Bills Debated Yesterday Pass on Final Action Today

Mar 28, 2018 by

Four education bills debated yesterday, one in the House and three in the Senate, were all passed on final action votes this morning.

In the House, HB 2773, the Safe and Secure Schools Act was passed on a vote of 119-5. The bill, which was supported by KNEA, would require the State Board of Education to work with other agencies to develop standards for school security and school safety plans. Local school districts would be required to develop security and safety plans and submit those plans to the State Department of Education. The bill would also allow schools to offer firearms safety instruction using the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program or another research-based program. Such instruction would be optional.

The Senate passed three bills:

SB 352 makes adjustments to the school transportation formula, moving the funding for transportation from the highway department to the state general fund and codifying in a slightly different way than the “curve of best fit” calculation being used by the State Department of Education in distributing funding.

SB 422 repeals the 10% at-risk funding floor and expanded uses of capital outlay funds – two issues flagged by the Supreme Court as equity violations in the last Gannon decision. The bill also changes two LOB provisions that the Court deemed to be equity violations. One provision would have based LOB aid on the prior year’s LOB; that was repealed but the new bill requires advance notice to the state of a district’s intent to raise the LOB. The other provision dealt with changes in the LOB election process. The new bill allows a protest petition process for LOB increases. Some believe that this will still not be acceptable because of evidence that it is much more difficult to raise a property tax in a low-income community than it is in a wealthy community.

Both of these bills go now to the House which is working on its own transportation and equity fixes.

The Senate also passed Sub for HB 2602, the bill establishing the dyslexia task force. This bill had already passed the House but the Senate made changes to the make-up of the task force. The bill now goes back to the House for a vote to either concur in the Senate changes (and send the bill to Governor Colyer) or to non-concur and form a conference committee. Advocate groups believe the changes to the bill made by the Senate are improvements over the House version and hope the House will simply concur and move the bill to the Governor for quick action.

 

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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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A Bill to Arm Teachers and a Day on Equity & Transportation

Mar 22, 2018 by

Guns for Teachers

We’ve been wondering how long it would be before Kansas legislators got around to proposing the arming of teachers in our schools. Today’s the day.

Enter House Bill 2789 and Senate Bill 424, both creating the so-called “SAFER Act.” In the clever “language that means the opposite of what it actually does” world of ultra-conservatives, the bill purports to create the “Kansas Staff As First Emergency Responders act.” In this case, the “first emergency responders” would be classroom teachers.

Under the bill, school districts can supposedly choose to arm teachers and such teachers must hold a concealed carry permit and an additional level of permit known as the SAFER permit. These teachers would then be expected to pack a weapon at school and then confront an armed assailant.  The bill makes no provision for law enforcement to determine who might be the “bad shooter(s)” and who might be the “good shooter(s)” when the SWAT team arrives to find multiple people with weapons drawn and engaged in gunfire.

But before you think this is an exercise in “local control” for school districts, a section of the bill specifically states that in schools where teachers are not armed, should an incident take place the school district is deemed to have been negligent should there be a lawsuit or other court action.

Instead of providing resources to ensure that school buildings are secure; instead of passing legislation to control the proliferation of assault rifles (the weapon of choice in mass shootings, read more here) including universal background checks; instead of providing resources for mental health providers, HB 2789 and SB 424 simply throw guns at the problem and hope Miss Smith will just go out in the hall and shoot an intruder. Problem solved.

Kansas NEA’s position is that the safest schools are gun-free schools where the only armed persons on any school campus should be trained and licensed law enforcement personnel.  Our position is an informed position having consulted with law enforcement officials who train schools, businesses and community organizations for active shooter occurrences.  Our position aligns with our long-standing core values.

We feel it important to recognize as this debate continues to grow, that more teachers names will be engraved on the Memorial to Fallen Educators in Emporia, Kansas this June including the names of those that died to protect their students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Bill Bundling in the Senate Select School Finance Committee

Four bills were scheduled to be worked today in the Senate Select School Finance Committee today and worked they were!

Two of the bills – SB 422 and SB 423 – dealt with equity issues in SB 19 found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The other two – SB 352 and SB 450 – dealt with the transportation formula.

They started with SB 450, the bill by Sen. Bollier (R-Mission Hills) that addressed the “curve of best fit” in the transportation formula. Bollier proposed two amendments, both of which were adopted. The first directs the State Board of Education to determine how best to measure the distance from school to home for the purposes of determining whether or not a student met the 2.5-mile minimum distance. The second put in a grandfather clause intended to protect districts from negative changes.

Before moving SB 450 out of committee, they took up SB 352, a bill moving the funding of the transportation formula out of the State Highway Fund and into the State General Fund. This would save $107.3 million in highway money but require either an additional $107.3 million in general fund money for schools or for schools to simply absorb the cost of transportation in their budgets.

The Committee voted to bundle SB 450 into SB 352 and pass SB 352 out of committee and on to the full Senate.

Next up was SB 422, the bill mandating a 30% LOB, requiring notice to the State Board of Education of intent to increase the LOB by March 15, requiring a protest petition for LOB increases, requiring the transfer of some LOB funds to the at-risk fund, and linking state aid to the current year LOB. Two of the provisions in this bill are intended to address equity issues flagged by the Supreme Court (see bold type).

After much wrangling, the mandate 30% LOB was removed as was the required transfer to the at-risk fund. All other provisions remained the same.

Before passing the bill as an amendment, the Committee took up SB 423 which deals with the other two equity issues addressed in the Gannon decision. SB 423 would repeal the 10% at-risk floor and the expanded uses for capital outlay funds.

The Committee bundled the two bills together and sent the bill on to the full Senate for consideration.

House K-12 Budget Committee Also Dealing with Equity Provisions

The House Committee was also dealing the transportation and equity but instead of four bills, they had one, HB 2445.

Their work is not finished but today they approved a number of amendments to the bill.

An amendment by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) would restructure a list of scheduled LPA audits required under SB 19. Her amendment would remove reviews of the successful schools model of school funding (peer reviews found them to be not credible and lacking in rigor), re-order some studies of specific programs, and require cost function analysis “refreshers” every three years. The amendment was adopted along with one adjustment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) to move the special education review to 2019 and the virtual education review to 2023.

Another Rooker amendment to strike sunset dates on CTE funding and high density at-risk was adopted. Her third amendment removed the hoops that school districts have to jump through to get capital improvement state aid. That amendment also passed.

Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) made two attempts to change a provision lowering aid for out-of-state students which is scheduled to decline from 1.0 to 0.5 over a couple of years. His first attempt would simply repeal the reduction. That amendment failed.

Smith then proposed another amendment that would allow certain students to be fully funded and funding was essentially determined by geography – distance from the border of the student’s home state school and the Kansas school of attendance and other factors. After some discussion, Smith withdrew the amendment to give time for interested members of the committee to discuss the issue and craft a new amendment.

The Committee adjourned for the day with the understanding that they will be coming back to the bill later.

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Bill Work Picking Up; Dyslexia Bill Goes to the Floor

Mar 21, 2018 by

Dyslexia Task Force Bill Passes Senate Committee

The Senate Education Committee met today to work two bills. The first was Sub for HB 2602 which establishes a Dyslexia Task Force to consider how best to identify and serve students with dyslexia.

Three amendments to the bill were adopted.

The first amendment by Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) would add the words “and other reading comprehension impairments” throughout the bill to be sure that the Task Force explores identification and support for all reading disabilities.

The second amendment by Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) would ensure that the task force had access to the services of the legislative research department.

The third and final amendment by Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) changed the composition of the task force by eliminating four legislators and adding teachers. Under the amendment, the task force will now be composed of 17 voting members as follows:

  • one member of the Senate
  • one member of the House
  • one member of the SBOE who shall serve as Chair
  • one professor employed by a state educational institution,
  • two principals,
  • four parents of children diagnosed with dyslexia,
  • one special education director
  • one elementary building-level reading specialist,
  • one elementary special education teacher,
  • one elementary classroom teacher,
  • one middle school classroom teacher,
  • one licensed psychologist or speech-language pathologist who diagnoses dyslexia, and
  • one appointee of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.

There will also be two non-voting attorneys on the task force; one from the State Department of Education and one who is familiar with dyslexia issues.

The amendment also spells out how such members will be appointed.

All three amendments passed unanimously and the bill, as amended, was passed out of committee unanimously. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Education Inspector General Bill Defeated in Committee

Senate Bill 424 which would have established an “Education Inspector General” in the State Treasurer’s Office was also worked in the Senate Education Committee today. This position appeared to be created in response to the anger conservatives felt over the distribution of school transportation funding which erupted earlier in the session.

The position was intended to run continuing audits of school districts with the intent to find inefficiencies and fraud. While some amendments were offered and some of those amendments were adopted, in the end, a motion to pass the bill out of committee as amended failed on a vote of 5 to 6. The bill will not go forward.

Senate Finance Committee Hears Transportation Bills

So the Education Inspector General bill was defeated but transportation continued to be a topic immediately afterward when the Senate Select Committee on School Finance met to hold hearings on two bills dealing with transportation.

The first bill, SB 352, would move the funding for school transportation from the Highway Department to the State General Fund. For years transportation funding has been transferred out the Highway Fund. This bill would simply change the source of those funds to the State General Fund and would have no impact on the formula.

The second bill, SB 450, was introduced by Sen. Bollier and would put into law the curve of best fit in the transportation formula. The curve adjustment has been used for many years but when it was revealed this year that it was not actually in statute there was an uproar among conservatives. The Legislative Post Audit had recommended that it be put in statute.

There have been several bills to do this but the Bollier proposal is the first to adjust the formula such that it can be adjusted easily if more transportation funding is needed and to respond automatically to rising costs.

No action was taken on either bill today.

Commissioner Watson Back in K-12 Budget Committee

Education Commissioner Randy Watson made a return appearance before the House K-12 Budget Committee today to once again review Kansans Can! and share the accreditation program the department uses.

The presentation was not terribly long today (they’ve had presentations like this before this session) and did not generate a lot of discussions.

Watson also demonstrated the use of the School Report Cards website and how it can allow policy-makers, parents, and school personnel to keep up with performance indicators and even find like school districts with whom to potentially partner for professional development.

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