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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Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

Feb 22, 2019 by

Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

House Education Hears Religion Bill

The Kansas House Education Committee met this week to hold a hearing on House Bill 2288, the Student and Educator Freedom of Religious Speech Act. This bill, brought by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and co-sponsored by 27 additional Republicans, would essentially allow religious proselytization by students and teachers in public schools.

The bill puts many restrictions and requirements on public schools so that religious speech and the distribution of religious materials could not be managed. If passed, the bill would open up our schools to lots of lawsuits from both advocates of religious speech and those who ardently defend the separation of church and state.

Currently, students are generally allowed to engage in religious speech at school although some limits can be placed on it. Under the federal Equal Access Act, high school students must be given access to facilities equally – so that if the high school has clubs using facilities, they cannot tell a religious club they can’t – they have equal access. Students can engage in student-initiated, student-led prayer. But students cannot be compelled to participate and teachers cannot be active participants.

One section of this bill grants very broad rights to teachers to engage in and even assist in religious activities at school. This includes everything from wearing religious clothing to decorating their desks with religious items.

Teachers do not shed their religious beliefs “at the school house doors,” however, they do agree to not promote their beliefs in the school. It has been noted in legal cases that children in elementary and middle schools are very impressionable and have a tendency to look at their teachers as role models. If a teacher were to decorate his or her desk with religious items that promote his or her own beliefs, it could lead to a student questioning the religious lessons taught at home. And Kansas law currently, in the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (60-5301 through 60-5305), prohibits activities that would “(i)mpair the fundamental right of every parent to control the care and custody of such parent’s minor children, including, but not limited to, control over education, discipline, religious and moral instruction…

The bill was supported by Rep. Erickson, the Family Policy Alliance, a wrestling coach, and a broadcaster. Opponents were KASB, KNEA, the PTA, and the Mainstream Coalition.

The House Ed Committee also worked two bills.

HB 2144 by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) originally put many restrictions on community colleges. The bill was opposed by the Association of Community College Boards of Trustees.

A large balloon amendment was brought on Thursday that stripped out everything except two sections dealing with reporting transparency. One section would require community colleges to post the courses for which credit is fully transferable to 4-year institutions. The other section requires the collection of data with lots of student demographic information.

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

The second bill worked was HB 2166, the bill mandating a course in financial literacy for high school graduation. Again, a balloon amendment was offered that stripped out the mandatory course and instead said that if a school offered a course in financial literacy, they district needed to adopt a policy under which a student could take that course for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment would also require the Kansas State Board of Education to allow the course to be counted as 1/2 credit of mathematics and the Kansas Board of Regents to recognize the class for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment was adopted but a motion to pass the amended bill out of committee failed. The bill is now out of consideration. Of course it can come up as an amendment somewhere else so we will continue to watch for it.

House Tax Committee considers bill to ensure Kansas gets sales tax on internet sales

The House Tax Committee held a hearing on HB 2352 which would adjust tax policies to meet a new court decision that will allow states to better collect sales tax on internet purchases.

Currently, Kansas collects sales taxes on internet vendors who have a physical presence in the state. If one makes a purchase from a vendor that does not, it is quite possible that the vendor will not collect and remit Kansas sales tax. Kansas taxpayers have the opportunity to report such purchases on their income tax returns and pay the sales tax at that time but it is believed that very few people actually do that and there is no way to find out. Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton), in talking to a conferee who admitted to paying such taxes on his return, asked if he felt he was taxed for his purchases or for his honesty.

This bill sets a threshold for sales in Kansas by an internet vendor such that the vendor would be required to collect and remit Kansas sales tax after meeting the threshold ($100,000) in sales. Some states have also set a threshold of a number of transactions in the state – for example, the vendor had 200 purchases from the state – but this bill does not include such a provision.


The House considered two bills of interest this week.

Senate Bill 9 which would direct the state to pay $115 million to KPERS this year to pay back contributions that had been withheld was advanced to final action and will be voted on Friday. If it passes, it goes to the governor.

HB 2071, which would establish a “proud educator” license plate, was up for debate but was passed over apparently so that a legislator can get an amendment prepared to add a “Don’t Tread on Me” (Tea Party) license plate to it. We will see if it comes back on Friday.

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Due Process Battle Moves Out of Committee

Feb 18, 2016 by

Why are we doing this?

KNEA Higher Ed Board Member Deborah Williams and colleagues talk with Rep. Hedke

KNEA Higher Ed Board Member Deborah Williams (center) and colleagues talk with Rep. Hedke

Representative Jarrod Ousley from Johnson County summed up today’s House Education Committee hearing with one simple question, “why are we doing this?”  Referencing 38 emails from constituents opposing HB 2531 with only 2 emails in support of the bill, Representative Ousley also asked, “are we doing the people’s work here?”  HB 2531 seeks to eliminate due process provisions for Community and Technical College educators currently in state statute.

During discussion on the merits of the bill, Representatives Lusk, Trimmer, Winn and Ousley each offered varying objections.  Representative Nancy Lusk cited research as well as recent news reports indicating that passage of the bill could adversely affect the ability to recruit educators particularly in areas were shortages already exist.  Representative Ed Trimmer, clarified the difference between tenure a term often misused to describe a “job for life” and due process which simply offers non-probationary professionals the ability to request an impartial hearing in the event that they believe they were dismissed unfairly.  Further, Representative Trimmer cautioned his fellow committee members about supporting the bill on the basis of local control. Representative Trimmer pointed out that committee members supporting HB 2531 have been among the strongest proponents of a number of other bills that “have nothing to do with local control” but in fact undermine it.  Committee member Representative John Bradford’s school consolidation bill comes to mind.

Representative Valdenia Winn from Kansas City, Kansas who also happens to be a Kansas City Kansas Community College faculty member of many years gave an impassioned address to the committee.  Recounting a time when her own job was unfairly threatened by a vindictive administration who sought to penalize her for having been elected to the legislature when they favored her opponent, Representative Winn’s due process protection was vital.  Still, committee proponents suggested that the traditional business model of at-will employment works for industry so why not for education? Hint: think people not widgets. Representative Dennis Hedke from Wichita asked Representative Winn if she was fearful that boards of trustees or college administrators might end protections within faculty contracts, to which Representative Winn replied emphatically “yes!”

Shortly after this exchange, Representative Highland stated that the room was needed for another meeting and summarily ended the discussion with a call to vote on a motion to pass the bill out of committee.  The vote was 11-6 in favor of passing the bill out.  Representatives Lusk, Ousely, Boldra, Trimmer, Winn and Smith voted in opposition to the bill.  Next the bill moves on to the floor of the House of Representatives where more debate will undoubtedly occur.

What can you do right now?

  1. First, you must voice to your representatives that you are tired of attacks on public education and the continuing disrespect of professional educators and that this bill should be OPPOSED.  This is best done face to face followed by a phone call and finally a personal email.  Contact your representative tomorrow, this weekend, and again on Monday until you’ve made your point clear.  CLICK HERE to find your representative and contact them.
  2. Organize with the faculty at your institution.  Bring others into advocacy and formulate some clear points on why due process is important protection for you to work as agents of opportunity and as advocates for your students, your profession and your community.  CLICK HERE to listen to what others have to say about the vital support that community and technical colleges provide for their communities and students.  Use these points to connect to your own story and share it with your representatives (See #1).
  3. GET & STAY ENGAGED!  KNEA offers a variety of communication points, but one in particular offers you one-click access to them all.  The KNEA mobile app includes access to Under The Dome, KS EdTalk, Action Alerts, Twitter, Facebook, Bill Tracker, and the KS Legislative Calendar.  Use the app to stay connected and ready to take action.  Encourage others to download and use it as well.  It’s FREE!

Download for iOS CLICK HERE

Download for Android CLICK HERE

 

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