How NOT to End the “Cycle of Litigation” and New Democrats in the Senate

Dec 12, 2018 by

Republican Leaders Want to Toss Out the Constitutional School Finance System?

If we had a dollar for every time that Republican leadership in the Kansas House and Senate last year said they want to “end the cycle of litigation over school finance,” we would be retired today.

Of course, back then we thought nothing of these statements because we, too, want to see an end to the cycle of litigation because that means our schools would be both adequately and equitably funded. That’s what everyone wants – or so we thought.

This is why it came as such a surprise when we read in the Wichita Eagle that House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) told an audience in Johnson County that they were interested in tossing out last year’s school finance plan and starting completely over. Why? According the the Eagle article, it’s because “Republican leaders are skeptical the state could pay for the change and say the funding plan may need to be changed instead.”

In essence, they don’t want to fund schools adequately.

Here’s what we know about last year’s plan and the status of the current school finance litigation:

In response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.

The Court subsequently ruled that the new formula met the equity test but was still somewhat short of adequacy. The adequacy ruling was based on the fact that the phased-in increases in school funding did not account for inflation. Evidence showed that inflation would eat up about $90 million of increased funding in the out years of the plan. Essentially, a $100 million funding increase next year would only be a $10 million increase in funding after accounting for inflation.

The Court directed the Legislature to return and deal with the inflation issue.

Given that the Wagle/Denning school funding study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor found the state to be shortchanging schools by as much as $2 billion, the Court’s call for dealing with inflation only after the additional $525 million provided by the Legislature seems modest. But apparently, Republican leaders are not interested in meeting the Court ruling.

There are two ways currently to end the cycle of litigation.

One is to address the inflation issue in the out years of the 2018 legislation and then provide an ongoing mechanism to maintain the funding level so established.

The other is the Ryckman/Denning way which is to ban litigation. They would rather just pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting school finance lawsuits and then not worry whether schools are adequately funded at all.

We believe that the best approach for the Legislature to take in 2019 is to first leave the constitutional school funding formula alone – why mess with the good work done to get a constitutional formula written and passed?

Then, address the inflation issue in last year’s legislation. Thanks to the hard work the Legislature did in reversing the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, revenues are coming in better than expected and adding the inflation increase is affordable.

Finally, resist the temptation of prohibiting the public from going to court. All citizens must have the option to go to court if they feel aggrieved and the court system must not be politicized. We must honor our system of checks and balances under which the Legislature makes the laws but the citizens can ask the court to review whether or not those laws are constitutional. The proposed constitutional amendment is a slippery slope which could result in dismantling the very system our founders envisioned and established.

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate

The Senate Democratic Caucus will welcome three new members when they convene for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Two are replacements for newly elected Governor Laura Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers.

Kelly, who is still technically the Kansas State Senator from SD 18 covering parts of Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Pottawatomie Counties will be replaced by Vic Miller who is currently representing HD 58 in the Kansas House of Representatives. Rogers, currently the Kansas State Senator from SD 25 in Wichita, will be replaced by Mary Ware, a community activist from Wichita.

The third new Democratic Senator is a familiar face to those who watch the Kansas Legislature. Senator Barbara Bollier from Johnson County has switched party affiliations and will join the Democratic caucus. We can now officially say “Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills).”

With Bollier’s switch, the Democratic caucus increases by one member for 2019.

In a press release, Bollier had this to say of her decision, “I’ve been a proud Kansas Republican for 43 years. I always embraced the common-sense policies of Governor Bill Graves, US Senator Nancy Kassebaum, and President Eisenhower. But during the last eight years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Republican leaders’ hardline rhetoric, contempt for compromise, and obsession with putting political power before children and families. With this recent election, it has become clear that the majority of the Republican Party does not accept moderate Republicans any longer.”

In welcoming Bollier to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said, “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”

Bollier has long been an advocate for health care, public schools, and pro-family policies. Bollier came into conflict with Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) over her endorsement of Laura Kelly for Governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for Congress. (Niermann lost the Democratic Primary to Sharice Davids who was elected to Congress in November.) Wagle stripped Bollier of important positions in the Senate – most notably her leadership position on the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. As the only physician in the Senate, Bollier was a natural fit for such an important committee.

Bollier has also been a staunch supporter and defender of public schools, students, and the educators who staff those schools. Bollier was a member of the Senate Education Committee.

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A Bill to Arm Teachers and a Day on Equity & Transportation

Mar 22, 2018 by

Guns for Teachers

We’ve been wondering how long it would be before Kansas legislators got around to proposing the arming of teachers in our schools. Today’s the day.

Enter House Bill 2789 and Senate Bill 424, both creating the so-called “SAFER Act.” In the clever “language that means the opposite of what it actually does” world of ultra-conservatives, the bill purports to create the “Kansas Staff As First Emergency Responders act.” In this case, the “first emergency responders” would be classroom teachers.

Under the bill, school districts can supposedly choose to arm teachers and such teachers must hold a concealed carry permit and an additional level of permit known as the SAFER permit. These teachers would then be expected to pack a weapon at school and then confront an armed assailant.  The bill makes no provision for law enforcement to determine who might be the “bad shooter(s)” and who might be the “good shooter(s)” when the SWAT team arrives to find multiple people with weapons drawn and engaged in gunfire.

But before you think this is an exercise in “local control” for school districts, a section of the bill specifically states that in schools where teachers are not armed, should an incident take place the school district is deemed to have been negligent should there be a lawsuit or other court action.

Instead of providing resources to ensure that school buildings are secure; instead of passing legislation to control the proliferation of assault rifles (the weapon of choice in mass shootings, read more here) including universal background checks; instead of providing resources for mental health providers, HB 2789 and SB 424 simply throw guns at the problem and hope Miss Smith will just go out in the hall and shoot an intruder. Problem solved.

Kansas NEA’s position is that the safest schools are gun-free schools where the only armed persons on any school campus should be trained and licensed law enforcement personnel.  Our position is an informed position having consulted with law enforcement officials who train schools, businesses and community organizations for active shooter occurrences.  Our position aligns with our long-standing core values.

We feel it important to recognize as this debate continues to grow, that more teachers names will be engraved on the Memorial to Fallen Educators in Emporia, Kansas this June including the names of those that died to protect their students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Bill Bundling in the Senate Select School Finance Committee

Four bills were scheduled to be worked today in the Senate Select School Finance Committee today and worked they were!

Two of the bills – SB 422 and SB 423 – dealt with equity issues in SB 19 found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The other two – SB 352 and SB 450 – dealt with the transportation formula.

They started with SB 450, the bill by Sen. Bollier (R-Mission Hills) that addressed the “curve of best fit” in the transportation formula. Bollier proposed two amendments, both of which were adopted. The first directs the State Board of Education to determine how best to measure the distance from school to home for the purposes of determining whether or not a student met the 2.5-mile minimum distance. The second put in a grandfather clause intended to protect districts from negative changes.

Before moving SB 450 out of committee, they took up SB 352, a bill moving the funding of the transportation formula out of the State Highway Fund and into the State General Fund. This would save $107.3 million in highway money but require either an additional $107.3 million in general fund money for schools or for schools to simply absorb the cost of transportation in their budgets.

The Committee voted to bundle SB 450 into SB 352 and pass SB 352 out of committee and on to the full Senate.

Next up was SB 422, the bill mandating a 30% LOB, requiring notice to the State Board of Education of intent to increase the LOB by March 15, requiring a protest petition for LOB increases, requiring the transfer of some LOB funds to the at-risk fund, and linking state aid to the current year LOB. Two of the provisions in this bill are intended to address equity issues flagged by the Supreme Court (see bold type).

After much wrangling, the mandate 30% LOB was removed as was the required transfer to the at-risk fund. All other provisions remained the same.

Before passing the bill as an amendment, the Committee took up SB 423 which deals with the other two equity issues addressed in the Gannon decision. SB 423 would repeal the 10% at-risk floor and the expanded uses for capital outlay funds.

The Committee bundled the two bills together and sent the bill on to the full Senate for consideration.

House K-12 Budget Committee Also Dealing with Equity Provisions

The House Committee was also dealing the transportation and equity but instead of four bills, they had one, HB 2445.

Their work is not finished but today they approved a number of amendments to the bill.

An amendment by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) would restructure a list of scheduled LPA audits required under SB 19. Her amendment would remove reviews of the successful schools model of school funding (peer reviews found them to be not credible and lacking in rigor), re-order some studies of specific programs, and require cost function analysis “refreshers” every three years. The amendment was adopted along with one adjustment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) to move the special education review to 2019 and the virtual education review to 2023.

Another Rooker amendment to strike sunset dates on CTE funding and high density at-risk was adopted. Her third amendment removed the hoops that school districts have to jump through to get capital improvement state aid. That amendment also passed.

Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) made two attempts to change a provision lowering aid for out-of-state students which is scheduled to decline from 1.0 to 0.5 over a couple of years. His first attempt would simply repeal the reduction. That amendment failed.

Smith then proposed another amendment that would allow certain students to be fully funded and funding was essentially determined by geography – distance from the border of the student’s home state school and the Kansas school of attendance and other factors. After some discussion, Smith withdrew the amendment to give time for interested members of the committee to discuss the issue and craft a new amendment.

The Committee adjourned for the day with the understanding that they will be coming back to the bill later.

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Thank a Legislator! Considering Fixes to Equity

Mar 13, 2018 by

What’s a Great Way to Say “Thank You” to Representatives Who Support Kansas Teachers?

Last week, 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.

Looking at Solving the Equity Issues

In Gannon, the Supreme Court found four provisions of SB 19 that violate equity in the school finance formula.

  • The 10% at-risk floor,
  • The expansion of capital outlay to include utilities and property and casualty insurance,
  • The election provisions on LOB increases, and
  • Basing LOB funding on the prior year’s LOB.

HB 2445 would repeal the first two and make changes to the other two to bring the formula into compliance.

The bill provides that LOB increase elections would be subject to protest petition and possible election. Schools for Fair Funding suggested that it would be more equitable to allow LOB increases based solely on a resolution and vote of the school board. The Kansas City, KS schools brought compelling evidence that school districts with a low assessed valuation per pupil have a significantly greater challenge in winning an LOB election than communities with a high AVPP.

The bill would base LOB payments on current year levels but would require districts to notify the state by April 1 of their intent to seek a higher LOB. The intent of this provision is to give the state legislature more predictability in funding needs.

The bill also would codify into law the current practice in distributing transportation aid on a “curve of best fit.” This was a recommendation of the Legislative Post Audit.

The Kansas Policy Institute testified in opposition to the bill but had no alternative ways to meet the Court’s ruling. In fact, when asked by Rep. Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center) asked what Dave Trabert’s advice would be in addressing the Court, Trabert responded that he would tell the Court, “Thank you for your opinion, we’ll take it under advisement.” In other words, just defy the Court and let our schools close. What great advice!

 

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Supreme Court Ruling Issued; SB 19 Inadequate and Inequitable

Oct 2, 2017 by

The Kansas Supreme Court issued its decision in the Gannon School Finance Lawsuit dealing a blow to the State and ruling that SB 19 is both inadequate and inequitable.

“As part of today’s ruling, it was noted that generations of Kansas students have been shortchanged.  The Court has made it clear that public education funding is no-longer to be a game of political football.”  Mark Farr, Kansas NEA President.

While the issue was initially focused on adequacy (there had been a ruling on equity last year), the Legislature made changes to several parts of the school finance formula that created additional equity problems.

On equity, the court ruled against four provisions in SB 19:

  1. Changes to capital outlay that expand the use of these funds for insurance expenditures,
  2. Changes to LOB that imposed different procedures on some school districts in accessing the maximum LOB,
  3. Changes to LOB that altered the equalization formula, and
  4. Changes to at-risk funding that provided that if a district had fewer than 10% of students on free lunch, it would receive funding as if it did have 10%.

The Court also noted that “equity” does not mean “equal.” The Court said,

As our test for measuring equity under Article 6, “School districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.” Gannon I, 298 Kan. at 1175. This test does not require that wealth-based disparities between districts be measured under a zero-tolerance test or other mathematically precise standard because “equity [is] not necessarily the equivalent of equality.” Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 710; see Gannon I, 298 Kan. at 1180, 1188. Instead, “[t]o violate Article 6, the disparities . . . must be unreasonable when measured by our test.” 298 Kan. at 1180.

On adequacy the Court ruled that the overall funding in the bill was indeed inadequate. The bill provided for a base state aid amount of $4006 in 2017-18, $4128 in 2018-19, and an inflation adjustment in the out-years. The Court declined to give a dollar amount that would meet constitutional muster but did indicate that the base amount provided by the state without creating more reliance on local levies was what was important.

The Court has given the Legislature a strict timeline for devising a remedy.

The ruling does not require a special legislative session (although it would be allowed). Instead, the ruling sets this timeline:

No later than April 30, 2018, the parties’ concurrent briefs addressing any legislative remedies of constitutional infirmities will be due in this court. Response briefs will be due May 10, and oral arguments will be conducted on May 22 at 9 a.m. The court’s decision will be communicated by June 30. Exceptions to this schedule will be made to accelerate the deadlines as needed in order to consider earlier remedial legislation—created by special session or otherwise.

In other words, the State has time to work but they won’t be permitted to drag things out.

In an interesting twist, the Court also suggested that the State could help itself by “showing its work.”

The State would help its case by “showing its work.” Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 743. This exercise involves considerably more than what it presented to this court in the instant appeal and in Gannon III. See 304 Kan. at 515. The State should identify other remedies that the legislature considered but, more important to meeting its burden, explain why it made its particular choice for reaching the constitutional standards for adequacy and equity.

“Educators have been calling for the Kansas Legislature to fully fund public schools according to the state constitution.  Taking a bi-partisan approach to tax policy and school funding is the only way to achieve full constitutional funding for the future.” Mark Farr, Kansas NEA President.

READ THE FULL DECISION HERE

 

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Moving Towards Compromise?

Jun 24, 2016 by

UPDATE 8:30 p.m.:

As the evening draws to a close, the House Substitute Bill to fix funding equity has been passed by a vote of 116-6 with the Senate following shortly thereafter with only one no vote from Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook.  With the passing of this legislation, it appears that a fix which will pass Constitutional muster has been achieved and schools will open as so many in the education community have demanded for many months.

KNEA President Mark Farr, suggested that tonight’s effort resulting in a bipartisan solution offered a clear path forward to correct the cycle of crisis Governor Brownback’s policies have created.  “First and foremost, I’m encouraged that common sense has finally found a place in this Legislature and that schools will be open this fall.  My hope is that this won’t be a fleeting election year moment, but instead a moment where our leaders realize what collaboration and compromise can accomplish for Kansas students.”

While many of the Governor’s closest allies in the Legislature took to social media to congratulate themselves on a job well done, others pointed out that the solution came only after the urging of parents, students, educators, and citizens.  One parent in attendance was quoted as saying, “they should take care not to injure their arms patting themselves on the back for doing their job to fix a problem they created.  I won’t forget at the ballot box what and who was responsible for this mess to begin with.”

KNEA President Farr summarized the events aptly saying, “now we move directly into an election cycle where we have real choices to make.  Now we can begin the long journey of truly ending the Brownback experiment and replacing those in the Legislature who have stood by his policy to the detriment of our state and our students.”


As it became clear early today that there were not enough votes in the House to pass out the version of the equity funding fix in HB 2001, there appears to be an effort to craft a new bill.  The sticking point in HB 2001 is that it seeks to solve equity by cutting funding from all districts by 0.5%. Many believe the bill will not pass constitutional muster because of this.  Support for additional cuts exists only within the most conservative block of representatives.  For many months, these same law makers have been touting the need to ensure that more dollars make it into the classroom.  Yet HB 2001 takes money from school district operating budgets – from the classroom.

The new proposal seeks to address the $38 million dollars needed to fulfill the equity ruling by using funds from other sources to avoid cuts to districts.  Specifically, the latest version of the new bill would see the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority backfill the funding deficit up to $13 million.  Additional sources of revenue would come from the Extraordinary Needs Fund and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). View a scan of the full handout distributed in the appropriations committee hearing by clicking here.

Education supporters from throughout the state including Kansas NEA have been unwavering in their call to the Legislature to solve the equity issue to the satisfaction of the Courts and ensure schools open this fall.  Focusing on that effort should be the singular focus of the Legislature.  Today’s activity under the dome may indicate representatives are moving towards a compromise.  Still, this situation is very fluid and as we’ve seen in the very recent past, anything is possible.

What happens next?

After the new bill is introduced into the House it is expected that Legislators will return to their home districts for the weekend and resume work on the bill on Monday.  KNEA will continue to maintain a presence in the statehouse and report on activity through Under the Dome.  Take any opportunity you have to reach out and contact your representatives.  Tell them that their singular focus should be to pass a clean funding bill which fulfills the Supreme Court’s ruling on equity.

What about the Senate?

The Kansas Senate has its own nearly identical version of HB 2001 titled SB 1.  While many in the Senate pushed for Senators to focus on that bill as it is their Constitutional duty to do, Senator Jeff King instead introduced a Senate Resolution.  The Resolution would allow a statewide vote on a Constitutional amendment stripping the Courts of the power to “threaten to close our schools” as Senator King reiterated.

Senator Anthony Hensley characterized King’s resolution as a “red herring,” intended to distract the body from the purpose of the special session which is to resolve the equity issue.  It was pointed out in discussion that existing law prohibits the Courts from threatening to close schools, but the deeply conservative faction in the Senate pressed forward.  Senators Holmes, Abrams, Arpke, and Masterson engaged in varying degrees of rhetoric criticizing the Courts as “all powerful” and “extremists.”

The proposed amendment failed to get the required 2/3 vote necessary to pass the Senate.

How did we get here?

The Supreme Court has simply followed its lawful procedure in this case.  After taking the case brought before the Court upon complaint of citizens, the Court ruled that an unconstitutional and unlawful funding condition exists relative to Kansas public schools.  One part of that condition is equity.  The Courts ruled that the Legislature would have until June 30, 2016 to resolve this unconstitutional condition or the Courts would be forced to suspend the distribution of funds to an unconstitutional system.  Closing schools is one possible outcome caused by the failure to address the unconstitutional aspects of the formula.

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