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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Court Arguments and Tax Discussions

Nov 6, 2015 by

School Finance Equity Hearing in Supreme Court

The Kansas Supreme Court heard from the state and from the plaintiffs in the equity portion of the Gannon School Finance lawsuit today. The hearing took about 2 ½ hours.

Attorneys for the state were questioned first. They defended the block grant funding scheme passed by the legislature (SB 7) and asserted that the money the legislature had appropriated for the equity resolution last year was appropriate to meet the requirement.

The money that had been appropriated was about $138 million but the final cost was closer to $200 million. The state argued that the money appropriated was based on what they were told by the State Department of Education. KSDE had provided an estimate of the amount that would be needed based on the prior year’s data – the only data available at that time.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs maintained that it was long past time to resolve the issue and that the repeal of a constitutionally sound but underfunded school finance formula was an inappropriate action by the legislature.

Questioning of both sides by the justices was pointed but it was difficult to tell with any certainty what position they might be forming.

We don’t know when they will make their ruling but most expect it to come early in the session.

The issue of adequacy is still to be resolved.

Special Tax Committee considers sales tax exemptions, tax credits

A special Joint Committee on Taxation spent the last two days learning about the challenges of sales tax policy and tax credits.

The committee studied the history of the sales tax in Kansas and reviewed Legislative Post Audit studies that have been conducted on sales tax exemptions, tax credits, and economic development incentives.

They took public testimony today. Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson gave them much food for thought regarding Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIFs) which have the potential to stress the budgets of school districts – particularly growing districts like Shawnee Mission.

KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti testified, urging the committee to reign in the granting of sales tax exemptions by developing guidelines under which an organization would be eligible for such an exemption. Today these exemptions are generally granted every time an organization comes before the committee with a pitch leading to an enormous laundry list of individually named organizations with exemptions.

A coalition of non-profit organizations urged the committee to proceed cautiously while the Sisters of Charity made a plea for the preservation of the Earned Income Tax Credit which applies to the lowest income Kansans.

The Kansas Livestock Association and Farm Bureau both spoke on behalf of rural and agricultural interests in the state.

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Happy Birthday Kansas!

Jan 29, 2015 by

Fiscal issues dominate

Money is the big issue under the dome as Kansas continues to get bad news on the effects of the Brownback tax cuts.

Budget Director Shawn Sullivan announced that Kansas would have a “cash flow” problem come February and that payments to school districts due in February would need to be held off until June.

The cost of last year’s school finance equity provisions has come in higher than expected, causing a number of legislators to complain and openly advocate not meeting the equity need. This is a not unexpected event; every year there must be adjustments in school funding based on actual data that comes in the fall. Bills passed in the spring are best estimates but usually require adjustment in the form of a supplemental appropriations bill.

This has caused Schools for Fair Funding (SFF) to file a new motion with the Supreme Court to reopen the equity portion of the school finance lawsuit known as “Gannon.” In their announcement, SFF said, “In response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s March decision, the Kansas Legislature adopted State’s Senate Substitute for House Bill 2506 (“H.B. 2506”), purportedly restoring approximately $129 million in funding to Kansas schools. Now,the State has revealed it is approximately $63 million short of fully funding equalization aid for FY15. As seems to happen all too frequently in school finance litigation, the Legislature once again adopted legislation that would allow it to meet its constitutional obligations, but then chose to fund that legislation at unconstitutional levels.

Senate Bill 71 which would change the way LOB aid (supplemental general state aid) would be calculated has raised alarms around the state as it would reduce aid for most school districts. The bill had been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee today but the hearing was abruptly canceled.

Little is happening in the Legislature today and tomorrow as we move into the celebration of Kansas statehood.

 

The Blame Game

Governor Brownback loves his tax cutting. He hired Arthur Laffer – the architect of supply-side, trickle-down economics – to help him craft tax cuts and he campaigned on a tax cutting message. Once elected he called for massive tax cuts and set Kansas on his “glide path to zero” income taxes.

Brownback said we’d have a “real live experiment” and promised his tax plans would be like a “shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy. Thousands of new jobs would be created and the state population would grow.

Unfortunately for Brownback, tax revenues began a rapid decline leading to mega-budget problems. But when the first evidence of revenue collapse came in, Brownback said it wasn’t his policies, it was Barack Obama.

And now as the mess becomes ever bigger, Brownback breaks his campaign promises and puts out a budget cutting $127 million from education. He boasted of how he put KPERS back on sound financial footing and then reneged on those promises.

He’s not getting very good press and so this past weekend, he went back to his old standby: blame someone else.

This time, speaking to Topeka business leaders, he said the problems we are facing lie with the legislature.

Well, the legislature does share in the blame but they only passed what the Governor begged them to pass. It was Governor Brownback who came up with the idea of ending the income tax. When moderate Republicans joined with Democrats in the Senate to stop the madness, it was Governor Brownback who promised them the bill would be changed in conference if they would just change their votes and approve the bill.

A few of them believed Brownback’s promises and changed their votes. The bill passed the Senate, went to the House where it was quickly approved unchanged, and dropped on Brownback’s desk. The Governor lauded it, picked up a pen, and signed it into law. It was his idea; he persuaded the Senate to reverse course and pass it, his allies in the House handed it to him, and he signed it.

But today, he says it’s not his fault schools will be cut, highway programs delayed, social services trimmed. The Legislature did it.

We wonder if anyone is buying it.

Click here to read the report on Brownback’s blame remarks in the Topeka Capital Journal.

Click here to read what the Garden City Telegram had to say about this blame shifting.

 

Senate Education Committee holds hearing on multi-year contract bill

The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 2 which would allow school districts to grant 2-year contracts to teachers with 10 or fewer years of experience and 3-year contracts to those with more than 10 years of experience.

KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti told the committee that while KNEA did not have any problem with the concept of multi-year contracts as they would give a modest level of job security to teachers, the devil is in the implementation.

If it is left to the individual principal to determine, what happens when a principal in one school gives multi-year contracts to all the teachers and the principal in a neighboring school gives none? What happens when there are arbitrary limits on how many teachers may have multi-year contracts? What happens when no one understands how individual teachers are chosen in the granting of multi-year contracts?

“These issues create morale problems that do tremendous harm,” said Desetti.

KASB also brought forth a number of concerns about the implementation of the proposal.

Senator Jacob LaTurner (R-Pittsburg) proposed the bill No action was taken on the bill today.

 

Pensions discussions on-going

In House Pensions this week the topic was selling $1.5 billion dollars of Pension Obligation Bonds. The hearing on this bill started today and will continue next week.

There are both up and down sides to bonding.

One important piece of information regards the state’s bond rating. The Kansas bond rating has been downgraded since the passage of the Brownback income tax cuts by multiple rating agencies. The bond rating is re-evaluated when a state makes an application to sell bonds.

Kansas could face another downgrade in our bond rating if the legislature approves the sale and the Governor signs the bill and an application is made to sell bonds. The cost estimates take another downgrade into consideration given that the state has not addressed the reasons why the bond ratings were downgraded previously and the state would be taking on more debt with the sale of new bonds.

Look for us to report more on this issue as it moves forward.

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