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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Bills Debated Yesterday Pass on Final Action Today

Mar 28, 2018 by

Four education bills debated yesterday, one in the House and three in the Senate, were all passed on final action votes this morning.

In the House, HB 2773, the Safe and Secure Schools Act was passed on a vote of 119-5. The bill, which was supported by KNEA, would require the State Board of Education to work with other agencies to develop standards for school security and school safety plans. Local school districts would be required to develop security and safety plans and submit those plans to the State Department of Education. The bill would also allow schools to offer firearms safety instruction using the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program or another research-based program. Such instruction would be optional.

The Senate passed three bills:

SB 352 makes adjustments to the school transportation formula, moving the funding for transportation from the highway department to the state general fund and codifying in a slightly different way than the “curve of best fit” calculation being used by the State Department of Education in distributing funding.

SB 422 repeals the 10% at-risk funding floor and expanded uses of capital outlay funds – two issues flagged by the Supreme Court as equity violations in the last Gannon decision. The bill also changes two LOB provisions that the Court deemed to be equity violations. One provision would have based LOB aid on the prior year’s LOB; that was repealed but the new bill requires advance notice to the state of a district’s intent to raise the LOB. The other provision dealt with changes in the LOB election process. The new bill allows a protest petition process for LOB increases. Some believe that this will still not be acceptable because of evidence that it is much more difficult to raise a property tax in a low-income community than it is in a wealthy community.

Both of these bills go now to the House which is working on its own transportation and equity fixes.

The Senate also passed Sub for HB 2602, the bill establishing the dyslexia task force. This bill had already passed the House but the Senate made changes to the make-up of the task force. The bill now goes back to the House for a vote to either concur in the Senate changes (and send the bill to Governor Colyer) or to non-concur and form a conference committee. Advocate groups believe the changes to the bill made by the Senate are improvements over the House version and hope the House will simply concur and move the bill to the Governor for quick action.

 

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Guns for Teachers, Security for Schools, & School Finance

Mar 27, 2018 by

A packed committee room greeted the House Insurance Committee early this morning as they took up HB 2798, a bill essentially forcing school districts to arm teachers as the legislative response repeated mass shootings in schools, the Parkland Student Movement and the March for Our Lives held this past weekend.

The bill popped up unexpectedly late last week and Friday afternoon was scheduled for a hearing this morning.

Proponents of the bill started their testimony first. Bill sponsor, Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) went first followed by Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover). You’ll remember Masterson put an amendment on another firearms bill that would allow the carrying sharpened throwing stars in our schools. Those are currently prohibited but Masterson’s nephew was suspended for bringing one to school. His amendment would allow them in school unless you intended to use it to harm someone. So I guess you could ask as kids come in…

Anyway, because, as the proponents were fond of saying today, “There’s nothing we can do stop mass shootings in our schools,” they want to arm teachers. Let the teacher get her kids safe and quiet, then just pull out a gun and go in search of the shooter is apparently the solution to gun violence in schools.

Other proponents were the Kansas Rifle Association (our state NRA), a high school teacher and Iraq war veteran from Wichita, and a gun range owner/former security officer.

Opponents started with KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti followed by Shawnee Mission Interim Superintendent Rick Atha, David Smith from KCK Public Schools, Olathe Public Education Network, The Mainstream Coalition, Moms Demand Action, Kansas Interfaith Action, a mother who spent time in lockdown at school with her kindergartener during a false alarm, a mom and attorney from KCK (pointing out many legal flaws in the proponents arguements), two parents from Education First Shawnee Mission, a parent from Blue Valley Schools, a school secretary from Lawrence, and a woman whose daughter was a victim of gun violence and is now raising her grandchildren. You can view a segment of today’s testimony as posted by Loud Light- facebook https://www.facebook.com/BeALoudLight/ –  (including that by KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti beginning at 09:01 below).

Written opposition testimony.

In addition, there were more than 300 pages of written testimony in opposition to the bill.

It is clear that there is overwhelming opposition to this bill. We will continue to watch this bill to see if Chairman Vickrey intends to work the bill and attempt to send it to the full House. If you have not yet weighed in on this bill with the members of the House Insurance Committee and your own legislator, we would urge you to do so now.

More on School Safety

Later, in the full House, debate was taken up on HB 2773, the safe and secure schools act.

This bill does some good. It sets standards for school security, it sets standards for school safety plans, it requires school districts to create school safety plans and it provides $5 million in matching grants for school security upgrades. It also allows school districts to offer students firearm safety training so they know what to do should they encounter a weapon.

While KNEA supported this bill in a hearing, we were clear to state that it does very little to address the problem of violence in our society and shootings in our schools. It is a mere band-aid on a wound from an assault rifle. But it is a step in the right direction.

A number of amendments were offered on the bill on the House floor today that were supported by KNEA but did not pass. One was an amendment by Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) who tried to strip out reference to the NRA and the Eddie Eagle program relying instead on Kansans to make decisions for Kansans. The amendment failed on a vote of 49 to 75.

An amendment by Rep. Henry Helgerson (R-Wichita) would have provided for ongoing funding or school security improvements through fees on firearms and ammunition – $1.00 per gun purchase and 1 cent per bullet purchase. As the bill is, funding is $5 million total and ends after one year. The Helgerson amendment failed on a vote of 35 to 88.

Rep. Brett Parker offered an amendment to provide $100,000 to survey school employees about what they would like to have to address the issue and to repeal the law that currently allows school districts to let teachers carry firearms in classrooms. (No districts do.) The amendment was divided into two parts. A vote on the funding for the survey failed on a vote of 50 to 72.

Most interesting to us was the debate on the second part, repealing the ability of school boards to allow concealed carry on school campuses. Proponents of guns in classrooms like Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) or Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) argued in favor of the sanctity of “local control.” Of course, whenever there is a vote on granting institutions of higher education or municipalities local control over gun issues, they argue the critical importance of state mandates. So, if local control results in more guns – YES. If local control resulted in fewer guns – NO. This is the very definition of hypocrisy. This amendment failed on a vote of 44 to 79.

The bill was advanced to a final action vote which will come tomorrow.

Over in the Senate

The full Senate debated three bills and advanced all three to final action.

The first bill was Sub for HB 2602 establishing the dyslexia task force. This bill, strongly supported by KNEA was advanced on a voice vote with little discussion.

Next (although much later) was SB 352, a bill dealing with transportation funding. This bill moves the funding of school transportation from the highway department to the state general fund and then establishes a new “curve of best fit” (codifying what the state department of education has been doing for years). This bill also generated little discussion and was advanced on a voice vote.

The third bill was SB 422 which deals with equity issues in the Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling.

SB 422 would repeal two provisions of SB 19 – the 10% at-risk floor and the expansion of capital outlay expenditures as called for in the Court ruling.

Additionally, it would use the current year to determine LOB state aid while requiring districts to notify the state of an intent to raise LOB by March 15. It would also allow the protest petition process for any increases in LOB over 30% and repeal any high LOB that had not been subject to an election (none that we know of).

There was an attempt by Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) to repeal the notice requirement since it comes before the Legislature sets budgets for the coming year, but that effort failed.

Senator Hensley (D-Topeka) then offered an amendment to deal with adequacy by proposing a $200 million increase in funding each year for three years as called for by the State Board of Education. The amendment failed on a vote of 10 to 28 with all nine Democrats and Independent John Doll (I-Garden City) voting YES.

A subsequent Hensley amendment would raise funding by $151 million in 2018-19, and $150 million in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for a total of $451 million (the “maintain the status quo” figure in the new cost study). That amendment failed on a vote of 10-26 again with Independent John Doll joining the Democrats in support.

The bill was then advanced to final action.

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Bill Work Picking Up; Dyslexia Bill Goes to the Floor

Mar 21, 2018 by

Dyslexia Task Force Bill Passes Senate Committee

The Senate Education Committee met today to work two bills. The first was Sub for HB 2602 which establishes a Dyslexia Task Force to consider how best to identify and serve students with dyslexia.

Three amendments to the bill were adopted.

The first amendment by Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) would add the words “and other reading comprehension impairments” throughout the bill to be sure that the Task Force explores identification and support for all reading disabilities.

The second amendment by Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) would ensure that the task force had access to the services of the legislative research department.

The third and final amendment by Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) changed the composition of the task force by eliminating four legislators and adding teachers. Under the amendment, the task force will now be composed of 17 voting members as follows:

  • one member of the Senate
  • one member of the House
  • one member of the SBOE who shall serve as Chair
  • one professor employed by a state educational institution,
  • two principals,
  • four parents of children diagnosed with dyslexia,
  • one special education director
  • one elementary building-level reading specialist,
  • one elementary special education teacher,
  • one elementary classroom teacher,
  • one middle school classroom teacher,
  • one licensed psychologist or speech-language pathologist who diagnoses dyslexia, and
  • one appointee of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.

There will also be two non-voting attorneys on the task force; one from the State Department of Education and one who is familiar with dyslexia issues.

The amendment also spells out how such members will be appointed.

All three amendments passed unanimously and the bill, as amended, was passed out of committee unanimously. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Education Inspector General Bill Defeated in Committee

Senate Bill 424 which would have established an “Education Inspector General” in the State Treasurer’s Office was also worked in the Senate Education Committee today. This position appeared to be created in response to the anger conservatives felt over the distribution of school transportation funding which erupted earlier in the session.

The position was intended to run continuing audits of school districts with the intent to find inefficiencies and fraud. While some amendments were offered and some of those amendments were adopted, in the end, a motion to pass the bill out of committee as amended failed on a vote of 5 to 6. The bill will not go forward.

Senate Finance Committee Hears Transportation Bills

So the Education Inspector General bill was defeated but transportation continued to be a topic immediately afterward when the Senate Select Committee on School Finance met to hold hearings on two bills dealing with transportation.

The first bill, SB 352, would move the funding for school transportation from the Highway Department to the State General Fund. For years transportation funding has been transferred out the Highway Fund. This bill would simply change the source of those funds to the State General Fund and would have no impact on the formula.

The second bill, SB 450, was introduced by Sen. Bollier and would put into law the curve of best fit in the transportation formula. The curve adjustment has been used for many years but when it was revealed this year that it was not actually in statute there was an uproar among conservatives. The Legislative Post Audit had recommended that it be put in statute.

There have been several bills to do this but the Bollier proposal is the first to adjust the formula such that it can be adjusted easily if more transportation funding is needed and to respond automatically to rising costs.

No action was taken on either bill today.

Commissioner Watson Back in K-12 Budget Committee

Education Commissioner Randy Watson made a return appearance before the House K-12 Budget Committee today to once again review Kansans Can! and share the accreditation program the department uses.

The presentation was not terribly long today (they’ve had presentations like this before this session) and did not generate a lot of discussions.

Watson also demonstrated the use of the School Report Cards website and how it can allow policy-makers, parents, and school personnel to keep up with performance indicators and even find like school districts with whom to potentially partner for professional development.

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Bills, Bills, and More Bills!

Mar 15, 2018 by

Senate Ed Committee Considers “Education Inspector General”

In case you thought there were not enough folks supervising the K-12 education system, along comes SB 424. This bill would establish the position of “Education Inspector General” in the State Treasurer’s Office. The intent is to have someone conduct continuous audits of education spending.

The proponents – Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, Senator Ty Masterson, the owner of Freedom Bank in Johnson County, and KPI’s Dave Trabert. Masterson was quick to say that this had nothing to do with the kerfuffle over transportation funding that included a letter from Sen. Wagle and Rep. Ryckman to the State Board calling for Dale Dennis to be suspended and an investigation launched. Of course, the bill was introduced after the SBOE stood up for Dennis and the practice used for distributing transportation dollars.

And all this was put aside in Mr. Knudtson’s testimony in which he attacked both the Department and Dennis. Trabert also continued his attacks on the department and calls for millions of dollars to be pulled back from school districts.

Opposing the bill were KASB and State Board Member Jim McNiece.

No action was taken on the bill today.

More Bills Taken Up in Senate Ed

After the hearing was closed on SB 424, Chair Baumgardner turned her attention to HB 2541, a bill that adjusts tuition support for members of the Kansas National Guard. This bill passed the House on a 120-0 vote.

After the hearing, the bill was moved out of committee on a motion of Senator Hensley and placed on the Senate’s consent calendar where non-controversial bills are sent. After three days on the consent calendar, the bill will be passed, skipping the debate process.

Their next action was on HB 2542, another non-controversial bill requested by the Board of Regents that adjusts the fees that KBOR charges to private higher education institutions to cover the costs of regulation.

The bill was passed out of committee and will go to the full Senate.

Baumgardner then brought up Sub for HB 2602, the dyslexia task force bill. Baumgardner announced that she would craft an amendment to change the make-up of the committee to reduce the number of legislators and add teachers, particularly classroom teachers. As Baumgardner put it, “We need more boots on the ground representation on this task force.”

Other Senators had items they wanted to think about on this bill and Baumgardner said they would take it up next week, perhaps mid-week.

Full Senate Defeats So-Called “Campus Free Speech Act”

The Senate took a final action vote today on SB 340, a bill dubbed the “Campus Free Speech Act.” This bill would ban free speech zones on campuses and make all open areas available to anyone for rallies, literature distribution, and demonstrations. It is widely seen as a reaction to colleges that are trying to keep students safe in light of actions taking place congruent with some recent activities around the country.

The bill would allow any student to invite a speaker and the college would be required to allow the speaker. We see this as an opening for extremists on both sides to come to campus and perhaps incite potentially violent acts. One student could invite Richard Spencer, another could invite Louis Farrakhan and the university would not be able to restrict such events.

Many other issues were raised in the debate on the bill and today it was voted down on a 20-20 vote. KNEA opposed the bill.

House Tax Committee Looks at Tobacco Taxes

The House Tax Committee held a hearing today on HB 2231, a bill raising taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products. The Cigarette tax would increase by $1.50 per pack.

KNEA testified in favor of the bill. Passage would increase revenue to the state by about $90 million per year but more importantly, the higher cost of cigarettes and tobacco products would discourage youth smoking and tobacco use. Evidence shows that increases in cost also incent smoker to quit. As parents and caregivers make that decision, the health and well-being of their children improves.

Reduced smoking and tobacco usage also reduce overall health costs which impact the cost of health insurance for all Kansans.

 

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