Approaching Turn-around & The Continuing Saga of Due Process

Feb 16, 2018 by

Almost Halfway Home

It’s a pro forma day under the dome which means legislators did a quick check in this morning, then headed for home.

Monday will be the last day for committee hearings with Tuesday marking the lead up to “turn around” – the time by which bills must pass the chamber of origin in order to be debated in the second chamber. The exception is for bills that are in time-line exempt committees. Those committees are House and Senate Federal and State Affairs, Senate Ways and Means, Senate Assessment and Taxation, and the House committees on Calendar and Printing, Appropriations, and Taxation. A bill can also be “saved” by being referred by leadership to an exempt committee.

Both chambers will spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on the floor trying to pass whatever bills they have available before they begin the turn around break on Friday. The second half of the session will begin on Wednesday, February 28.

A few legislators will not get Friday off, however. Dr. Lori Taylor who has been hired to conduct the new school finance cost study will be in Topeka to meet with members of the House K-12 Budget Committee and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance with whom she will discuss the cost study. The study is expected to be delivered on March 15, a full two weeks past the deadline for a school finance the Attorney General requested at the beginning of the session.

As of today, no bills dealing with any part of school finance have advanced.

“Konspiring” with Kobach?

House Higher Education Budget Chairman Kevin Jones (R-Wellsville) surprised everyone (everyone that is except Kris Kobach) by rescheduling a hearing on HB 2643 from next Monday to yesterday. The last-minute change meant that many opponents of the bill had not had the opportunity to sign up as conferees. Kobach seemed to be the one person who knew about the change.

HB 2643 would disallow in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants and use the savings to provide post-secondary tuition relief for foster children. As a reminder in-state tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants are only available to children who have graduated from a Kansas high school, have been in the country for at least three years, and sign an affidavit of their intent to pursue citizenship as soon as they are able.

While KNEA would normally rejoice over a bill to provide tuition assistance to foster children, we cannot support one that also puts post-secondary education out of reach of other young people.

With general outrage of the sudden change of times, Jones decided to continue the hearing on Monday. KNEA will submit testimony at that time.

What Happened with Due Process Yesterday?

Well, nothing. Committee Chair Clay Aurand canceled the scheduled meeting of the House Education Committee and announced that there would be a committee meeting on Monday for the express purpose of dealing with due process.

This gives you the opportunity over the weekend to call and email the members of the House Education Committee and let them know that the real option is to call upon Clay Aurand and Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) to let HB 2578 to come up for action on the House floor. It sits available for action at this time.

This bill makes improvements to the statute on school district bullying plans and restores due process to all Kansas teachers. There is no need to pass any other bullying or due process bills out of committee. Let them take up the one that is already on the floor and put both issues to rest in the House of Representatives. Once that is done we can get on with the business of passing a school funding fix that will satisfy the Supreme Court and keep our schools open.

House Education Committee Members (*denotes those who voted YES to pass an amendment to the bullying bill which restores due process for K-12 teachers).  Click to view contact information for each member.

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Vouchers, New Bills, & Changes in Leadership

Feb 5, 2018 by

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

Vouchers disguised as “scholarships?”

The House has a voucher bill, introduced in the Appropriations Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). This bill called the “Kansas Empowerment Scholarship Act, HB 2609, would allow a parent to sign an agreement with the State Treasurer promising to not enroll a child in the local public school. For this, the state would put 80% of the base aid that would have been spent on the child into a special fund and use that money to reimburse the parent for education expenses at a “participating learning entity.” And yes, that entity could be a homeschool providing the homeschool is registered with the State Department of Education. There would be no accountability measures on “participating learning entities.”

The Senate has a scholarship bill as well, but it’s not a voucher proposal per se. Senate bill 366, the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act, introduced at the request of Sen. Mike Petersen (R-Wichita), provides that if a student in a public high school graduates by September 20 of what would be his/her senior year, then 95% of base aid that would have been sent to the USD for that student will be used as a post-secondary scholarship provided the student is enrolled in a Kansas public post-secondary institution or a private post-secondary institution that is accredited and has a physical presence in Kansas. The other 5% of base aid would go to the school district from which the student graduated.

New Bills Introduced on Last Day for Committee Bill Introductions

Two new bills were introduced in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee today. Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) introduced a bill changing the multiplier in the transportation formula for students living more than 2.5 miles from home. Aurand told the committee this was intended to be in line with a recommendation from Post Audit.

Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) introduced a new school finance formula bill. We will be anxious to see what’s in this one. It’s the first new finance bill of the session.

Four new bills were introduced in the House Education Committee. Aurand introduced two bills; one dealing with the transfer of territory between districts and the other is a “building finance transparency act.” This bill, according to his explanation deals with letting people know how money goes from the central office to the school and is spent.

Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) introduced a bill on access to ABA therapy for students with autism. This is an issue Schwab fought for last year and in withdrawing it from consideration in the school finance bill last year, he was promised a hearing on the idea in Aurand’s education committee this year.

Finally, Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park) introduced a bill dealing with disclosure on gifts and grants to post-secondary institutions.

None of these bills are available for reading at this time. We expect them in the next few days.

Campbell Out, Patton In

Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has resigned his seat in the legislature to take the position of Budget Director in the Colyer administration. Campbell has served as chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee. House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) appointed Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) to replace Campbell as chair of the committee. We still do not know who will be taking Campbell’s committee seat.

Campbell was a fair and even-handed committee leader (facilitator, he liked to say) and we would expect Patton to lead in a very similar fashion.

Congratulations to both men. It will be up to precinct committee chairs in Campbell’s district to choose his successor.

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The Days are Ticking Down

Feb 2, 2018 by

Way back when we reported here that Attorney General Derek Schmidt appeared before the House K-12 Education Budget Committee and urged them to finish their response to the Gannon school finance decision by March 1. Under the AG’s timeline, we are down to 26 more calendar days to finish – more specifically, there are only 14 more legislative days!

So what has happened since that request was made? The House K-12 Budget Committee has met four times and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance has not met at all. The House Education Committee has met seven times and held three bill hearings (none on school finance – that’s the job of the K-12 Budget Committee). The Senate Education Committee has met 14 times although they have not considered any bills.

This is not to say there are no finance bills at all. There are two sitting in the K-12 Budget Committee right now. HB 2445 addresses all four of the provisions in the school finance formula that have been found to be unconstitutional as to equity as well as a change in the transportation formula. HB 2561 simply fixes the transportation formula. Both bills were introduced by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) in an effort to move the process along but as of today neither has had a hearing. The Senate Education Committee also has a bill amending the transportation formula, SB 327 introduced by Senator Hensley (D-Topeka), but it has not had a hearing either.

It begs the question, is the legislature dragging its feet? Why is nothing being discussed that would lead to a bill addressing the Gannon decision?

One answer coming from conservatives is that they should just do nothing and wait for a new school funding study which has been contracted and is due on March 15. This seems to be the decision. We are not convinced this is a particularly good idea. First, March 15 is after the Attorney General’s requested deadline of March 1. Further, if they wait until they receive and digest a new cost study, will there be time to craft legislation, pass it, get it signed by the Governor, and sent to the Court with enough time to prepare briefs for an April 30 due date? It’s beginning to look suspiciously as if the legislature intends to ignore the Court’s deadline. And if they plan to meet that deadline, it’s hard to imagine a scenario that would let them “show their work” as part of defending their solution.

We have no problem with a new cost study. But we have a serious problem with defiance of the Supreme Court and the possibility that schools will not open next August.

We are looking for responsible leadership in the legislature. By all means get the new study and review it carefully. But waiting for a study without doing anything to solve the immediate problem is just wrong. There is no reason that the legislature can’t now put together a plan to resolve the school finance dilemma and then use a new cost study to adjust school finance going forward. The irresponsible thing to do is pretend that a new cost study will absolve them of the responsibility of adequately and equitably funding our schools – and keeping those schools open.

 

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What about now? And what happens next?

Oct 5, 2017 by

If SB 19 is unconstitutional, what about the new funding our schools are getting?

“Within These Walls the Balance of Justice Weighs Equal.”

You may be wondering what immediate impact Monday’s Kansas Supreme Court ruling will have on your school and district. We’ll try to clear things up as much as possible.

First, you may wonder about how this impacts the new money received under SB 19 now that SB 19 has been found to not meet constitutional requirements. There should be no significant impact on funding. The Court has not stopped the state from providing the funding specified in SB 19 and schools should continue to be funded just as they have been from the start of this school year.

There will also be no impact for this school year based on the four equity issues raised as unconstitutional by the Court. For example, if your district has already shifted some insurance payments to the capital outlay fund thereby freeing up a few dollars for other purposes, that may continue until June 30, 2018. The 10% floor for at-risk funding which has been ruled unconstitutional will also continue for this school year but not into the next. This would only impact two districts in the state so will have no effect on most of you.

If your local association and board of education are still seeking a contract settlement, the funding in SB 19 should not be holding up such a settlement – your district has the funding promised in SB 19 for this school year. But since the Court has ruled the overall level of funding to be inadequate, it is safe to assume that there will be more money in the next school year than was provided in SB 19.

Was this a unanimous decision? Was there no dissent?

This was indeed a unanimous decision on both issues of adequacy and equity, however, there were dissenting opinions on the timelines within the decision.

The Court majority has determined that the Legislature will have the 2018 regular legislative session in which to resolve the issues raised in the decision. As we reported Monday, they will not allow the Legislature to drag its feet and set specific early dates for briefs to be filed and oral arguments to be presented. The Legislature will not be able to string out the process until the very end of the session.

Justices Johnson and Rosen, while agreeing with the rulings on both adequacy and equity, dissented on the timeline preferring that the Court would require a remedy by the end of 2017. Justice Biles also agreed with the rulings on both adequacy and equity but dissented on allowing the unconstitutional equity provisions to continue until the end of the school year preferring that those issues be blocked from implementation immediately.

So, what happens next?

For right now, schools can operate “business as usual.” Nothing is being stopped or taken away; the Court specifically stayed their order until June 30, 2018.

The Court has directed the Legislators and Plaintiffs in the case to submit concurrent briefs by April 30 and response briefs by May 10. This means that the legislative remedy needs to be created, passed, and signed into law in time to meet the April 30 deadline. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for May 22, 2018, and the Court will issue a ruling on or before June 30, 2018.

The Court justified their hard deadlines by saying,

With that regrettable history in mind, [that the K-12 system has been underfunded for many years] while we stay the issuance of today’s mandate through June 30, 2018, after that date we will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of being complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas school children. Cf. Campbell County School Dist., 32 P.3d at 332-33 (cited in Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 739). See Gannon IV, 305 Kan. at 919.

They are saying, in essence, that a delay that makes rendering a new decision prior to June 30 impossible, will not be tolerated. They expect to be given time to consider the new remedy, hear arguments, and deliberate and not be put in a position like this year when the bill was finished so late, they had little choice but to let it go into effect pending the Court hearing.

We would expect that between now and the start of the 2018 legislative session, legislators on all sides of the issue will take an opportunity to attack someone for the position they’ve put themselves in. Some will berate the Court for imposing its will on the Legislature; others will go after Brownback and his legislative allies for crippling the state’s revenue stream so there was no money for schools, and some will say that this is exactly what they expected.

We hope the posturing will be finished soon (you’re probably reading all about it in your local paper now) and that cooler heads will start thinking about solutions. SB 19, in the form first drafted by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) and Senator Laura Kelly (D-Topeka), represented a bipartisan effort and was an excellent start that was eventually whittled down and then loaded up with inequitable policy provisions. We know there are legislators on both sides of the aisle willing to meet their constitutional obligation.

It’s going to take work and courage.   We’ve stated previously that any solution would require the Legislature to address the state’s revenue crisis and that solving the school funding problem requires sensible tax policy.  While we’ve made significant strides in the right direction, we need to understand that fixing the mess left by Governor Brownback and his allies will be a marathon and not a sprint.  Yet, the framework for a solution is there and a solution can be crafted. It will take additional revenue and it will take a desire to stay away from inequitable policies. We look forward to working with legislators to get the job done. Kansas simply cannot afford to delay any longer.

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Supreme Court Ruling Issued; SB 19 Inadequate and Inequitable

Oct 2, 2017 by

The Kansas Supreme Court issued its decision in the Gannon School Finance Lawsuit dealing a blow to the State and ruling that SB 19 is both inadequate and inequitable.

“As part of today’s ruling, it was noted that generations of Kansas students have been shortchanged.  The Court has made it clear that public education funding is no-longer to be a game of political football.”  Mark Farr, Kansas NEA President.

While the issue was initially focused on adequacy (there had been a ruling on equity last year), the Legislature made changes to several parts of the school finance formula that created additional equity problems.

On equity, the court ruled against four provisions in SB 19:

  1. Changes to capital outlay that expand the use of these funds for insurance expenditures,
  2. Changes to LOB that imposed different procedures on some school districts in accessing the maximum LOB,
  3. Changes to LOB that altered the equalization formula, and
  4. Changes to at-risk funding that provided that if a district had fewer than 10% of students on free lunch, it would receive funding as if it did have 10%.

The Court also noted that “equity” does not mean “equal.” The Court said,

As our test for measuring equity under Article 6, “School districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.” Gannon I, 298 Kan. at 1175. This test does not require that wealth-based disparities between districts be measured under a zero-tolerance test or other mathematically precise standard because “equity [is] not necessarily the equivalent of equality.” Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 710; see Gannon I, 298 Kan. at 1180, 1188. Instead, “[t]o violate Article 6, the disparities . . . must be unreasonable when measured by our test.” 298 Kan. at 1180.

On adequacy the Court ruled that the overall funding in the bill was indeed inadequate. The bill provided for a base state aid amount of $4006 in 2017-18, $4128 in 2018-19, and an inflation adjustment in the out-years. The Court declined to give a dollar amount that would meet constitutional muster but did indicate that the base amount provided by the state without creating more reliance on local levies was what was important.

The Court has given the Legislature a strict timeline for devising a remedy.

The ruling does not require a special legislative session (although it would be allowed). Instead, the ruling sets this timeline:

No later than April 30, 2018, the parties’ concurrent briefs addressing any legislative remedies of constitutional infirmities will be due in this court. Response briefs will be due May 10, and oral arguments will be conducted on May 22 at 9 a.m. The court’s decision will be communicated by June 30. Exceptions to this schedule will be made to accelerate the deadlines as needed in order to consider earlier remedial legislation—created by special session or otherwise.

In other words, the State has time to work but they won’t be permitted to drag things out.

In an interesting twist, the Court also suggested that the State could help itself by “showing its work.”

The State would help its case by “showing its work.” Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 743. This exercise involves considerably more than what it presented to this court in the instant appeal and in Gannon III. See 304 Kan. at 515. The State should identify other remedies that the legislature considered but, more important to meeting its burden, explain why it made its particular choice for reaching the constitutional standards for adequacy and equity.

“Educators have been calling for the Kansas Legislature to fully fund public schools according to the state constitution.  Taking a bi-partisan approach to tax policy and school funding is the only way to achieve full constitutional funding for the future.” Mark Farr, Kansas NEA President.

READ THE FULL DECISION HERE

 

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