School Day: Due Process, Bullying, & Transportation

Mar 8, 2018 by

House Passes Due Process, Bullying Procedures

On final action today the House of Representatives passed the restoration of due process (HB 2757) for Kansas teachers on a vote of 73 to 48. The debate had taken place yesterday (see details in yesterday’s Under the Dome).

For all but one of the conservatives who blasted the idea of mandating due process for school districts as usurping local control, they had no problem at all passing an unfunded bullying mandate on the very next bill. You see, for conservative Republican legislators, local control is allowed when it disrespects a working man or woman but is perfectly acceptable when they want to force someone else to bend to their will. In other words, if I want to stop something, I cry “We must respect local control!” If I want to force something on you, “Local control is not sacrosanct.”

To find out how your representative voted on due process, click here. 

HB 2757 will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The House also passed HB 2758, the bullying procedures bill that mandates that school districts provide copies of bullying policies to all parents, post them on district websites with a prominent link on the homepage, and include certain additional items in district bullying plans.

KNEA supports this bill. The final action vote was 119 to 1 with the only NO vote being cast by Rep. Michael Houser (R-Columbus). Houser was the only conservative non-hypocrite on local control. In his explanation of vote he said if he opposed due process on the basis of local control, he would oppose another mandate for the same reason.

Transportation Bills Heard in K-12 Budget Committee

The K-12 budget committee held a hearing today on two bills changing the transportation formula.

HB 2697 would change the multiplier in the formula from 2.8 to 5 which would better address costs.

HB 2561 would codify the “curve of best fit” which is not in law but had been used for decades in the distribution of transportation funding.

These bills would dramatically improve transportation funding and, frankly, if we can’t get kids to school, they won’t be learning!

Many superintendents were in the committee room today to testify in favor of the bill. Additionally, there were many more superintendents who submitted written testimony in support.
There were no opponents to the bills.

Three conferees appeared as neutral. The first was Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) who addressed a bill that he had introduced on behalf of some constituents who found themselves in a different school from the prior year and were billed for transportation. Due to distance the families had free transportation one year and got a bill the next. Tarwater asked the committee to amend his bill in.

A parent from Johnson County (a constituent of Tarwater?) also appearing as neutral. Telling the story Tarwater just finished from the point of view of a parent. She had a very compelling story to tell about safe routes for schools.

The final conferee as neutral was Mike O’Neal representing the Kansas Policy Institute (we all know the KPI as Dave Trabert’s organization backed by dark money and set up to oppose school funding). O’Neal was generally happy that the legislature was responding to the LPA studies.

Senate Defeats Attempt to Call a Convention of the States

The Senate this afternoon took up a final action vote on SCR 1611, a resolution calling for a convention of the states to potentially re-write the entire U.S. Constitution.

There is a movement in the nation by those who believe the United States Government is, in their words, “out  of control.” To that end, they wish to have a convention of the states which is allowed under the U.S. Constitution for the purpose of bringing forth amendments to the constitution to “rein in the federal government.”

The problem with this is that once called, the entire constitution would be open to re-writing. Additionally, delegates to the convention are selected by politicians. Under the common amendment process – used successfully 27 times in our history – elected representatives propose amendments and the states individually vote to ratify those amendments. Such amendments are handled one at a time and not as a block re-write of the document.

In the end, the vote was 22 to 16. Since it takes a 2/3 majority – 27 votes – to pass such a resolution, it failed.

A real win for common sense!



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Still Gathering Info; Thinking About the Prospects

Jan 17, 2018 by


These early days of a legislative session leave us wondering what we have to report to you every day! Legislators might be thought of as “hunter/gatherers.” While hunting for ideas and solutions, the spend a lot of time gathering information.

So it has been so far this year. In the committees we follow most closely – Appropriations, Ways and Means, the Tax Committees, the Education Committees, and the Education Budget Committees – we have been treated to many of the same presentations. These include:

  • Reviews of the impact of SB 19, the tax bill passed last session. What we know- Things are looking up but it’s still early – we should know a lot by April. And the new federal tax bill is likely to help make our revenue picture a “wild ride” (legislative staff said that not us!) with the first impact being a large influx of income tax cash as taxpayers sent in their last estimated tax payments in December rather than January to ensure those payments could still be deductible on their 2017 federal income tax form.
  • Reviews of the deliberations of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision. This committee assembled a collection of data but chose not to forward any recommendations to the full legislature. The most talked about part of their report is their study of the impact of an 18% cut to all state agencies except K-12 education as a means of raising the $600 million they believe is needed to meet the Court’s ruling.
  • Reviews of the evolution of the education article in the Kansas Constitution (Article VI). The current language was drafted by a legislative committee in 1965 and by the public in 1966. Prior to 1966, it was the language of the Wyandotte Constitution. A number of legislators have been floating the idea of pressing a constitutional amendment to stop the Supreme Court from determining the school funding formula to be unconstitutional on the basis of adequacy.
  • Reviews for recent changes to KPERS including the impact on the unfunded actuarial liability of withholding state KPERS contributions as part of balancing the budget.
  • Presentations by Education Commissioner Randy Watson on the state of education in Kansas today.

It’s a lot of data!

 Is $600 million the number?

It would seem that $600 million is the number under the dome. The Governor proposed $600 million, meeting the SBOE or the three-judge panel recommendations would take about $600 million, the Special Committee premised their discussion including consideration of budget cuts to raise $600 million, so it sounds a lot like consensus. (We recognize that there is a core group of legislators who don’t want to increase school funding at all.)

But of course, at the same time, the legislature has contracted for a new school funding study. That study is expected to be presented to the legislature on March 15. And that’s another problem.

The Court expects briefs to be filed on April 30. Attorney General Schmidt and the state’s attorney, Art Chalmers, both asked the legislature to finish their work by March 1 in order to meet that deadline. A few legislators have begun to float the idea of waiting until that study is complete. But to do so would jeopardize their ability to argue in the Supreme Court.

There are several things the legislature needs to do to get this task accomplished.

  • They need to deal with the four unconstitutional inequities in the new formula. This is a relatively easy task and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has already filed a bill to fix those problems (HB 2445).
  • With that done, they can focus on the level of funding they need. Again, the SBOE, the three-judge panel, and the Governor have all indicated about $600 million.
  • They need to decide how to put that money into the system. The Governor suggested a five-year phase-in. We don’t know if the Court will accept a time frame of that length but most people agree there will be some kind of phase-in.
  • And finally, they need to make sure the money is available. They must show the Court that they are serious by presenting evidence that the money for a phase-in will actually be there. This might take additional revenue measures and it will certainly include evidence of increasing revenue collections.

These are the discussions we hope to see beginning very soon.

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Talking Taxes and One Senator Wants to Block the Court

Dec 8, 2017 by

Lots to Think About Vis-a-Vis Taxes

The 2017 Joint Committee on Assessment and Taxation met for a day and a half this week to gather information that may guide the work of the 2018 Legislature as they continue to grapple with tax policy.

The Committee members are Rep. Steven Johnson, Chair (R-Assaria), Sen. Caryn Tyson, Vice-chair (R-Lousiburg), Senators Tom Holland (D-Baldwin City) and Dan Kerschen (R-Garden Plain) and Representatives Ken Corbet (R-Topeka), Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita), and Kristey Williams (R-Augusta).

They started by reviewing how tax collections have been going since the passage of SB 30, the bill rescinding the Brownback tax plan. It was noted that while things are looking better – income tax collections are trending upward as are sales tax collections – it was too early to see what the ultimate impact might be. Staff repeatedly told the committee that they would have a much better view once income taxes are filed in April.

Another issue examined was the impact of economic development incentive programs (STAR bonds, PEAK, and HPIP) and how effective Kansas is in analyzing the impact of these credits and incentives. The three eco-devo programs listed above resulted in a diversion of $121 million/year from the state general fund. A study by the Legislative Post Audit Division found that Kansas, unlike our neighbors in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and Missouri, has no program in place for measuring the impact of such programs or ensuring that lawmakers understand and act upon the analysis of these programs. Members of the committee expressed interest in improving in this area.

The sales tax was examined for a number of issues. One is the enormous list of sales tax exemptions in state law. Many of those exemptions are required by the federal government or are there to prevent double taxation but it was noted that perhaps Kansas has been too generous in granting additional exemptions. The impact of internet sales on sales tax collections in Kansas was also studied. The US Supreme Court ruled a number of years ago that states could not impose the tax on companies that did not have a physical presence in the state. A number of states, including Kansas, have tried to persuade Congress to take action on this issue to no avail. Currently, there are efforts in other states, notably South Dakota and Massachusetts to find other ways to solve this issue. Technological advances since the initial Supreme Court ruling have made it easy for vendors to charge and remit destination based sales taxes.

The other big issue discussed was the property tax lid passed by the legislature. Under the lid, cities and counties are unable to increase property tax collections beyond the rate of inflation without a vote of the electorate. This has tied the hands of city and county commissioners as they try to deal with local needs and in particular the cost of employee health benefits. Sen. Tyson went on the offense against representatives of cities and counties alleging that they were not following the cap. A Douglas County resident had complained to her that property taxes went up by 10%.

What these legislators fail to understand is that some things are exempt under the lid (public safety) and that the lid does not apply to USD’s. Lawrence USD 497 in Douglas County, for example, passed a large bond issue and had to raise collections under their LOB based on changes in the finance formula. It makes sense that in some places property taxes would still increase overall beyond the CPI limit.

Committee staff will now prepare a report of their findings to go to the Senate and House Tax Committees as the 2018 session starts.

Senator Dennis Pyle Wants to Subvert the Court

Senator Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha) who is not known for supporting public education, has proposed a measure to strip the Supreme Court of any authority that would force the legislature to suitably fund public education in Kansas.

The Court, in the Gannon School Finance Decision, said they were no longer going to be party to continuing an unconstitutional system of funding. This has been widely interpreted to mean that if the legislature does not fix the school finance system such that it is both adequately and equitably financed, then the Court would prohibit distribution of funds to schools in an unconstitutional system. Schools would close until the formula was constitutional.

This threat is the only thing that will force the Legislature to move to fix the system. Without the ability to block the funding and close schools, the Legislature can feel free to ignore the Court decision.

Pyle’s proposal would be a constitutional amendment that must get a 2/3 super-majority vote in both the House and Senate and then be approved by the voters. He wants this fast-tracked so it could beat the Supreme Court’s April 30 deadline for briefs on whatever the Legislature passes this year. And if Senator Pyle remains true to form, he won’t support anything that solves the funding issue.

Click here to read the KC Star’s reporting on the Pyle proposal.


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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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