A Budget and Tax Mess!

May 20, 2015 by

Budget Conference Committee meeting

The House/Senate Budget Conference Committee (House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means) met twice today to seek agreement on a budget bill.

By the end of the day, they appeared to be at impasse with one of the main sticking points being a school funding fix. Because of reduced property values particularly on oil and gas land, the 20 mill school finance property tax is not producing as much revenue as predicted. To fix this, the Legislature would need to provide about $17.5 million in FY 2016 and another $13 million in FY 2017 to make up the difference in the block grant passed earlier.

The House Appropriations Committee put this money in their budget but the Senate did not. As of now, neither side has given in on that issue.

The Conference Committee will not meet again today. We expect they will meet tomorrow.

House Tax Committee hears another bill

The House Tax Committee met this morning to hold a hearing on HB 2435, a new tax bill that would repeal the sales tax exemption on public construction projects. Currently when the state or a local unit of government (including a school district) have building projects, they do not pay sales tax on the cost of the building materials. It has been the practice in Kansas that government does not tax itself. This bill would make those materials subject to sales tax.

If adopted, the bill would drive the cost of public building projects up, forcing local governments to either scale back the project or increase property taxes in order to pay for the sales tax. It was noted in testimony that 23 states apply the sales tax to these projects, 15 do not, and it is unclear what the remaining states do.

In the case of state government, under this bill the state would have had to pay sales tax on the materials used in the renovation of the statehouse. The cost of the renovation – which was being paid by the state – would have risen substantially so that the state could pay itself the sales tax. A kind of funding loop!

Rep. Mark Rhoades (R-Newton) had proposed this as part of the overall tax package during the committee meeting yesterday.

The only proponent of the bill was Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-founded free market group.

Opposing the bill were the Kansas Association of Contractors, the Kansas Hospital Association, the Kansas Association of Counties, the Kansas League of Municipalities, KASB, the Board of Regents, and Kansas Municipal Utilities.

No action was taken on the bill today.

Is there a plan?

We have often reported rumors under the dome and the air is full of rumors right now about what might happen next.

First, there has been a persistent rumor that the Legislature will break on Thursday and go home until next Tuesday. But a subsequent rumor was that there would be an effort to break the gridlock and work through the weekend.

Part of the second rumor was the idea that both chambers could get a tax bill out of committee and on to the floor for debate by Thursday. If they passed bills, they could get into conference on taxes and might feel close to final resolution, encouraging them to stay in Topeka.

The House Tax Committee was set to reconvene at 2:30 this afternoon but the meeting was cancelled with no further meetings scheduled. That means the House won’t have a tax bill to debate tomorrow. The Senate has Senate Sub for HB 2109, which could be debated tomorrow.

So what happens next, you ask? Almost anything.

The Senate could debate and pass Senate Sub for HB 2109 early tomorrow and send it to the House. The House could concur in the bill and things would be done on taxes. But nobody knows for certain whether or not the Senate has the votes to pass the bill or if the House would concur in it. This scenario seems highly unlikely.

The Senate could debate and vote down the bill tomorrow. That would probably result in the Legislature going home for that four day weekend. No tax bill passed in the House and none in the Senate means many more meetings and there would be little incentive to give up the holiday weekend.

As we’ve been reporting, nothing seems to be securing enough votes to pass the House. One group of Republican legislators oppose all tax increases for any reason, Democrats and Moderate Republicans want to see changes to the 2012-13 tax bills that put businesses back on the tax rolls, Democrats oppose efforts to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and low income Kansans through sales tax increases.

Politically, everyone is in a tight spot as well. With KPI, the Kansas Chamber, and AFP all opposing tax increases, they are probably worried about the massive amount of money that will be spent against them in their next election. If one supports tax increases to bail the Governor out of his reckless tax plan, and the Governor’s allies then use that vote to throw one out of office, why help?

Yes folks, it’s a mess. We might assemble these reports into a book and sell the movie rights!


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Block Grant on Fast Track! And, hey, it’s my paycheck!

Mar 10, 2015 by

House putting elimination of finance formula on a fast track.

On Friday the House officially unveiled HB 2403, the GOP’s bill eliminating the school finance formula and, at best, flat funding education for three years. They had a rushed hearing on Monday, made a few minor amendments this morning, stuffed it into Senate bill 7, and fired it out.

This bill can be on the floor for debate as early as Thursday. It could be available on the Senate floor early next week. This can all happen without the Senate Ways and Means Committee ever voting. The Senate could adopt this bill with a simple vote to concur in the House amendments to SB 7.

This is exactly how the system can be manipulated to ramrod through highly controversial legislation with as little debate as possible.

It bears noting that only the Kansas Chamber, KPI, and Kansans for Liberty support the bill while all testimony from education groups, school districts, and parent groups opposed the bill.


You can send your Representative a message on the block grant bill by clicking here.

The House Appropriations hearing on HB 2403 was held on Monday; the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing on SB 273 was this morning. Both bills were introduced in identical form, although the House Committee made a few amendments before inserting the plan in a Senate bill and sending it on to the full House.

The hearings were very long as many educators came to oppose the plan. Speaking in favor of the block grant bills were Kansas Chamber President Mike O’Neal, KPI Exec Dave Trabert, and Craig Gabel and Chris Brown of Kansans for Liberty, a Tea Party organization. Opposing the bill were KASB, KNEA, USA/KS, the Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka, Hutchinson, and WaKeeney School Districts, the Kansas PTA, Game on for Kansas Schools, and a number of virtual public schools in Kansas.

Despite the Education community’s united front, the Committee chose to move ahead with the repeal of the current school finance formula and putting a temporary money distribution system in its place. Now that the House Committee has advanced the bill for consideration, we are unsure how the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate may proceed.

Senate to consider prohibiting public employees from paying association dues via payroll deduction

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 212 which would prohibit school districts from using payroll deduction for the collection of Association dues. Laughingly called “Strengthening protection of public employee paychecks,” the bill assumes that Association members need to be protected from themselves in deciding what to do with their earnings.

You might want to share some of our points on this bill with members of the committee.

  • I believe that it is my duty as a professional to be actively involved in my professional association because doing so strengthens teaching and learning conditions, offers a mechanism for problem solving and most importantly gives me a solid platform from which I can advocate for my students.
  • Previous changes to the dues deduction process restricted the use of dues for political activity. Far from strengthening my paycheck, this bill seems punitive and restricts my colleagues and myself from making choices as consumers particularly when the restriction does not apply to other organizations.
  • I voluntarily choose to be a member of my professional association,  just as I would voluntarily choose to contribute to United Way a 403B investment product or AFLAC as an insurance provider.
  • This bill legislates that as a teacher I am permitted to give via payroll deduction to organizations that meet a specific viewpoint but not to one that meets my own personal viewpoint.

Links to the Commerce Committee members’ emails are below.

Alternatively, you can click here to use the KNEA email alert system.


Julia Lynn

Susan Wagle

Tom Holland

Molly Baumgardner

Jim Denning

Oletha Faust-Goudeau

Jeff Longbine

Jeff Melcher

Rob Olson

Mary Pilcher-Cook

Rick Wilborn


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Common Core and Collective Bargaining

Feb 23, 2015 by

A bill to ban common core and just about everything else

The House Education Committee held a hearing today on HB 2292, a bill brought forth by opponents of the common core state standards (known in Kansas as the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards) that they hope will repeal the current standards and replace them with standards developed in 2003.

The bill goes much farther than common core. This bill ends anything done by a board or consortium outside of Kansas. It would end use of the SAT, the PSAT, and the AP Tests from the College Board. It goes on to specifically call out the AP tests and the International Baccalaureate Programs, requiring that those programs be rewritten to align with the 2003 Kansas curriculum standards.

In testimony on the bill KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti pointed out that, if passed, the bill would end National Merit Scholarships in Kansas, eliminate the potential for college credits for Kansas high school students through the AP program, and severely limit the chances of Kansas high school students for scholarships or entry into selective post-secondary programs.

Desetti also noted that the Legislature in adopted the Kansas Reading Initiative had specifically chosen the Lexia Reading program. But since Lexia aligns their program with the Common Core State Standards, the bill would prohibit school districts from using it.

The Common Core State Standards are supported by the United States Military to ensure that the children of military families can be certain of a basic set of educational standards no matter where the family is posted. Kansas, as a state with a strong military presence, would not be well-served by repealing the standards.

There were many conferees in the hearing today on both sides of the bill. No questions were permitted of the conferees and no action was taken on the bill.

Five Collective Bargaining Bills – Where They Stand

SB 136/HB 2257 – This is the consensus bill crafted by the education community (KASB, KNEA, USA/KS, KSSA). This bill would change the dates for notice and impasse to a more reasonable timeline; allow each side in the negotiation to notice no more than five items for negotiation thus limiting the number of items on the table in any given year; require salary to be negotiated every year; and provide training for bargaining teams. HB 2257 has not been given a hearing and sits in the House Education Committee. SB 136 had a hearing the Senate Education Committee but has not been acted upon. KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, KSSA all support these bills.

HB 2034 – This is the so-called “minority report” bill. It was crafted by Dave Trabert, Mike O’Neal, Dennis DePew, and Sam Williams. The bill limits negotiations to only salary and hours. If both sides agree, other topics could be negotiated but either side could refuse to negotiate on those items. HB 2034 had a hearing in the House Education Committee and was voted out. It now sits on the House calendar pending action by the full House. KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, KSSA all oppose this bill.

HB 2236 – This is a 2013 bill resurrected by the House Commerce Committee. This bill radically restricts collective bargaining and ends the exclusive representative provisions of the PNA. The Association could still be a negotiating representative but the contract would apply to members only. Any individual teacher could request that the board bargain an individual contract. The board would have no obligation to enter into individual negotiations and could simply make a “take it or leave it” offer. HB 2236 had a hearing in the House Commerce Committee and was voted out. It now sits on the House calendar pending action by the full House. KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, KSSA all oppose this bill.

SB 176 – This bill was introduced by Senator Melcher. It would end negotiations on anything except minimum salaries. Nothing else would be negotiable even if both sides wished to negotiate. This bill also ends provisions in the PNA for mediation and fact finding and allows the local school board to issue a unilateral contract as soon as impasse is declared. This bill had a hearing in the Senate Education Committee but no action has yet been taken. KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, KSSA all oppose this bill.

Today’s hearing on collective bargaining for teachers

Let’s repeat, the Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, the Kansas School Superintendents Association, and the Kansas National Education Association spent the last 18 months crafted a consensus bill to make changes to the professional negotiations act which all four groups could support and would make bargaining more efficient, effective, and focused. That bill is SB 136 in the Senate and HB 2257 in the House.

But there must be some people who just can’t stomach the idea of the entire education community rallying together in support of one bill. We keep seeing bills tossed out to essentially end collective bargaining for teachers.

First there was HB 2034, the so-called “minority report” bill, supported by Dave Trabert of KPI. In a hearing on this bill in the House Education Committee, the four education groups testified against it while Dave Trabert supported it. Naturally the committee ignored the educators and sided with the Kansas Policy Institute. HB 2034 now sits on the House floor.

And despite having HB 2257 in Committee, Chairman Ron Highland has declined to hold a hearing on the education community’s bill.

Up in the House Commerce Committee, a hearing was held on HB 2326. This bill ends the exclusive representative provision in the PNA that allows employees to choose an organization to represent all the employees in bargaining. Under this bill a school board could still negotiate with the local association but the contract would only be for members of the association. Non-members could ask the board to negotiate with them individually but the board could simply make a take it or leave it offer.

Again, the whole education community testified against the bill which was supported by KPI, Walt Chappell, Steve Roberts, and Ken Willard. This Committee too chose to ignore educators and approve the anti-PNA bill. HB 2326 now sits on the House floor with HB 2034.

Over in the Senate, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on SB 136, the educators’ bill, but took no action on it.

Today, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on SB 176, a bill the limits negotiations to “minimum salaries” and ends all provisions for mediation and fact finding. Walt Chappell, Steve Roberts and KPI all testified in favor of the bill while KASB Executive Director John Heim testified against it on behalf of the four education groups.

Walt Chappell told the Committee that collective bargaining has allowed teachers to work only 2/3 of the day, the other third being spent in homeroom, planning periods, and other non-teacher activities. Chappell asserted that “You can hear a pin drop in schools 15 minutes after the last bell” because teachers all leave for the day.

Trabert told the Committee that he had spoken with superintendents and the superintendents were in favor of the bill (despite the fact that the Kansas School Superintendents Association opposes the bill). When asked who these superintendents are and why they don’t come to testify in support, Trabert said they were too intimidated to come forward and that he would protect their anonymity. Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) challenged this saying that she found it absurd that the leaders in school districts, the ones making the most money at the apex of authority, could somehow be too scared to come to a public hearing and make their position known.

The committee took no action on the bill today.

A little light reading!

If you’re a faithful reader of Under the Dome, you’ve probably had occasion to roll your eyes and wonder to yourself, “What are they thinking?!” Frankly, so do we. Today we came across this editorial in the Salina Journal and found it a particularly good summary of how crazy things can get up here.

Don’t think, just vote Republican, shut up (The Salina Journal, 2/22/15)



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House Ed Dismisses Educators; Sides with Lobbyist Dave Trabert

Feb 10, 2015 by

PNA bills moving

The House Education Committee today ignored the whole education community and the Legislature’s School Efficiency Task Force and instead sided with the Kansas Policy Institute in their latest attack in the war upon Kansas educators.

Here’s the whole timeline of PNA discussions in the legislature.

At the end of the 2013 legislature, after contentious hearings on a number of bills changing the professional negotiations act – bills ranging from eliminating it entirely to more modest attempts to simply deny teachers a voice in certain aspects of their professional lives – Representative Marvin Kleeb called upon the four major education organizations asking them to come together and find mutually agreeable changes to the PNA.

The four organizations (KNEA, KASB, USA/KS and KSSA) spent 18 months in negotiation, reaching an agreement on January 21 of this year.

In the meantime, Governor Brownback appointed a school efficiency task force composed of CPAs to find ways to make schools more efficient with the state money given to them. Despite having no testimony on collective bargaining, their report carried the recommendation that collective bargaining be limited.

Later, the K-12 School Efficiency Commission decided to debate the same issue. The four education organizations came before the Commission and asked them to do nothing while the negotiations were ongoing. Despite urging from KPI’s Dave Trabert who wanted the Commission to go after teachers, the Commission voted to put only encouragement to the four groups to finish their work in the report.

Trabert, Mike O’Neal, Sam Williams, and Dennis DePew then wrote a “minority report” and Williams presented it to the House Education Committee. The Committee leapt at the chance to introduce legislation at the request of the Koch-funded Kansas Policy Institute.

The House Committee held a hearing on the KPI/Trabert collective bargaining bill. United School Administrators Executive Director Cheryl Semmel spoke on behalf of the four education organizations. Representatives of the other education organizations were on hand to answer questions. The only person appearing before the committee to support the minorlty report bill was Dave Trabert.

In the meantime, a bill representing the negotiated agreement among the educators was introduced in both the House and Senate (HB 2257 and SB 136).

This brings us to today.

At 1:30, the Senate Education Committee convened to hold a hearing on SB 136 (the Educators’ bill) and the House Education Committee convened to debate HB 2034 (Trabert’s bill).

Cheryl Semmel again representedg the four organizations in the Senate where she was supported by John Heim, KASB Executive Director, John Rasmussen, KASB Legal Counsel, and Mark Desetti, KNEA lobbyist. Patrick Woods, Topeka 501 School Board member, also spoke eloquently in favor of the bill. No one came before the Committee in opposition.

Over in the House, Representative Sue Boldra (R-Hays) offered an amendment to replace the Trabert language with the educators’ agreement. After vigorous debate, there were only 8 votes for the amendment (it takes 10 to pass an amendment or bill in the committee). Shortly after that, a motion to adopt the Trabert bill was passed with 11 votes.

The House Committee took this anti-educator vote while the Kansas Teacher of the Year Team sat in the front row of the committee room observing.

It makes one wonder, doesn’t it? What is the state of representative government when the Legislature calls upon a group with expertise in the field to address issues and bring recommendations and then rejects those recommendations for an alternative crafted by a lobbyist who has never worked in the field and does not represent people who do?

Because the vote is not a recorded vote, we cannot tell you precisely how the Committee members voted. We can, however tell you that Representatives Macheers, Barker, Dove, Rhoades, and Lunn all spoke in favor of the Trabert bill while representatives Boldra, Smith, Ewy, Dierks, Winn, Trimmer, and Bridges all spoke strongly in favor of the Boldra amendment to support the education organizations.

Take Action!

Now is the time to turn your attention to the full House of Representatives as this bill must now be subject to a vote by the full body.

Talking points:

  • HB 2034 was rejected by the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission, it was pulled from a minority report.
  • HB 2034 is opposed by the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas Superintendents Association, United School Administrators/Kansas, and the Kansas NEA. The Education organizations have a bill amending the Professional Negotiations Act, HB 2257, that they all support. HB 2257 will make negotiations more efficient, more effective, and more focused.
  • No one in the education community has expressed support for HB 2034.
  • If HB 2034 comes to a vote on the House floor, I urge you to vote NO. Instead, support HB 2257 or a motion to replace HB 2034 with the contents of HB 2257.

Click here to access the KNEA Contact Your Legislator Portal.


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