any reason without recourse to an impartial third party – a teacher has the right to be told why he/she is being non-renewed and have the opportunity for impartial third party review.

House Bill 2483 does not restore due process – it lets due process protections for teachers die a slow death. Eventually, as all our veteran, “grandfathered” teachers retire, due process will end entirely. There is no restoration of due process in HB 2483.

The legislature needs to take HB 2483 and amend it so that all teachers once again have the right to earn due process. It is time to right the wrongs of the 2014 Kansas legislature and show Kansas teachers that they are respected and trusted.

HB 2483 will have a hearing in the House Education Committee at 3:30 on Wednesday.

A very quiet week

Every Thursday we get a sneak peek at the upcoming legislative calendar for the next week. Then we look for any additions to the calendar on Friday. We did this as usual last week and found that very few of the committees we follow most closely had prepared agendas. Mostly it was “Meeting on call of the Chair.”

Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee? Meetings on call all week. House K-12 Budget Committee? Meetings on call all week. House Taxation Committee? A report on the state of the Kansas economy on Monday, then on call for the rest of the week. The House and Senate Education Committees will meet the Kansas Teacher of the Year Team on Tuesday. The Senate Committee will also meet to hear about mental health arrangements and career and technical education while the House Committee will hold hearings on HB 2483 (see above) and HB 2485, a school transportation bill calling for students to be transported when there is no safe route to school.

We’ll keep watching the calendar for changes and listening for “called committee meetings,” but it’s looking right now like a relatively quiet week under the dome.

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A Day for Obstructionism

Feb 20, 2017 by

Aurand Stops Due Process Bill. Again.

House Ed Committee Chairman, Clay Aurand

We came into the office today ready for the 3:30 pm meeting of the House Education Committee when Chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) had scheduled time for working on bills. We were anxious to see if supporters of Kansas public school teachers on the committee would finally get to vote on HB 2179, the bill restoring due process protections for teachers in Kansas.

Up to this point Chairman Aurand has used every trick at his disposal (or so we thought) to bottle the bill up in his effort to kill it and yet not me counted for voting against it. But it wasn’t long before we realized that Aurand had one more trick – in announcements at the end of this morning’s full House session, he simply announced that the committee meeting for today was canceled. He was determined that the bill would never come to a vote. Today was the last day for committee meetings and any bill not passed by Thursday of this week is dead for the session.

Aurand is trying to convince folks that he’s a good guy just hoping that KNEA and KASB can come to some sort of “compromise” on due process.  But it isn’t lost on anyone that Representative Aurand is a sitting school board member in a district without due process rights. Aurand has declared before his committee that it was never his intent to work this bill, regardless of the committee’s will to do so.  KNEA and KASB can come to compromise on some issues in the due process statute. We can find compromises that speed up the process and reduce costs, for example. But we remain and will continue to remain in opposition over the issue of whether or not a due process hearing decision is binding on the school board.

From its beginnings in the 1950’s until 1991, due process hearings ended in a decision that was advisory to the board. School boards back then did not accept any advisory opinion that went against the district and supported the teacher. That’s why in 1991, the legislature voted to change the system to a binding decision. After all, what’s the purpose of the hearing if the board can unilaterally ignore the ruling? That’s NOT due process.

Aurand’s insistence that we “compromise” on this is actually an insistence that we simply give up and agree that boards of education are infallible.

Aurand’s actions are reminiscent of the actions taken by former speaker Ray Merrick and his anti-teacher allies who crammed the repeal of due process into a must-pass finance bill at 4:00 in the morning without any opportunity for public discussion or debate. Like Aurand, who knows his committee supports the bill, Merrick knew he did not have enough anti-teacher votes to pass the repeal unless it was attached to something critical. Merrick found a way around the will of the legislature. Aurand is doing the same using his power as a committee chairman without regard to the will of the majority on his own committee.

Barker and Hawkins Stop Medicaid Expansion

Today was also the day on which we expected the Medicaid expansion bill, HB 2064, to be passed out of committee.

Yet once again, the committee chair used his power to get the committee to essentially kill the bill.

In this case, Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene) argued that Medicaid expansion would be too expensive and should wait until the Supreme Court weighed in on the Gannon school finance lawsuit. If the Court called for $500 million more for schools, then there would be no money for Medicaid expansion. Brownback has asserted that expansion would cost the state about $100 million over two years. Of course, it would also bring hundreds of millions of dollars into Kansas.

Barker made a motion to table the bill until April. It had a vote of 8 to 8 which normally kills a motion unless the Chair of the Committee chooses to break the tie. In this case, Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), an opponent of expansion, voted for the motion.

What this means is that the committee can’t reconsider the bill until April but, since Thursday is the last day for bills to come out of the chamber or origin, the motion actually has the effect of killing the bill for this session.

Looks like this might be the hallmark of the 2017 legislative session. A new legislature, a majority of whom support Medicaid expansion and public school teachers and campaigned on changing the dialogue in Topeka are being denied the chance to vote on core issues because of the leaders who were installed as committee chairs.

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Taxes, Due Process, & Tempers that Flare; Just Another Day Under the Dome

Feb 15, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • KNEA supports House tax bill believing there is room for improvement, but it is a good first step.
  • The bill repeals the LLC income tax loophole beginning with tax year 2017, ends the glide path to zero income taxes, and sets three income tax brackets at 2.70 percent, 5.25 percent, and 5.45 percent.
  • This was our first chance to see how the moderate Republicans and Democrats would cooperate and they did not disappoint.
  • Fallout continues from yesterday’s House Education Committee hearing on due process.
  • Aurand’s announcement that he did not plan to work the bill at all angered not only the proponents who testified in the hearing but also the majority of committee members who are ready and willing to pass the bill.
  • Leaders from KNEA (bill proponent) and KASB (bill opponent) met to discuss concerns and look for a path forward.
  • Chairman Aurand has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday afternoon for the purpose of “considering bills already heard.” There are only three bills that this could apply to and one of them is HB 2179.
  • We urge our members and friends to continue to let Chairman Aurand know that this bill needs a fair hearing and a vote. You can email Chairman Aurand at clay.aurand@house.ks.gov.

House Advances Tax Bill Reversing Much of Brownback’s Policy

It was a surprise this morning when the full House voted to advance House Sub for HB 2178, the tax bill crafted in the committee last week. It only took a few minutes and there was not debate at all; no amendments offered.

This is quite unusual since tax bills generally generate a vigorous debate and more than their fair share of amendments.

KNEA supports this bill. We do believe it could be improved but it is a good first step in the move to reverse the reckless and irresponsible tax cuts of 2012-13.

The bill repeals the LLC income tax loophole beginning with tax year 2017, ends the glide path to zero income taxes, and sets three income tax brackets at 2.70 percent, 5.25 percent, and 5.45 percent.

This was our first chance to see how the moderate Republicans and Democrats would cooperate and they did not disappoint. 46 Republicans and 37 Democrats vote for the bill while 36 Republicans and 3 Democrats voted NO. The bill was advanced to final action on a vote of 83 to 39.

We’ll see tomorrow how the final action vote goes!

Here’s how they voted (Democrats in bold italics):

Voting AYE were Alcala, Alford, Baker, Ballard, Becker, Bishop, Blex, Brim, Campbell, Carlin, Carmichael, Clark, Clayton, Concannon, Cox, Crum, Curtis, Deere, Dierks, Dietrich, Dove, Elliott, Eplee, Finney, Francis, Frownfelter, Gallagher, Gartner, Good, Helgerson, Henderson, Hibbard, Highberger, Hineman, Holscher, Jennings, Johnson, Judd-Jenkins, Karleskint, Kelly, Kessinger, Koesten, Kuether, Lakin, Lewis, Lusk, Lusker, Markley, Mason, Miller, Murnan, Neighbor, Ohaebosim, Orr, Ousley, Parker, Patton, Phelps, Phillips, Pittman, Proehl, Rahjes, Ralph, Rooker, Ruiz, Sawyer, Schreiber, Schroeder, Sloan, A. Smith, Stogsdill, Swanson, Tarwater, Terrell, Thompson, Trimmer, Victors, Ward, Weigel, Wheeler, Wilson, Winn, and Wolfe Moore.

Voting NO were Arnberger, Aurand, Awerkamp, Barker, Burroughs, Carpenter, Claeys, Corbet, Davis, Delperdang, Ellis, Esau, Finch, Garber, Hawkins, Highland, Hodge, Hoffman, Houser, Huebert, Humphries, Jacobs, Jones, Landwehr, Osterman, Powell, Rafie, Ryckman, Schwab, Seiwert, E. Smith, Sutton, Thimesch, Vickrey, Waymaster, Weber, Whipple, Whitmer, and Williams.

DeGraaf, Kiegerl, and Mastroni were absent.

What’s Happening with Due Process?

After yesterday’s frustrating hearing, Democrats and moderate Republicans who support teacher due process rights immediately began regrouping to find a way bring the bill, HB 2179, back for a vote.

There were some moments of difficulty – Republicans were frustrated by the attempt to force an immediate vote and Democrats angry that one man, Clay Aurand, could simply close down the committee to stop any further discussion. Aurand’s announcement that he did not plan to work the bill at all angered not only the proponents who testified in the hearing but also the majority of committee members who are ready and willing to pass the bill.

KNEA & AFTKS leaders called their KASB counterparts and invited them to come to KNEA at noon today to talk about what issues KASB had with due process for teachers. That meeting happened and it became clear that some issues could probably be easily resolved but KNEA continues to insist that due process is defined by a binding third-party review.

Prior to 1992 when hearings were held before a three-officer panel but the panel’s decision was advisory to the Board of Education, boards simply ignored the hearing panel’s decision even when that decision was unanimous. It was this that made the legislature create the binding decision that was part of the process from 1992 until repeal in 2014.

We know that today moderate Republican committee members have met with Aurand, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti met with Aurand, and KASB representatives also met with Aurand. Aurand has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday afternoon for the purpose of “considering bills already heard.” There are only three bills that this could apply to and one of them is HB 2179.

KNEA and AFT want the bill to be worked and passed out of committee. We have committed to working with KASB, KSSA, and USA to try to find common ground but we are not interested in setting the issue aside for another year or years while teachers continue to be non-renewed with no ability short of suing a school district to challenge the decision.

We urge our members and friends to continue to let Chairman Aurand know that this bill needs a fair hearing and a vote. You can email Chairman Aurand at clay.aurand@house.ks.gov.

And by the way, Rep. Willie Dove said in committee that no teacher ever told him that they wanted due process protections. You can let him know that you are a teacher that does by emailing him at willie.dove@house.ks.gov.

[EDITORIAL] When Tempers Flare 

Sometimes, under the dome, people get a tad cheesed off. We know we do! When that happens things can be said that might be regrettable later and much of that is expressed in hyper-partisanship.

Such has been the case over the last couple of days. Things are heating up in the capitol and tempers do flare.

We are counting on a bipartisan coalition of level-headed, common sense Kansas legislators to get Kansas through this current fiscal crisis and put us back on a path to prosperity. We at KNEA also look to those legislators to restore respect and honor to the educators of Kansas.

Today, in the vote on House Sub for HB 2178, we saw what can happen when partisan wrangling is set aside for the good of Kansas. And we need more of that, not less.

That’s why we are frustrated to see messages on social media that attack Democrats for not being more “in your face” with Republicans or attack moderate Republicans for not automatically supporting every idea that comes from a Democrat.

We believe that if the due process bill gets a vote in the House – both in Committee and on the floor – it will pass. We are confident of this because of the list of co-sponsors and because of conversations we have had with members of both parties who are not signed on as co-sponsors.

We also know that those two groups, working together, can save Kansas.

The problem we face today is not the Democrats. It is not the moderate Republicans. It is leadership that puts their own ideological agenda ahead of the wishes of the legislative majority. A perfect example is Aurand’s unilateral decision to not work HB 2179 when the majority of his committee clearly wants to. This was done in the past when the speaker of the House refused to allow a bill to come to the floor for debate. We have yet to see this happen with Speaker Ryckman but it is a possibility.

KNEA has many friends in the Democratic Party and in the Republican Party. We are confident that those friends will stand up for teachers. If they don’t; if they vote for bills that do not support schools and educators, then we will challenge them. If they vote against bills that would help our schools or support our teachers, then we will challenge them.

But until then, we will work with all of them, Democrat and Republican, to ensure success for our students, our schools, and our educators. And as the votes come in, you will know who supports public schools and public school educators, and who doesn’t. Because we will tell you.

Until then, continue to support our friends. Let them know that you are following the actions of this legislature and that you fully expect them to honor the commitments they made in their campaigns to support our schools. We stand ready to embrace those who value our schools. Democrat or Republican.



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