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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We Know the Date!

Jun 8, 2016 by

Special Session - 002523Governor Brownback this afternoon announced that a special session of the 2016 Kansas Legislature will begin on Thursday, June 23 at 8:00 am. The deadline set by the Supreme Court for the Legislature to act is June 30.

We would imagine that the Legislature is hoping to get in to Topeka, get the job done, and get out. This is an election year with an early August primary. The longer the special session lingers on, the fewer days candidates will have to knock doors and campaign for votes. At issue also is the prohibition on campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session.

Everyone with an interest in the opening of school come August hopes that this will be a very short special session and that the Court will be able to issue an opinion on the results as quickly as possible. Schools will hopefully be able to fund July activities that prepare our buildings for the opening days in August.

We are pleased that the special session has been announced and we urge all lawmakers to return to Topeka ready to resolve the issue and open schools for our students in August.

We will be keeping you up to date on any news or actions taken during the time between now and June 23. As always, we urge you to stay vigilant, stay engaged, and keep talking to your legislators while they are back home.

HOMEWORK:  Make a list of 5-10 of your closest friends, family members or neighbors.  Contact them and educate them on the issues at hand while encouraging them to reach out to their representatives.  Share the following link with them to find their representatives:  http://knea.org/home/312.htm

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Governor to Call for Special Session!

Jun 7, 2016 by

Tell your representatives to support equitable and adequate funding according to the Constitution of Kansas. Topeka- Governor Brownback has announced that he will call a special session of the legislature sometime this month. While he announced that “I will do everythin read more

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Bathroom Use; CLEP Credit; Equity Bills; In-State Tuition

Mar 17, 2016 by

New Bill Introduction in Senate

Just up this afternoon is a Senate Bill – SB 513 – “creating the student physical privacy act.” Word under the dome is that this bill comes from Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee). It would prohibit a student from using a restroom for a gender other than that identified at the student’s birth.

The bill would prohibit policies allowing transgendered students from using the restroom facilities of the gender with which they identify. Alternative facilities may be made available to transgendered students. The bill would also give a private cause of action against the school if that student should encounter a student of the opposite gender in a facility provided for his/her gender if the school “gave such person of the opposite sex permission to use facilities designated for use by such student’s sex” or the school “failed to take reasonable steps to prohibit such person of the opposite sex from using facilities designated for use by such student’s sex.”

Currently, policy decisions on the use of such facilities are left to the wisdom of locally elected school boards in consultation with teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents.


House Ed Committee Advances CLEP Bill

The House Education Committee today held a hearing on SB 388, requiring the State Board of Regents to adopt a policy on awarding credit hours based on CLEP test results. The bill would standardize the granting of credit for performance on a CLEP examination such that the credits could easily transfer among Kansas higher education institutions.

The bill was passed out of committee and now goes to the full House for consideration.


Working the Equity Bills

The House Appropriations today worked HB 2731, the Ryckman bill dealing with school finance equity in response to the Supreme Court decision. It became clear very quickly that the bill did not have enough support in the Committee to move forward.

Most of the negative comments were directed more to the Court than to the provisions of the bill itself. One legislator even asserted that the Court had no understanding of either school finance or equity.

Reps. Jerry Henry (D-Cummings), Sidney Carlin (D-Manhattan), and Barbara Ballard (D-Lawrence) tried to impress upon their colleagues that the Court did not choose to weigh in, there was a lawsuit that they were required to hear, that the Court relied on a study commissioned, paid for, and adopted by the Legislature as the only evidence brought forth, and that the demands on schools have grown tremendously over the years and are more costly.

In the end, Ryckman chose not to put the bill to a vote.

In the Senate Ways and Means Committee, SB 512, the Masterson bill dealing with school finance equity was quickly passed out of committee and has been sent on to the full Senate for consideration.

Both bills return to the previous equity formula (before block grants) and sweep the $17 million out of the extraordinary needs fund. The balance of the needed money is new spending in the Ryckman bill and is redistributed from school districts in the Masterson bill.


On the Floors Today

House Bill 2700 was scheduled for debate on the House floor today but was pulled and returned to the Pensions committee. We suspect it will be placed in another bill and sent back for reconsideration. This is likely an effort to put the bill in a position that it can be quickly voted on by both chambers and sent to the Governor.

No other bills we are tracking were on the floor for debate today.

As we write this the Senate is still in deep debate on the second bill of nine on their debate calendar today. And the first bill was passed over after a long debate while they wait on another amendment to come forward.

We are waiting for the debate on the fifth bill, HB 2567 which deals with tuition rates for military personnel. It is rumored that there will be an attempt to pass an amendment that would repeal in-state tuition to the children of undocumented workers.

We will report on this tomorrow.

 

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Sex, Equity, Bonding, and Procurement…Lots Going On Under the Dome!

Mar 16, 2016 by

House Passes Over Sex Ed Bill for Today

HB 2199, the bill requiring that human sexuality education be offered only on an “opt-in” basis, was up for debate today on the House floor. After debating three other bills, a motion was made to rise and report meaning that the bill was not debated today. It remains on the calendar and is available for debate later.

Under current law, local school boards can make a determination whether to offer human sexuality education on an opt-in or opt-out basis depending on their own community. This bill would disallow the opt-out option.

There is general agreement that opt-in programs have lower participation than opt-out. Many worry that without human sexuality education, some students will not get age appropriate education. As a result, it is possible that there could be an increase in sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies.

The bill went further in that it would prohibit a school district from exposing any child who had not opted in to the program to any program materials. This provision stemmed from a parent complaint in the Shawnee Mission School District. One child photographed a controversial poster in a classroom that was part of the adopted human sexuality program.

If passed as is, the district would have to ensure that no child who is not in the program cannot see any program materials. The district would have to ensure that, if a classroom is used for both human sexuality and another subject, no materials from the human sexuality program could be seen. Additionally, the district would have to find a way to keep students in the program from sharing anything from the program with others. This would be impossible to enforce.

KNEA opposes this bill and believes school districts and boards will make the appropriate decisions for their own communities.


Ways and Means Takes Up Masterson Equity Bill

The Senate Ways and Means Committee today held a hearing on SB 512, Senator Masterson’s (R-Andover) bill intended to address the equity ruling of the Kansas Supreme Court.

While the bill shares some similarities to the Ryckman bill (HB 2731) heard in the House yesterday, it differs in one pretty significant way. Both bills return to the equity formula provisions in place before passage of the block grant bill (SB 7) and both bills repeal the extraordinary needs fund in order to find some money for fix. But while the House Bill looks to spend an additional $23 million, the Senate Bill simply rearranges some existing school funding to bridge the gap between the $17 million from the extraordinary needs fund and the actual cost of restoring equity.

Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute expressed some support for the Senate Bill because it provides no additional funding to schools.

Problems with both bills are that 1) they eliminated the extraordinary needs fund which is the only place districts can go in the event of large changes in property values or student demographics/enrollment and 2) they create winners and losers, something that is especially problematic at a time when schools have been flat funded.

And while the block grant would allegedly let schools know what they would get in funding for its duration, they would actually cut funding to some districts. One also wonders what impact the elimination of the extraordinary needs fund would have on the adequacy case still pending in the Courts.

No action has been taken as of yet on either bill.


Bond & Interest Review Panel Bill in Senate

The bill creating the Bond and Interest Review Panel was taken up once again in the Senate Education Committee today. Senate Bill 356 as introduced was very similar to House Bill 2456, worked in the House Education Committee yesterday.

While the bill was up to be worked today in Committee, no action was yet taken. Senator Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) has proposed an amendment to the bill changing the review panel structure which has been floating in committee since the bill was first debated. And today, Senator Vickie Schmidt (R-Topeka) has offered to amend the bill to match the changes made yesterday to HB 2456 with the Trimmer and Bradford amendments.

The Senate Committee will need to return to the bill later to determine which way to go.


Education Budget Committee Considers Procurement Restrictions for Schools

The House Education Budget Committee today is discussing HB 2729, a bill crafted based on a recommendation from the Alvarez and Marsal Efficiency Study.

The first section of the bill would require school districts to make purchases through the Department of Administration’s Procurement List. This list is agreements for bulk purchasing that saves the state money.

The bill provides a few exceptions the requirement:

  • Such items or services may be procured locally in an amount within 1% of total procurement cost of the amount the department is able to procure the same items or services;
  • such items or services may be procured through an education service center;
  • (such board of education determines in writing that such items have a material quality difference that would negatively impact student performance or outcomes as long as the secretary agrees with such determination in writing; or
  • prior to July 1, 2018, a contract for the procurement of such items or services in existence on July 1, 2016, is still in existence.

There is concern in school districts with a provision in section 2 that would make the above apply to the purchase of any services over $20,000. There are services that a district might purchase that cost over $20,000 such as attorney representation that, under current law, would be exempt from the standard bid procedure. Current law requires bidding and the selection of the lowest bid for “construction, reconstruction or remodeling or for the purchase of materials, goods or wares…” It specifically exempts services.

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