Dissent is treason… and other tidbits.

Mar 15, 2016 by

House Committee Holds Hearing of First Equity Fix Bill

The House Appropriations Committee this morning held a hearing on HB 2731, a bill proposed by Rep. Ron Ryckman, Jr. (R-Olathe) intended to address the equity finding of the Supreme Court.

Under the bill, the state would return to the pre-block grant equity provisions for LOB, Bond & Interest, and Capital Outlay. It would require about $40 million in funding. The bill provides for $17 million by repealing the extraordinary needs fund and applying that appropriation to equity funding and then finding an additional $23 million. We don’t know where that money is to be found.

While Ryckman said there was no intent to create “winners and losers,” the bill does. Some school districts will lose funding while others gain. Some legislators have suggested that the Ryckman approach might be viable except that it would likely lose the support of his fellow Johnson County legislators due to the loss of funding some of them would experience.

Some legislators have suggested a “hold harmless” provision would be necessary but at least one member of the committee this morning wondered aloud if such a provision would simply continue the inequity that caused the problem to begin with.

There were only four conferees on the bill, all listed as neutral although one, Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute suggested there would be at least four “shades of neutral.” Others conferees were KASB, Shawnee Mission School District, and Blue Valley School District.

No action was taken on the bill today.

Tomorrow the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on SB 512, the equity fix proposed by Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover). Under SB 512, equity is achieved by moving existing funds in the block grant around. There is no new money in this bill whatsoever. Most people wonder if passage of the Masterson bill wouldn’t seriously damage the state’s position in the yet-to-be-resolved adequacy decision.

House Education Committee Meeting Delayed

The House Education Committee was expected to meet today at 1:30 to continue work on HB 2456, the bond and interest review panel bill. Yesterday Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) offered an amendment that would provide for a measure of certainty in cost (the biggest complaint of the proponents) within the current system.

There was interest around the committee in the Trimmer amendment but not agreement on the details. We understand that Trimmer has worked with others including Amanda Grosserode (R-Lenexa), chair of the House Education Budget Committee to come up with a proposal that a majority of the committee could support. It was expected that this compromise would be considered today.

When they finally convened at 2:30, Rep. Trimmer offered a new amendment reflecting a compromise. The new amendment would use the current calculation for bond and interest state aid but for elections on or after July 1, 2016, the same system will be used except that the total amount spent cannot exceed the average of the past six years as determined by the State Board of Ed. The SBOE can prioritize districts or pro-rate amount should requests exceed the total allocated funds. The amendment would not have the project review board.

Veto Overrides Considered In Senate

The Senate today took action on two of Governor Brownback’s vetoes.

The first dealt with their razing of the Docking State Office Building. The Governor had made a secret deal to build a new capital complex power plant that required the razing of the building. Legislators were not happy when they learned of the deal and passed a bill stopping him from razing the building. Brownback has since said the contract for the plant was cancelled but he still fought the override. Recently he claimed that an override would jeopardize the state’s bond rating. The vote to override today fell one vote short after a call of the Senate. Senator Jeff Melcher was mysteriously absent.

The second veto dealt with an economic development program known as STAR bonds. STAR bonds deny sales tax revenue to the state from certain development projects. The Governor has proposed using STAR bonds to lure the American Royal across state lines. The Legislature given the current revenue crisis was loathe to give up so much revenue and passed legislation stopping the use of these bonds. The Governor vetoed the action and today, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to override his veto. If the House takes similar action, it will represent a significant loss for the Governor.

Palace Intrigue!

Merrick

House Speaker, Ray Merrick

Representative John Rubin (R-Shawnee) was unceremoniously stripped of his chairmanship of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee and Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene) was stripped of his position on the House Rules Committee by Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell).

It came as a shock to the those watching proceedings as Merrick made the announcement at the close of floor work this afternoon.

Rubin announced to the press that he would be resigning from the House as of midnight tonight.

Word under the dome is that the action was take because Rubin dared to challenge a ruling of the chair and perhaps Barker gave a ruling that was contrary to the chair. We’ll likely never know for sure but that’s the whispering going on over here.

We’ve been writing a lot the past few years of an increasing attitude of “dissent is treason” within Republican leadership. From the purging of moderate Republican senators in 2012 by Governor Brownback, to stripping pro-public education Republicans of seats on the education committee and taking pro-medicaid Republicans off the House and Human Services Committee, to multiple bills seeking to silence public employees, the hallmark of Republican leadership today is the demand for blind obedience to their ideology.

That’s why we would love to have you make a presence in the Capitol this week as part of our Celebrate Freedom Week. We can’t let our participatory democracy that values debate and compromise to be dismantled in favor of ideological purity. It’s spring break – come celebrate freedom under the dome!

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Fixing? Talking. Purging!

Nov 13, 2015 by

Two down, 35,998 to go!

Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office had, until recently, a list of 36,000 Kansas who tried to register to vote and had their registration suspended by Kobach because they did not have the necessary documents to prove their citizenship on hand.

Two of those on the list filed suit and guess what? Kobach cleared them, registered them to vote, and immediately asked the court to toss out the lawsuit. They lack standing, Kobach argued, because they are now registered and suffered no harm.

According to the Lawrence Journal-World,

“one of the men’s attorneys, Will Lawrence, said Kobach appeared to be ‘playing games’ with voters’ rights.

‘Obviously we are happy that our two clients are registered to vote but it’s more than these two individuals who are being affected,’ Lawrence said. ‘If Kobach can just go in and get this done, why not do this for everyone?’”

That’s a pretty good question! Read more about it here.

K-12 Student Success Committee meets again

The second meeting of the 2015 Special Committee on K-12 Student Success was held on Tuesday and was consumed with yet more information gathering.

There were a few interesting notes:

  • In reviewing data on new construction, Sen. Masterson noted that new construction seemed to be resulting in more square footage per student.
  • During a review of superintendent salaries, Rep. Lunn wanted to know if the numbers included special annuity deals (an apparent reference to the agreement between the Blue Valley School District and former superintendent Trigg).
  • When hearing about recent declines in student assessment results, Rep. Lunn asserted that school funding was increased by $312 million but scores went down. This is proof, according to Lunn, that there is no correlation between spending and achievement. (And, yes, Lunn’s assertion about increased funding for school operations is misleading.)
  • During a presentation by Scott Frank, Director of the Legislative Post Audit Division, Sen. Hensley asked Frank to tell the committee what the LPA had discovered about the relationship between spending and achievement. Frank reported that the LPA found a very strong correlation between the two; about 90%.

All of the documents from the latest meeting can be found here. Be prepared! That’s a lot of spreadsheets!

The committee will meet again on December 9.

Is Dissent Treason?

You might remember 2012 when a group of moderate Republican Senators dared to stand up against Governor Brownback’s tax “experiment” and were subsequently purged from the Senate during the Republican primary elections by candidates supported by the Governor. The message then was clear – oppose the Governor’s agenda at your own risk!

During the 2014 legislative session, the public education agenda of the Governor and his allies was blocked by a single vote in the House Education Committee as voucher bills were defeated by one vote when moderate Republicans joined Democrats in supporting public schools. Speaker Ray Merrick took care of that in 2015 by simply removing Rep. Melissa Rooker – the most outspoken Republican advocate for public education on the committee – and sending her to the Transportation Committee.

It appears there will be yet another purging of the moderates this year.

Merrick just announced that two more moderate Republicans will lose their seats on the education committee. Rep. Diana Dierks (Salina) and John Ewy (Jetmore) will be replaced by Kasha Kelley (Arkansas City) and Becky Hutchins (Holton).

Beyond that change, moderate Republicans who have supported the expansion of Medicaid in Kansas have been removed from the House Health and Human Services Committee. Looks like Merrick and Brownback will not tolerate their advocacy either.

Since all legislation must go through the committee process before hitting the floor, these changes are monumental. Brownback and Merrick are trying to ensure that no legislation they oppose will come out of these committees. Moderates are being marginalized. They will be left with taking their advocacy to the floor of the House only, making it much more difficult for them to have an opportunity to shape legislation.

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Going after employees, bargaining, elections, and justices

Feb 12, 2015 by

The War on Teachers, Police, Fire Fighters, Highway Workers, Nurses, Correctional Officers…etc., etc.

You might remember earlier this year when Kansas Speaker of the House Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) proclaimed in the press that public employees are “non-producers” – folks who just take and take and contribute nothing to society.

Well, it seems that a lot of state legislators and Governor Brownback must agree.

Yesterday we reported on the introduction in the Senate of two bills (SB 176 and SB 179) designed to end collective bargaining of anything other than “minimum salaries.” Public employees would lose the right to mediation and fact finding; they would lose the right to file a grievance. The Public Employment Relations Board (management and labor working together) would be abolished and all power for decision making handed to the Secretary of Labor (appointed by the Governor).

At the same time, the Governor announced a sweeping change in hiring practices and rules for state employees. His plan would change jobs to classified status, making most state employees “at will” employees who can be let go at any time for any reason (or no reason). He plans to end seniority considerations in staff reductions. His plan would create civil servants rewarded more for loyalty to the administration than for service to the citizens.

We can’t understand why it is that public employees have become the enemy of the state. Frankly, we appreciate having public employees plow the snow from our street or help us after an accident. We love the men and women who keep criminals behind bars, who fill the potholes, who watch over our state parks, who provide services to foster families. And of course, we love our school employees who take care of children every day.

Does anyone still need to be reminded that public employees are NOT the reason we have no money in the state bank account. Governor Brownback and the Kansas Legislature consciously worked to bankrupt the state treasury through their income tax cuts that benefit only the wealthiest Kansans leave those who depend on quality state services with nothing.


Senate Education again to take up collective bargaining

You will remember that we reported on a hearing the Senate Education Committee on SB 136, the PNA modification bill crafted and supported by KASB, KNEA, USA/KS, and KSSA. The entire education community stood up in favor of a specific bill modifying PNA. No one appeared in the committee to oppose SB 136. Sounds like a pretty easy decision – all educators support it, no one opposes it.

But…next week the Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing on SB 176, the bill we described above and in yesterday’s report. A bill the whole education community opposes; a bill which will send the teaching profession back to the turn of the century (and we’re talking about 1899-1900, not 1999-2000!

The hearing will be on Wednesday of next week. You can contact the members of the Senate Education Committee on this issue by clicking on their names below:

Sen. Steve Abrams

Sen. Tom Arpke

Sen. Anthony Hensley

Sen. Vickie Schmidt

Sen. Dan Kerschen

Sen. Pat Pettey

Sen. Molly Baumgardner

Sen. Dennis Pyle

Sen. Jeff Melcher

Sen. Caryn Tyson

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald


Other Big Issues: Elections and Courts

Most KNEA members will be as surprised as we were to learn that teachers hold total dominion over the election of local school board members. But that’s just why, according to Senator Mitch Holmes (R-St. John), that he had to introduce Senate Bill 171, a measure to move local elections from April of odd numbered years to November of even numbered years. We suppose that’s the same rationale for making those elections partisan – requiring party identification.

We are not surprised to find that city and county commissions and school boards across the state are passing resolutions opposing SB 171. They don’t want the elections closest to the people to become the partisan circus we see on the state and federal level where dark money groups on both sides spend small fortunes to vilify candidates. Our local elections do not need to become more focused on character assassination than on local issues of real concern.

At the same time we’ve been watching hearings on constitutional amendments that would abolish merit selection of justices and replace it with political whim.

Angry mostly about judicial decisions on school finance – from Montoy to Gannon – Brownback and his allies are trying to either secure for themselves the appointment of justices who will rule more in line with their ideology or, not achieving that, turn appointment to the supreme court into popular partisan elections.

Either way, the court would become beholden not to the rule of law but rather to the administration or campaign donors.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of a particular court ruling, everyone wants to know that should they need to seek justice from a court, they can count on a court that puts the rule of law and fairness above their appointment or re-election campaign.


Senate Education Still Working Homeschoolers in Sports Bill

The Senate Education continued working SB 60 today, the bill that would permit homeschool or private school children to participate in extracurricular or co-curricular programs in public schools.

A number of amendments offered by Sen. Vickie Schmidt (R-Topeka) were adopted this afternoon but she still has one more which will have to wait until Monday as the committee needed to adjourn and go to the floor.

Schmidt’s amendments would ensure that:

  • Non-public school students must pay the same participation fees as public school students,
  • Non-public school students are subject to KSHAA rules,
  • District liability insurance must cover non-public school students,
  • Non-public school students must attest to academic requirements,
  • There is no guarantee of a spot on the team; the coach/sponsor decides,
  • Non-public school students must submit proof of immunization.

That’s when the discussion ended, with Schmidt having one more amendment to go. So…More on Monday!

 

 

 

 

 

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