Still a Lot to be Concerned About!

Apr 19, 2018 by

The School Finance Mistake

There’s been lots of talk about the school finance bill (SB 423) error and what to do about it. Governor Colyer signed SB 423 into law and at the same time urged the Legislature to waste no time in fixing the error so that the bill matches what everyone thought they were voting on back on April 7.

The $80 million error is the result of an amendment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). Aurand has been pushing amendments to require a certain level of LOB authority in an effort to “get credit” for the state for more funding than the state was actually providing. Essentially, he wants the Court to believe that, since LOB levies are not being used for enrichment as per the original intent, those levies should be credited as state aid. Of course, the reason the LOB is not being used for enrichment is because the state has not even kept pace with inflation in what is provided to schools.

To get this “credit,” Aurand has proposed amendments to mandate a certain level of LOB authority. He has tried various levels from 30% down and when he finally put the level at 15%, he got what he wanted. SB 423 contains a provision mandating that every school district levy a 15% LOB. Aurand has been pressing this issue since Montoy and his fellow legislators finally agreed when he put the mandate at a level that all school districts were now meeting anyway.

But what his amendment did was make that 15% levy part of the “new funding” in SB 423, lowering the actual amount of new money by $80 million. Without that new money, the Court is highly unlikely to approve SB 423 – as it is, they may not approve it.

When the Legislature returns on April 26, the first order of business ought to be fixing SB 423. One way to do that is to strip out the Aurand amendment. We know that some will be trying to do that. We have also heard that with the bill opened up again, some legislators may try to do all kinds of mischief. Remember that the bill passed with the smallest possible majorities. While most legislators speaking on the issue have expressed a desire to simply fix the error and move on, there are others who have openly called this an opportunity to change the funding entirely.

Tell your legislators to fix SB 423 so that it matches what was intended on April 7.

Giving Away the Money

Then there is Sub for HB 2228, a disaster of “Brownbackian” proportions.

One would think after the disastrous Brownback tax experiment of 2012 and the struggle to reverse it in 2017, legislators would have little appetite to once again damage the state’s revenue stream. But one would think that only if one had never met the Kansas Senate.

The 500 or so KNEA members gathered outside the Senate chamber on the evening of April 7 had the pleasure of listening to a long and complicated tax debate as the Senate worked HB 2228. The bill is a mad hodge-podge of tax changes, some worthy and some disastrous but the best words to describe it are “experiment” and “uncertainty.”

The bill is expected to cost the state treasury a half-billion dollars over the next five years and, coincidentally, the new school finance bill will provide a half-billion dollars to schools over the next five years! It was almost as if the Senate was looking for a way to justify voting NO on SB 423!

Less than one year after the Kansas Legislature ended the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, why would they pass a new tax plan riddled with uncertainties?

Fortunately, it is not passed yet! The House will have a chance to end this new disaster when they return on April 26. They will not be able to amend HB 2228, only to vote to concur or non-concur in the Senate changes to this House bill.

The best thing the House could do is to kill Sub for HB 2228. There is no good reason to jeopardize the state’s recovery from the Brownback experiment. Instead of unaffordable tax cuts, Kansas needs to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and communities.

Tell your Representative to reject Sub for HB 2228.

Speaking of Giving Away Revenue…

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor, held a news conference in Wichita where he announced that, if elected, he will work hard to restore the failed Brownback Tax experiment. But he will do it differently. He will start by slashing budgets and then restoring the tax experiment. He also promised to veto any tax increases and sign a pledge never to raise taxes.

We’d like to hear his ideas for restoring the highway plan, paying back KPERS, funding our public schools, and making higher education affordable.

Kobach has lots of competition in the Republican nomination race including Governor Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, and former State Senator Jim Barnett. The most prominent candidates in the Democratic Primary are State Senator Laura Kelly, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, and former Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty. We look forward to hearing what all of the other candidates have to say about tax policy and state revenues.

Read about Kobach’s news conference by clicking here. 

A Constitutional Amendment Still Looms

We must oppose any attempt to change the state constitution. Lawmakers should work together to fully fund all of our state’s priorities, including education. Eliminating judicial oversight of the education weakens us all.

The position the state is in today was not created by the schools or the Courts. It was created by past Legislatures who avoided their responsibility to care for our state and the services we share as common priorities. Education is certainly one of those priorities but so are the social service safety net, public safety, good roads and highways, and health care.

We should never say that Kansas can’t have both good schools and good highways, good schools and safe communities. This is not a zero sum game in which everyone is fighting everyone else for a piece of a limited pie. We can make the pie bigger. We can apply our state sales tax to online retailers (HB 2756). We can increase tobacco taxes (HB 2231, SB 376). We can modernize our tax code. In truth, there is much that can be done if we have the will.

Changing the constitution is a distraction, not a solution.

Urge your legislators to vote NO on constitutional amendments.

 

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Pushing an Anti-KNEA Agenda; and Changing Our Constitution

Apr 4, 2018 by

Aurand Takes His Anti-KNEA Attitude Into Conference

In the conference committee on HB 2602 establishing the dyslexia task force, Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) went to work immediately in an attempt to keep teachers off the task force. Aurand apparently believes teachers have nothing to offer on education issues. Aurand, who has led the effort in the House to keep teachers from being treated as professionals, personally working tirelessly to stifle those legislators who seek to return due process rights to teacher, took his fight against teachers and KNEA in particular to the negotiating table today.

Senator Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisville), the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, had amended the task force bill to add four teachers (one special education, one reading specialist, one elementary classroom, and one middle school classroom) to the task force. Two of those positions would, under the bill passed unanimously but the Senate, have been appointed by the Kansas NEA.

Aurand led things off by asking for the teachers to be removed and replaced by legislative appointees. Baumgardner pushed back asserting that it was critical to have teachers – boots on the ground in working with children. Through the back and forth negotiations, Aurand tried repeatedly to take the teachers out and then, if they had to stay, make them legislative appointees.

Baumgardner, along with Senator Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) and Representatives Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City) and Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka) argued forcefully to keep both the teachers and the KNEA appointments. Eventually, it was agreed to keep the teachers but to give authority to the Chair and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate and House Education Committees to make two joint appointments – one legislator and one classroom teacher.

The agreement will now be put into a conference committee report and submitted first to the Senate, then the House for adoption.

House Judiciary Committee Takes Up Constitutional Amendment to Strip Kansans of the Right to Seek Relief in Court for School Funding Inadequacy

The House Judiciary Committee to record fast action in pressing a constitutional amendment, first dramatically amending and then passing a proposed amendment on Article VI of the Kansas Constitution.

  • Introduced on Thursday, March 29.
  • Informational briefing on Monday, April 2.
  • Public hearing on Tuesday, April 3.
  • Shoved out of committee on Wednesday, April 4.

In four work days, the Legislature decided to change our constitution in a radical way, stripping from the citizens of Kansas the right to seek relief in the judicial system when the Legislature fails to provide for the education of their children.

An amendment by Committee Chairman Blaine Finch would separate adequacy from equity in school finance considerations. The Legislature gets to decide what is adequate funding with no review permitted. The Legislature also gets to decide how to equitably distribute funding but the court would be allowed to review that.

If this is passed, and the funding increases in HB 2445 were to pass, a future Legislature could decide to cut or end the future funding increases in the bill and there would be no ability for any citizen to challenge that decision.

Let’s make it clear – the schools are not breaking the state budget. KASB provided evidence to the committee that the share of the state budget going to K-12 education has not changed over the years. The state budget was broken by the ill-advised and failed 2012 Brownback tax cuts championed by the same people who are pressing this amendment.

Committee Democrats and some Republicans explained their intentions to vote no in eloquent remarks before the vote. Republican Representatives Elliott, Cox, and Becker, and Democrats Bishop, Carmichael, Highberger, Curtis, Miller, Kuether, and Hodge all spoke against the amendment.

HCR 5029 passed on a vote of 12 to 10.

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Lots happening! Read to the end! Wagle & Denning to hold school funding hostage!

Apr 3, 2018 by

House Has a Do-over; Passes School Funding Bill

The House had one bill on general orders today and just like yesterday it was HB 2445, the school finance bill.

Once again Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) came to the well to carry the bill and once again Representatives came forward to argue its merits and offer amendments.

The first amendment came from Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita). Announcing that he was offended that school districts could use tax dollars to sue the state, he offered an amendment to ban school districts from using state tax money to sue the state. He asserted that our schools were failing to provide an education and that all money should be spent “in the classroom.” On a roll call vote, the amendment failed 49 to 74.

Next came an amendment from Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam) to remove the designated school districts in the community mental health pilot program and direct the State Board of Education to choose districts. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) the author of the program argued that the districts had been carefully chosen. Ousley said he liked the program but wanted his constituents to have a chance to be part of it. The amendment failed on a division vote of 37 to 84.

Rep. John Eplee (R-Atchison) had an amendment to return language on out of state students to the way it was drawn in SB 19 last year. That bill ratcheted down funding over a period of years eventually having those students funded at .5. It was amended in committee to have some students drop to 0 based on certain geographical considerations. The Eplee amendment was strongly supported by southeast Kansas legislators and was adopted on a voice vote.

Rep. Francis Awerkamp (R-St Mary’s) offered today’s voucher amendment. This one would direct that if a school district sued the state, parents could demand an account in the State Treasurer’s office funded with 75% of a child’s school aid to be used as a voucher to attend a private school. The amendment failed on an overwhelming voice vote.

Rep. Chuck Weber (R-Wichita) came to the well to say that he had intended to offer an amendment under which this funding bill would only become law if the constitutional amendment now being considered in the House Judiciary Committee was passed. But, he said, he had changed his mind and while he still supported the constitutional amendment, he would not offer an amendment linking it to this bill.

No further amendments being offered, a motion to advance the bill to final action was adopted on a roll call vote of 71 to 53.

Now for some drama.

Majority Leader Don Hineman (R-Dighton) offered a motion to move the bill to emergency final action (usually final action votes happen the next day). That motion failed on a division vote of 82 to 42 (it takes a supermajority or 84 votes to pass).

After a pause and some scrambling on the floor, Rep. Keith Esau (R-Olathe) offered a motion to reconsider that action. It would take a supermajority (84 votes) to reconsider; then another supermajority (84 votes) to advance the bill to Emergency Final Action; then a simple majority (63 votes) to pass the bill.

The motion to reconsider passed on a voice vote. The motion to move the bill to final action passed on a roll call vote of 88-36. the bill then got a preliminary vote of 67-57. Rep. Whitmer then explained his NO vote decrying a bill that “throws money at an inefficient system.” That explanation moved the final vote to 71 in favor, 53 opposed.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Committee Continues to Work, Then Passes a School Finance Bill, SB 423

We don’t really know what to think of the Senate Select Committee on School Finance bill to address the Gannon decision. Okay, well, we DO think this: the Court will reject it.

The bill increases the BASE over five years from the current year’s $4,006 to $4,258 in 2018-19, $4,334 in 2019-20, $4,412 in 2020-21, $4,492 in 2021-22, and finishing at $4,574 in 2022-23.

In addition to this, there are some add-ons in fiscal year 2019 specifically:

  • Additional Special Education Aid; $12 million ($44 million in HB 2445),
  • 400 new slots for pre-school at-risk; $1 million,
  • Additional Parents as Teachers; $3 million,
  • The mental health/USD pilot partnership; $10 million (also in HB 2445),
  • ABC early childhood intervention program; $1.8 million,
  • ACT and WorkKeys funding; $2.8 million,
  • Concurrent enrollment pilot program; $1.5 million,
  • Mentor teacher program; $500,000 (also in HB 2445),
  • Professional Development; $1.5 million (also in HB 2445).

We don’t have a complete and official analysis of how much this plan puts into education but word is that is in the neighborhood of $250 million over five years.

House Committee Holding Hearing On Constitutional Amendment

The Hearing on HCR 5029 is ongoing at this time. We will report on this fully tomorrow.

BUT! Senators Susan Wagle and Jim Denning – Republican leaders in the Senate – have announced their intention to hold all legislative action hostage to passage of a constitutional amendment banning the Supreme Court from ruling in school finance litigation.  

Read about it by clicking here.

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Peer Review of Cost Study Released; Constitutional Amendment to Ignore Cost Studies Released

Mar 29, 2018 by

Jesse Levin of the American Institutes for Research appeared before a joint session of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance to release and discuss his peer review of the cost study conducted this year by Dr. Lori Taylor and Jason Willis of WestED.

Levin had earlier this session conducted a peer review of prior cost studies; one done by Augenblick and Myers and another by the Legislative Post Audit Division. Levin generally panned the A&M studies as not meeting research standards and lauded the LPA study.

We would imagine that the hiring of Levin to conduct a peer review of the Taylor study as insurance in case that study was not in line with their wishes. The Taylor study found that Kansas schools were dramatically underfunded especially given the standards they are expected to achieve.

What Levin reported today was that the Taylor study was generally a very good study that met academic rigor.

The general impression I have of the study by Taylor et al. (2018) is that it represents a quality piece of work which has been thought through and implemented carefully. Specifically, the work demonstrates a rigorous implementation of a stochastic cost frontier analysis to investigate the cost of providing educational adequacy in Kansas. Moreover, the results of the study tell a qualitatively similar story to that of the previous cost function study. (page 12)

Levin did share a few concerns he had about the report. One of the most interesting ones he shared was regarding how economies of scale were applied – the study indicated that some exceptionally large districts would require 1.97 more funding than the optimally sized districts – essentially twice as much funding.

He noted that the Taylor study called for significantly more funding than the earlier LPA study but said that the LPA study seriously underestimated the amount of funding needed because it was based on spending levels rather than costs.

In a nutshell, the Levin peer review determined that the Taylor study was done well and confirmed what earlier studies had said about school funding.

Click here to read the peer review.

Click here to see Levin’s powerpoint presentation.

Elusive Constitutional Amendment is Released

We’ve heard a lot about a desire by conservatives to apparently hold any school finance bill hostage to the passage of a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments have surfaced year after year beginning with the Montoy decisions.

Today a new rumored constitutional amendment was introduced in the House.

The constitution currently reads:

The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.

This would be changed to read:

As all political power is inherent in the people, the legislature shall determine suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state. The determination of the total amount of funding that constitutes suitable provision for finance of the education interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power and shall be made as provided by law. Such power is committed to the legislature under article 2 of this constitution and shall be shown due respect by the other branches of government. No court, or other tribunal established by this constitution or otherwise by law shall alter, amdne, repeal or otherwise abrogate such power, nor shall such power be exercised by, either directly or indirectly, by any such court or other tribunal. (New language in bold.)

Under this proposal, the legislature would no longer have the obligation to provide suitable funding only to determine what it is. One assumes they would provide it but hey, who knows? Further, the language also asserts that no one but the Legislature can make the determination – so much for seeking expert opinions!

Make no mistake, this constitutional amendment is intended to diminish school funding.

It must be first approved by 84 members of the House and 27 members of the Senate; then sent for a vote of the people which requires a simple majority.

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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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