Guns for Teachers, Security for Schools, & School Finance

Mar 27, 2018 by

A packed committee room greeted the House Insurance Committee early this morning as they took up HB 2798, a bill essentially forcing school districts to arm teachers as the legislative response repeated mass shootings in schools, the Parkland Student Movement and the March for Our Lives held this past weekend.

The bill popped up unexpectedly late last week and Friday afternoon was scheduled for a hearing this morning.

Proponents of the bill started their testimony first. Bill sponsor, Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) went first followed by Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover). You’ll remember Masterson put an amendment on another firearms bill that would allow the carrying sharpened throwing stars in our schools. Those are currently prohibited but Masterson’s nephew was suspended for bringing one to school. His amendment would allow them in school unless you intended to use it to harm someone. So I guess you could ask as kids come in…

Anyway, because, as the proponents were fond of saying today, “There’s nothing we can do stop mass shootings in our schools,” they want to arm teachers. Let the teacher get her kids safe and quiet, then just pull out a gun and go in search of the shooter is apparently the solution to gun violence in schools.

Other proponents were the Kansas Rifle Association (our state NRA), a high school teacher and Iraq war veteran from Wichita, and a gun range owner/former security officer.

Opponents started with KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti followed by Shawnee Mission Interim Superintendent Rick Atha, David Smith from KCK Public Schools, Olathe Public Education Network, The Mainstream Coalition, Moms Demand Action, Kansas Interfaith Action, a mother who spent time in lockdown at school with her kindergartener during a false alarm, a mom and attorney from KCK (pointing out many legal flaws in the proponents arguements), two parents from Education First Shawnee Mission, a parent from Blue Valley Schools, a school secretary from Lawrence, and a woman whose daughter was a victim of gun violence and is now raising her grandchildren. You can view a segment of today’s testimony as posted by Loud Light- facebook https://www.facebook.com/BeALoudLight/ –  (including that by KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti beginning at 09:01 below).

Written opposition testimony.

In addition, there were more than 300 pages of written testimony in opposition to the bill.

It is clear that there is overwhelming opposition to this bill. We will continue to watch this bill to see if Chairman Vickrey intends to work the bill and attempt to send it to the full House. If you have not yet weighed in on this bill with the members of the House Insurance Committee and your own legislator, we would urge you to do so now.

More on School Safety

Later, in the full House, debate was taken up on HB 2773, the safe and secure schools act.

This bill does some good. It sets standards for school security, it sets standards for school safety plans, it requires school districts to create school safety plans and it provides $5 million in matching grants for school security upgrades. It also allows school districts to offer students firearm safety training so they know what to do should they encounter a weapon.

While KNEA supported this bill in a hearing, we were clear to state that it does very little to address the problem of violence in our society and shootings in our schools. It is a mere band-aid on a wound from an assault rifle. But it is a step in the right direction.

A number of amendments were offered on the bill on the House floor today that were supported by KNEA but did not pass. One was an amendment by Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) who tried to strip out reference to the NRA and the Eddie Eagle program relying instead on Kansans to make decisions for Kansans. The amendment failed on a vote of 49 to 75.

An amendment by Rep. Henry Helgerson (R-Wichita) would have provided for ongoing funding or school security improvements through fees on firearms and ammunition – $1.00 per gun purchase and 1 cent per bullet purchase. As the bill is, funding is $5 million total and ends after one year. The Helgerson amendment failed on a vote of 35 to 88.

Rep. Brett Parker offered an amendment to provide $100,000 to survey school employees about what they would like to have to address the issue and to repeal the law that currently allows school districts to let teachers carry firearms in classrooms. (No districts do.) The amendment was divided into two parts. A vote on the funding for the survey failed on a vote of 50 to 72.

Most interesting to us was the debate on the second part, repealing the ability of school boards to allow concealed carry on school campuses. Proponents of guns in classrooms like Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) or Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) argued in favor of the sanctity of “local control.” Of course, whenever there is a vote on granting institutions of higher education or municipalities local control over gun issues, they argue the critical importance of state mandates. So, if local control results in more guns – YES. If local control resulted in fewer guns – NO. This is the very definition of hypocrisy. This amendment failed on a vote of 44 to 79.

The bill was advanced to a final action vote which will come tomorrow.

Over in the Senate

The full Senate debated three bills and advanced all three to final action.

The first bill was Sub for HB 2602 establishing the dyslexia task force. This bill, strongly supported by KNEA was advanced on a voice vote with little discussion.

Next (although much later) was SB 352, a bill dealing with transportation funding. This bill moves the funding of school transportation from the highway department to the state general fund and then establishes a new “curve of best fit” (codifying what the state department of education has been doing for years). This bill also generated little discussion and was advanced on a voice vote.

The third bill was SB 422 which deals with equity issues in the Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling.

SB 422 would repeal two provisions of SB 19 – the 10% at-risk floor and the expansion of capital outlay expenditures as called for in the Court ruling.

Additionally, it would use the current year to determine LOB state aid while requiring districts to notify the state of an intent to raise LOB by March 15. It would also allow the protest petition process for any increases in LOB over 30% and repeal any high LOB that had not been subject to an election (none that we know of).

There was an attempt by Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) to repeal the notice requirement since it comes before the Legislature sets budgets for the coming year, but that effort failed.

Senator Hensley (D-Topeka) then offered an amendment to deal with adequacy by proposing a $200 million increase in funding each year for three years as called for by the State Board of Education. The amendment failed on a vote of 10 to 28 with all nine Democrats and Independent John Doll (I-Garden City) voting YES.

A subsequent Hensley amendment would raise funding by $151 million in 2018-19, and $150 million in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for a total of $451 million (the “maintain the status quo” figure in the new cost study). That amendment failed on a vote of 10-26 again with Independent John Doll joining the Democrats in support.

The bill was then advanced to final action.

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Due Process and Bullying Bills Both Advance to Final Action

Mar 7, 2018 by

After a vigorous debate and two attempted amendments, the House advanced to final action on a voice vote, HB 2757 which would restore due process to teachers in Kansas.

Early in the debate, Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) offered an amendment to expand due process to all state and municipal employees.  He admitted he was opposed to teacher due process but said if it’s good for teachers it ought to be given to all public employees. It was clear to everyone present that his wish was to amend up the bill enough to pull supporters off and ultimately kill the bill.

Plenty of representatives pointed this out at the well and after a long debate, the amendment was rejected on a vote of 38 to 82.

Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) then offered an amendment to make this bill into his two-tiered system- this was the same amendment that was rejected by the Education Committee which he chairs. Under the Aurand amendment, teachers who had earned due process prior to the repeal in 2014 and were continuously employed in the same school district would have those earned rights restored. New teachers would have a decidedly different system. Under their system, while they could appeal a non-renewal to a hearing officer, the hearing officer could only consider the district’s evidence and the teacher could not provide evidence to the contrary. It’s like going to traffic court but being prohibited from making your case. Under Aurand’s system, real due process would end for all teachers as the veterans retired.

The Aurand amendment was rejected on a strong voice vote.

After the end of debate, the bill was advanced to a final action vote on a vote of 72-48 (a division vote, not a recorded vote).

Take time tonight to email your Representative. Ask him or her to support both HB 2757 (due process) and HB 2758 (bullying policies). 

Click here to use KNEA’s Contact Your Legislator portal. 

The saddest part of the day was listening to all of the teacher-bashing from conservatives. Rep. Kristey Williams, after letting everyone know she had been a teacher and was related to many others, gave a long lecture on teachers who sexually harass students and seemed to imply that due process could not be restored because teachers might use that as the opportunity for them to join the “me too” movement and allege sexual harassment by employers.

As was reiterated time and again during the debate, due process is simply that, a process by which teachers can redress a decision they believe was unfair and do so before an impartial officer.  Due process has never and will never usurp criminal law in cases of sexual misconduct or any other criminal offense.  Unfortunately, it appears Rep. Williams and others just don’t seem to comprehend that reality.

Some of the objection the conservatives used to hide their disdain for due process was instead framed as “local control.” Yes, local control, the catchphrase for why we can’t treat teachers like professionals. The conservatives are all for local control- until they’re against it. And when are they against it?

  • When they decide to stop cities and counties from making local property tax decisions.
  • When they are passing mandates prohibiting municipalities from using prevailing wages – a benefit for workers – in granting contracts.
  • When they are telling school districts what employee training they must offer and how much of it is acceptable.
  • When they are mandating NRA gun training in our schools.
  • When they are prohibiting colleges and universities from controlling access to their buildings by armed individuals.

According to these conservatives, school districts need local control over due process so their professional teaching staff remains at-will employees who can be fired at any time for any reason or for no reason at all.

So after spending a considerable amount of time trying to say that local control was sacrosanct, they turned their attention to a bill mandating additional procedures for all school districts regarding how they deal with bullying – HB 2578.

To be clear, KNEA supports HB 2578. KNEA supports mandates on our schools if those mandates will help our students. For that reason, we have supported this and other bullying bills. We supported Erin’s Law that requires training in recognizing signs of child sexual abuse. We supported the Jason Flatt Act that requires training in recognizing signs of possible suicidal tendencies in children. Who traditionally opposes them? KASB – under the argument of “local control” just as was clarified to be their position on HB 2757.

So for those of us in the gallery, it was like watching a conservative split screen. “We must allow local  control on due process!” “We can’t dare allow local control on bullying policies!”

The only hiccup in the passing of HB 2758 was an amendment offered by Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) which would have added three more mandates (notification of parents when their child was bullied, mandatory counseling for the target of bullying, and mandatory counseling for the bully). Additionally, it would have added a laundry list of consequences bullies would face. The list, Tarwater explained, was just a list of suggestions, not mandates.

The full House chose to keep the bill clean and rejected the Tarwater amendment on a voice vote.

After the due process bill had passed and while closing on the bullying bill, Rep. Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) told the body about all the teachers bullying students and being protected by the union. It was a truly offensive morning.

Here’s what people like Willie Dove seem to ignore. When I came to KNEA way back in 1998, I was immediately dispatched to a number of Kansas school districts where I provided resources and training for whole school staffs in programs for teachers to use in combating bullying and helping kids be allies of the targets and strong against the bullies.

KNEA – the UNION – was providing bullying prevention training to schools districts long before the legislature considered this to be an issue. KNEA – the UNION – was at the forefront of protecting our children.

Now that Rep. Dove and his friends know this (providing they read this blog), they understand that KNEA is the organization supporting legislative mandates on schools that protect our children and KNEA is the one organization that was providing bullying training long before the legislature even recognized it as a problem, I’m sure they’ll be issuing an apology.

But frankly, if I wait for that apology, they’ll likely have to deliver it to my grave.

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Local Control? Working after Retirement. Merit Selection of Justices is Saved!

Feb 4, 2016 by

Chipping away. Is the End of Local Control in Kansas Near?

Kansas legislators love to talk about “local control” but every day they are chipping away at it, considering and often passing legislation giving control of schools, cities, and counties to the Legislature.

Take for example a bill to cap local property taxes, limiting what a municipality can do to provide services to residents. The legislature is saying you can’t raise those taxes even if your residents want to. As the governor and legislature continue their march to zero revenue in the state treasury, they seek to limit a municipality’s ability to make up the difference. No local control

Bills get hearings that would prohibit municipalities from sending someone to lobby the legislature on behalf of the city, county or school district. No local control.

A bill passed that prohibits state tax dollars from being spent on lobbying against expanded access to guns. If a municipal lobbyist comes forward to oppose a bill allowing guns in the city council chambers, they must prove that only local tax dollars paid for those minutes of the lobbyist’s time. No local control.

There was a hearing today on a bill (SB 368) to prohibit cities, counties, and school districts from publishing information on bond issues to be placed before the voters. You can put a bond issue up but you can’t tell the voters about the good you expect to get from it. Of course there are no limits on what Americans for Prosperity of the Kansas Policy Institute can publish about the issue. No local control.

We have mandatory consolidation of school districts (HB 2504) – local boards and voters have nothing to say. There are bills to make school boards limit what instructional materials teachers may use (SB 56). There was even a bill mandating when schools must teach our founding documents (Celebrate Freedom Week). No local control.

The governor and legislative leadership are on a mission to consolidate their control of all levels of government. A constitutional amendment giving the governor control of Supreme Court justices is under consideration today. Dissent is being stifled (see our lead article today). And now they are chipping away at Kansas’ long tradition of local control. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


What’s Really Going On with Working after Retirement Rules?

The House Pensions Subcommittee reviewing the Working after Retirement (WAR) policies met today. The members of the subcommittee are Rep. Stephen Johnson (R-Asaria), Rep. John Edmonds (Great Bend), Rep. Jim Kelly (R-Independence) and Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield). The subcommittee is reviewing the recent changes in the WAR policies in order to “tweak” them to give school districts and other employers a little more flexibility to hire people to work after retirement which is our understanding of the work assigned to the subcommittee.

The subcommittee is reviewing what each potential tweak to the policies might cost the system, what changes need to happen in order to comply with the IRS concerns about prearranged deals for WAR, the hardship category rules, and then how to help employers hire those who need to be hired. It is our belief that the subcommittee is reviewing those category areas in order to make suggestions to simplify the rules and make it easier for employers to hire those who need to be hired to fill the open positions that their entities experience while at the same time limiting the costs to KPERS.

The subcommittee will meet again on Monday at 10 a.m. in a room to be announced.


Kansas House Defeats Constitutional Amendment Giving Control of the Supreme Court to the Governor

In a final action vote today, the Kansas House rejected an attempt to change the Kansas Constitution and return the selection of Supreme Court Justices to the world of politics and ideology.

The genesis of this amendment is the frustration conservation legislators and Governor Brownback have with a court that has called them out for their failure to provide for public education as mandated in the constitution.

Like amendments have been debated since the decision in the Montoy court case more than a decade ago. Constitutional amendments require a super-majority vote in both chambers. The House would require 84 votes to pass the amendment. The vote today was 68 to 54.


Why does Kansas have the merit system for appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court?

Prior to the adoption of a constitutional amendment creating the Supreme Court Nomination Commission, the Kansas governor made appointment to the court. This is the system that Governor Brownback and his allies wish to restore.

The change was due to the perfectly legal but unethical manipulation of the process that took place in 1956-57.

Here it is explained by Kansas Memory on the Kansas State Historical Society website:

Incumbent Governor [Fred] Hall was defeated in the 1956 Republican primary by Warren Shaw, who lost in the general election to George Docking. Then Chief Justice [William] Smith resigned from the Supreme Court due to ill health on December 31, Hall quickly resigned as governor on January 3, 1957, and Lieutenant Governor [John] McCuish became governor for the next eleven days. McCuish immediately appointed Hall to the newly vacated Supreme Court seat. While perfectly legal, this sequence of actions was considered by many to be highly unethical. In response to the “triple play,” the 1957 Kansas legislature passed a resolution for a constitutional amendment concerning the way judges were appointed. The amendment was passed in the 1958 general election. (See the documents by clicking here.)

The Kansas legislature and Kansas voters decided in 1958 to take the selection of justices out of politics and put it in the hands of an independent commission.

The Commission has nine members. The Chair who is an attorney elected by attorneys state-wide and two members from each of the four congressional districts – one attorney selected by attorneys in that district and one non-attorney selected by the governor. These commissioners review all applicants for a position on the court. They weigh the merits of each candidate and the candidate’s qualifications. The commission sends three names to the governor who selects from that list.

This is truly a non-political merit system. Justices are not chosen based on the likelihood they will rule according the governor’s personal ideology. Despite the talk of “special interests” in the House debate, the merit system denies special interest groups a say in the selection of justices. When selection is put in the hands of politicians, those selected are chosen for adherence to a particular ideology. Is the person anti-abortion? Is the person a gun control advocate?

Proponents of the change want you to believe that they are simply following the “federal model.” To an extent this is true. And looking at the federal model should give one pause. If the party of the incumbent president holds a strong majority in the Senate, the president’s nominee sails through. If not, there is open warfare while the political leanings of the nominee are debated and dragged through the mud.

Kansas has a true merit selection process. It is the best way to ensure that Kansas has a Supreme Court that is bound to the law and not to ideology. That means sometimes each of us will be delighted with court decisions and sometimes we’ll be angry. But the court will rule on the law, not the political whim of the day.

 

 

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