School Finance! School Cuts?

Mar 15, 2017 by

Senate Likely to Debate Rescission Bill Tomorrow

Governor Brownback and Senator Susan Wagle

The rescission bill (Senate Sub for HB 2052) we discussed earlier this week will almost certainly be up for debate tomorrow afternoon in the Senate. The bill does not contain any cuts to state agencies but Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) told the press today that she intends to offer an amendment containing across the board cuts to state agencies for fiscal year 2017 (which ends on June 30) during the debate.

Wagle has not said what level those cuts might be except that they will be less than 5%. The Senate earlier was to consider a bill with a 5% cut to K-12 education but it was pulled from debate when it became clear it could never pass. Whatever the cuts turn out to be, if passed they will apply to both K-12 and higher education.

We do not believe there is support in the Senate for any cuts but it’s best to be ready!


More Discussion on School Finance Bill

The House K-12 Budget Committee has spent the last three days trying to come to a consensus on what will be in the “Chairman’s Bill” on school finance. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has announced that his bill will be ready early next week. He then plans to give a little time for it to be digested by the committee and stakeholders before holding hearings which he suggested may last several days.

So far it appears that the formula will be similar to the old formula – likely a base amount with weightings to get to special needs such as at-risk and bilingual students. There was some discussion about how those weightings should be calculated. Today there seemed to be a general consensus to stick with free lunch for at-risk although there could be an effort to create a “blended” formula combining free lunch with students receiving services through a Department of Children and Families program. There was also an effort today to add additional all-risk funding for students not meeting at least two of the KSDE at-risk indicators. This would be similar to the old “non-proficient” at risk. KNEA has been a strong proponent of this to ensure that students who live in wealthy communities but are not performing satisfactorily get the help they need to be successful.

Not much has been said about other parts of the old formula including capital outlay, new facilities weighting, and ancillary weighting. Also brought up in passing were declining enrollment weighting and cost of living weighting but there was little discussion. It is hard to tell if these will be included in the Chairman’s bill or not.

There was support today for all day Kindergarten and pre-school school readiness programs as well as mentoring for teachers and professional development.

Two contentious issues surfaced yesterday when Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) suggested an expansion of the tuition tax credit or voucher program and Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) suggested merit pay for teachers. Neither were discussed in depth.

Also unknown is how the bill might address accountability. Some believe accountability belongs with the State Board of Education and KSDE while others seem to want it addressed in the finance bill.

It is possible that this will be a bare-bones proposal. The Chairman told his committee members to feel free to prepare to offer any amendments they may have in mind.

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Merit Pay; K-12 Funding Report

Jan 19, 2016 by

Merit Pay Hearing

The House Education Committee held an informational hearing on the issue of teacher merit pay this afternoon. Note that there is not a bill to create such a plan; the intent of today’s hearing was to see what people think.

It is clear that some legislators want merit pay imposed on teachers and school districts and the Governor has called for such a system to be part of any new school finance system.

Earlier in the session, the issue was brought up by Senator Melcher (R-Leawood) when Commissioner Watson and members of the State Board of Education were speaking to the Senate Education Committee. Watson and Board Member James McNiece both dismissed the idea as bad for morale and harmful to the collaborative nature of teaching.

In today’s hearing the only vocal support (outside of Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park) came from the Kansas Policy Institute and the Governor’s office. But even both of them tempered their remarks. KPI said they supported the idea “in concept” and Brandon Smith of the Governor’s office said it should be left to the local board and teachers.

Opposing the imposition of a system from the state were KASB, KNEA, Kansas Families for Education, and the Manhattan-Ogden School Board. There was additional testimony submitted in writing, all but one (the Heritage Foundation) opposed merit pay. You can read all the testimony by clicking here.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this issue throughout the session.

K-12 Student Success Committee Report Adopted

The K-12 Student Success Committee met this morning to take up the report they tabled at their last meeting. Substituted for the original report written by Rep. Ron Highland (R-Wamego) was a new version drafted by Legislative Research staff.

Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) offered a number of amendments regarding equity, assessments, the mandatory use of the ACT and bond aid payments. Most were voted down on mostly party line votes. Two were adopted:

A new school funding mechanism should:

Focus on each student understand that students have different needs and will require varying levels of support to achieve success;

Be equitable so that school districts have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.

Some thoughts by Senator Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) were appended to the end of the report while Senator Hensley submitted a minority report.

You can find the documents by clicking here.


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First Up is Merit Pay!

Jan 14, 2016 by

And they’re off! It started before the session when Governor Brownback said he wanted teacher merit pay in any new school finance system. It was ratcheted up a notch when House Education Chairman Ron Highland (R-Wamego) went on television to say merit pay for teachers is easy to figure out. Well, what he actually said is “I can walk in any school and talk to the janitor and I can tell you who the best teacher is in every school; they all know.”

The legislature is wasting no time in pushing the issue. Yesterday during a presentation to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees by Commissioner Randy Watkins and SBOE Member Jim McNiece, Senator Jeff Melcher (R-Leawood) pressed the issue. McNiece responded, telling Melcher that Kansas needs to address the overall compensation levels in the profession. He warned that raising the pay of some teachers without addressing overall compensation first would create morale problems. “What you’re going to do is make it worse,” he said. “It’s going to be throwing gasoline on the fire.”

Watson and McNiece both told the Committees that the perception among teachers that they aren’t valued is a significant problem. McNiece went on to say that Kansans need to “change the conversation about teachers and what they do, and recognize how hard they work and applaud them first.”

The evidence is clear that merit pay doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work in the private sector either. There is plenty of research demonstrating that for professional jobs requiring cognitive skills, creativity, and problem solving, merit pay or pay for performance schemes actually harm productivity.

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explores research done by economists for the Federal Reserve and the London School of Economics that clearly shows the harm done by pay for performance plans. Pink explores this in a TED Talk that you can view by clicking here.

Now, in fast tracking the idea, Chairman Highland this morning announced an informational hearing on the issue to be held when the legislature reconvenes on Tuesday. KNEA will be there to testify.

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