Opinions of the People

Feb 5, 2016 by

As activity wraps up for the week under the dome, next week promises to turn up the figurative volume yet again.  Monday will arrive soon enough.  In the meantime, we thought it may be good to review some insight we’ve gained into the opinions some Kansans have shared with us regarding legislative activity thus far.

Let us start by looking back a few months.  As reflected in the October 2015 “Kansas Speaks” statewide public opinion survey prepared by The Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, Governor Brownback’s 18% satisfaction rating was historically low.  The report offered some additional insight into some of the contentious issues we’re facing today.  As printed in the Lawrence Journal World (October 25, 2015), 61% of Kansans favored expanding Medicaid, 84% opposed requiring colleges and universities to allow firearms on campus and 82% were skeptical that voter fraud is a problem in Kansas.  Strikingly, 61% of Kansans believe the Governor’s tax policies have been either a “failure” or a “tremendous failure.”  The “Kansas Speaks” survey is considered a statistically valid survey, but how accurate was it as a predictor of public opinion moving into the 2016 legislative session?  Apparently, a very strong predictor indeed.

Recently KNEA conducted two statewide opinion polls.  While these polls were not scientific, they clearly reflected opinions on two topics.  The first asked respondents to weigh in on school consolidation.  The second polled Kansans about their opinions on expanding corporate and individual tax credits (VOUCHERS) to private schools (even unaccredited ones). Respondent duplicates were filtered from both polls eliminating any responses that appeared to be inflating the results. The polls were distributed on a wide variety of public channels.  The following Google generated “heat map” reflects response rates statewide during a 12 hour period:

 

PollingHeatMap

Google Analytics map of poll respondents across Kansas coded by numbers of respondents within a 12 hour period.

The results of our school consolidation poll netted nearly 5,000 unique submissions across Kansas.  Overall, the poll indicated that almost 93% of respondents oppose school consolidation.  This aligns with a quick analysis of proponent vs. opponent testimony on the school consolidation bill where opponents outnumbered proponents by a wide margin (see this report from the Topeka Capital Journal).

Expanding tax credits for corporations and individuals to send students to private schools was no more popular with the citizens of Kansas who responded to the poll.  The following results reflect submissions received within the first 12 hours of polling.

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Certainly, everybody has strong opinions about the ongoing policy attacks on public education in Kansas.  Some support these efforts, but increasingly it is clear that most oppose them.  We encourage you to remain engaged and watch for new polling next week.  Two recent editorials published in the Kansas City Star confirm that Kansans have had enough of mean-spirited, special-interest policy attacks on public education.  We know that many legislators who represent the majority in the statehouse seem to simply ignore the public.  The question many are asking is, will you forget next fall when the opportunity to change the direction of the Kansas Legislature will be upon us once again?

KCSTAR Editorials:

Merit Pay: Click Here

Four Terrible Bill that have Schools Playing Defense: Click Here

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Big Day Today; Big Week Coming Up!

Feb 3, 2016 by

House Ed Committee to Consider De-Professionalizing Community College & Tech College Instructors

The House Education Committee has scheduled a hearing on HB 2531, a bill eliminating due process protections for instructors at Kansas Community and Technical Colleges. The hearing will be next Tuesday, Feb. 9.

This is part and parcel of the war on dissent being led by Governor Brownback and his legislative allies. They stripped K-12 teachers of due process rights in 2014, the next year they went after state employees ending due process protections for most of them. This year they’ve set their sights on those who serve in our Community and Technical colleges. We can only assume that university professors will be targeted next year.

The legislature has not been hesitant about attacking individual college professors in the past. Twice they’ve gone after individual KU professors – once for a professor teaching a human sexuality course and later for a professor who dared to post a tweet criticizing the NRA. In this brave new world of ours, no one is off-limits. If you disagree with Republican leadership, you will be demonized.

When first reporting on HB 2531, we shared the oft-quoted statement of German theologian Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Will you speak out? Help us stand up for our colleagues and demand an end to war on educators. We must be united in our efforts. We must demand respect for all those who serve our students from pre-school through graduate school. Below are the members of the Committee linked to their emails. Let them know that it’s time to end the war on academic freedom and Kansas teachers. Vote NO on HB 2531.

 


House Committee Amends, Passes Air Gun Bill

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee worked HB 2468, a bill allowing organizations that have air gun activities to conduct those activities on school property. The bill impacts communities in which 4-H clubs, Scouting, or other youth organizations have shooting sports programs.

The bill was amended on a motion by Rep. Nancy Lusk (D-Overland Park) such that school districts could require such organizations to have liability insurance.

Students could be restricted to having possession of their air guns only during the activities. Such activities are generally held after school hours or on weekends.

The amended bill was adopted by the Committee and now must go to the full House for consideration.


Initial House Vote on Supreme Court Constitutional Amendment Shows Little Support

The full House debated and had an initial vote on HCR 5005, a proposal to change the Kansas constitution to give the governor sole power to select members of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Under the Kansas Constitution, a Supreme Court Nominating Commission selects three qualified candidates for a Supreme Court vacancy. Those names are given to the Governor who chooses the new justice. The nominating commission is made up of four attorneys selected by attorneys in each of the State’s four Congressional Districts, four non attorneys selected by the governor in each of the State’s four Congressional Districts, and the Chair who is an attorney elected by attorneys statewide.

The nine-member nominating commission reviews and interviews applicants and makes the selection on merit. The appointee is later subjected to a retention vote at which time all voters weigh in on whether or not that person should continue on the Supreme Court or be replaced.

This process keeps special interests and politics out of the selection of justices and ensures that the Kansas Supreme Court is an independent branch of government that bases their rulings on the law and not on political expediency.

The governor has been working hard to secure the selection process for himself. In a vote on the floor today there were 69 votes for ending the commission and 53 votes to keep merit selection as it is.

This moves the resolution to tomorrow for a final action vote. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it would take 84 yes votes to pass it.

KNEA supports the current merit selection process and the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.


Consolidation Hearing Lopsided

During the hearing on HB 2504, Rep. Bradford’s (R-Lansing) consolidation bill, there were four proponents to 42 opponents. In favor of the bill were Rep. Bradford, Walt Chappell, Mike Howerter (Labette Community College Trustee), and Larry Tawney (concerned citizen).

Opposition was broad including school districts, economic development groups, private citizens, parent’s groups, farm organizations, and KNEA and KASB.

It is hard to imagine that there is much chance for this bill to be worked. Chairman Highland (R-Wamego) has scheduled HB 2486, the Bond Project Review Panel, and HB 2457, the Tuition Tax Credit radical expansion for debate and vote on Monday of next week. HB 2504 is not scheduled to be worked at this time.


Subcommittee on Working after Retirement Formed

Today in House Pensions a couple of “technical clean-up” bills were heard by the committee. The real news from House Pensions is that the chair, Representative Stephen Johnson (R-Asaria), has assigned a subcommittee to review the recent policy changes for participation in Working after Retirement. The subcommittee will meet and develop recommendations which they will then bring to the entire House Pensions Committee for consideration. The work of the subcommittee could lead to changes in the current (new) procedures for participating in WAR. The first meeting of the subcommittee is tomorrow at 9 a.m. Stay Tuned.

 

 

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Legislature to come after CC/TC Instructors

Jan 28, 2016 by

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller.

Piece by piece, some members of the Kansas legislature are working hard to marginalize and silence the men and women who pursue careers in public service.

In 2014, they came for the K-12 teachers, stripping them of due process protections.

In 2015, they came for state employees, reclassifying them so they would lose due process protections.

And now in 2016, they are coming for community college and technical college instructors. House Bill 2531, which appeared in print yesterday, would strip those professionals of their due process rights.

If 2531 is adopted, then all public employees – state employees, K-12 employees, and community and technical college employees – would have no administrative process to challenge a termination or non-renewal as an arbitrary or capricious act. They could all be terminated for any reason or no reason at all.

Whistle-blowers? Terminated.

Advocate for better services for your students? Terminated.

Challenge laws about guns on campus? Terminated.

Think we exaggerate? Just the other day a 15-year employee of the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board (CURB), an attorney, was fired because she spoke about a bill in the legislature. The bill, introduced by Representatives Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Annie Kuether (D-Topeka) would have directed CURB to continue representing small consumers in state rate cases. The CURB members (all Brownback appointees) had made a decision to shift their focus to fighting federal air quality rules that are increasing the costs of coal generation. Read about it by clicking here.

The legislature and Governor Brownback are obsessed with silencing all dissent. First, they went for the K-12 teachers: then they went for the state employees. Now they are coming for the community college and technical college instructors. Let’s all be ready to speak out.


Big Bills Next Week

We reported the other day about three bills getting hearings next week in the House Education Committee. KNEA strongly opposes all three bills and will be offering testimony.

On Monday, it will be HB 2486 creating the school district bond project review board under which districts that receive bond and interest state aid will have to come before a panel before issuing bonds. That panel may deny state aid for those bonds. This is part of the equity issue in school finance.

On Tuesday, we will have HB 2457, a radical expansion of the tuition tax credit bill that will allow cherry picking of high achieving students by private schools accredited or not. It takes $12.5 million out of state coffers; money that could be used to fund critical state services.

On Wednesday, HB 2504, the mandatory consolidation of school districts bill that would create mostly county-wide school districts and change the boundaries of most other districts. It calls for redoing district lines every ten years!

We have already posted more detailed summaries of the bills (see Under the Dome, January 26).

If you would like to weigh in on any of these bills with the members of the House Education Committee, you can find a link to their emails by clicking here.

Keeping watching Under the Dome for more information as these bills move through the process.


Senate Ed Committee Hears “Winter Celebration” Bill

Senate Bill 324 might be considered a reaction to the so-called “war on Christmas.” It allows the teaching of traditional winter celebrations in the history curriculum, gives permission for teachers and students to use “traditional greetings” associated with those celebrations, and requires that any displays include a secular element and an element from another religion.

KNEA testified in opposition to the bill because it would most likely restrict what teachers could do rather than giving permission to do more. In testimony, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti told the Committee:

We oppose this bill for the simple reason that we believe it restricts instruction on the history of traditional winter celebrations.

As written, the bill says that such instruction, if it is to be available, shall be a part of the history curriculum.

Today, such lessons are taught in other areas of the curriculum. For example, a comparative religions class is not part of the history curriculum. Music teachers who provide such instruction when preparing for winter performances are not part of the history curriculum. Elementary teachers often utilize literature related to traditional winter celebrations as part of their language arts instruction.

Would passage of this bill – which specifically places such instruction within the history curriculum – preclude instruction outside of the history curriculum?

We believe passage of this bill would create more confusion and be interpreted as a significant restriction on how teachers might integrate instruction on traditional winter celebrations in their classrooms.

There was only one proponent for the bill – Mark Ellis, a parent from Shawnee Mission. Ellis is the father of the girl who photographed a sex ed curriculum poster last year which created a legislative backlash. This year, she told her father that the school was having a “secret snowflake” activity rather than “secret Santa” because the district had prohibited the use on any references to Christmas at all.

No action was taken on the bill.

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Quiet Under the Dome Today

Jan 22, 2016 by

Early session Fridays are generally pro-forma days on which committees do not meet, both chambers convene early in the day, and legislators head home for the weekend.

Today was no exception.

The consolidation bill, HB 2504, was a big part of our discussions at KNEA this morning. Consolidation discussions are nothing new in the statehouse but they rarely go very far. We have yet to see how one might fare with the more conservative House and Senate of 2015-16.

This bill requires all counties with fewer than 10,000 students to consolidate into a count-wide district. In counties with more than 10,000 students, districts would be consolidated such that no district would have fewer than 1,500 students. The districts in the Coalition of Innovative School Districts would not be dissolved but could have additional territory added to them.

The State Board of Education would redraw the lines in 2017 and be required to redraw them every 10 years in the future.

We are interested in what our readers think about this idea and would ask you to complete a simple three question survey at https://gpsimpact.typeform.com/to/m1NEgc.

You might also want to look for a back home legislative forum this weekend as an opportunity to ask you legislators what they think of mandatory school consolidation every 10 years.

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When is Consolidation, Not Consolidation?

Jan 21, 2016 by

Well, it’s here, the first major attack on public schools of the session. House Bill 2504 is titled “An Act concerning school districts; relating to the realignment thereof.” But as William Shakespeare famously said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Rep. John Bradford (R-Lansing) is not shy about taking credit for the bill. We suppose he wants us to believe that it is not a consolidation bill, but that’s exactly what it does.

In any county with fewer than 10,000 students, there will be a county-wide school district. In any county with more than 10,000 students, each school district will have at least 1,500 students. (That’s consolidation.)

The State Board of Education is going to draw up new school district boundaries and tell folks where they will go. But wait! There’s more! The SBOE will draw new boundaries every 10 years! That’s right. Your child or you as a teacher could wind up in a new school district every 10 years.

The bill will limit the number of administrators in the new districts. The state will take “surplus” property such as district vehicles and sell them to raise money for the state general fund. The so-called innovative school districts are kind of held harmless except that they can have territory added to them.

Now, specifically for our readers who are school employees, you could be a new employee of a newly “realigned” district every 10 years.

And what about our communities? Does it serve our communities to shift their school district boundaries every 10 years? What will this bill eventually do to our local schools? As the state requires more students in a school district, will they want to see more children in a school?

Ask your legislators how they feel about the forced consolidation of Kansas school districts, cutting the number of districts in half. Ask your legislators if redrawing school district boundaries every 10 years will provide the stability children and communities need to thrive. Ask your legislator if it isn’t better policy to let local communities make these decisions for themselves.

Find your legislator’s email by clicking here.

House members’ email addresses are firstname.lastname@house.ks.gov.

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