School finance issues take front and center.

Mar 12, 2019 by

So far in the run-up to the Kansas Supreme Court hearing on the legislature’s response to the Gannon school finance ruling, the Senate has been making some progress.

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing on Governor Kelly’s school funding bill, Senate Bill 44, earlier in the session. They did not work that bill but instead split it in two. Senate Bill 142 contains the provisions dealing with the inflation factor called for in the Court decision; Senate Bill 147 is the remainder of the education budget (about 98% of all funding).

A hearing was held on SB 142. It was passed out of committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. The provisions in this bill are exactly the same as those in SB 44. SB 147 is being discussed now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and we would anticipate it will be out soon.

At the moment, the best action to take would be to pass both SB 142 and SB 147 and send them to the Attorney General so he can prepare for the Court hearing.

As we have reported here before, we are not certain that SB 142 will meet the Court ruling. There are two interpretations of the ruling – one held by Schools for Fair Funding and another by the State Board of Education. It would serve the state well to get a bill over to the Court for consideration.

The combination of SB 142 and SB 147 represent a responsible action in response to the Court. They will not jeopardize the constitutionally-sound formula that equitably distributes funding and there is a chance that the Court will accept the inflation increase.

And then there’s the House.

House K-12 School Budget Committee chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) revealed her response to education funding. This bill, House Bill 2395, represents a wish list of extreme conservative policy agenda promulgated over the years by former Speaker Mike O’Neal and Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert.

In Williams’ bill there are many changes to the school finance formula and there are numerous accountability and accounting changes. In this case, accountability means requiring districts and the KSDE to post links on webpages. There are changes to bilingual education and at-risk education. It strips the requirement for reimbursing 92% of the excess costs of special education. It includes the vouchers for alleged bullying bill- remember the one heard in Williams’ committee earlier in the session that would give kids a voucher for even reporting bullying but would do nothing to actually address bullying. This bill with all of its log-rolled policy is over 100 pages long!

As for the Gannon response, this bill provides two years of base increases instead of the four in the other bills, bringing base state aid up to a lower amount than in SB 142. And then it removes the language placing a Consumer Price Index adjustment in the future, meaning, there would be no commitment to maintaining school funding in the future.

There is a lot to dislike in HB 2395 and more than enough reasons to vote NO including the fact that the Gannon response in this bill is almost certain to be rejected by the Court.

If the Legislature truly wants to end the cycle of litigation, the way is clear. The best thing to do right now is to take the Senate approach. Pass SB 142 and SB 147; let the Attorney General get to work and see what happens in the next hearing before the Supreme Court.

Underfunding in response to the Court’s ruling, ending future inflation factors, messing with the formula all while granting a wish list of deeply conservative policies intended to put more pressure on schools and students would take us backward.

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School Finance Bill to Senate Floor

Mar 6, 2019 by

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing and then worked Senate Bill 142, a school finance bill to address the Gannon inflation fix.

The Governor’s school finance bill, SB 44, was split into two bills – SB 142 and SB 147 – with SB 142 referred to the Senate Select Committee on School Finance and SB 147 to the Ways and Means Committee. Together, these two bills match exactly what was in SB 44.

Complicating the discussion this week was the discovery by Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF) that both SB 44 and SB 142 were not written in a way that reflected the plaintiff districts’ interpretation of the Gannon decision. Their interprertation is that the state needed to provide an additional inflation factor above any new money in the out-years of the prior passed law. KNEA has held the same interpretation.

The State Board of Education, however, adopted a position that the requirement was to provide the inflation factor one time and then simply carry it forward. There is a large difference in funding between these two positions.

Today, SFFF presented testimony in opposition to SB 142 while KASB testified in favor saying they supported the State Board. Also in opposition was the Kansas Policy Institute essentially because they believe the Court can’t tell the legislature what to do.

KNEA testified as neutral, telling the committee that we had the same interpretation of the Gannon decision as SFFF and noting that there were two interpretations in the room. The only ones to say what the actual meaning in the Court’s decision are the justices of the Kansas Supreme Court. We noted that, under our interpretation, this bill will not end the litigation.

Said KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti, “If you send this over to the Court, SFFF will argue against it while the AG will defend it. In the end the Court will decide if this is enough or not.”

KNEA put our position this way:

We ask that the Legislature do two things.

First, leave the finance formula alone. It has been determined to meet constitutionality in terms of equity. Any alterations to the formula, any efforts to have additional funds directed in new or specific ways will simply raise the possibility of once again harming equity. The best thing to do is to put new money on base aid as this not only helps students generally but impacts other aspects of the formula such as at-risk and bilingual funding.

Secondly, provide the inflation fix in each of the out years in a way that gets us to the Montoy “harbor” accounting for inflation.

We firmly believe that if you do these two things, you will resolve the Gannon case and end this cycle of litigation.


After the hearing, the bill was brought to the table for discussion and passed out of committee favorable for passage by the full Senate. It will now go to the Senate for debate and possible action.

In the meantime, we await a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on SB 147, the rest of the education budget.

Big tax bill – SB 22 – up on the House floor tomorrow!

This year’s big tax cut bill is up for a vote tomorrow on the House floor. The bill includes a huge cut in taxes on multi-national corporations, permission for a few higher-income Kansans to continue itemization on state income taxes, a one cent reduction in the food sales tax, and a new provision allowing for collection of state and local sales tax on internet purchases.

KNEA opposes this bill as it strips over $200 million out of the state treasury before the budget has been passed and before school finance is resolved. The state is still digging out of the Brownback tax disaster; to start cutting taxes of this magnitude at this time is irresponsible.

We urge you to contact you Representative using the link below. Say, “PLEASE VOTE NO ON SB 22!”

Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan

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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.

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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.

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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.

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