Big issues front and center! Your Action Needed!

Mar 22, 2019 by

House Ed Budget Committee sends two bills to the floor

Two bills were moved out of the House K-12 Budget Committee last night – one dealing with funding, the other with policy. Both bills will now go to the full House for debate next week. And both bills are opposed by KNEA and the education community generally.

But the first action was to deal with SB 142, the Senate’s school finance bill that represents the best response available at this time to the Gannon school finance decision. A motion by Jim Ward (D-Wichita) to pass the bill out favorably was defeated on a 5 to 7 vote – a number which would be repeated several times during the meeting.

Next up was Senate Bill 16 which dealt with naming evidence-based programs that could be paid for with at-risk funds. The bill was brought by Mike O’Neal on behalf of JAG-K (Jobs for America’s Graduates). The Senate added Boys and Girls Clubs to the bill and sent it over to the House.

On a motion by Kyle Hoffman (R-Coldwater), the bill was gutted and a new bill created. House Sub for SB 16 now contains nearly all of the education policy changes sought by House K-12 Budget Committee Chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) and the conservative legislators on the committee. There are no funding pieces in the bill at all.

Pieces that were removed from the bill include the bullying task force, the vouchers for targets of bullying, and the restrictions on roofing contracts. The limit on funding bilingual students is changed from four years to five. The 15% cap on unencumbered balances is removed and replaced with an audit of unencumbered balances by the Division of Legislative Post Audit.

The bill still removes the requirement that 92% of the excess costs of special education be reimbursed. It keeps all the new accountability reporting, the study of graduation requirements in the hope of letting financial literacy and computer science count as math or science credits, the establishment of an IT Commission, the extension of the Dyslexia Task Force, and O’Neal’s JAG-K language but without Boys and Girls Clubs. The bill also creates a new bullying hotline.

Also included is a change to the tuition tax credit scholarship (voucher) program that will tend to concentrate vouchers in urban areas. Currently these vouchers are available to students in the 100 lowest performing schools in the state. The change in this bill is to limit the vouchers to the 100 lowest performing elementary schools in the state.

The amendment creating Sub for SB 16 was adopted on a vote of 7 to 5 and the bill was subsequently passed out of committee on a party line vote of 8 to 4.

Sub for SB 16 will do nothing to address the Gannon decision and parts of it could jeopardize equity in our current formula created additional legal problems in the Courts. KNEA opposes Sub for SB 16.

This action was followed by a new Hoffman motion to amend HB 2395, Williams’ school finance plan, to take out all the policy pieces that are now contained in Sub for SB 16.

As amended, HB 2395 (now Sub for HB 2395) would provide about $90 million in new funding but splits that funding essentially half and half between BASE increases and two weightings – a slight increase in at-risk weighting and the creation of new “behavioral health intervention weighting.” The Senate plan in SB 142 would apply the full $90 million increase to the BASE without messing about with a formula that has been deemed to be constitutional.

But there are other very significant and very troubling changes. First, instead of honoring the promises of the 2017 and 2018 school finance actions, this bill repeals entirely the BASE increases in the last two years. SB 142 has all four years funded. This new bill also deletes the current provision that calls for an annual CPI increase to school funding once the Montoy Safe Harbor is reached. Sub for HB 2395 ends all commitments to school funding before reaching the Montoy Safe Harbor and beyond.

If Sub for HB 2395 were to become that Legislature’s response to Gannon, we will likely remain in court far into the future. The best hope for bringing Gannon to an end is to pass SB 142. KNEA opposes Sub for HB 2395.

TAKE ACTION NOW!

Both of these bills (Sub for SB 16 and Sub for HB 2395) will be available next week for debate on the House floor. We urge all supporters of our public schools to contact their state representatives now. CLICK Here to contact your Representative. Ask him/her to vote NO on Sub for SB 16 and Sub for HB 2395 and to pass SB 142 instead. It is time to move a responsible bill to the Supreme Court – that bill is SB 142.

Will the Senate take action on Medicaid expansion?

Thursday, on a vote of 69 to 54, the House passed KanCare expansion, an action that could bring health insurance coverage to as many as 150,000 currently uninsured Kansans. KanCare is the state’s Medicaid program. The expansion is allowed under the Affordable Care Act. The state will pay 10% of the cost while the federal government is required to pay 90%.

Both the House and Senate have voted previously to expand KanCare only to have the action vetoed by then-Governor Sam Brownback. A motion to override Brownback’s veto passed the House but fell a vote short in the Senate.

House leadership has been determined to stop to KanCare expansion but the majority of members have been just as determined to pass it. And on Wednesday, when HB 2066 came to the floor, they got their chance. Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-Kansas City) made a motion to gut the bill and replace the contents with KanCare expansion. This action was necessary because Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), the chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee and a hardcore opponent of expansion refused to give a hearing to a bill on expansion.

The amendment was ruled not germane by the House Rules Committee Chair but the ruling was overturned by the members on a vote of 55 to sustain the ruling and 62 to overturn. After a long debate, the Wolfe Moore amendment passed on a vote of 69 to 53 and the bill advanced to final action on a vote of 70 to 54.

Now the bill goes to the Senate but time is almost up for consideration. KanCare expansion is needed in Kansas. We have already seen four rural hospitals close (Independence, Fort Scott, Oswego, and Horton) with many more on the verge of closing. Expansion will help them by paying for more preventative care and limiting the practice of using the emergency room for care. Expansion will help many working Kansans caught in the gap between KanCare eligibility and eligibility for ACA health insurance subsidies. They earn too much to qualify for KanCare but not enough to be eligible to get financial help to buy private insurance.

KanCare expansion will create jobs, protect hospitals and communities, and improve health and financial security for 150,000 Kansans. Here’s what some legislators had to say about why they voted YES on expansion:

  • “I discerningly vote “yes” on HB 2066… Rural hospitals, mental health, and the working poor are losing. While imperfect, today’s decision gives them a chance. Healthcare cannot be solved exclusively in Kansas; let’s resoundingly IMPLORE FEDERAL dialogue, action, and results.” MARK SAMSEL
  • “I vote yes on HB 2066. It ensures that thousands of Kansans can look forward to a healthier and more productive future. And at a time when 86% of Kansas hospitals have negative operating margins, this proposal will provide immediate help for their bottom line, stabilizing operations, aiding in staff recruitment, and providing a lifeline to much-needed retooling and reconfiguring of health care delivery. It has been said that in Kansas a person’s zip code is a greater determinant of health outcomes than genetics. For rural Kansans, HB 2066 gives hope that it need not always be so.” DON HINEMAN, BRAD RALPH, JOHN P. WHEELER, JR., JIM KARLESKINT, SUZI CARLSON, SUSAN CONCANNON, LEONARD A. MASTRONI
  • “Expanding accessibility to preventative healthcare will alleviate crisis health situations, reduce hospital operating losses, and ultimately lead to healthier rural communities. I vote YES on HB 2066.” ADAM SMITH

TAKE ACTION NOW!

CLICK Here to contact your Senator now. Ask them to take action on House Bill 2066 and expand KanCare. It is time to help working Kansans get the health care they deserve; time to step up for our rural hospitals; time to do the right thing. Ask them to call HB 2066 to the floor of the Senate for action.

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Debate on several issues continues under the dome tonight.

Mar 20, 2019 by

KEY POINTS:

-House K-12 Budget Committee is continuing to discuss potential school finance solutions, largely ignoring the Governor’s solution while Chairperson pushes HB 2395 (which education community opposes).

-Medicaid expansion reaches the debate phase on the House floor after the rules chair is overturned on a procedural ruling. The debate is expected to continue-possibly into the night.

-House K-12 Budget Committee Chairperson Kristey Williams has told her committee that they will convene a committee meeting tonight upon adjournment of the House.

House K-12 Budget continuing the discuss school finance solution

Yesterday, the House K-12 Budget Committee held a hearing on SB 142, the Senate school finance bill that addresses the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon. This bill matches the solution that was originally in SB 44, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill.

KNEA provided testimony in support of the bill as did KASB, United School Administrators of Kansas, Game On for Kansas Schools, the Kansas PTA, and a number of other organizations and individual school districts. SB 142 is a clean response to the Supreme Court decision and, at this time, the best response that has been put forward. It should be noted that Schools for Fair Funding does not believe this is the full amount needed. KNEA believes it is past time to send a legislative response to the Court and that this bill needs to be passed.

Today’s Committee schedule indicated that the committee would consider the bills that they have heard (HB 2395, the bill carried by House K-12 Budget Committee Chairperson, Kristey Williams and that is widely opposed by the education community, as well as SB 142, the bill the education community supports). But due to other actions today, we are not certain whether action will happen today or not – so read on to see why!

KanCare (Medicaid) Expansion comes to the House floor!

The House was set to debate and vote on a bill today dealing with “advanced practice registered nurses” when Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-Kansas City) moved to amend the bill by gutting it and inserting the contents of a Medicaid expansion bill that had been introduced but ignored by House leadership.

The germaneness of the amendment was challenged and the Rules Chair ruled the amendment as non germane. That ruling was in turn challenged which sets up a vote on “shall the ruling of the rules chair be sustained?” A NO vote means the ruling chair’s ruling is not sustained – it is overturned – and debate on the amendment can go forward. Historically, the rules chair is rarely overturned but in this case he was on a vote of 55 to 62.

Debate went on for some time with most of the time taken up by expansion opponent Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). Landwehr decried doing this “on the floor” and not property “vetting” the issue. The sad truth, of course, is that, as chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Landwehr could have held a hearing on the bill at any time and fully vetted it but she chose to block it. Instead she held a “round table discussion” of expansion without ever taking up the actual bill.

Speaking passionately in favor of expansion were Representatives Tom Cox (R-Shawnee) and Jim Kelly (R-Independence). Cox spoke of his own personal health challenges and how important it was to help other people through theirs. He pointed out that he was lucky to have affluent parents who could afford insurance and co-pays while many are not so lucky. Kelly shared his experience “at ground zero” where the hospital closes, doctors leave, and people desperately scramble to find health services. The Independence Hospital was the first to close, followed by Fort Scott, Oswego, and Horton. Thirty more are “on deck to close,” said Kelly. We should also remember the impact those closures have on the people who work in those hospitals as well as the impact on the local economy.

Opponents complained about deficits and the pressure on the budget – a budget they put at risk through votes first for the Brownback tax disaster and now through the passage of more tax cuts for multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals in SB 22. The budget is not a concern when cutting corporate taxes but it is when they have to vote on caring for working Kansans!

In the end, the amendment was adopted on a vote of 69 to 53.

It was then that Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), an expansion foe, moved to rise and report. This was an unusual motion in that it was done before debate ended and a vote was taken on the bill. Hawkins noted that the intent was to allow folks to craft amendments which could be brought forward in the debate which would continue later.

The House then recessed until 3:45 – meaning a conflict with the scheduled 3:30 meeting of the K-12 Budget Committee. But Representative Williams announced that her committee would meet upon adjournment of the House tonight. And we have no idea when that might be!

Look for a more detailed update on tonight’s proceedings in tomorrow’s edition of Under the Dome.

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School Finance Actions & Brownback 2.0

Mar 15, 2019 by

Senate passes response to Gannon decision

Kansas Supreme Court Lobby

The Kansas Senate debated SB 142, a school finance bill that responds to the Gannon decision by increasing school funding by about $90 million and carries that increase forward through the life of the plans passed in 2017 and 2018. In later years, funding would continue to increase by the CPI inflation factor. This action adopts the recommendation of the Kansas State Board of Education and is the same recommendation that was in SB 44, Governor Laura Kelly’s school funding bill.

The bill was advanced to a final action and then adopted under an emergency provision on a final action vote of 32 to 8. KNEA supports this action. We believe that it is past time for the legislature to act and, while there are disagreements on whether this is what the Kansas Supreme Court justices intended in their ruling, it is appropriate at this time to pass the bill and send this response to the justices for their consideration. We hope the House will take up and pass this bill as quickly as possible.

Those Senators who voted NO on the school finance bill were Republicans Larry Alley (Winfield), Dan Kerschen (Garden Plain), Ty Masterson (Andover), Mary Pilcher-Cook (Shawnee), Dennis Pyle (Hiawatha), Caryn Tyson (Parker), and Susan Wagle (Wichita).

The Senate still has to take action on the rest of the K-12 budget which is now contained in SB 147 which is in the Ways and Means Committee. We urge the Senate to pass SB 147 as well.

House committee starts hearing their alternative school finance bill

Rep. Kristey Williams, House K-12 Budget Committee Chair

House K-12 Budget Chair Kristey Williams has brought forward her school finance bill – HB 2395 – and opened hearings on it. This bill is radically different from the Senate’s plan in SB 142.

While the Senate builds on the actions of the 2017 and 2018 actions, HB 2395 sharply reverses course. Instead of funding schools out for four years and providing increases in each year, the House bill cuts out the third and fourth years. The bill also repeals the provision in current law that increases funding to schools by a CPI inflation factor in the future.

While the Senate puts the increase on base aid, supporting all students and programs, HB 2395 puts less on base and puts some in a new mental health weighting and a small, restricted increase in at-risk funding. The bill also repeals the state’s commitment to reimbursing 92% of the excess costs of special education and cuts students off of bilingual weighting if they are not fluent in English in four years.

HB 2395 also enacts a voucher program and makes changes to the tuition tax credit (voucher) program to encourage more elementary children to leave the public schools under certain conditions.

There are numerous other policy changes in the bill to accountability requirements, to bidding capital projects, to developing budgets, and to collecting and reporting data. In fact, it reads almost like an ultra-conservative wish list. Many of these policy changes have been proposed many times in the past and but never adopted by the legislature.

KNEA strongly opposes this bill. The legislature has a simple job to do – fund the inflation factor and leave the formula – which has been deemed to be constitutional – alone. That’s what the Senate is working on. That’s what the House should do too.

During the first day of a scheduled two-day hearing Mark Desetti of KNEA, Tom Witt of Equality Kansas, Mark Tallman of KASB, and G.A Buie of United School Administrators all testified in opposition to the Williams committee bill. There were many other organizations and individual school districts submitting written testimony in opposition.

At this time we know of no proponents planning to appear and have heard that several groups may appear as neutral. This hearing will continue on Monday, March 18, and Committee Chair Kristey Williams has announced her intention to vote on the bill next week while making it clear she has no intention of hearing any other funding bills.

HB 2395 is the wrong answer to the Gannon decision and includes many bad policy ideas that will harm students and schools.


Contact members of the committee and ask them to reject HB 2395 and instead adopt the Senate’s plan in SB 142.


Members of the committee are Republicans Kristey Williams, Kyle Hoffman, Brenda Dietrich, Renee Erickson, Steve Huebert, Brenda Landwehr, Adam Smith, Sean Tarwater, and Adam Thomas. The Democrats are Valdenia Winn, Cindy Holscher, Nancy Lusk, and Jim Ward.


CLICK HERE to contact these representatives.

Senate adopts Brownback 2.0 tax plan

Former Governor Sam Brownback

The Senate voted on a motion to concur in the House changes to SB 22, the corporate tax giveaway bill that was expanded by the House.

As the bill originally passed the Senate it would provide about $190 million in tax cuts aimed at multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals. Passage of the bill represents a partial return to the failed tax policies of former Governor Sam Brownback. While in office, he was devoted to “trickle-down economics” under which the state grants massive tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations in the hope that the benefit will “trickle down” to working men and women in the form of more jobs and higher wages.

Instead, the Kansas state budget collapsed, services were cut, and desperate measures to balance the budget had to be enacted resulting in hikes in the sales tax, the devastation of the state highway plan, and the diversion of KPERS payments. Those service cuts have brought Kansas a compromised foster care system, prison riots, and crumbling infrastructure.

When SB 22 went across the rotunda, the House not only endorsed the cuts in the Senate version, they added a small reduction in the food sales tax (one cent) and a provision intended to force more online retailers to collect and remit sales tax. Despite the internet sales tax provision, the cost of the bill to the state budget went up even more.

While we believe a action on the food sales tax is needed in order to help low-income families, this bill is not the way to make that happen. Kansas needs to fund our schools, restore vital services decimated by the 2012 tax cuts, and balance the budget. Once we have fully recovered, it is appropriate to examine our entire tax structure to make it balanced across all tax sources and fair to both businesses and individuals.

In 2017, the Legislature reversed most of the Brownback disaster and today the state is in recovery. As we fight to address the disastrous fallout of the Brownback policy, the last thing Kansas needs to do is start taking up more large tax cuts aimed at the wealthy and corporations. Trickle down doesn’t work! It’s time to stop pretending that it ever will.

The Senate voted to accept (concur in) the House changes to the bill on a vote of 24 to 16. With this action the bill now goes to Governor Kelly who is expected to veto it. It would take 27 votes in the Senate and 84 in the House to override a veto.

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School finance issues take front and center.

Mar 12, 2019 by

So far in the run-up to the Kansas Supreme Court hearing on the legislature’s response to the Gannon school finance ruling, the Senate has been making some progress.

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing on Governor Kelly’s school funding bill, Senate Bill 44, earlier in the session. They did not work that bill but instead split it in two. Senate Bill 142 contains the provisions dealing with the inflation factor called for in the Court decision; Senate Bill 147 is the remainder of the education budget (about 98% of all funding).

A hearing was held on SB 142. It was passed out of committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. The provisions in this bill are exactly the same as those in SB 44. SB 147 is being discussed now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and we would anticipate it will be out soon.

At the moment, the best action to take would be to pass both SB 142 and SB 147 and send them to the Attorney General so he can prepare for the Court hearing.

As we have reported here before, we are not certain that SB 142 will meet the Court ruling. There are two interpretations of the ruling – one held by Schools for Fair Funding and another by the State Board of Education. It would serve the state well to get a bill over to the Court for consideration.

The combination of SB 142 and SB 147 represent a responsible action in response to the Court. They will not jeopardize the constitutionally-sound formula that equitably distributes funding and there is a chance that the Court will accept the inflation increase.

And then there’s the House.

House K-12 School Budget Committee chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) revealed her response to education funding. This bill, House Bill 2395, represents a wish list of extreme conservative policy agenda promulgated over the years by former Speaker Mike O’Neal and Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert.

In Williams’ bill there are many changes to the school finance formula and there are numerous accountability and accounting changes. In this case, accountability means requiring districts and the KSDE to post links on webpages. There are changes to bilingual education and at-risk education. It strips the requirement for reimbursing 92% of the excess costs of special education. It includes the vouchers for alleged bullying bill- remember the one heard in Williams’ committee earlier in the session that would give kids a voucher for even reporting bullying but would do nothing to actually address bullying. This bill with all of its log-rolled policy is over 100 pages long!

As for the Gannon response, this bill provides two years of base increases instead of the four in the other bills, bringing base state aid up to a lower amount than in SB 142. And then it removes the language placing a Consumer Price Index adjustment in the future, meaning, there would be no commitment to maintaining school funding in the future.

There is a lot to dislike in HB 2395 and more than enough reasons to vote NO including the fact that the Gannon response in this bill is almost certain to be rejected by the Court.

If the Legislature truly wants to end the cycle of litigation, the way is clear. The best thing to do right now is to take the Senate approach. Pass SB 142 and SB 147; let the Attorney General get to work and see what happens in the next hearing before the Supreme Court.

Underfunding in response to the Court’s ruling, ending future inflation factors, messing with the formula all while granting a wish list of deeply conservative policies intended to put more pressure on schools and students would take us backward.

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Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

Mar 7, 2019 by

Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

It’s big-time under the dome these days (although the light committee schedule would appear to say otherwise).

We’ve spent much time reporting on Senate Bill 22, the budget-busting tax cut bill that passed the Kansas Senate on February 7. As it passed the Senate, the bill would cut taxes by about $190 million putting a budget out of reach that would fund schools, help the foster care system, fix the crisis in Kansas prisons, and restore highway funding. The Senate version would provide about $140 million in tax cuts for multi-national corporations and lets about 9% of Kansas individual taxpayers itemize their state income on taxes even if they can’t on their federal return at a cost of another $50 million.

The Kansas House Tax Committee added a one-cent reduction in the food sales tax, costing the state about $60 million and then inserted a change in the way internet sales taxes are collected and remitted which would increase taxes to the state by about $41 million. So the House version would cost the treasury about $210 million.

After a long debate during which the House rejected all but one amendment to the bill, it was advanced to final action on a vote of 80 to 42. The only amendment that was adopted was one by Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) defining foods subject to the lower sales tax as those items that can be purchased with food stamps. Amendments by Representatives Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Tim Hodge (D-Newton) aimed at removing the corporate tax breaks and maintaining those that benefit working Kansans were all rejected on identical party-line votes of 40 to 89.

The bill is now subject to a final action vote which will take place either Friday or Monday.

A “Round-table Discussion” on KanCare expansion

Representative Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, held a days-long round-table discussion on KanCare expansion this week. KanCare is the Kansas version of Medicaid so this amounts to a discussion on the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Expansion was approved by both the House and Senate in 2016, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Sam Brownback. The House voted to override the Governor’s veto but the override fell short in the Senate.

Medicaid or KanCare expansion is needed for a number of reasons:

  • Our rural hospitals are in financial trouble and expansion would dramatically improve their chances of staying open. Some hospitals have already had to close. The first to shutter was in Independence and just last month, the hospital in Horton indicated that it may be closed. Employees were working without pay. Hospitals in Fort Scott and Oswego have also closed.
  • KanCare expansion will encourage work and job advancement among low-income parents. In Kansas, a parent makes too much to qualify for KanCare if she earns more $7,896 per year for a family of three. If she works a minimum wage job just more than half-time, she would make too much to qualify. If she gets a better job, a raise, or more hours, she would fall into the coverage gap – her income is too high for KanCare and too low to qualify for assistance to purchase private insurance. If Kansas were to expand KanCare, low-income parents could earn more without losing their health coverage.
  • Expansion would provide coverage to between 130,000 and 150,000 working Kansans who cannot afford coverage now.
  • While Kansas would be required to pay a portion of the costs (about $47 million), the bulk of the cost would come from the federal government. In 2020, 90% of the cost would come from the federal government. Kansas has already forfeited more than $3 billion in federal aid from taxes that Kansans are paying!

While both the House and Senate have voted before in favor of expansion and both would likely do so again now, the leadership in both chambers remains opposed and have worked tirelessly to block all efforts to force a vote on expansion. Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) is now the House Majority Leader and has led the efforts to block expansion. Rep. Landwehr who now holds the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee is also a strong opponent of expansion.

During the first day of the round-table, Republicans Jim Kelly (Independence) and John Eplee (Atchison) spoke in support of expansion and raised their personal experiences – Kelly with the harm to his community caused by the closing of the hospital and Eplee to his experience as a physician with the harm to Kansans who can’t get the care they need.

Read about the first day of the round-table in the Capital-Journal by clicking here.

Find out more about KanCare expansion at the website of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas by clicking here. KNEA is a member of the Alliance.

School finance moving

We reported that the first school finance bill – SB 142 – moved out of committee on Wednesday and will go to the full Senate for debate probably next week. This bill contains only the proposed inflation fix to school finance required by the Gannon decision.

It is important to understand that not everyone agrees that this bill will be approved by the Court. There are two interpretations of what the Court was requiring. This bill puts in one inflation increase and then maintains that through the following years. Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF) believes the Court wants to see an inflation increase each year along with the spending increases passed last year. KNEA’s interpretation has been the same as that of SFFF.

We would anticipate at this time that what is likely to pass is this bill along with SB 147 which is the rest of the education budget. When combined, these bills are the same as SB 44, the Governor’s school finance bill introduced at the start of the session.

We are expecting a Senate floor debate on SB 142 next week.

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