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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Dyslexia and Due Process

Mar 14, 2018 by

Dyslexia Task Force Bill Gets Senate Hearing

The Senate Education Committee held a hearing today on Sub for HB 2602, a bill establishing a Task Force to study issues around the handling of dyslexia in schools and make recommendations to the legislature. Dyslexia has become a perennial issue in the education committees.

A number of parents of students with dyslexia testified in favor of the bill as did the Disability Rights Center and KNEA.

In remarks to the Committee, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti noted that this task force, like most legislatively established education task forces, has no teachers. “Those working directly with our children have no voice on the task force,” said Desestti. “There is a belief, apparently, that teachers are waiting for groups of legislators, administrators, and parents to tell them how to do the job for which they are trained and licensed.”

Desetti also noted that one parent told the committee that her child’s second-grade teacher told her in a conference that perhaps her child was dyslexic and should be evaluated. This led to a diagnosis by a medical professional and much-needed support for her child. But another parent said that when she asked a teacher if her child might be dyslexic, the teacher told her, “We are not allowed to mention the ‘D’ word!”

“Both are true,” said Desetti. I have heard that some school administrators or boards of education have directed teachers not to suggest dyslexia as a possible explanation for a child’s reading difficulties. I also know that those classroom teachers are the  best advocates for a child after the child’s own parents.”

Here, one teacher advocated for her student with the parent. The other teacher admitted she was directed not to advocate if such advocacy included the word “dyslexia.” Kansas, Desetti noted, is one of only two states in the nation that provides absolutely no job security protection or due process for teachers. Teachers want to fight for their students but what happens to a teacher – an at-will employee – who breaks with an administration that told her not to mention dyslexia?

We want teachers who stand up for the best programs and support for every child. If our teachers had due process it would provide the platform for them to be strong advocates. We’re still looking for the Senate to take up the issue.

We Must Let Those Reps Who Voted YES on Due Process Know How Much We Appreciate Their Support

73 members of the Kansas House of Representatives voted to restore due process rights to Kansas teachers, sending the bill over to the Senate where it awaits a hearing now.

Recent news has revealed that while Kansas teachers are 42nd in the nation in teacher salaries, they are dead last in pay when compared to private sector workers in their own state. For every dollar earned in the private sector in Kansas, a Kansas teacher earns 71 cents. On top of that, the retirement system for new Kansas teachers is significantly worse than that provided in our neighboring states. And then, to add insult to injury, the Kansas Legislative Research Department reported that Kansas is one of only two states in the nation that have no job security measures – such as due process – for teachers. These are three big reasons why Kansas is struggling to find teachers to staff our classrooms and why young Kansans are choosing alternative occupations.

So we should be thanking those legislators who are trying to turn this around every chance we get.

If your Representative is one of the 73, you can click here to find a thank you note to post on your social media feeds – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, any and all channels.

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The Politics of Due Process; Dyslexia and Guns

Feb 22, 2018 by

As we started the day yesterday, we noted that HB 2578, the combined bullying and due process for teachers bill was below the debate line. Today then would be the last day to debate and vote on the bill before turn-around.

We were working with Republican legislators and House Republican leadership in an attempt to get the bill moved up for debate and had hopes that it would happen. At the same time, House minority leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) notified the House that he would move to have the bill pulled up onto the debate calendar if Speaker Ryckman (R-Olathe) did not do so today.

That brings us to today. The bill was not above the line which triggered a vote on Ward’s motion. That motion failed on a vote of 36 – 81. Six Democrats were absent today (we assume due to the weather conditions) bringing Democratic votes down to 34; two Republicans, Joy Koesten (R-Leawood) and Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) joined them.

While this was a very disappointing vote, it was not an unexpected outcome. In our 20 years under the dome, we have almost never seen a caucus break with their leadership on a procedural matter. We had hoped that this time would be the exception to the rule, but sadly it was not.

Yesterday, Speaker Ryckman had the bullying bill and the due process restoration bill re-introduced in the House Taxation Committee. This action means that both issues will survive the turn-around and be available for debate and action during the second half of this session.

We will continue to work with leadership to get a floor debate and vote on both the bullying bill and the due process bill. The new due process bill is HB 2757 and the new bullying bill is HB 2758. Both should be available on the legislative website soon.

You can help by contacting Speaker Ryckman and Majority Leader Hineman and asking them to please bring HB 2757 and HB 2758 up for debate and action on the floor as soon as possible.

Dyslexia Task Force Adopted; Gun Safety Bill Set Aside

The House advanced to a final action vote two bills; Sub for HB 2602 would create a task force under the State Board of Education to bring back recommendations on how to effectively address dyslexia in schools. This compromise bill is intended to reveiw all the concerns brought by parents and all the issues brought by educators and find a way to create common ground. The idea was floated by Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka). KNEA supports this bill.

The House chose not to take up HB 2460, a bill allowing school districts to offer gun safety classes but then to restrict the curriculum to the NRA “Eddie Eagle” program in grades K-8 (later amended to add options for middle school). The bill was permissive in that it would not require schools to offer such programs. KNEA believes the underlying bill is fine except that the decision on which program to use should be left to the local school board as it is a curriculum decision. There are programs available from other organizations including 4-H. It was said that an amendment would be offered to allow Eddie Eagle or other evidence-based programs but the bill was skipped over. Perhaps this is in light of the sensitivity to gun issues in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school massacre.

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Colyer’s “State of the State,” The Annual Dyslexia Debate

Feb 8, 2018 by

Governor Colyer Gives His State of the State Address

He’s not staking out a solid position on school funding

Governor Jeff Colyer addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate yesterday to outline his vision for Kansas. He addressed seven broad areas that he hopes the state can deal with:

  1. freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace (and particularly in the statehouse),
  2. transparency in government,
  3. abortion,
  4. job creation and in particular the aircraft industry,
  5. the crises in our foster care and mental health systems,
  6. healthcare, and
  7. public education.

On the first two issues, he lauded the efforts being made by the legislature so far in the 2018 legislative session and even suggested that the package of transparency measures introduced by Democrats are deserving of support.

“A group of legislators, led by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, have put forth several transparency proposals as well. Many of you are working hard on this issue, and your efforts deserve recognition and support.”

Colyer also announced four transparency measures that his administration will take including no longer charging Kansans for open records requests of less than 100 pages, ensuring the Administration relies on official email accounts to conduct state business, instituting performance metrics for Cabinet Agencies so Kansans can see how they perform, and launching a website to serve as a one-stop-shop for Cabinet Agencies to post open meetings, locations and materials.

The healthcare issue may be most challenging for Colyer – or may be an issue where he departs from his past positions – because he was a leader under former Governor Brownback in the establishment of the troubled KanCare system and refusal to expand Medicaid.

We, of course, were waiting for what he had to say about education and addressing the Gannon decision. We were hoping that he would lead on this issue. The Legislature, as you know, appears to be stalled or simply refusing to seriously talk about the issue while the Court deadline and the deadline set by the Attorney General are rapidly approaching.

Unfortunately, Colyer gave little direction to the Legislature about what he would sign except to provide a “framework” of four broad thoughts he wants to see in the solution. He called upon the legislature to keep our schools open, permanently end school finance litigation, phase-in increased funding, and demand accountability and improved outcomes. Missing in his message was any mention of the level of increased funding he believes is needed.

Here then is the full text of his remarks on education (to read the entire address, click here):

Finally, and perhaps the most pressing question in many of your minds, where will we go on education? And before we get to the elephant in the room, let me first thank you to the legislature for the remarkable investments you have made in early childhood education. Early childhood education works.

On my first day as governor, I had the opportunity to visit a public school in my hometown of Hays. I want you to know that your Governor is a supporter of public education. In Kansas, we invest in our schools, not because a court tells us to, but because we want to invest in our children and our future. We invest in teachers because they invest in our kids. We support things like the Kansans Can Redesign program because we are willing to do hard things for the youth of this state.

And now I want you to think about something. Governor Bob Docking, Governor Bob Bennett, Governor John Carlin, Governor Mike Hayden, Governor Joan Finney, Governor Bill Graves, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Governor Mark Parkinson, Governor Sam Brownback, and Governor Jeff Colyer. The last ten Governors of Kansas. Five Democrats and Five Republicans. Fifty years and counting. That’s longer than the Cold War. All ten governors have had the specter of education lawsuits overshadowing education. This must end now.

To some in politics, leadership is about being a bully or being the loudest, shrillest voice in the room. To others, it’s about staking out a position and never compromising. To me, leadership is about setting a vision and bringing people together to achieve common goals. And, as a former legislator, I know that you don’t appreciate being told what to do by a governor or anyone else for that matter. And I think the reaction to a recent State of the State address is plenty evidence of that.

What I learned from President Reagan is that we develop principles that allow us to resolve our issues. As the sign on his desk and now mine says, “It can be done.” With that in mind, I will offer a framework that I hope you can see fit to support:

  1. We must keep our schools open.
  2. We need a definitive solution that ends the school finance lawsuits FOR GOOD.
  3. Increased investments in K-12 Education must come through a phased-in approach that doesn’t increase the tax burden on Kansas families and ensures schools can effectively allocate any new funds they receive.
  4. Lastly, and most importantly, we must insist on accountability and improved outcomes.

I will sign school finance legislation that meets these objectives. This will not be easy, but public servants and leaders are not called to make the easy choices. We’re here to do the right thing, and the right thing is never easy.

House Education Committee Hears Bill on Mandatory Dyslexia Screening

The House Education Committee held its annual dyslexia hearing, this time on HB 2602 which would mandate screening all children for dyslexia.

Proponents generally blasted the public schools as knowing little about dyslexia, of refusing to provide support to children with dyslexia, and of not talking to or listening to parents. Opponents including USA, KASB, and Special Education Directors countered with all of the efforts being made on behalf of children under both Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and IDEA.

KNEA testified as neutral on the bill, raising concerns about its vagueness.

The bill seems to suggest that all students shall be screened for dyslexia. There are, however, questions left unanswered.

  • Are all students to be screened annually or is this a screening upon enrollment only? Is there an intent for there to be additional screenings later?
  • If all students are to be screened as a matter of course, are schools prepared to conduct such screenings? Are there enough trained personnel in our schools to handle such screenings in a timely manner?
  • If a school district screening suggests the child has dyslexia and the district then suggests that the student be evaluated by “a licensed physician, psychologist or psychiatrist” does the school district then have any obligation to pay for a follow-up evaluation?

In oral testimony, KNEA also took issue with the proponents’ complaints that schools and teachers do not advocate for children. KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti cited his own experience as both a teacher of 13 years and a parent of four children, one of whom was diagnosed with dyslexia. “Teachers,” said Desetti, “are the best advocates for your children inside the school building. They routinely argue on behalf of struggling students and often butt heads with principals and special education directors in demanding support services for those students.”

Desetti, as well as Rep. Steven Crum (D-Haysville) and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) noted that teachers in Kansas can now be non-renewed for battling with administration or the school board. Perhaps it is time to restore due process for Kansas teachers so that they can continue to advocate for the needs of their students.

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