And in conclusion…School Finance!

Apr 4, 2019 by

Rep. Kristey Williams pulled no punches in her criticism of Senators who worked in a bipartisan effort to finally secure constitutional funding for Kansas public schools.

Wednesday; 1:30 PM conference committee meeting

This meeting started with a review by staff on what items had been agreed to and which were still unresolved.

The House then made a counter-offer to the Senate offer on finance made last evening. Here are the House points:

  • Accept the Senate position on bilingual education with advancing the LPA audit by two years,
  • Accept the Senate position not requiring a study of graduation requirements (financial literacy and computer science),
  • Accept the original Senate position on special education funding, keeping the 92% in place as in current law,
  • Maintain the House position on the artificial base for LOB calculation,
  • Maintain the House position on certification of instructional costs,
  • Accept the Senate position on bullying – no new provisions,
  • Maintain the House position on tuition tax credits, changing to the 100 lowest performing elementary schools,
  • Accept the Senate position on bond approval limits (stay with current law),
  • Accept the Senate position on transportation (stay with current law),
  • Reject the Senate’s finance package (same as the KSDE and the Governor),
  • Maintain the current House position on accountability reports,
  • Bring mental health program into the discussion.

Williams used the bulk of the meeting time to chastise the Senate for not accepting the House positions, accusing Senators of not caring about kids who are bullied and who commit suicide while she also attacked their support for the 92% reimbursement standard for special education.

In closing the meeting, Williams announced that the House would have a new offer on out-of-state students at their next meeting. And that next meeting will take place at 4:30 Wednesday afternoon!

Wednesday; 4:30 PM conference committee meeting

The final conference committee meeting had plenty of memorable moments.

Many folks were wondering what the impact of the new finance plan that Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) had presented to the Republican caucus in the morning would have on proceedings. Everyone knew that Ryckman and some of his allies had been courting members of the House all day looking for support. If strong support for his “Kids First (but not really) Plan” was there, what would happen to this conference committee.

The Senate, as we’ve reported, was sticking to their position in SB 142 – the finance plan recommended by the State Board of Education, supported by the Governor, and approved on a vote of 32 to 8 in the Senate. SB 142 provided $90 million in new school aid in the coming year. The Ryckman plan would have give $9 million to schools and banked $81 million to be used some time in the future.

Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) came to the conference committee meeting and announced she was retracting the last House offer and that, after a 15 minute recess, she would return with what would be the last House offer, including money.

When she came back she made an offer that was the House position on most of the unresolved policy position but they would grant the Senate position on funding if the Senate would agree to repeal the CPI adjustments in the out years. It was clear that the votes in the House were not there for the so-called “Kids First Plan.”

Senators Molly Baumgardner and Jim Denning who- along with Senator Anthony Hensley- led a bipartisan effort to move forward on full constitutional funding for public schools.

The Senate did not yield. After several rounds back and forth, it was clear that the Senate was not going to budge on school finance and on certain pieces of policy. The three members of the Senate team – Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg), Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), and Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) – showed a united front and supported each other in the arguments back and forth.

Williams grew angrier with each back and forth eventually accusing Denning and Baumgardner of not being Republican enough for opposing her demand to repeal the CPI and demanding that superintendents sign letters saying they had sufficient resources to help every child meet the Rose standards.

Baumgardner, who maintained a calm, professional demeanor throughout the process, finally let Williams know that she did not appreciate the ad hominem attacks on the Senators and accusations leveled at them. She then urged the House to take a caucus to come up with a final response to the Senate’s positions.

The House members left and after a long break returned to the table. Williams read from a prepared script that called the bill the “Senate/Governor Kelly plan”- perhaps in an effort to humiliate her Republican colleagues- and berated the Senators for working with the Governor and sticking to what she (Williams) deemed to be an irresponsible plan. But with that, she announced the House would take what the Senate offered and run it on the floor. Baumgardner adjourned the meeting.

With a determined, bipartisan approach, the Senate negotiators had managed to get SB 142 accepted as the Gannon finance response and the House backed off nearly all of their policy proposals.

Gone was the limit on bilingual education. The 92% special education reimbursement still stands. Superintendent certification of spending was abandoned along with limits on at-risk funds, an unworkable transportation policy, and much of the most expansive reporting requirements.

The result is a bill that might very well resolve the Gannon lawsuit and put the state back in constitutional compliance on school funding.

You can read the brief explaining the conference committee report by clicking here.

Thursday on the floor…

The House took up the conference committee first and adopted it on a vote of 76 to 47. Click here to see how your Representative voted.

The Senate took it up later that same day and adopted it on a vote of 31 to 8 (vote record here). The bill now goes to the Governor who is expected to sign it into law.

What happens next?

The Attorney General’s office is now tasked with writing a brief for the Supreme Court in defense of the actions taken. That brief is due on April 15 with oral arguments to follow in May.

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Conference Committee Continues On School Finance- Until House Member Walks Out.

Apr 2, 2019 by

Rep. Kristey Williams, House K-12 Budget Chair and other conferees.

9:00 AM meeting

Conferees gathered shortly after 9:00 this morning to continue discussion on school finance – or actually on school policy proposals.

The Senators came in with a counter to the last House proposal. The House had offered changes to their policy on the use of some at-risk funds.

  • Those funds could only be spent on at-risk students “ranked in the lower 50th percentile in such student’s class.”
  • Schools would be required to “evaluate outcomes data for such students , including, but not limited to, school attendance, academic progress, graduation rates, pursuit of postsecondary education or other career advancement.”
  • Funds could only be expended on “evidence-based instruction” which would be defined as “an education delivery system based on independent research that consistently produces better student outcomes over a five-year period than would otherwise be achieved by the same at-risk students.”

The Senate counter-offer rejected the bullet listed above, accepted the second, and added language to the third that would required programs to have been peer reviewed.

The Senate also accepted language extending the Dyslexia Task Force.

The Senate has so far rejected the House language ending support for bilingual students after seven years and instead suggested that the issue be revisited after an LPA study that is already scheduled and will file a report in January of 2022. During the discussion, Representative Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) asserted that schools have no incentive to help bilingual students progress and that this limit was needed to incentivize schools to help kids. She also admitted that there was no data to indicate kids were staying in bilingual programs beyond the time needed to master English.

The Senate also suggested that instead of calling for a study of graduation requirements with the goal of getting financial literacy and computer science accepted as math or science credits along with the goal of establishing an IT Commission, that both issues be handed to the Governor’s Education Council as study items.

The House agreed to the language on peer-review of programs and the extension of the dyslexia task force but will take the 50th percentile language under consideration.

As for the graduation requirements and IT Commission, Williams said it was likely the Governor’s Council would not give enough consideration to her issues and she questioned the membership of the Council because it had no legislators on it.

The Conference Committee broke to go on the floor and agreed to meet again at 1:30 this afternoon.

1:30 PM meeting

The committee reconvened at 1:30 and made a little progress when the House accepted the Senate’s offer on the dyslexia task force and peer-review of instructional programs for at-risk students. On the bilingual issue, the House agreed not to change the funding until after the LPA study was released but asked for language requiring the KSDE to collect more data on bilingual students and programs in the meantime.

The House also agreed to drop the IT Commission but to still require KSDE to study graduation requirements, doing so in conjunction/coordination with the Governor’s Education Council. Finally the House dropped some language on reporting local sources of revenue though still reporting funds spent on litigation and the number of virtual students in the district. All accountability reporting to the public would be done via a link to the KSDE website.

They broke and will meet again at 4:30.

4:30 PM meeting

It started with offers and ended with anger and a walk-out.

The Senate came with another offer – one that included an agreement by the LPA to move up the bilingual study, giving them data to make a decision in 2020 instead of 2022. They also accepted the House’s last offer on at-risk expenditures. But they held their position on the other not-yet-agreed to policy pieces in SB 16.

After some back and forth – with Baumgardner educating the conferees on a number of issues. First, Baumgardner noted existing bullying hotline that could be widely promoted instead of creating a new one. Next, she explained why the House proposal on transportation isn’t feasible (Baumgardner had clearly done some detailed research on this one). Finally, she spoke of the reality of bilingual education, specifically why some kids need more time to master English.

After her explanations were complete, the wheels seemed to come off the bus- as it were. Williams became visibly more angry and complained that the KSDE and others were not sharing information with her that should have been brought to her attention during committee hearings.

Williams was clearly planning to end the meeting when Baumgardner announced that the Senate had a funding offer.

The Senate offered Senate Bill 142, the inflation factor proposed by the SBOE and the Governor and passed by the Senate 32 to 8, language on special education funding that would retain 92% as a policy goal of the state, and accepting some accountability suggestions from the House.

Baumgardner and Hensley did an excellent job explaining the importance of the 92% to parents of special needs children and their teachers. “They would feel like an afterthought,” Baumgardner said.

An angry Williams’ clapped back asserting that the state had abandoned the 65% policy goal on “instructional spending” and that others had decided that priorities were “outside of the classroom.” “As for the rest of your offer,” Williams said, “no comment.”

Williams also refused to commit to a meeting tomorrow telling Baumgardner only that if they could meet before 5:00, would they meet. Baumgardner asked her to consider the difficulty for those constituents who listen-in or attend the meetings but Williams would not budge. Instead, she abruptly left the room.

Now, we are all left wondering what happens next.

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Education Conference Committee meeting

Apr 1, 2019 by

11:00 AM meeting

The Conference Committee on House Sub for SB 16 started meeting this morning at 11:00. Conferees represent the Senate Select Committee on School Finance and the House K-12 Budget Committee. Members of the Conference Committee are Senators Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg), Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), and Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) and Representatives Kristey Williams (R-Augusta), Kyle Hoffman (R-Coldwater), and Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City).

The first meeting was devoted to reviewing the Senate position on school finance – essentially, the Governor’s package to address Gannon increasing the current school finance formula by $90 million per year and making no policy changes to the formula (SB 142) and the House position on education policy contained in House Sub for SB 16 and having no funding for schools at all.

Interestingly, they are also discussion House Sub for HB 2395, the Williams/Landwehr school finance bill that repeals the last two years of the current school finance plan as well as the requirement to fund a CPI adjustment into the future. Williams continues to refer to this as the “House position” even though it is not. The House has not passed this bill as they can’t get 63 votes for it on the floor. Under pressure, Williams admitted that it was the House Committee’s position.

For your information, according to the joint rules of the House and Senate, “Only subject matters which are or have been included in the bill or concurrent resolution in conference or in bills or concurrent resolutions which have been passed or adopted in either one or both houses during the current biennium of the legislature may be included in the report of the conference committee on any bill or concurrent resolution.”


Essentially, that means that items in HB 2395 that are not in SB 16 or SB 142 may not be included in the conference committee report because those items have not “been passed or adopted in either one or both houses.”

After a presentation on the issues by staff, questions from Senators were answered. Baumgardner asked about the House positions on out-of-state students (taking them back to full funding), bilingual education (cutting off students who need additional time to master English), the required study of graduation requirements with an eye toward allowing financial literacy and computer science to count as math and science credits, and the formation of an IT commission.

Hensley asked why the House wanted to repeal the provision calling for reimbursement of 92% of the excess costs of special education. Other questions focused on changes to transportation, the proposed bullying hotline, and bond caps.

1:00 PM meeting

The Committee reconvened at 1:00 when the Senate made an initial offer to the House. The Senate offer is to:

  • Accept the House position in SB 16 on ACT and ACT workkeys requiring the KSBOE to provide ACT exams and 3 workkeys assessments for students in grades 11 and 12, and pre-ACT exams for students in grade 9 for school year 19-20 and beyond.
  • Accept the House position in SB 16 to replace the LPA audit on the cost of providing educational opportunities in FY 21 with an LPA audit on the unencumbered cash balances held by school districts.
  • Accept the House position in SB 16 on transfers from the state general fund to the capital improvement fund for fiscal years 20, 21, and 22.

The Senate asked the House to give consideration to the Senate position on evidence-based at-risk programs. The Senate is holding all their other positions including the funding response to the Gannon decision.

3:30 PM meeting

In a quick meeting, the House agreed to take the Senate positions on the ACT, the LPA audit, and the capital improvement transfers (which were the actual House positions originally).

The meeting then devolved into a debate over funding and approaches to funding with Sen. Baumgardner explaining that the Senate position was that of the State Board of Education and the Governor and would likely satisfy the Court’s Gannon ruling and Williams arguing that the legislature should be targeting funds and controlling how they can be spent because, according to her, schools are getting worse, not better.

The meeting had to end by 4:00 since the Appropriations/Ways & Means conference committee had the room reserved for their meeting.

They will meet again tomorrow morning at 9:00.

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Attacking Employee Rights

Mar 18, 2019 by

This morning the Senate Commerce Committee, held a hearing on SB 175, which requires members of public employee unions to be notified by their employer annually of their right to drop their union membership. Some might wonder why this bill is even necessary, given that Kansas is a “right to work” er… right to work for less state. Union membership is not compulsory and is solely the personal choice of those who choose to exercise their constitutional right to assemble freely.

The impetus behind this bill comes from the main proponent in today’s hearing, the ultra-conservative-policy-pushers known as the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI). During the hearing, the anti-labor faction threatened future lawsuits and brought in anti-union celebrity Mark Janus. Ironically, while KPI has consistently kept its funding and donor lists hidden from the public, it somehow expects that public to believe that its interest is in protecting workers from themselves.

KPI believes that this bill will encourage fewer working people to join a union. That will mean lower wages and reduced benefits and with that comes the ability to cut more taxes and reduce funding to state services. In fact, KPI was up in the House K-12 Budget Committee today arguing that, when it comes to teaching our children, money doesn’t matter.

KNEA believes that all employees have the right to organize and advocate for the best interest of their profession and for their own well-being. KNEA opposes SB 175 while recognizing that this is nothing more than another well-funded attack on working professionals and on our right to choose to organize and to advocate. We will continue to track and report on this bill in the coming days.

K-12 Budget Committee Fast-tracking Williams’ School Finance Bill

Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) introduced her first school finance bill on March 12 (12 days after the date by which Attorney General Derek Schmidt had asked for the legislature to complete its work on school finance). The 81 page bill was then scheduled for a hearing on March 14. Since testimony on a bill must be turned in 24 hours before a hearing, that meant that anyone wishing to speak had one night to read and digest the bill, analyze it, and have testimony written and submitted.

KNEA, KASB, USA, and Equality Kansas all testified in opposition to the bill on March 14. Williams continued the hearing today when the Mainstream Coalition testified in opposition. A few folks testified in favor including Walt Chappell who asserted that the state already spends too much on education and Chuck Knapp who testified as an “individual citizen” but is, in reality, the CEO of JAG-K, an organization named in the bill as a special program on which at-risk funds may be spent.

Mike O’Neal who works at least part time for KPI essentially urged the committee to ignore the courts who, in his view, have no right to meddle in issues that create funding problems for the state. O’Neal suggested that funding might be better as a grant program under which districts would say what the money would be used for and promise the results they would get with the money.

Others testified in favor of only specific sections of the bill – for example, Cerner Corporation wants the sections calling for a review of graduation requirements and the establishment of an IT Commission.

The hearing closed today with no action taken on the bill. Williams has now announced that the committee will hold hearing tomorrow on SB 142, the SBOE/Kelly/Senate plan passed by the Senate last week.

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