Quiet Day One of Wrap-up Session

Apr 26, 2018 by

Day one of the 2018 legislative wrap-up session was a quiet one. A number of conference committee reports were adopted and some new bills were introduced. The House was done shortly after noon today and the Senate later in the afternoon. Neither chamber planned to work into the night as this is the day of annual Legislative Shrimp Peel, an event to raise money for Kansas Special Olympics.

School Finance Measures

Of the bills introduced in the House, several were addressing the error in SB 423, the school finance bill. We don’t have the numbers yet and they won’t be available online until later but here’s what we understand about three of them:

HB 2796 – This would repeal the mandatory LOB provision that caused the error, restore other LOB provisions that had been changed, and adjust BASE aid accordingly.

HB 2797 – This would somehow amend the mandatory LOB provision so that the lost $80 million would be restored but we believe would keep the mandatory 15% LOB levy.

HB 2798 – This would strike provisions requiring school districts to adopt a minimum local option budget and transfer funds from the supplemental general fund to certain categorical funds; restore certain provisions relating to local option budgets and adjust the BASE aid accordingly.

There was another bill read in – probably HB 2799 – that would do what HB 2798 does and increase BASE aid by adjusting how the cost of living index was applied. It would also increase special education aid to the statutory 92% reimbursement and repeal a cap on bond and interest payments.

There is also a bill in the Senate (we do not have a number yet) that we understand is the same as HB 2796.

We will be keeping an eye on these bills as the session continues.

The KPERS Repayment

Yesterday we reported on a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would prepay $82 million in money owed to KPERS. KNEA supported the GBA. The House Appropriations Committee not only supported it, they augmented it by increasing the payment to $192 million before passing their budget bill out of committee.

In response to good revenue projections, the budget committees now have the ability to not just afford the school finance costs in SB 423 but to do good work in other areas as well. These revenue projections are why there is a move to increase the funding in the school finance plan which would, in turn, raise the chances of the plan being constitutionally adequate thus keeping our schools open and ending the need for a special session.

But after adding the increased spending to the budget bill, the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) that would lapse all the new spending if the Supreme Court did not accept the school finance plan. House Minority Leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said the Landwehr amendment was cruel in that it “dangles money” in front of constituents only to pull it back based on the Court ruling. 

The Landwehr amendment was adopted after an 11 to 11 tie vote with Committee Chair Troy Waymaster (R-Bunker Hill) breaking the tie with his YES vote.

In other words, don’t count on the KPERS restoration just yet.

The House will debate the budget bill tomorrow.

House Doesn’t Take the Senate’s Massive Tax Cut

The House did take action today on Sub for HB 2228, the Brownbackian tax cut bill passed by the Senate on April 7. Because the Senate put the plan in a House bill, the House could not amend it, only vote to concur or non-concur in the changes.

Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) made a motion to non-concur in the Senate changes and send the bill to a conference committee. That motion was passed on a voice vote. What this action means is the chances of the House adopting the Senate tax cuts is remote but what tax cut bill might emerge from conference is anyone’s guess.

KNEA continues to believe that Kansas would be best served if legislators would resist the urge to cut taxes while we are only 10 months into recovery from the disastrous Brownback tax experiment.

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Are We Ready for Tomorrow?

Apr 25, 2018 by

The Legislature is set to return on Thursday, April 26 and at the top of everyone’s list of questions is “What about the school finance error?”

Maybe not everyone’s, but it’s on the top of our list!

We’re working on rumors and some good intelligence gathering to try and figure out how things will go down come Thursday.

First, we know there is a planned fix for the error which is tied to Rep. Clay Aurand’s (R-Belleville) effort to mandate a certain level of LOB effort and label it as part of BASE aid. The error can be fixed simply by repealing that provision and we are hopeful that will be the first order of business.

Of course, in the meantime, the state has received more good news about revenue collections and that has spurred a lot of talk about what to do with this “extra” money.

Rumor has it that the some in the House will again try to add to the school finance bill perhaps by pursuing either an amendment offered earlier by Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to change how the CPI was calculated in determining  a funding level or one by Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) that would boost the reimbursement of special education funding to the statutory 92%. Both amendments were considered in floor debate on SB 423 earlier and were not adopted, having received only 41 and 43 votes respectively.

If SB 423 is amended to fix the LOB issue and restore the $80 million, we believe there is a chance that the Court will still believe the bill falls short of constitutional adequacy either for the overall increase or for the five-year phase in. Such a Court decision could result in a special legislative session this summer. There is also a chance the Court could call this bill a “good faith effort” and give the Legislature another year to augment the future-years in the plan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If either the Trimmer or Pittman amendments were to be added, it increases the chances that the Court will approve the plan but it may also create a greater challenge getting the bill through the Senate – we are confident Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Denning (R-Overland Park) will oppose such increases. We just can’t predict what might happen to the 21 votes in the Senate if the bill gets costlier.

KNEA supports the Trimmer and Pittman amendments because both align with our Legislative Agenda and priorities. But we also believe that, should they be offered and fail, that is not a reason to vote NO on the $80 million fix. To allow SB 423 with the error to stand as the proposed solution to Gannon would be irresponsible, to say the least. And it would guarantee a negative reception in the Court, a special summer Legislative Session, and the possibility that our schools will be closed come August.

Now throw into this the Senate’s massive, “Brownbackian” tax cut bill, HB 2228. This bill, which now goes to the House, gives away more than $500 million in new tax cuts and tax adjustments. Coincidentally, the new school finance bill with the fix costs more than $500 million. Passage of HB 2228 cancels out the revenue needed for SB 423!

The Court has been very clear that they want a school finance plan that has the money in it. They have essentially said, “show us the money.” To pass a $500 million finance plan concurrent with a $500 million tax cut would be a disaster. Remember that in the early stages of Gannon, the State argued that there was no revenue for increased school funding and the Court responded that the money was there but the Legislature gave it away in the 2012 Brownback tax cuts. Deja Vu all over again!

Our hopes for the next nine days?

Fix the mistake. Repeal the Aurand LOB amendment. That will restore the bill to the level of funding that was intended on April 7 and take care of new equity challenges.

If the votes are there to increase the funding, do so. We support full funding of special education – we always have and always will. If such amendments are not adopted, pass the underlying bill that fixes the error. Do not use a desire to do more as an excuse to not fix the underlying problem.

Resist the temptation to cut taxes again. Kansas is still in recovery from the Brownback disaster. Things are looking good but this is not the time to cut taxes. We still have to meet school funding adequacy and we also need to address the mess in our foster care system, the challenges faced in public safety, the restoration of funds taken from the highway program and KPERS, and many other vital services. Tax cuts can wait. Remember that voters in 2016 sent many new legislators to Topeka specifically to restore our revenue system. It’s only been 10 months since that happened.

Good Revenue News Means We Can Have Necessary Things Again

We, like all Kansans, are happy to see continuing good news about revenue collections. We’ve repeatedly exceeded estimates thanks to the work of a bipartisan group willing to vote to repeal Brownback’s income tax changes and then vote to override his veto of their action. It looks like the state is on a path to stability once again. We’re not out of the woods but, as Sam would have said, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”

The revenue news means different things to different legislators. Some, as we noted earlier, want to go back to handing out tax cuts as if we had already satisfied the Court school finance ruling, restored the highway plan, paid KPERS back, found the 70 missing children in DCF, and so much more.

In truth, the news means that while we can have some necessary things, we still have a lot to do to get back to our beautiful Kansas.

For the first time in a long time, the legislature is looking at budget profiles with ending balances above zero. In fact today the budget committees are looking at reports that show the state meeting the required 7.5% ending balance. HB 2228, the tax cut bill would wipe that out of course but in the meantime, they can look at other things to fix.

Governor Colyer has submitted a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would take funds above the 7.5% ending balance and make an early payment to KPERS. The Legislature is supposed to be making back payments to KPERS by 2020 and this GBA would bring a portion of that payment up now. KNEA supports this GBA. It is critical that KPERS be paid back and the sooner, the better.

This one opportunity and action should be enough to convince responsible lawmakers to step back from the temptation to return immediately to the tax policy decisions that led Kansas to the brink of disaster. We don’t need another radical tax cut – that’s how the Legislature created the problems we are facing today. Now that things are turning around, we hope the Legislature will focus on restoration of services and programs that have made Kansas a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Join with Our Partners and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Irresponsible Tax Cuts

KNEA is working with other organizations to make sure that our state has ample time to recover from the Brownback experiment before considering any reductions in taxes. As they return to Topeka, it’s important for them to hear that voters want them to act responsibly to ensure our economic and budget recovery. Please take the time to email your Legislators.

Click here to send a message to your Legislators.

 

 

 

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Schools Can Make Use of More Funding Effectively & Teachers Can Use Due Process

Feb 12, 2018 by

 

Due Process Restoration is Adopted in House Education Committee

It was a contentious debate but by the end of the House Education Committee meeting today, statutory due process for Kansas teachers was adopted. It will now go to the full House for consideration.

While working HB 2578 dealing with bullying policies, Rep. Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City) moved to amend the contents of HB 2179 into the bill. This was not a “gut and go;” it was an addition. HB 2179 had a hearing last year but Committee Chair Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) adjourned the committee without working the bill. It later passed the full House as an amendment to another bill but was not taken up by the Senate.
Aurand was taken by surprise by the Winn amendment which was seconded by Rep. Mary Martha Good (R-El Dorado). A lot of discussion ensued with opponents of due process trying to stop the amendment through parliamentary maneuvers, none of which worked.

Rep. Steven Crum (D-Haysville) asked Chairman Aurand if he would consider taking up HB 2179 on its own later this week and then holding a vote immediately after on HB 2578. Without saying yes or no, Aurand went on to take a vote on the Winn Amendment. It was adopted on a vote of 9 to 7.

Rep. Willie Dove then offered an amendment to the underlying bullying bill that would further enumerate what district bullying policies should address. The Dove amendment was adopted.

Rep. Jene Vickrey tried offering a motion to pass the original bill (HB 2578) without amendments but was ruled out of order.

HB 2578, bullying policies and teacher due process, was then passed out of committee favorably for passage on a motion by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway). It must now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

K-12 Budget Committee Hears from Superintendents – Lots of Uses for Additional Funds

Superintendents from Olathe, El Dorado, and Garden City appeared before the K-12 Budget Committee to fill in the members on how they would use an additional (perhaps) $200 million per year.

Their responses were almost identical despite their geographic differences. First and foremost – money would be used for personnel. All expressed the urgent need to raise teaching salaries but also salaries of licensed support personnel and hourly employees including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians. The point is they just can’t compete. Personnel costs would also include efforts to hire more counselors, social workers, psychologists, and classroom teachers to reduce class sizes.

Also brought up was the cost of health insurance with one superintendent saying that a beginning teacher would be left with only $2000 per month after paying for her share of the family health insurance premium. Superintendent John Allison of Olathe indicated that the KPERS retirement system for new teachers was a deterrent to recruiting teachers from other states but that the fact that his teachers have due process protections in their contract is a draw.

In summary, all the superintendents knew exactly how to put additional funds to work to improve schools, teaching, and learning.

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Still Gathering Info; Thinking About the Prospects

Jan 17, 2018 by

KSEdTalk- LEGISLATIVE LANDSCAPE 2018, CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

These early days of a legislative session leave us wondering what we have to report to you every day! Legislators might be thought of as “hunter/gatherers.” While hunting for ideas and solutions, the spend a lot of time gathering information.

So it has been so far this year. In the committees we follow most closely – Appropriations, Ways and Means, the Tax Committees, the Education Committees, and the Education Budget Committees – we have been treated to many of the same presentations. These include:

  • Reviews of the impact of SB 19, the tax bill passed last session. What we know- Things are looking up but it’s still early – we should know a lot by April. And the new federal tax bill is likely to help make our revenue picture a “wild ride” (legislative staff said that not us!) with the first impact being a large influx of income tax cash as taxpayers sent in their last estimated tax payments in December rather than January to ensure those payments could still be deductible on their 2017 federal income tax form.
  • Reviews of the deliberations of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision. This committee assembled a collection of data but chose not to forward any recommendations to the full legislature. The most talked about part of their report is their study of the impact of an 18% cut to all state agencies except K-12 education as a means of raising the $600 million they believe is needed to meet the Court’s ruling.
  • Reviews of the evolution of the education article in the Kansas Constitution (Article VI). The current language was drafted by a legislative committee in 1965 and by the public in 1966. Prior to 1966, it was the language of the Wyandotte Constitution. A number of legislators have been floating the idea of pressing a constitutional amendment to stop the Supreme Court from determining the school funding formula to be unconstitutional on the basis of adequacy.
  • Reviews for recent changes to KPERS including the impact on the unfunded actuarial liability of withholding state KPERS contributions as part of balancing the budget.
  • Presentations by Education Commissioner Randy Watson on the state of education in Kansas today.

It’s a lot of data!

 Is $600 million the number?

It would seem that $600 million is the number under the dome. The Governor proposed $600 million, meeting the SBOE or the three-judge panel recommendations would take about $600 million, the Special Committee premised their discussion including consideration of budget cuts to raise $600 million, so it sounds a lot like consensus. (We recognize that there is a core group of legislators who don’t want to increase school funding at all.)

But of course, at the same time, the legislature has contracted for a new school funding study. That study is expected to be presented to the legislature on March 15. And that’s another problem.

The Court expects briefs to be filed on April 30. Attorney General Schmidt and the state’s attorney, Art Chalmers, both asked the legislature to finish their work by March 1 in order to meet that deadline. A few legislators have begun to float the idea of waiting until that study is complete. But to do so would jeopardize their ability to argue in the Supreme Court.

There are several things the legislature needs to do to get this task accomplished.

  • They need to deal with the four unconstitutional inequities in the new formula. This is a relatively easy task and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has already filed a bill to fix those problems (HB 2445).
  • With that done, they can focus on the level of funding they need. Again, the SBOE, the three-judge panel, and the Governor have all indicated about $600 million.
  • They need to decide how to put that money into the system. The Governor suggested a five-year phase-in. We don’t know if the Court will accept a time frame of that length but most people agree there will be some kind of phase-in.
  • And finally, they need to make sure the money is available. They must show the Court that they are serious by presenting evidence that the money for a phase-in will actually be there. This might take additional revenue measures and it will certainly include evidence of increasing revenue collections.

These are the discussions we hope to see beginning very soon.

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School Finance and KPERS Under Discussion in the Statehouse

Dec 5, 2017 by

Rep. Blaine Finch, right, speaks during a meeting of a House-Senate committee starting work on the Legislature’s response to a court order on school funding. At left is Rep. Ed Trimmer.
CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

Starting to Talk About a School Finance Fix

The first meeting of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision (how’s that for a committee name!) met for the first time yesterday. They will meet again for two days on December 18 and 19 in advance of the 2018 legislative session.

Committee members are Rep. Blaine Finch, Chairman (R-Ottawa), Sen. Molly Baumgardner, Vice-Chair (R-Louisburg), Senators Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka), Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick), and Rick Wilborn (R-McPherson) and Representatives Larry Campbell (R-Olathe), Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield), Troy Waymaster (R-Bunker Hill), and Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City). As Chairman, Finch runs a tight ship, sticking to the agenda and the timelines specified in the agenda.

Yesterday’s meeting was intended to bring everyone up to speed on the status of school finance with the passage of SB 19 (the Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act or KSEEA) passed at the end of the 2017 session and the subsequent Supreme Court decision of October 2, 2017, in the Gannon school finance lawsuit. (Click here to see the powerpoint presentation used in the meeting.)

SB 19 created a new school finance formula that is very similar to the formula in effect prior to its repeal in favor of the Brownback block grants (the CLASS Act). It increased school funding by about $292 million. KSEEA also made several modifications to the equity provisions in the school finance law.

The Supreme Court on October 2, 2017, ruled that the KSEEA was unconstitutional both in terms of adequacy and equity. The Court noted that structurally, the bill was constitutional on adequacy but in implementation was unconstitutional. It was noted that the $292 million in new funding was an “outlier” when compared to other analyses – the Plaintiffs averaged the two cost studies done for the legislature and came up with a figure of $1.7 billion, the State Board of Education budget request was for $893 million, and the earlier 3-judge panel calculated $819 million. We should note that the original version of SB 19 as drafted by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) and Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) would have provided $750 million in new funding over three years.

The Court also found that four changes in the bill made funding less equitable. Specifically, they called out

  • a provision expanding the use of capital outlay funds,
  • a provision reinstating the protest petition to reach the maximum LOB,
  • a provision using the prior year’s LOB to determine equalization aid in the current year, and
  • a provision setting a 10% floor for the distribution of at-risk funds.

The Committee spent the morning reviewing all of this Court and legislative history.

In the afternoon, Finch led the committee in a discussion of what remedies might be options available to the legislature and what information the committee members would need to consider those options. Finch made it clear that nothing was off the table. Committee members should feel free to bring any ideas forward and suggesting a possible option would in no way imply an automatic endorsement of that option.

The discussion was guided by a memo from Fiscal Analyst John Hess of the Legislative Research Department (click here to read the memo). It was less about generating alternative options that it was seeking information to guide the committee. Information sought included:

  • how much of increased enrollment in our schools is due to virtual schools and students from out of state,
  • how much would need to be raised in taxes to meet the higher spending goals,
  • if new school funding was not found through revenue increases, what would across the board cuts to other programs look like, and
  • what are the implications/challenges of requiring all LOB increases to have been and continue to be subject to a protest petition?

The new data will be used in guiding discussions at the next meeting.

Challenges to KPERS Discussed in Committee

The Joint Committee on Pensions, Investments and Benefits met on Monday, November 27. On the surface, the committee’s agenda was at best perfunctory and at worse a forecast of another four or five hours listening to and digesting reports regarding Bond Proceeds and Valuation charts while sitting on wooden chairs.

But wait, there is more.

In the background of most any meeting at the Statehouse lurks the issue of school funding. Where will the legislature find the revenue to appropriately fund schools? We know some legislators have taken a stand against raising taxes to increase funding for schools and some are against complying with the Supreme Court ruling at all.  These factors leave the path to solving the school finance problem somewhat murky at best.

So, where does the legislature find additional revenue without raising taxes or cutting other vital programs?

The legislature has already used up the Bank of KDOT (the highway fund). What money could possibly be available to help solve the school finance issue? How about the bank of KPERS?

The legislature cannot legally take money from KPERS that has been deposited in the system, so that money is safe. BUT, they can reduce the funding stream to KPERS to offset money needed to fund schools appropriately. Much like robbing the armored car filled with deposits on the way to the bank, the legislature could take the money BEFORE it is deposited into the system. Appropriations to KPERS can be reduced as they have been in the past. The legislature has a history of reducing KPERS payments to fund government when revenues do not meet expectations. KPERS payments were diminished to help fund government responsibilities during the failed Brownback tax cuts.

Here is what we know from the reports submitted at the committee meeting:

  • Current KPERS retirees and actives will receive their benefits. Current earnings on KPERS accounts are equal to or greater than current payments to KPERS retirees.
  • The State/School statutory employer contribution has been below the actuarially required funding for 24 years – meaning the legislature has underfunded KPERS for 24 years.
  • The payment of the FY 2016 employer (the state) contribution reduction ($97.4 million plus promised interest) that was scheduled to be paid on June 30, 2018, was eliminated.
  • FY 2017 employer (the state) contributions were reduced by $64 million but will be repaid over 20 years starting in FY 2018. The first payment has already been made.
  • FY 2019 employer (the state) contributions are reduced by $194 million but will be repaid over 20 years starting in FY 2020.
  • The state needs to pay $623 million each year to stay even regarding their commitment to funding KPERS and not add to the underfunding of the KPERS system.

The KPERS system is currently in better shape than it has been in past years due to excellent investments and returns by the KPERS staff, the influx of bond money, and the increased contribution rates by the state and current active members.

The question posed by one of the committee members highlights the situation. “What would the legislature’s payment to KPERS be if we had paid our bill?”  Remember, it currently requires $623 million just to stay even and not put KPERS further in debt. The answer is, if the legislature had paid what was owed to KPERS, they would be making a $100 million payment each year instead of something north of $623 million.

We are already currently paying bills due for previous year’s lack of payment to KPERS. A generation is considered to be 20 years. The legislature has underfunded KPERS for the last 24 years. We are the next generation paying the bills for the last generation. We have the clear feeling that this legislature is desperate for money due to the school funding decision. If they kick the KPERS debt can further down the road, it will be our grandchildren and great-grandchildren paying the bill for the current/near future actions of the legislature. Add to that scenario the Brownback tax cuts and we can see upfront and personally the cost of those “cuts”.

Clearly, it is not appropriate for the legislature to reduce their commitment and contributions at a time when the KPERS system is just now returning to fiscal health.

 

 

 

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