The Session is Over, But the Court Must Still Rule

Jun 12, 2017 by

The 2017 Legislative session came to a close on Saturday night with the adoption by both chambers of the final budget conference committee report. There was little specific to public schools in the budget as the K-12 budget is contained in the school finance plan passed earlier (SB 19).

The worst bit of news in the budget bill is that the conferees did not agree to any provision to pay back the money deferred from KPERS. While this action does not jeopardize KPERS retiree benefits, it undoes some of the work done over the past few years to bring KPERS back into fiscal health by reducing the unfunded actuarial liability.

As we look at the work of the 2017 Legislature, it is a good exercise to measure that work against our own KNEA Legislative Agenda.

There are four components to the KNEA Legislative agenda: Taxation, School Finance, Support for Educators, and Advocating a Bright Future for All Kansans.

In the area of Taxation, under income tax we scored a major victory with the passage of SB 30 and subsequent veto override. Every goal we stated under income tax was achieved. The “march to zero” or “glide path” was repealed as was the LLC income tax loophole. The income tax has been restored as the foundation of a balanced tax system, and a new higher income tax bracket was added restoring progressivity to the system.

Our positions on sales tax (lowering the food rate and dealing with sales tax exemptions) while not achieved were included in bills and amendments to bills and all had hearings during the session. Sales tax exemptions on some services were even voted upon. We can report that progress has been made in addressing important sales tax issues.

We also support the repeal of property tax caps on local units of government, an issue that was not resolved this year.

Finally, we support a full repeal of the corporate tuition tax credit program. While this did not happen this year, we had one success as well as one loss in this program. All schools receiving scholarship students must be accredited (for the win) but the credit is now available to individuals (for the loss).

In the area of School Finance, the passage of SB 19 assures that the unconstitutional block grant system is now history. Senate bill 19, for the most part, meets the criteria for a formula that we included in our legislative agenda.While the new formula does not fully fund the excess costs of special education, it does provide additional special education funding. We are especially pleased that it funds all-day kindergarten and provides some funding for pre-school programs. And fortunately, other pre-K programs were protected with the decision to reject the securitization of the tobacco settlement money which funds those programs today.

SB 19 provides two years of funding increases to public education which must be tested by the Supreme Court for adequacy. We do not believe the funding to be adequate to the challenge of Gannon and will be anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court review.

In the area of Support for Educators, we are happy to report that for the first time in many years, there were no attacks on the teaching profession debated in this session! That in and of itself is a major victory and it is in large part thanks to the work KNEA members did in supporting the election of more moderate Republicans and Democrats to the legislature.

Our only loss in this area was the decision to not repay the funds deferred from KPERS. And while we did not manage to get due process protections restored, we did get the restoration through the House with a very strong bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, the Senate never took the issue up and our last chance was an amendment to the school finance bill brought by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village) that was ruled to be not germane to the bill and so was not considered. The votes in the House this year give us hope for the future.

In the area of Advocating a Bright Future for All Kansans, we must report that while we have not won on our issues, we have not lost ground either.

We were delighted to see the expansion of Medicaid pass both chambers and then disheartened with the Governor’s decision to veto it. We are sorry that the Legislature was unable to muster enough votes to override the veto.

Worst of all, despite the best efforts of many legislators, parents, faculty, students, and organizations including KNEA, the Legislature bowed to the NRA and refused to restore control of firearms to our Kansas colleges and universities. Beginning on July 1, 2017, our colleges and universities must either provide metal detectors and security personnel at all entrances or allow anyone to carry a concealed firearm anywhere on campus. Despite overwhelming support from the communities, NRA money and threats continue to carry the day.

So all-in-all, when examined in light of the KNEA Legislative Agenda, this was a very good session for public schools and public school teachers.

So, It’s Over But It’s Not Over…

As we write this today, Governor Brownback has SB 19, the school finance bill, on his desk. What we don’t know is his plan for that bill. Will he sign it? Will he veto it? Will he just let it sit there for ten days until it becomes law without his signature?

Our frustration is that every day that passes is a day less the Supreme Court has for review before the June 30 deadline.

If he vetoes the bill, the Legislature will have an opportunity on June 26 during their ceremonial sine die closing to consider an override vote but by then we are only four days from the deadline.

We are working with KNEA Legal staff to examine the various scenarios that could play out depending on a signature or a veto, an adverse court ruling or a special legislative session. Stay tuned for further KNEA reports as things play out.

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Week Four Begins

May 22, 2017 by

Both chambers were on the floor at 10:00 this morning for very brief meetings before recessing until late afternoon.

The House this morning did adopt the conference committee report (CCR) on SB 21, the KPERS working after retirement changes that we reported here on May 17 (CLICK HERE).  The Senate will likely vote on the report late today or tomorrow.

We made sure we had seats for the noon meeting of House/Senate Conference Committee on Taxes. Word was that they were close to agreeing on some changes to the CCR on SB 30. This was a plan that was not run earlier when it was found that they did not have the votes to pass it.

SB 30 would enact some very good policy changes that are widely supported. It would restore three income tax brackets somewhat higher than they are now, it would end the Brownback glide path to zero, and it would repeal the LLC business income tax loophole. Passage would restore common sense tax policy to the Kansas income tax and set the path on the right path going forward but unfortunately would not raise enough revenue to provide for significant school funding increases to meet Gannon. If SB 30 were to be adopted, a second bill would be required to fund K-21 education.

The conference committee did convene at noon but only to say they weren’t yet prepared and then agreed to return at 2:30. At a later meeting, they did agree to send the report to the House floor in SB 30. The Rise Up Coalition, of which KNEA is a member, supports this bill. It is the first step in saving Kansas from the Brownback experiment.

The House was scheduled to reconvene at 7:00 tonight and we are now waiting for the vote. If it passes the House, it may go to the Senate late tonight.

Major Opposition to Denning’s Utility Surcharge Likely to Lead to Changes

Senator Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) included an education “pay for” in SB 251, his school finance overhaul. Denning proposed a surcharge of $2.25/month/utility for residential customers; $10/month/utility for business customers; and a $120 annual fee for agricultural irrigation. Needless to say, there was heavy opposition from agricultural interests and utility companies. Word today was that there would be consideration of changing from a surcharge to a sales tax on utilities such that the more gas or electricity or water one uses, the more one will pay in taxes.

Look for a follow-up report late tonight or tomorrow morning!

 

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No Movement Today; Back to Work Next Week

May 5, 2017 by

The Legislature wrapped up business early today with no progress on the tax issue which is keeping things in limbo.

There have been several tax bills proposed but all pulled back when it was clear from caucus meetings that the votes were not there to pass them.

This is not necessarily bad news. Remember that we are only five days into the veto session and legislators are working to find the “sweet spot” at which a tax bill will raise enough revenue to stabilize the budget and fund our schools and still get enough votes to override an expected veto from Governor Brownback. This will take some time.

In the meantime, it is important for Kansans to let their Senators and Representatives know that it is time to abandon the failed Brownback tax experiment and that they must hold out until the solution fills in the budget holes, provides for KPERS and KDOT, and funds education at a level acceptable under the Gannon decision. What’s the key? Don’t vote for anything less!

The House K-12 Budget Committee meeting for today was cancelled. We expect they will meet again on Monday to pass out HB 2410, the school finance bill.

There had been rumors that they would stay in session through the weekend but the lack of progress on taxes has apparently made that unnecessary. Both Chambers will be back on Monday, convening at 10:00 am.

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It’s All About Keeping Your Word

May 4, 2017 by

Legislative Counsel Advises K-12 Budget Committee

Inside the foyer of the Kansas Supreme Court “within these walls the balance of justice weighs equal”

Former Senator Jeff King has been hired as legislative counsel to advise the Legislature, particularly on the school finance issue. King appeared before the K-12 Budget Committee today to discuss the Gannon decision and HB 2410.

There was some presentation as King shared lessons from the 2005 Montoy decision and subsequent legislative actions and his thoughts on the decision in Gannon.

King was then asked a number of questions but we think there were some important takeaways from the discussion.

First, King told the Committee to make sure they provide the funds that are promised. If you say you’re going to give the schools $150 million new dollars each year for five years, vote for a plan that provides the funding. This was the lesson from the Montoy settlement. The Legislature promised several years of funding and then reversed. The Court will not allow that to happen this time.

Secondly, don’t think that the focus in the Gannon decision on the performance of the lowest quartile of students means the amount provided for the other three quartiles is sufficient. The Court did not say it was sufficient. Don’t plan on taking money from the top three quartiles and redirecting it to the lowest quartile.

Finally, build a legislative record that demonstrates how your decisions were reasonably calculated to address the Court ruling and the needs of Kansas school students. Part of King’s job is to help them assemble that record.

The Committee may meet again tomorrow at which time they will consider any other technical amendments to the bill and possibly pass it out of committee. Depending on what else happens in the House and Senate, this could be delayed until Monday.


Tax Decisions Remain Stalled

The challenge of assembling a tax and revenue package that restores stability to the state revenue stream and provides funding both to meet the state budget as a whole and to adequately fund the K-12 education system must be quite difficult.

We have seen several plans float to the surface only to be pulled and sent back for alterations. We also continue to hear more about different factions working to put together a plan to run up the flagpole.

Part of the discussion is whether it is better to rip off the band-aid and have one vote on a big package that does it all or to take several votes on smaller packages that add up. Politically, we believe that ripping off the band-aid is the way to go. Tax votes are always hard so just do what needs to be done in one big vote. The easiest way to fix the problem is to simply repeal the failed Brownback tax experiment and return to the stable system we had in 2012. But that does not appear to be in any of the legislative discussions.

At a minimum, we believe the plan they pass must repeal the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, and re-establish a progressive three-bracket structure. The plan must be structured to fully fund KPERS, stop sweeping money from the highway fund, and provide for adequate funding of K-12 education to meet the Gannon ruling.

And while we are all frustrated that this has not already been accomplished, we need to remember that today is day four of a potentially 24-day session. There is still plenty of time for them to meet, debate, and craft the appropriate plan.


NEA Statement Regarding Federal Action to Repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act

American Health Care Act plays Robin Hood in reverse

Students and families stand to lose health care, while the law guts protections for people with pre-existing conditions

WASHINGTON – May 04, 2017 –

The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a controversial and deeply flawed plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement regarding passage of the American Health Care Act.

“The American Health Care Act (AHCA) plays Robin Hood in reverse. It fails to deliver better, cheaper health care for all Americans, instead giving massive tax cuts to the rich while causing 24 million people to lose coverage.

“This bill will slash funding to the Medicaid program that serves millions of students including those with disabilities. Apparently, snatching health care coverage from children and families was not enough for House Republican leaders and the Trump administration. The act also allows states to jettison existing essential health benefit requirements and to remove protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Bottom line, this bill is harmful and irresponsible. Families should not have to face the threat of bankruptcy due to unaffordable medical bills.

“We urge the U.S. Senate to stand with American families and reject the harmful and deeply flawed AHCA.”

To learn more about the specific concerns NEA’s nearly three million members have with the legislation, please click here.

Follow us @NEAMedia

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at www.nea.org.

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Senate puts out rescission bill after all; no school funding cuts… yet.

Mar 13, 2017 by

The Senate Ways and Means Committee this morning tentatively approved its rescission bill intended to solve the 2017 budget hole. They plan to move the bill out to the full Senate tomorrow. A vote on the floor is expected on Wednesday or more likely Thursday of this week.

The bill does not contain a 2% cut to education as was rumored. However, Senator Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) has indicated in press reports that he fully expects there to be an attempt to amend cuts into the bill once it gets to the floor for debate.

The House plan to get out of the 2017 mess created by the reckless Brownback tax cuts would delay a KPERS payment this year and not repay the lost payment from last year. In addition, it would borrow $317 million from the pooled money investment board (PMIB) and repay that loan over seven years.

The Senate version would repay the KPERS money taken from last year and take another $150 million this year to be paid back over 20 years. It would also borrow about $100 million from the PMIB instead of the full $317 million in the House plan.

Of course, any repayment plans depend on both chambers passing a comprehensive tax reform package that ends the Brownback experiment.

NOW IS THE TIME to tell your Senator to vote NO on any amendment that would cut school funding.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION NOW!

House K-12 Budget Committee Begins Writing a Plan

Today the House education budget committee began to piece together ideas for a new school funding formula. In an interesting twist, Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) turned over the Committee to Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) to handle the discussion.

In the early discussions, it would appear that the new formula would be very similar to the old formula and based perhaps on the ideas in HB 2270 (the Rooker bill) and HB 2324 (the Trimmer bill). There was consensus that they would not use the census based at-risk funding proposal but might go with a blend of poverty and “direct certification” (students certified by DCF for services). There was no consensus on a non-proficient at-risk weighting.

Bilingual weighting was discussed and there seemed to be some interest in another blend – basing funding on contact hours with certified bilingual staff and an FTE headcount. On CTE weighting, there is significant interest in looking at actual costs of individual programs and funding them accordingly.

At the end of the meeting today, Aurand brought up one of his old ideas (one that has never passed). Ever since the Montoy decision, Aurand has been proposing that the state “take credit” for more funding by calling a large portion of locally raised LOB money “foundation funding” and requiring it to be levied. Aurand told the committee he wanted this proposal in the bill.

Discussion will continue tomorrow.

 

 

 

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