Celebrate Freedom Week Day 1! Due Process Bill Moves!

Mar 14, 2016 by

Celebrate freedom week was instituted by the Kansas Legislature in 2013.  The purpose was to mandate that students be taught specific aspects of Kansas and United States history.  Setting aside the fact that some in the Kansas Legislature seem to have lost sight of the participatory democracy at the heart of free society, we encourage you to come and remind them that celebrating freedom means EXERCISING YOUR RIGHTS.

Many school districts are currently on spring break offering an excellent opportunity for teachers, parents, and families to come to the statehouse and engage their representatives.  Each morning this week, a KNEA staffer will be available at about 9:30 a.m. in the statehouse to help you connect with your representatives.  Take advantage of the time and plug-in.

Today marked the final leg of Game On for Public Schools’ walk to Topeka.  Started by a parent, Heather Ousley, from Merriam, Kansas four years ago, this advocacy event has grown massively.  This year, three groups of walkers from Kansas City, Manhattan, and Emporia spent the weekend walking to Topeka to highlight the plight of public schools in Kansas.  Walking the final mile to the statehouse were a group of public education advocates approaching and perhaps exceeding 1,000 parents, teachers, school administrators, board members, and most importantly kids.  This group seized an opportunity to stand up strong for public education.  Now is the time to follow-up their efforts and keep a visible and vocal presence in the statehouse this week.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 4.29.46 PMClick Here to view a photo essay from today’s public education rally at the statehouse.

 


Education in the A & M Report

The House Appropriations Committee this morning heard reports from Rep. Amanda Grosserode (R-Lenexa), chair of the Education Budget Committee and Rep. Ron Highland (R-Wamego), chair of the House Education Committee on the discussions held in their committees on the Alvarez and Marsal Efficiency Study.

There were three recommendations that were particularly controversial; two were in the Education Budget Committee.

The first proposal would have the state sweep unencumbered cash balances from school districts. A&M suggested that fund balances could be capped at 15% and have a minimum of 10%. The sweep in the recommendation would provide a one-time influx of cash. A&M also said that such an action should not be taken until the legislature introduced year-to-year stability in school funding.

Grosserode reported that the committee should not proceed with this recommendation without first gathering a lot more information and balances that were more up to date.

The other proposal deals with requiring school districts to make purchases via the Department of Administration’s procurement list. Grosserode reported that the committee has proposed legislation to require districts to use the procurement list unless there is an existing contract or the district is making the purchase via a service center or the district can source the item within 1% of the price on the procurement list.

Highland reported on the proposal to create a state-wide health insurance plan for school employees. Highland said the state should proceed very cautiously as there were so many complications to consider. As with the cash balance proposal, the committee suggested a lot more data was needed including how benefit plans interacted with salaries in teaching. The expected a lot of push-back from teachers and school districts should they move forward with this proposal at this time.

Chairman Highland also reported that they were recommending that the state go ahead with recommendation to establish a centralized grand writing function to capture more grant money for schools.


House Education Committee Deals with Anti-due Process Bill

The House Education Committee went ahead with plans to gut a Senate Bill (SB 136) and fill it with the contents of House Bill 2531, stripping community and technical college instructors of due process protections.

Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) successfully amended the bill by adding in a requirement that those colleges utilize the e-verify system to ensure that they were hiring only legal workers. After the amendment passed, a motion to reconsider was offered by Rep. Kevin Jones (R-Wellsville). The amendment was reconsidered and passed yet again.

Rep. Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City) offered an amendment to move the effective date to July 1, 2018, two years from now. Winn argued that this would give the colleges and their employees time to negotiate their own due process provisions.  Many of the opponents said they would never deny due process protections so the Winn amendment would let them demonstrate such a commitment. The Winn amendment failed.

The bill, as amended, was then passed out of committee and will go to the full House for consideration.

 

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Mar 11, 2016 by

Due Process Gut and Go Moved to Monday

Yesterday we reported to you that Rep. Ron Highland planned to hold a “hearing” on a bill (SB 136) solely with the intent of gutting it and inserting the contents of HB 2531 stripping community and technical college teachers of their right to due process.

We got notice early this morning that the meeting was cancelled and, in a subsequent message, that the action would be moved to Monday’s committee meeting at 1:30.

We have been told that Chairman Highland came down ill and so cancelled today’s meeting.

This gives education advocates the opportunity to have a talk with their representatives while they are back home for the weekend. And please take the time to send your representative an email message using the link below.

CLICK HERE to Keep the Pressure On! Don’t be silenced!

Celebrate Freedom Week!

A couple of years ago a Kansas legislator heard an anecdote about a high school student who couldn’t recite the preamble to the constitution or maybe he couldn’t identify the primary author of the Declaration Independence and so a bill was passed creating “Celebrate Freedom Week” under which every public school would drop everything for one week and focus exclusively on study of the founding documents of our great participatory democracy.

Well, recently we have seen some interesting examples of legislators who apparently don’t fully understand how a participatory democracy works.

Just three recent examples.

Senator Masterson abruptly cancelled a hearing on a bill he introduced that would transfer education finance from the Department of Education under the State Board of Education to the Department of Administration under Governor Brownback. Citing the large number of emails he received from Kansans and referring to at least some of them as “vile,” he angrily pulled the bill out of discussion.

Senator Julia Lynn announced that a bill would pass her committee before the hearing on the bill was over. She did not let even one opponent of the bill speak before declaring that it would pass. Why should people who have a viewpoint different from Lynn’s have the opportunity to be heard?

Representative Highland mysteriously put a bill up for a hearing that had already been passed. Why have a hearing on a bill that is current law? Well, one reason is to catch the folks you don’t want to hear from off guard. Bring in the bill, carve out its contents and replace it with something you want but will generate strong opposition. It’s called a “gut and go” and it’s a shifty maneuver that has been frequently used. And it usually keeps the public away from the meeting in which it is done – no one there to witness the action, no one there to weigh in with the committee.

So you see, some Kansas elected officials have a personal agenda and things like “constituents” just get in the way. They don’t want you to know what’s happening. In the Highland case mentioned above, it took heavy questioning from a member of the minority party to get Highland to admit his intentions in public.

As Brownback and his ideological soulmates in the Kansas legislature have tightened their grip on government, the people have been getting less say in what happens. Dramatic policy changes are enacted via gut and go with no public notice. They are passed as floor amendments to other bills without ever getting a hearing. And there are controversial deals being made out of the public eye.

Participatory democracy would just get in the way of ideology.

Next week is a critical week in the 2016 legislative session. Things are wrapping up and the ideologues are teeing up their anti-education, anti-union, and anti-government bills for quick action.

This would be a great time to host a “Celebrate Freedom Week” for the Kansas Legislature!

Most school districts are on spring break next week. Why not help celebrate freedom by coming to the Statehouse in Topeka and giving the Senate and House a lesson in participatory democracy?

If you’re a teacher or parent of a student, wear your school colors! Bring your children – what a great lesson it would be in civics and democracy!

On Monday, parents from all across Kansas will converge on the capitol in support of efforts by Game On for Kansas Schools to raise awareness of the crisis in our public schools and to demand that legislators step up and support public education. They’ll be joined by members of Kansas NEA, the Kansas PTA, Kansas Families for Education, and others to make their voices heard. Won’t you join them?

KNEA President Mark Farr will be in the capitol every morning at 10:00 am just inside the security entrance on 8th Street to greet you and welcome you to Topeka. Other KNEA activists will be with him.

So let’s stand up for Kansas next week. Let’s stand up in support of Kansas schools and children. Stand in support of safe roads and highways. Stand in support of our seniors and those with disabilities. Stand in support public safety. Stand in support of our communities and our shared Kansas values.

Be a participant in our democracy.

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Transparency (n.) – when Kansas extremist legislators admit to open attacks on public education.

Mar 10, 2016 by

silentHouse Ed Returns to Their Extremist Agenda Tomorrow; Plans Include Stripping Due Process Rights from Higher Ed Instructors!

House Education Committee Chairman Ron Highland (R-Wamego) announced publicly today that he will bring SB 136 back into committee for a hearing tomorrow. This made many of us curious given that SB 136 contains only current law on collective bargaining – it is the bill that contained the education community’s PNA proposal that passed in another bill.

Now why would a committee have a hearing on a bill that already passed, albeit under a different number? The only reason is that one intends a “gut and go.” Highland, under questioning from Rep. Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City), admitted that he intended to gut SB 136 and insert the contents of HB 2531, the anti-due process bill. So this bill will be coming out of the House Education Committee yet again tomorrow.

But in addition, we’ve just learned that he will also bring back HB 2292, the bill repealing Kansas learning standards! Look for amendments to this bill and then sending it back to the floor.

CLICK HERE to Keep the Pressure On! Don’t be silenced!

 


True to Her Word, Senator Lynn Pushes Anti-teacher Bill out of Committee

Waging her war on Kansas teachers, Senator Julia Lynn (R-Olathe) railroaded Senator Jeff Melcher’s (R-Leawood) anti-teacher bill designed to stop collective bargaining for teachers in Kansas out of committee this morning. She had to cut off a Democratic senator from trying to make an amendment; she had to cut off KNEA General Counsel David Schauner’s response to a committee member’s question, but she got her way.

Senate Bill 469 would require the recertification of all teacher representative organizations every three years. This would be done via elections run by the Kansas Department of Labor.

Among the provisions specifically written to diminish teacher rights to representation are:

  • The Department of Labor would be required to conduct nearly 300 representation elections. If the department were unable to conduct all of these elections due to manpower constraints, those districts in which elections were not held would automatically be decertified. Teachers would be statutorily denied a representative for at least 12 months and lose their contract protections.
  • SB 469 mandates elections through the Department of Labor but requires the teachers to pay the Department for those elections – a classic “unfunded mandate.” Even if there was no challenge in the election, teachers would be billed by the Department of Labor for an unnecessary election.
  • Under this bill, representation would be denied unless one organization received more than 50% of the votes of all eligible voters. If people chose not to vote, it would essentially be counted as a vote for no representation. If the Senators on the Commerce Committee were held to the same super majority standard in their elections, not one would be serving in the Senate today – even the two who were unopposed in their last election! Those Senate seats would remain vacant until the next election, denying representation to all the voters in those districts.

Make no mistake about this bill. Its sole purpose is to deny teachers representation and ensure that collective bargaining cannot take place. The only proponents for the bill (other than Lynn, Melcher, and other anti-union, anti-teacher legislators) were the Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert, the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, and the Association of American Educators, an alleged teacher organization funded primarily by right wing foundations for the purpose of ending collective bargaining.

The Kansas AAE has successfully de-certified a few KNEA locals using the process currently in law and then left those teachers to fend for themselves at the bargaining table. Passage of SB 469 would assist KPI, AFP, and AAE in eliminating collective bargaining for nearly all teachers without having to do any work whatsoever.

Opposition to the bill came from all Kansas education organizations (KASB, KNEA, USA, KSSA), a number of private citizens, and other labor organizations.

The bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration sometime next week.


Sen. Masterson Pulls SB 311 in Response to Overwhelming Public Criticism

Citing public outcry and bad press, Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover) abruptly cancelled the hearing on SB 311 which would transfer education funding from the Department of Education to the Department of Administration. Masterson said it was impossible to have a rational discussion of the issue given the level of negative press. The hearing drew a large number of opponents ready to testify. There is enormous suspicion about the motives behind a bill that would take school funding out of the department controlled by the State Board of Education and shifting it to a department controlled by the Governor.

This should not be surprising given the number of attacks launched on schools, school administrators and board members, and teachers by this legislature.

This year we’ve seen serious consideration of HB 2457 transferring millions of dollars into unaccredited private schools via tax credits, SB 469 intended to destroy teacher organizations, HB 2292 eliminating Kansas education standards, and HB 2531 denying due process to community and technical college instructors.

And it’s not over.

 

 

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Merit Pay; K-12 Funding Report

Jan 19, 2016 by

Merit Pay Hearing

The House Education Committee held an informational hearing on the issue of teacher merit pay this afternoon. Note that there is not a bill to create such a plan; the intent of today’s hearing was to see what people think.

It is clear that some legislators want merit pay imposed on teachers and school districts and the Governor has called for such a system to be part of any new school finance system.

Earlier in the session, the issue was brought up by Senator Melcher (R-Leawood) when Commissioner Watson and members of the State Board of Education were speaking to the Senate Education Committee. Watson and Board Member James McNiece both dismissed the idea as bad for morale and harmful to the collaborative nature of teaching.

In today’s hearing the only vocal support (outside of Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park) came from the Kansas Policy Institute and the Governor’s office. But even both of them tempered their remarks. KPI said they supported the idea “in concept” and Brandon Smith of the Governor’s office said it should be left to the local board and teachers.

Opposing the imposition of a system from the state were KASB, KNEA, Kansas Families for Education, and the Manhattan-Ogden School Board. There was additional testimony submitted in writing, all but one (the Heritage Foundation) opposed merit pay. You can read all the testimony by clicking here.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this issue throughout the session.


K-12 Student Success Committee Report Adopted

The K-12 Student Success Committee met this morning to take up the report they tabled at their last meeting. Substituted for the original report written by Rep. Ron Highland (R-Wamego) was a new version drafted by Legislative Research staff.

Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) offered a number of amendments regarding equity, assessments, the mandatory use of the ACT and bond aid payments. Most were voted down on mostly party line votes. Two were adopted:

A new school funding mechanism should:

Focus on each student understand that students have different needs and will require varying levels of support to achieve success;

Be equitable so that school districts have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.

Some thoughts by Senator Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) were appended to the end of the report while Senator Hensley submitted a minority report.

You can find the documents by clicking here.

 

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First Up is Merit Pay!

Jan 14, 2016 by

And they’re off! It started before the session when Governor Brownback said he wanted teacher merit pay in any new school finance system. It was ratcheted up a notch when House Education Chairman Ron Highland (R-Wamego) went on television to say merit pay for teachers is easy to figure out. Well, what he actually said is “I can walk in any school and talk to the janitor and I can tell you who the best teacher is in every school; they all know.”

The legislature is wasting no time in pushing the issue. Yesterday during a presentation to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees by Commissioner Randy Watkins and SBOE Member Jim McNiece, Senator Jeff Melcher (R-Leawood) pressed the issue. McNiece responded, telling Melcher that Kansas needs to address the overall compensation levels in the profession. He warned that raising the pay of some teachers without addressing overall compensation first would create morale problems. “What you’re going to do is make it worse,” he said. “It’s going to be throwing gasoline on the fire.”

Watson and McNiece both told the Committees that the perception among teachers that they aren’t valued is a significant problem. McNiece went on to say that Kansans need to “change the conversation about teachers and what they do, and recognize how hard they work and applaud them first.”

The evidence is clear that merit pay doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work in the private sector either. There is plenty of research demonstrating that for professional jobs requiring cognitive skills, creativity, and problem solving, merit pay or pay for performance schemes actually harm productivity.

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explores research done by economists for the Federal Reserve and the London School of Economics that clearly shows the harm done by pay for performance plans. Pink explores this in a TED Talk that you can view by clicking here.

Now, in fast tracking the idea, Chairman Highland this morning announced an informational hearing on the issue to be held when the legislature reconvenes on Tuesday. KNEA will be there to testify.

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