Funding and curriculum mandates

Feb 12, 2019 by

Senate Committee on Education Finance continues hearing on SB 44

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance continued their hearing on Senate Bill 44, Governor Kelly’s school funding bill intended to end the Gannon school finance lawsuit by addressing the last Gannon ruling.

The Supreme Court last ruled that the actions taken by the legislature in 2017 and 2018 had effectively created a constitutional school finance formula but that they were off on adequacy of funding because of the phase-in of funding increases.

After addressing all equity issues in the formula, the legislature had decided to return to the funding level that resolved the earlier Montoy decision and was abandoned due to the Great Recession and the failure of the Brownback tax disaster. So they picked an adjusted dollar amount but then chose to phase that amount in over several years.

The result is that, while the Court thought the approach was right, the legislature would have to account for inflation – the legislature would need to increase funding such that inflation increases were met. SB 44 is based on the Kansas State Board of Education’s calculations and Schools for Fair Funding, the organization representing the lawsuit school districts, told the committee that if this bill passes with no other changes to the formula, they would stipulate that it meets the Gannon ruling.

School districts, KASB, KNEA and parent groups, like Game on for Kansas Schools and the PTA, and many other education advocacy groups, were united in support for the bill. The only opponent was the Kansas Policy Institute, the Koch-funded organization that supports corporate tax giveaways and seeks to block all school funding increases. KPI asserted in testimony that the Court has no right to rule they way they do and that money doesn’t influence student achievement.

Contact members of the Senate and ask them to support Senate Bill 44 without amendment. It’s time to fully fund our schools and get out of court!

You can email any Senator using this format: firstname.lastname@senate.ks.gov. Members of the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance are Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Anthony Hensley, Bud Estes, Dan Goddard, Dan Kerschen, Carolyn McGinn, Pat Pettey, and Eric Rucker.

House Ed Committee considers mandating more courses

The House Education Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on the first of two bills mandating new course requirements for Kansas high school students. The bill heard on Tuesday was one that seems to appear annually which mandates a financial literacy requirement. Brought to the committee by Rep. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, the bill would require all Kansas high school students to take and pass a course on financial literacy in their junior or senior year.

While no one disputes the importance of financial literacy, school advocates opposed the mandate. As reported by the Kansas State Department of Education, 92% of Kansas schools offer financial literacy now with 28% putting the course in their graduation requirements.

Opposition to the bill focused on several concerns:

  • The mandate would be difficult to implement due to a lack of qualified instructors;
  • The mandate would deny students the opportunity to take other elective courses and possibly interfere with the ability to earn an industry certificate in a CTE program; and
  • The real problem with financial issues faced by adults has more to do with crippling student debt and the predatory practices of payday and title lenders and credit card companies.

Opponents to the mandate included KASB, the Kansas State Superintendents Association, KNEA, and Game on for Kansas Schools. Supporters were Rep. Erickson and Walt Chappell and the Kansas Realtors Association who indicated that student debt was hampering the ability of young people to buy homes. Sadly, passage of HB 2166 will not do anything about student debt.

read more

Wasn’t that a mighty storm?

Feb 8, 2019 by

One storm was on the Senate floor

Senate President, Susan Wagle

The tax debate storm hit the Senate floor Wednesday night as the ice was moving in on most of the rest of Kansas. And frankly, some of the exchanges in the debate were a tad icy as well!

Senate President and self-appointed chair of the Senate Select Committee on Federal Tax Code Implementation Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) brought her pet project, Senate Bill 22, to the floor for debate. While Wagle has tried to portray her bill as real help for working Kansans, it is in reality a large corporate tax giveaway with little benefit for individual tax filers and no relief to working families.

We’ve been reporting on this bill as it was discussed in Committee but just to review, here are the facts in a nutshell:

  • It decouples the Kansas income tax code from the federal income tax code,
  • It stops retroactively the collection of Kansas income taxes on overseas earnings by multi-national corporations through the repatriation of overseas earnings,
  • It protects multi-national corporations from paying additional Kansas income taxes under the GILTI tax provisions,
  • It allows individual tax filers who will not longer itemize on their federal taxes due to the increase in the standard deduction to continue to itemize on their Kansas income tax forms

The bill has an estimated fiscal note of $192 million with $137 million of the benefit going to the multi-national corporations. $54 million would go to Kansas individual taxpayers who cannot itemize on federal taxes but would benefit by doing so on state taxes.

In the debate Sen. Wagle noted that 9% of Kansas tax filers can continue to itemize under the federal law and see a tax decrease under the Trump tax cut. Those 9%, the wealthiest Kansans, get no benefit from SB 22.

Another 9% of Kansans will see a tax benefit by no longer itemizing on their federal taxes and will see a modest tax increase in Kansas as a result. This 9% of Kansas tax filers will get a small benefit from SB 22.

The other 82% of Kansas tax filers – those working families and low income workers – get no benefit at all. Talking about this bill as tax relief for working Kansans is just not right. It really only benefits the wealthiest individuals and multi-national corporations.

What the bill will do, especially coupled with Senate Bill 9, is to drain much of the state treasury before a budget can be adopted making it much harder for Governor Kelly to address school finance, the failing foster care system, highway maintenance, health care, and the mess in our prison system. This bill is essentially a cynical political attempt to hamstring the Governor.

The only amendment considered last night was offered by Senator Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha). The Pyle amendment would have exempted social security income from state income taxes. Pyle asserted that retirees are fleeing Kansas seeking homes in those states that don’t tax social security. Pyle also admitted he had no research or data to prove his point. His amendment received only five votes. Pyle had asked for a roll call vote but failed to get five senators to support him on that.

Senator Tom Holland (D-Baldwin City) moved to send the bill back to committee with the intent of splitting the corporate and individual tax provisions and considering alternatives to simply decoupling from the federal code. His motion failed on a vote of 12 – 28 with Senator Mary Jo Taylor (R-Stafford) joining the Democrats in supporting the motion.

In the end the bill was advanced to final action on a voice vote.

Overnight storm closes almost everything…but not the Statehouse

While most of Northeast Kansas was closed due to a nasty ice storm and a dusting of snow on top of slick roads, Wagle announced that the Legislature would open so she could get her bill voted on final action.

In explanations of vote, Senator Bollier (D-Mission Hills) noted that the bill was fiscally irresponsible, that the fiscal note was speculative, and that the budget should be settled before considering tax changes. Senator Hensley said, “Kansans made it clear they don’t want more irresponsible policy when they elected Laura Kelly.”

“For the cost of this bill,” said Hensley, “the food sales tax could be cut in half.”

Republican Senator Mary Jo Taylor voted NO and suggested that the Legislature should first address their responsibilities before considering this bill.

In the end the bill was adopted on final action on a vote of 26 to 14. Senators John Doll (I-Garden City), John Skubal (R-Overland Park), and Mary Jo Taylor (R-Stafford) joined all 11 Democrats in voting no. The bill must now go through hearings and votes in the House before it can go to the Governor for signature or veto.

Governor’s school finance plan hearings in Senate Ed Finance Committee

Senate Bill 44 is currently in the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance. The hearing on the bill began yesterday and will continue on Tuesday next week.

This week many superintendents from around Kansas testified in favor of the bill, as one might expect. But the most notable testimony came from Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), representing the Gannon lawsuit districts.

SFFF told the committee that should the Legislature pass SB 44 without amendment and with no changes to the school finance formula, they would stipulate to the Court that the solution met the funding needs of schools providing the Court retained jurisdiction in order to ensure that future Legislatures do not renege on the promises made in this legislation.

Senator Denning (R-Overland Park) pressed SFFF repeatedly on this issue to make it clear that the bill would be acceptable despite the fact that the inflation factor used in the bill – and recommended by the Kansas State Board of Education – is somewhat lower than the actual CPI.

We will see if this information has an impact. If adopted as is with no changes to the formula, SB 44 could actually end the Gannon school finance lawsuit.

This hearing will continue next week when KASB, KNEA, Game on for Kansas Schools, and the PTA will testify in favor. The only opponent will be the Kansas Policy Institute who consistently asserts that schools have more than enough funding right now and are failing.

read more

Kansas Supreme Court Rules in Gannon

Jun 25, 2018 by

Key takeaways from today’s ruling:

  • Funding remains inadequate, specifically relating to needed calculations for inflation in future years.
  • The current funding system can continue to operate this year, and the Kansas Legislature has until April 2019 to provide a remedy to the Court (the Court retains jurisdiction).
  • The Court recognizes that the Legislature has made progress.
  • KNEA President, Mark Farr, points out that Kansans need to vote and that retaining a strong coalition of common-sense, public education supporters in the Legislature is vital this election year.

“Our schools will open this fall as expected, and the Supreme Court did its duty according to the Constitution.  Today is a step forward for Kansas kids and communities and ensures that we will continue the progress the Legislature made in 2018 to Constitutionally fund our public schools,” KNEA President, Mark Farr.

At 3:00 this afternoon the Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling the Gannon school finance case. The ruling has been expected.

The question front and center for most Kansans is whether or not schools will open on time for the 2018-19 school year. The answer is “YES.”

The second most asked question is whether or not the ruling would require a special legislative session. The answer is “NO.”

But before one concludes from this that the court found the Legislature’s work meets both adequacy and equity in school funding as required by the constitution, one has to review the entire decision. And indeed, the Court has ruled that, while the latest changes to the school finance formula do not violate the equity standard, the Legislature has not met the adequacy requirements.

Specifically, the ruling says, “The State has not met the adequacy requirement in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution under its proposed remediation plan.”

The decision then goes on to assert that the state can meet adequacy if the State makes some “timely financial adjustments in response to the problems identified with the plan and its accompanying calculations and then completes that plan, the State can bring the K-12 public education financing system into constitutional compliance with the adequacy requirement.”

As in last year’s decision, the Court set a tight timeline for compliance calling upon the Legislature to finish its work and submit briefs to the Court on or before April 15, 2019. Response briefs will be due April 25, and oral arguments will be conducted on May 9 at 9 a.m. The court’s decision will be communicated by June 30.

In the meantime, SB 19 (passed in the 2017 session) can remain in effect while SB 423 and SB 61 (both passed in the 2018 session) can be temporarily implemented. The Court will retain jurisdiction.

The Court, as in previous school finance decisions, did not tell the Legislature how much more funding was necessary to meet adequacy but instead referenced financial adjustments that need to be made relative to adequacy, specifically surrounding inflation in future years as outlined in the State’s current plan.

Several issues were raised by the plaintiffs regarding some changes made in the latest legislation related to equity, but the Court sided with the State on those issues, ruling that equity is not violated.

The Court has now done its Constitutional duty and issued a ruling. It is up to the Legislature in 2019 to craft additional remedies to meet funding adequacy. In the meantime, schools will be opening on time, and the funds provided by the 2018 Legislature will be available for use in meeting the needs of our students.

The fact that the decision is not a slap at the Legislative response to the last Gannon ruling but instead calls upon the next Legislature to make some adjustments is a credit to the hard work of a broad coalition of Democrats and Moderate Republicans elected in 2016 who served in the last two legislative sessions. Much progress was made thanks to their efforts and Kansas is on the road to constitutional compliance.

It reminds us of the importance of elections. The Kansas NEA Political Action Committee met this last weekend and a list of recommended, pro-public education candidates will be released to our members shortly. Now that there is a direction on school funding, we need to elect the kind of Legislators that will understand and work to meet the needs of our great public education system.

“Supporting those candidates who support public education is our duty as professionals and as citizens.  My call is for every citizen to help strengthen the Legislature so that we may continue the progress we’ve seen.  We need Kansans to vote!” KNEA President, Mark Farr.

read more

Are We Ready for Tomorrow?

Apr 25, 2018 by

The Legislature is set to return on Thursday, April 26 and at the top of everyone’s list of questions is “What about the school finance error?”

Maybe not everyone’s, but it’s on the top of our list!

We’re working on rumors and some good intelligence gathering to try and figure out how things will go down come Thursday.

First, we know there is a planned fix for the error which is tied to Rep. Clay Aurand’s (R-Belleville) effort to mandate a certain level of LOB effort and label it as part of BASE aid. The error can be fixed simply by repealing that provision and we are hopeful that will be the first order of business.

Of course, in the meantime, the state has received more good news about revenue collections and that has spurred a lot of talk about what to do with this “extra” money.

Rumor has it that the some in the House will again try to add to the school finance bill perhaps by pursuing either an amendment offered earlier by Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to change how the CPI was calculated in determining  a funding level or one by Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) that would boost the reimbursement of special education funding to the statutory 92%. Both amendments were considered in floor debate on SB 423 earlier and were not adopted, having received only 41 and 43 votes respectively.

If SB 423 is amended to fix the LOB issue and restore the $80 million, we believe there is a chance that the Court will still believe the bill falls short of constitutional adequacy either for the overall increase or for the five-year phase in. Such a Court decision could result in a special legislative session this summer. There is also a chance the Court could call this bill a “good faith effort” and give the Legislature another year to augment the future-years in the plan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If either the Trimmer or Pittman amendments were to be added, it increases the chances that the Court will approve the plan but it may also create a greater challenge getting the bill through the Senate – we are confident Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Denning (R-Overland Park) will oppose such increases. We just can’t predict what might happen to the 21 votes in the Senate if the bill gets costlier.

KNEA supports the Trimmer and Pittman amendments because both align with our Legislative Agenda and priorities. But we also believe that, should they be offered and fail, that is not a reason to vote NO on the $80 million fix. To allow SB 423 with the error to stand as the proposed solution to Gannon would be irresponsible, to say the least. And it would guarantee a negative reception in the Court, a special summer Legislative Session, and the possibility that our schools will be closed come August.

Now throw into this the Senate’s massive, “Brownbackian” tax cut bill, HB 2228. This bill, which now goes to the House, gives away more than $500 million in new tax cuts and tax adjustments. Coincidentally, the new school finance bill with the fix costs more than $500 million. Passage of HB 2228 cancels out the revenue needed for SB 423!

The Court has been very clear that they want a school finance plan that has the money in it. They have essentially said, “show us the money.” To pass a $500 million finance plan concurrent with a $500 million tax cut would be a disaster. Remember that in the early stages of Gannon, the State argued that there was no revenue for increased school funding and the Court responded that the money was there but the Legislature gave it away in the 2012 Brownback tax cuts. Deja Vu all over again!

Our hopes for the next nine days?

Fix the mistake. Repeal the Aurand LOB amendment. That will restore the bill to the level of funding that was intended on April 7 and take care of new equity challenges.

If the votes are there to increase the funding, do so. We support full funding of special education – we always have and always will. If such amendments are not adopted, pass the underlying bill that fixes the error. Do not use a desire to do more as an excuse to not fix the underlying problem.

Resist the temptation to cut taxes again. Kansas is still in recovery from the Brownback disaster. Things are looking good but this is not the time to cut taxes. We still have to meet school funding adequacy and we also need to address the mess in our foster care system, the challenges faced in public safety, the restoration of funds taken from the highway program and KPERS, and many other vital services. Tax cuts can wait. Remember that voters in 2016 sent many new legislators to Topeka specifically to restore our revenue system. It’s only been 10 months since that happened.

Good Revenue News Means We Can Have Necessary Things Again

We, like all Kansans, are happy to see continuing good news about revenue collections. We’ve repeatedly exceeded estimates thanks to the work of a bipartisan group willing to vote to repeal Brownback’s income tax changes and then vote to override his veto of their action. It looks like the state is on a path to stability once again. We’re not out of the woods but, as Sam would have said, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”

The revenue news means different things to different legislators. Some, as we noted earlier, want to go back to handing out tax cuts as if we had already satisfied the Court school finance ruling, restored the highway plan, paid KPERS back, found the 70 missing children in DCF, and so much more.

In truth, the news means that while we can have some necessary things, we still have a lot to do to get back to our beautiful Kansas.

For the first time in a long time, the legislature is looking at budget profiles with ending balances above zero. In fact today the budget committees are looking at reports that show the state meeting the required 7.5% ending balance. HB 2228, the tax cut bill would wipe that out of course but in the meantime, they can look at other things to fix.

Governor Colyer has submitted a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would take funds above the 7.5% ending balance and make an early payment to KPERS. The Legislature is supposed to be making back payments to KPERS by 2020 and this GBA would bring a portion of that payment up now. KNEA supports this GBA. It is critical that KPERS be paid back and the sooner, the better.

This one opportunity and action should be enough to convince responsible lawmakers to step back from the temptation to return immediately to the tax policy decisions that led Kansas to the brink of disaster. We don’t need another radical tax cut – that’s how the Legislature created the problems we are facing today. Now that things are turning around, we hope the Legislature will focus on restoration of services and programs that have made Kansas a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Join with Our Partners and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Irresponsible Tax Cuts

KNEA is working with other organizations to make sure that our state has ample time to recover from the Brownback experiment before considering any reductions in taxes. As they return to Topeka, it’s important for them to hear that voters want them to act responsibly to ensure our economic and budget recovery. Please take the time to email your Legislators.

Click here to send a message to your Legislators.

 

 

 

read more

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.

read more