First Legislative Day Post Gannon!

Mar 6, 2017 by

The Gannon School finance decision landed on the mid-term break while legislators were back home.

As most people expected, the decision went against the state and the Kansas Legislature is once again being called upon to step up to the plate and provide adequate financing for the educational interests of the state.

Our past experience shows us that the first week or so after such a decision is dedicated to complaining, attacking the justices, and trying to convince the voters that the state should never have lost. But our past experience appears not to be playing out as the reality of 2017.

Legislators have returned to work and, while today was a rather slow day, there was very little talk about the challenges of complying with the court.

Some – like Governor Brownback and Rep. John Whitmer – have decided that since the decision used the achievement gap as part of the justification, the solution is to drain more money out of the public school system and send it to private and religious academies. But more legislators are taking a different tack and calling for a rolling up of sleeves and getting down to work.

That was certainly the air in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee which had a meeting to discuss at-risk funding and how to best meet the needs of challenging students in the new formula. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) seems determined to get to work at putting together the new formula as soon as possible. They’ve already had hearings on several new formula ideas and have examined all aspects of funding and student need. We expect this committee to get to work assembling a plan very soon.

But there are at least two other issues to solve before we are out of the session.

The first is what to do about revenue. Kansas is facing a nearly $300 million shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year and a shortfall of some $500 million or more in the next fiscal year. And these figures don’t account for any increase in school funding in response to the court decision. The Governor vetoed the first bill to try to responsibly deal with revenue in the out years (HB 2178) and while the House voted to override his veto the same effort in the Senate came up three votes short.

The Senate has since crafted another bill very similar to HB 2178 but not applied retroactively. Unfortunately this bill slashes the revenue produced by about $100 million so it will not solve the problem going forward.

What the Legislature simply must do now – and soon – is craft a tax bill that raises sufficient revenue to both close the current hole in the next fiscal year and provide for an increase in school funding to satisfy the Court. However they do this, three things are musts – they must repeal the “glide path to zero” formula that would end income taxes entirely, they must repeal the LLC loophole that allows 330,000 Kansas business owners to pay no income tax at all, and they must add at least one more income tax bracket at higher income levels so that all are paying their fair share. Sadly, Brownback seems determined to stick with his failed tax system and so both chambers need to be ready to override his veto.

The next challenge is how to fund the rest of this fiscal year. Again, the House is leading the way by passing a bill to liquidate the pooled money investment portfolio. While this action would create a repayment obligation for several years, it would generate enough money to get Kansas out of the current shortfall without having to make additional cuts to services. The repayment obligation can be taken into consideration in putting together the new tax plan. This bill (HB 2161) is now in Senate hands.

The challenges are tremendous but they are not insurmountable. The House has already shown a willingness to get the job done; a majority in the Senate has as well. But we need to work to get the super-majorities necessary for veto override votes if we really want to come out of mess created by Brownback and his allies in 2012-13. The voters did a lot of the heavy lifting in August and November when they ousted so many of those who supported Brownback and replaced them with common sense moderate Republicans and Democrats. Now we just need to be there to help these new folks get the job done.

As this session moves forward, we urge you to be faithful readers and stay ready to take action. We depend on you to help persuade your legislators to get on board.

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Supreme Court Rules!

May 27, 2016 by

The Supreme Court of Kansas has issued a ruling in the Gannon school finance lawsuit late this afternoon. Usually rulings are released by about 9:30 on Friday mornings.

The ruling, which we are still reviewing, finds that the equity bill passed by the Kansas Legislature during this year’s legislative session meets the requirement for providing equity within capital outlay but does not meet the equity requirement within the local option budget (LOB) and supplemental general state aid.

The Court also finds that the LOB and supplemental general state aid are not severable from the block grant funding bill known as the Classroom Learning Assuring Student Success Act (CLASS Act). For this reason, the CLASS Act block grant funding scheme is effectively unconstitutional.

It does not appear that the Court is giving the state any time beyond the June 30 deadline to solve the problem.

It is most certain that this will be a focus of legislators under the dome during the sine die session which is normally just a ceremonial event.

KNEA has long held that it is the responsibility of the Kansas Legislature to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fund public schools equitably and adequately.  We continue to call on the Kansas Legislature to meet its constitutional obligation so that public schools will be open as expected this coming fall.

KNEA’s Governmental Relations and Legal staff are reviewing the decision and will have a more comprehensive update next week.

In the meantime, watch your local press reports, look for more information from KNEA, and read the opinion for yourself at http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/SupCt/2016/20160527/113267.pdf 

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End of Regular Session (More to Come)

Mar 25, 2016 by

KSCapRegular Session Ends with Adoption of School Equity Bill

The 2016 regular session came to an end at about 4:30 p.m. today with the House adoption of Senate Sub for HB 2655, the school finance equity “fix” drafted in response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon case.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee had taken their finance bill, SB 555, made a few amendments mostly telling the Court why this was a good bill (something of a preamble “statement of intent”) and then on a gut and go motion inserted the contents into HB 2655.

The gut and go was a way around having hearings in the House with the possibility of House amendments that would put the bill in conference and slow the whole process down. They wanted out for the Easter weekend and if the House would just concur in regards to the changes to HB 2655, they could all go home.

Earlier in the morning, the Senate on final action passed the bill 32-5. All Republicans voted for the bill, five Democrats opposed it, and three Democrats did not vote.

The bill was in the House for the afternoon session. It was debated there for a couple of hours but since it was simply a matter of either concurring with the changes to the bill or sending it to conference, no amendments were permitted. The bill was passed on final action in the House on a vote of 93 – 31. Slightly less partisan, the bill got 91 Republicans and two Democrats voting yes, 26 Democrats and five Republicans voted no. Representative Rubin was absent.

Check the House Roll call by clicking here.

Up for debate now is whether or not the court will accept this as addressing equity constitutionally. If they do, then schools will be open in August. If not, then the legislature will have another opportunity to come up with another bill during the veto session which starts on April 27. Whether or not this bill will be acceptable is purely a matter of speculation. The Supreme Court will have the final say.


SB 469 Not Taken Up in the House

Senate Bill 469, the “Melcher bill” intended to end representation for teachers at the bargaining table and passed by the Senate last night by a slim margin was not taken up today in the House. The bill is no longer available for a hearing and debate or amendment in the House. But don’t think things are over yet. We will continue to be watching this issue and working to point out the chaos it would cause in local communities for school boards, administrators, and teachers.

The bill is opposed by the Kansas Association of School Boards, The Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, United School Administrators of Kansas, and the KNEA. The only proponents (other than Senators Melcher, Lynn, and Smith) are the ALEC/Koch-aligned anti-education groups the Kansas Policy Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. And, of course, Mr. Anonymous who wrote a letter to Senator Lynn excoriating the teachers’ unions and those who are members, which she read aloud with great vigor during debate.


They’re Going Home!

All 165 Kansas legislators will be home for the next month.  This gives supporters of public education in Kansas lots of time and opportunities to meet with them, talk with them, ask them questions, and advocate for public schools.

Don’t miss this opportunity to be an education lobbyist!  Head for those forums, breakfasts, and meet-and-greets wearing your school colors and ready to ask the tough questions.  If you see your representative in the community, approach them and respectfully request a few minutes to chat.  Remember, although some may have forgotten, they were elected to represent all interests, even yours.  Don’t let this opportunity to engage your representatives pass without doing so.

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Senate Approves Budget; Looming Deadline; KPERS

Feb 12, 2016 by

Senate Approves Budget; On to Conference

The House approved their version of the budget on Thursday morning, the Senate did so Thursday night.

The House budget includes the delay in payments to KPERS with “promises” to pay the money back next year. On a motion of Rep. Johnson (R-Asaria), the House amended the KPERS provision to require the payback in the first quarter of the next fiscal year with 8% interest. The Senate, on the other hand, removed the delay of KPERS funding requiring the state to go ahead and fund KPERS as scheduled.

Both chambers also ignored the Supreme Court decision on school funding equity that came out Thursday morning. The Court decision found SB 7 (block grants) to be unconstitutional in that it does not provide for equity. There had been some thought that votes on the budget would be postponed. A motion to refer the budget back to committee failed on the House floor.

We will now be interested in seeing how the Legislature plans to respond to the Court’s ruling.

The roll call vote on the budget in the Senate (HB 2365) is as follows:

YEA: Abrams, Arpke, Bowers, Bruce, Denning, Donovan, Fitzgerald, Holmes, Kerschen, King, Knox, Love, Lynn, Masterson, Melcher, O’Donnell, Olson, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Powell, Smith, Wagle, and Wilborn.

NAY: Baumgardner, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Kelly, LaTurner, Longbine, Pettey, Pyle, V. Schmidt, Tyson, and Wolf.

McGinn was absent.


The June 30 Deadline Looms!

You’ve been reading that the Supreme Court has given the Legislature until June 30 to address the equity issues in school funding. Yet to be decided is whether or not overall funding is adequate.

The Court clearly said that if the order is not addressed by that date, then schools would be closed because the state would be prohibited from providing funding in an unconstitutional manner.

This order has led to plenty of posturing and chest-pounding on the part of some in the Legislature.

But we are confident that, when the dust settles, the Legislature will get back to work and address the situation. There is still plenty of time between now and June 30 for the Legislature to take the appropriate action and that is our expectation. No one on either side of the aisle and of any ideology really wants schools to close. KNEA, along with all other advocates for the education of Kansas kids will be working in any way we can to keep the process moving forward until a reasonable solution is found.


KPERS Capers

The House Pension Committee has been quite busy the last couple of days. First during Wednesday’s regularly meeting they heard testimony regarding HB 2542 known as the COLA bill. There were 5 proponents and no opponents nor was there any neutral testimony regarding the bill. There was some spirited discussion during the testimony, but in the end we would be surprised if the committee works the bill.  During yesterday’s questions and statements legislators expressed sympathy, but also asserted that there is no money to support such an effort. Given those statements from the legislators yesterday and the ruling against the state by the Supreme Court regarding the equity portion of the Gannon Case which puts the state’s budget in turmoil, we do not believe there is much hope for the bill.

After the regular committee meeting the subcommittee on Working after Retirement (WAR) met. They discussed certain aspects of WAR regulations during a brief meeting. The subcommittee met again today to begin finalizing recommendations to a bill modifying the WAR regulations.

The subcommittee is considering the following WAR recommendations for submission to the House Pensions Committee:

Using one bill to put together HB 2656, HB 2654, and HB 2653 with balloons that address the discussions of the subcommittee. HB 2656 is Rep. Trimmers bill regarding working until 62 at which time a person would be able to choose WAR options that resemble the regulations that recently sunset. HB 2654 addresses nurses and WAR. HB 2653 addresses grandfathering in folks into WAR for 2 more years, grant the hardship cases a 3 year extension rather than a year by year extension. Next they also discussed that the hardship cases not go through the legislative committee for approval.

Consideration of how to implement Representative Edmonds’ request for a signed document declaring that no previous discussions had occurred for a position that a person applies for under WAR regulations. The document would be signed by the employee and in the case of school districts the board president.

 

 

 

 

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Supreme Court Issues Equity Ruling in Gannon!

Feb 11, 2016 by

Supreme Court Issues Equity Ruling in Gannon!

In an opinion issued at 9:30 this morning, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the equity portion of the Gannon School Finance Lawsuit.

The Court upheld the lower court’s ruling that found the block grant school funding scheme (SB 7) violated the equity provisions that once provided state aid for capital outlay and local option budgets.

The Court gives the legislature until the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2016) to solve the issue suggesting that they could do so via a new formula or by restoring the equity provisions of the prior school finance formula within the block grant.

The Court asserted that the constitution represented the will of the people and as such had to be respected by the legislature. The Court said that while the legislature has the responsibility to pass laws and appropriate funds, the Courts exist to ensure that the will of the people as expressed in the constitution is paramount. Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution deals specifically with public education.

While the lower court had ruled SB 7 unconstitutional, the Supreme Court issued a stay of that court’s order to overturn SB 7. In this decision that stay is not lifted. Schools will continue to be funded for the 2015-16 school year under the block grant program while the legislature is given the opportunity to restore equity to the funding of schools.

Your questions answered:

Is my job in jeopardy?

Your job is secure. The Court’s decision does not negatively impact school districts’ ability to meet their contractual obligations for the 2015-16 school year.

When will the legislature decide?

The Legislature has been given a deadline of June 30, 2016 to restore equity to school funding. We would expect there to be a brief time in the session for statements and positioning before they get to work on the issue. We are not yet half way through the 2016 legislative session, so they have time to get this done.

How much money are we talking about?

The equity portion would cost approximately $50 million.

Where will that money come from?

This is the most difficult question to answer. The Governor’s reckless tax policies have bankrupted the state treasury and right now there appears to be little interest in restoring the state’s revenue stream. It is hard to imagine a way to fund this requirement without directly harming some other critical part of the state budget. The legislature has nearly drained the highway fund and the budget bill advanced by the House yesterday delays payments to KPERS to keep it balanced. One would hope the legislature would address the fact that they have exempted over 300,000 Kansas businesses from paying income taxes entirely.

Does this have an impact on bargaining?

It could if the issue is resolved quickly. If not, districts will be left wondering how much money they will ultimately get for the next school year.

What does the June 30 deadline mean?

It means that the Legislature must make a decision that is acceptable to the Court. The decision should not wait until that day since the Court will review the remedy and determine if it is constitutional.

If they fix this, is the Gannon case finally resolved?

No. There is a second part to the case that has yet to be argued. The Court will consider adequacy at a later date.

The decision, while long, makes for very interesting reading. You can read all 80 pages for yourself by clicking here.

Kansas NEA will continue to maintain an active presence as the state’s largest professional association of educators. We will continually review developments in this case in order to provide reasoned analysis on behalf of our members. 

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