Taxes, Bonds, and a Budget

Feb 10, 2016 by

Taxing Authority for Community/Tech Colleges?

The House Vision 2020 Committee today held a hearing on three bills that would raise taxes for Community Colleges and Technical Colleges.

House Bill 2568 would allow community colleges to levy a property tax of up to two mills for a five year period in counties where they have satellite campuses.

House Bill 2569 raises a five mill statewide property tax levy to provide for the educational building fund to support construction at community and technical colleges.

House Bill 2570 would allow technical colleges to levy a property tax of up to two mills for a five year period in their home counties.

Representative Rooker (R-Fairway) wondered why tax bills were being heard in this committee when the House has a standing Tax Committee. That’s a good question! It could be because leadership did not want the bills in the Tax Committee and the only way they would get talked about is if they were introduced in a committee made up of almost exclusively moderate Republicans and Democrats.

The bills were not worked today. Committee Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) said that he intended to work the bills unless Committee members told him they had no interest. We’ll watch and see what happens next week.


Senate Education Hears Bond and Interest Review Board Bill

Senate Bill 356 is the Senate’s version of House Bill 2486 with both bills establishing a board to review bond issues for school districts that get bond and interest state aid. The bills also limit such aid to areas in a project that are specifically for the direct instruction of students.

The bill was supported by Walt Chappell, Dave Trabert, and Mike O’Neal. KNEA spoke against the bill, telling the committee that facilities have a direct relationship to student learning and teacher morale. Additionally, KNEA asked the committee to not approach a new school finance formula piecemeal but instead put off this discussion until they gather to craft a comprehensive school finance plan.

No action was taken on the bill.


House Ed Cancelled Today: CC/TC Due Process Debate Scheduled

Due to the long budget debate on the House floor, the afternoon committees were cancelled. The Committee will meet tomorrow but we do not know what the agenda will be at this time.

Chairman Ron Highland (R-Wamego) did announce that the committee will work HB 2531, the bill stripping community college and technical college instructors of due process protections next Thursday, February 18.


Budget Debate On-Going; KPERS Issue Amended

The House began debate on SB 161, the budget bill, shortly after 11:00 am and it is still debating as we write.

The first amendments, both of which passed, were offered by Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Asaria), Chairman of the House Pensions Committee. Johnson’s first amendment would require that the state pay KPERS back in the first quarter of the next fiscal year with 8% interest. His second amendment would prohibit the Governor from applying allotments (mid-year cuts) to KPERS in the next fiscal year.

While both amendments improve the KPERS situation, they do not reverse it. The budget still uses KPERS payments to balance the budget on paper – a very bad precedent.

It will also require the appropriation of enough money to provide the reimbursement and the interest. It’s hard to imagine that being possible given the dire conditions of the state’s revenue stream. Thanks to the reckless and failed tax policy of Governor Brownback, the state continues to bleed revenue forcing the legislature to struggle just like they are today to balance the budget. Or at least to balance the budget on paper. This budget doesn’t solve any problems; it kicks the can down the road.

We will report tomorrow on the outcome of this budget debate.

 

Best quote in the floor debate today: “If Eisenhower were a member of this legislature, he could not get himself appointed chairman of the Vision 2020 Committee.”

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Big Day Today; Big Week Coming Up!

Feb 3, 2016 by

House Ed Committee to Consider De-Professionalizing Community College & Tech College Instructors

The House Education Committee has scheduled a hearing on HB 2531, a bill eliminating due process protections for instructors at Kansas Community and Technical Colleges. The hearing will be next Tuesday, Feb. 9.

This is part and parcel of the war on dissent being led by Governor Brownback and his legislative allies. They stripped K-12 teachers of due process rights in 2014, the next year they went after state employees ending due process protections for most of them. This year they’ve set their sights on those who serve in our Community and Technical colleges. We can only assume that university professors will be targeted next year.

The legislature has not been hesitant about attacking individual college professors in the past. Twice they’ve gone after individual KU professors – once for a professor teaching a human sexuality course and later for a professor who dared to post a tweet criticizing the NRA. In this brave new world of ours, no one is off-limits. If you disagree with Republican leadership, you will be demonized.

When first reporting on HB 2531, we shared the oft-quoted statement of German theologian Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Will you speak out? Help us stand up for our colleagues and demand an end to war on educators. We must be united in our efforts. We must demand respect for all those who serve our students from pre-school through graduate school. Below are the members of the Committee linked to their emails. Let them know that it’s time to end the war on academic freedom and Kansas teachers. Vote NO on HB 2531.

 


House Committee Amends, Passes Air Gun Bill

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee worked HB 2468, a bill allowing organizations that have air gun activities to conduct those activities on school property. The bill impacts communities in which 4-H clubs, Scouting, or other youth organizations have shooting sports programs.

The bill was amended on a motion by Rep. Nancy Lusk (D-Overland Park) such that school districts could require such organizations to have liability insurance.

Students could be restricted to having possession of their air guns only during the activities. Such activities are generally held after school hours or on weekends.

The amended bill was adopted by the Committee and now must go to the full House for consideration.


Initial House Vote on Supreme Court Constitutional Amendment Shows Little Support

The full House debated and had an initial vote on HCR 5005, a proposal to change the Kansas constitution to give the governor sole power to select members of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Under the Kansas Constitution, a Supreme Court Nominating Commission selects three qualified candidates for a Supreme Court vacancy. Those names are given to the Governor who chooses the new justice. The nominating commission is made up of four attorneys selected by attorneys in each of the State’s four Congressional Districts, four non attorneys selected by the governor in each of the State’s four Congressional Districts, and the Chair who is an attorney elected by attorneys statewide.

The nine-member nominating commission reviews and interviews applicants and makes the selection on merit. The appointee is later subjected to a retention vote at which time all voters weigh in on whether or not that person should continue on the Supreme Court or be replaced.

This process keeps special interests and politics out of the selection of justices and ensures that the Kansas Supreme Court is an independent branch of government that bases their rulings on the law and not on political expediency.

The governor has been working hard to secure the selection process for himself. In a vote on the floor today there were 69 votes for ending the commission and 53 votes to keep merit selection as it is.

This moves the resolution to tomorrow for a final action vote. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it would take 84 yes votes to pass it.

KNEA supports the current merit selection process and the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.


Consolidation Hearing Lopsided

During the hearing on HB 2504, Rep. Bradford’s (R-Lansing) consolidation bill, there were four proponents to 42 opponents. In favor of the bill were Rep. Bradford, Walt Chappell, Mike Howerter (Labette Community College Trustee), and Larry Tawney (concerned citizen).

Opposition was broad including school districts, economic development groups, private citizens, parent’s groups, farm organizations, and KNEA and KASB.

It is hard to imagine that there is much chance for this bill to be worked. Chairman Highland (R-Wamego) has scheduled HB 2486, the Bond Project Review Panel, and HB 2457, the Tuition Tax Credit radical expansion for debate and vote on Monday of next week. HB 2504 is not scheduled to be worked at this time.


Subcommittee on Working after Retirement Formed

Today in House Pensions a couple of “technical clean-up” bills were heard by the committee. The real news from House Pensions is that the chair, Representative Stephen Johnson (R-Asaria), has assigned a subcommittee to review the recent policy changes for participation in Working after Retirement. The subcommittee will meet and develop recommendations which they will then bring to the entire House Pensions Committee for consideration. The work of the subcommittee could lead to changes in the current (new) procedures for participating in WAR. The first meeting of the subcommittee is tomorrow at 9 a.m. Stay Tuned.

 

 

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Criminalizing teaching! Capital Improvement! Active Shooter Protection!

Feb 1, 2016 by

Hearing Tomorrow on Bill to Criminalize Teaching of “Controversial” Materials

Senate Bill 56 which was passed by the Senate last year has been resurrected in the House Judiciary Committee. It will have a hearing tomorrow at 3:30.

This is the bill that removes the “affirmative defense” from teachers.

Let’s say a parent files a complaint that you taught pornography by having your students read The Scarlet Letter in your literature class or you showed a photo of Michelangelo’s David in your art history class. Under current law you can use the affirmative defense of the literary, artistic, or educational value of the materials. This bill essentially says the complainer is right.

While we doubt that there would be many teachers dragged before grand juries, the bill would cause school districts and teachers to self-censor materials. If one has a student in class whose parent is likely to disapprove of a book, one will no longer teach that book.

This is a terrible policy that jeopardizes the quality of education in every building. It would apply to public and private school teachers in Kansas.

KNEA strongly opposes this bill. We urge you to ask the members of the committee to reject this censorship bill and protect the integrity of instructional programs. Click here to access a roster of committee members with links to their legislative email addresses.

Click here to read the bill. Note that it removes the defense from K-12 teachers but retains it for post-secondary instructors.


House Ed Hears Bill Establish Review Panel for Capital Improvement State Aid

The House Education Committee held the first of three hearings on the so-call “Bradford Bills.” The first was HB 2486 which establishes a review board for determining if a district’s building project will be eligible for state aid, a key component of the equity provisions in school finance.

The proponents of the bill were Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Policy Institute, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and Walt Chappell. Chappell was the most outrageous, asserting that the quality of facilities has no impact on student learning. In fact, the opposite has been shown repeatedly in research.

While KASB appeared as neutral on the bill, KNEA, Kansas Families for Education, Galena Superintendent Brian Smith, Topeka Superintendent Julie Ford, USD 497 School Board VP Marcel Harmon, Bonner Springs school board member Bonnie Welicky, and Kansas PTA President Denise Sultz all provided testimony against the bill.

KNEA argued that facilities do have an impact on student achievement as well as teacher recruitment and retention. While we have an appreciation for the Legislature’s frustration with the unpredictability of the dollars necessary to fund capital improvement state aid, it would be better to makes changes as part of the new school finance system to be written later.

Tomorrow they will hear HB 2457, the radical expansion of the tuition tax credit program and Wednesday will be HB 2504, the mandatory consolidation bill.


Senate Ed Committee Learns About Product for Protecting Students from Shooters

The Senate Education Committee listened to a presentation by the Overland Park based SafeDefend company.  According to SafeDefend’s promotional literature, “SafeDefend enhances your current school safety plan and any system or process currently in place. With the swipe of a finger [and about $500 per box].”  According to the founder and his staff, meetings with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies indicate that current response plans for dealing with a crisis such as an active shooter are not effective.  SafeDefend is a locked ‘safe box’ which could be placed in a classroom or other school room and is activated by a finger print scanner.

The SafeDefend box is interconnected and upon activation by authorized personnel, the box notifies a number of agencies but also sets off a variety of visual and audible alerts that an emergency is ongoing on campus.  Presenters noted that their research indicates that a majority of active shooter situations come from students who are carrying firearms to school rather than from outside the building.  Thus, school lockdown protocols are ineffective in these situations according to SafeDefend.  Additionally, SafeDefend indicated that communities can’t expect timely response by ambulances or law enforcement in order to mitigate active shooter emergencies or the resulting physical trauma inflicted.  According to SafeDefend, the box contains tools and supplies to break windows for escape and to “stop the bleeding” until emergency responders arrive.

SafeDefend is being used in some schools and other municipal buildings which are noted on the SafeDefend website.  SafeDefend representatives report that their product is an effective insurance policy and gives faculty, staff and parents peace of mind.  Following their presentation, Chairman Abrams stated that their presentation before the committee was not to be interpreted as an endorsement of their product.  The meeting adjourned with no other discussion or action.

 

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Legislature to come after CC/TC Instructors

Jan 28, 2016 by

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller.

Piece by piece, some members of the Kansas legislature are working hard to marginalize and silence the men and women who pursue careers in public service.

In 2014, they came for the K-12 teachers, stripping them of due process protections.

In 2015, they came for state employees, reclassifying them so they would lose due process protections.

And now in 2016, they are coming for community college and technical college instructors. House Bill 2531, which appeared in print yesterday, would strip those professionals of their due process rights.

If 2531 is adopted, then all public employees – state employees, K-12 employees, and community and technical college employees – would have no administrative process to challenge a termination or non-renewal as an arbitrary or capricious act. They could all be terminated for any reason or no reason at all.

Whistle-blowers? Terminated.

Advocate for better services for your students? Terminated.

Challenge laws about guns on campus? Terminated.

Think we exaggerate? Just the other day a 15-year employee of the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board (CURB), an attorney, was fired because she spoke about a bill in the legislature. The bill, introduced by Representatives Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Annie Kuether (D-Topeka) would have directed CURB to continue representing small consumers in state rate cases. The CURB members (all Brownback appointees) had made a decision to shift their focus to fighting federal air quality rules that are increasing the costs of coal generation. Read about it by clicking here.

The legislature and Governor Brownback are obsessed with silencing all dissent. First, they went for the K-12 teachers: then they went for the state employees. Now they are coming for the community college and technical college instructors. Let’s all be ready to speak out.


Big Bills Next Week

We reported the other day about three bills getting hearings next week in the House Education Committee. KNEA strongly opposes all three bills and will be offering testimony.

On Monday, it will be HB 2486 creating the school district bond project review board under which districts that receive bond and interest state aid will have to come before a panel before issuing bonds. That panel may deny state aid for those bonds. This is part of the equity issue in school finance.

On Tuesday, we will have HB 2457, a radical expansion of the tuition tax credit bill that will allow cherry picking of high achieving students by private schools accredited or not. It takes $12.5 million out of state coffers; money that could be used to fund critical state services.

On Wednesday, HB 2504, the mandatory consolidation of school districts bill that would create mostly county-wide school districts and change the boundaries of most other districts. It calls for redoing district lines every ten years!

We have already posted more detailed summaries of the bills (see Under the Dome, January 26).

If you would like to weigh in on any of these bills with the members of the House Education Committee, you can find a link to their emails by clicking here.

Keeping watching Under the Dome for more information as these bills move through the process.


Senate Ed Committee Hears “Winter Celebration” Bill

Senate Bill 324 might be considered a reaction to the so-called “war on Christmas.” It allows the teaching of traditional winter celebrations in the history curriculum, gives permission for teachers and students to use “traditional greetings” associated with those celebrations, and requires that any displays include a secular element and an element from another religion.

KNEA testified in opposition to the bill because it would most likely restrict what teachers could do rather than giving permission to do more. In testimony, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti told the Committee:

We oppose this bill for the simple reason that we believe it restricts instruction on the history of traditional winter celebrations.

As written, the bill says that such instruction, if it is to be available, shall be a part of the history curriculum.

Today, such lessons are taught in other areas of the curriculum. For example, a comparative religions class is not part of the history curriculum. Music teachers who provide such instruction when preparing for winter performances are not part of the history curriculum. Elementary teachers often utilize literature related to traditional winter celebrations as part of their language arts instruction.

Would passage of this bill – which specifically places such instruction within the history curriculum – preclude instruction outside of the history curriculum?

We believe passage of this bill would create more confusion and be interpreted as a significant restriction on how teachers might integrate instruction on traditional winter celebrations in their classrooms.

There was only one proponent for the bill – Mark Ellis, a parent from Shawnee Mission. Ellis is the father of the girl who photographed a sex ed curriculum poster last year which created a legislative backlash. This year, she told her father that the school was having a “secret snowflake” activity rather than “secret Santa” because the district had prohibited the use on any references to Christmas at all.

No action was taken on the bill.

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