Committees continue to gather information; Governor Kelly gives State of the State Address

Jan 16, 2019 by

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly delivering her first state of the state address.

House Appropriations gets thorough update on revenue resources

Chairman Troy Waymaster opened the appropriations committee with a round-robin introduction of members, legislative staffers and his personal staffers.  Waymaster called his committee the “best committee in the House” because this committee will “have its hand on everything the state government does.”  If introductions by the dedicated staff focusing of fiscal analysts and revisors is any indication, Waymaster is probably right.  

Following introductions, an agent from the Kansas Department of Revenue, gave a summary of Kansas revenue estimates and forecasts.  In summary, while FY 2018 ended better than forecast, several state and national factors could negatively impact FY 2019 estimates.  The revenue official continued to describe the forecast as a “mixed bag” of good and bad indicators as we move into an uncertain economic future.

Chairman Waymaster noted, that agriculture is KS leading economic driver and Pres. Trump’s shutdown is impacting KS agriculture due to frozen stimulus payments to farmers which came as a result of the negative impact from Pres. Trump’s tariffs.  The revenue official agreed that negative impacts upon agriculture could certainly impact the state economy and consequently the revenue estimates.

What remains very clear, is that the FY 2019 approved state budget leaves an ending balance of $905 million.  With this money on hand, the state is in a position to fully fund public schools according to the Kansas Constitution for the first time in almost a decade.  There is also enough to begin to address some of the myriad other budget issues left behind by the Brownback / Colyer administration, like KPERS, highways, and social services. 

Today, many of those reps who supported the Brownback agenda that created the budget holes we’re dealing with now, are pushing not for filling those holes, but instead warning against the threat of a bleak national economy on the horizon and the need to hold onto our reserves.  We call on our representatives to take the final step in fully funding public schools according to the constitution by using the surplus to account for inflation adjustments in the ‘out-years’ of the funding formula.  Doing so now while the money is available would end litigation and more importantly, give our students access to a fully funded and constitutional K-12 experience.  

Tax policy: Understanding GILTI and Repatriation

The Senate Tax Committee met again today to continue discussion of SB 13 with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce bringing in more information and an tax expert from the Seaboard corporation to explain the GILTI and Repatriation provisions of the Trump/Ryan tax reform and their impact on Kansas taxes.

We can assure you that these provisions have no direct impact on individuals but instead impact what corporations pay in income taxes and they both deal with overseas earnings.

It’s best to let the experts explain these provisions to you, so click here to get an understandable explanation of GILTI. Then click here to get an understandable explanation of repatriation. They are both short reads and might be illuminating.

House Ed and House K-12 Budget Committees meet today

The House Education Committee met for the first time today simply to get to know each other and to review their committee rules. There are plenty of new faces this year including many freshman. The new freshmen are Dave Benson (R-Overland Park), Rene Erickson (R-Wichita), Cheryl Helmer (R-Mulvane), Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville), Adam Thomas (R-Olathe), and Rui Xu (D-Westwood). John Toplikar (R-Olathe) is technically a freshman now although he served a number of years ago in the Legislature.

New to the Committee are Stephanie Clayton (D-Overland Park) and Steven Johnson (R-Assaria). Rounding out the committee are Steve Huebert (R-Wichita), Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), Jim Ward (D-Wichita), Adam Smith (R-Weskan), Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie), Mark Schreiber (R-El Dorado), Jane Vickrey (R-Lousiburg), and Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village).

The K-12 Budget Committee today received the same school finance overview that was presented to the Senate Education Committee yesterday.

Governor Laura Kelly gave her first state of the state address: schools, Medicaid expansion, and the Foster Care System

In her first state of the state address, Governor Laura Kelly laid our three priorities for Kansas. We need to fund our schools and end the cycle of litigation; we need to expand Medicaid to help 150,000 Kansans get health insurance, to keep Kansas tax dollars in Kansas, and to preserve our rural communities; we need to overhaul and restore our failing foster care system.

We’ll talk more about her speech after we review it more thoroughly, but in the meantime, you can read it by clicking here or watch it by clicking here.

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How NOT to End the “Cycle of Litigation” and New Democrats in the Senate

Dec 12, 2018 by

Republican Leaders Want to Toss Out the Constitutional School Finance System?

If we had a dollar for every time that Republican leadership in the Kansas House and Senate last year said they want to “end the cycle of litigation over school finance,” we would be retired today.

Of course, back then we thought nothing of these statements because we, too, want to see an end to the cycle of litigation because that means our schools would be both adequately and equitably funded. That’s what everyone wants – or so we thought.

This is why it came as such a surprise when we read in the Wichita Eagle that House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) told an audience in Johnson County that they were interested in tossing out last year’s school finance plan and starting completely over. Why? According the the Eagle article, it’s because “Republican leaders are skeptical the state could pay for the change and say the funding plan may need to be changed instead.”

In essence, they don’t want to fund schools adequately.

Here’s what we know about last year’s plan and the status of the current school finance litigation:

In response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.

The Court subsequently ruled that the new formula met the equity test but was still somewhat short of adequacy. The adequacy ruling was based on the fact that the phased-in increases in school funding did not account for inflation. Evidence showed that inflation would eat up about $90 million of increased funding in the out years of the plan. Essentially, a $100 million funding increase next year would only be a $10 million increase in funding after accounting for inflation.

The Court directed the Legislature to return and deal with the inflation issue.

Given that the Wagle/Denning school funding study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor found the state to be shortchanging schools by as much as $2 billion, the Court’s call for dealing with inflation only after the additional $525 million provided by the Legislature seems modest. But apparently, Republican leaders are not interested in meeting the Court ruling.

There are two ways currently to end the cycle of litigation.

One is to address the inflation issue in the out years of the 2018 legislation and then provide an ongoing mechanism to maintain the funding level so established.

The other is the Ryckman/Denning way which is to ban litigation. They would rather just pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting school finance lawsuits and then not worry whether schools are adequately funded at all.

We believe that the best approach for the Legislature to take in 2019 is to first leave the constitutional school funding formula alone – why mess with the good work done to get a constitutional formula written and passed?

Then, address the inflation issue in last year’s legislation. Thanks to the hard work the Legislature did in reversing the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, revenues are coming in better than expected and adding the inflation increase is affordable.

Finally, resist the temptation of prohibiting the public from going to court. All citizens must have the option to go to court if they feel aggrieved and the court system must not be politicized. We must honor our system of checks and balances under which the Legislature makes the laws but the citizens can ask the court to review whether or not those laws are constitutional. The proposed constitutional amendment is a slippery slope which could result in dismantling the very system our founders envisioned and established.

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate

The Senate Democratic Caucus will welcome three new members when they convene for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Two are replacements for newly elected Governor Laura Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers.

Kelly, who is still technically the Kansas State Senator from SD 18 covering parts of Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Pottawatomie Counties will be replaced by Vic Miller who is currently representing HD 58 in the Kansas House of Representatives. Rogers, currently the Kansas State Senator from SD 25 in Wichita, will be replaced by Mary Ware, a community activist from Wichita.

The third new Democratic Senator is a familiar face to those who watch the Kansas Legislature. Senator Barbara Bollier from Johnson County has switched party affiliations and will join the Democratic caucus. We can now officially say “Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills).”

With Bollier’s switch, the Democratic caucus increases by one member for 2019.

In a press release, Bollier had this to say of her decision, “I’ve been a proud Kansas Republican for 43 years. I always embraced the common-sense policies of Governor Bill Graves, US Senator Nancy Kassebaum, and President Eisenhower. But during the last eight years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Republican leaders’ hardline rhetoric, contempt for compromise, and obsession with putting political power before children and families. With this recent election, it has become clear that the majority of the Republican Party does not accept moderate Republicans any longer.”

In welcoming Bollier to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said, “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”

Bollier has long been an advocate for health care, public schools, and pro-family policies. Bollier came into conflict with Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) over her endorsement of Laura Kelly for Governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for Congress. (Niermann lost the Democratic Primary to Sharice Davids who was elected to Congress in November.) Wagle stripped Bollier of important positions in the Senate – most notably her leadership position on the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. As the only physician in the Senate, Bollier was a natural fit for such an important committee.

Bollier has also been a staunch supporter and defender of public schools, students, and the educators who staff those schools. Bollier was a member of the Senate Education Committee.

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Kansas Supreme Court Rules in Gannon

Jun 25, 2018 by

Key takeaways from today’s ruling:

  • Funding remains inadequate, specifically relating to needed calculations for inflation in future years.
  • The current funding system can continue to operate this year, and the Kansas Legislature has until April 2019 to provide a remedy to the Court (the Court retains jurisdiction).
  • The Court recognizes that the Legislature has made progress.
  • KNEA President, Mark Farr, points out that Kansans need to vote and that retaining a strong coalition of common-sense, public education supporters in the Legislature is vital this election year.

“Our schools will open this fall as expected, and the Supreme Court did its duty according to the Constitution.  Today is a step forward for Kansas kids and communities and ensures that we will continue the progress the Legislature made in 2018 to Constitutionally fund our public schools,” KNEA President, Mark Farr.

At 3:00 this afternoon the Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling the Gannon school finance case. The ruling has been expected.

The question front and center for most Kansans is whether or not schools will open on time for the 2018-19 school year. The answer is “YES.”

The second most asked question is whether or not the ruling would require a special legislative session. The answer is “NO.”

But before one concludes from this that the court found the Legislature’s work meets both adequacy and equity in school funding as required by the constitution, one has to review the entire decision. And indeed, the Court has ruled that, while the latest changes to the school finance formula do not violate the equity standard, the Legislature has not met the adequacy requirements.

Specifically, the ruling says, “The State has not met the adequacy requirement in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution under its proposed remediation plan.”

The decision then goes on to assert that the state can meet adequacy if the State makes some “timely financial adjustments in response to the problems identified with the plan and its accompanying calculations and then completes that plan, the State can bring the K-12 public education financing system into constitutional compliance with the adequacy requirement.”

As in last year’s decision, the Court set a tight timeline for compliance calling upon the Legislature to finish its work and submit briefs to the Court on or before April 15, 2019. Response briefs will be due April 25, and oral arguments will be conducted on May 9 at 9 a.m. The court’s decision will be communicated by June 30.

In the meantime, SB 19 (passed in the 2017 session) can remain in effect while SB 423 and SB 61 (both passed in the 2018 session) can be temporarily implemented. The Court will retain jurisdiction.

The Court, as in previous school finance decisions, did not tell the Legislature how much more funding was necessary to meet adequacy but instead referenced financial adjustments that need to be made relative to adequacy, specifically surrounding inflation in future years as outlined in the State’s current plan.

Several issues were raised by the plaintiffs regarding some changes made in the latest legislation related to equity, but the Court sided with the State on those issues, ruling that equity is not violated.

The Court has now done its Constitutional duty and issued a ruling. It is up to the Legislature in 2019 to craft additional remedies to meet funding adequacy. In the meantime, schools will be opening on time, and the funds provided by the 2018 Legislature will be available for use in meeting the needs of our students.

The fact that the decision is not a slap at the Legislative response to the last Gannon ruling but instead calls upon the next Legislature to make some adjustments is a credit to the hard work of a broad coalition of Democrats and Moderate Republicans elected in 2016 who served in the last two legislative sessions. Much progress was made thanks to their efforts and Kansas is on the road to constitutional compliance.

It reminds us of the importance of elections. The Kansas NEA Political Action Committee met this last weekend and a list of recommended, pro-public education candidates will be released to our members shortly. Now that there is a direction on school funding, we need to elect the kind of Legislators that will understand and work to meet the needs of our great public education system.

“Supporting those candidates who support public education is our duty as professionals and as citizens.  My call is for every citizen to help strengthen the Legislature so that we may continue the progress we’ve seen.  We need Kansans to vote!” KNEA President, Mark Farr.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Gannon School Finance Lawsuit

May 22, 2018 by

The Kansas Supreme Court today heard arguments from Plaintiffs and the State in the school finance case that will determine whether or not this year’s school finance bill will meet constitutionality on both equity and adequacy.

Although it is not officially part of the evidence in the case, a central point in arguments today became the school finance cost study done this year by Dr. Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University. Conservatives in Legislative leadership had hoped Taylor’s study would demonstrate that our schools were already adequately funded. Instead, the study suggested that in order to meet the goals of the state’s education plan Kansas needed to invest an additional $1.7 to 2 billion.

Justice Eric Rosen went so far as to say “Here, you all are always battling your own expert…” in response to the state taking a position contrary to the Taylor study.

Questioning was sharp and, as always, it is difficult to say for certain where the Justices are going although most observers agree that they appear to be skeptical about the adequacy of the latest legislative attempt.  As we’ve indicated in previous posts, the Court’s skepticism was not completely unexpected.

The Court has promised a ruling by June 30 although it is hoped that the ruling will be sooner – especially if it might require the convening of a special legislative session.

To read more coverage of the hearing, visit one of these news reports:

The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas City Star

The Topeka Capital-Journal

The Wichita Eagle

Kansas NEA remains confident that whatever the Court rules, the Kansas Legislature will take their responsibility seriously and address the situation in a way that ensures our schools are open in August – that every new Kindergartener and Kindergarten parent will experience that first day together and that every rising high school senior will begin their final year on time and on track to graduate.

While the uncertainty of funding is difficult for everyone, KNEA has planned for contingencies to ease the concerns of our members throughout the state. Whatever the decision and whatever actions have to be taken, Kansas NEA will be there to work with policymakers and to protect the education of our children and the well-being of Kansas educators.

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House Handles Budget and School Finance Fix

Apr 28, 2018 by

House Budget Bill Passes with Minimal Changes

The House this morning passed HB 2365 on a final action vote of 92 to 24. Debate on the budget lasted into the night yesterday with many amendments offered and most defeated.

The most significant amendment offered by Rep. Steven Becker (R-Buhler) was one to strip out the language added in Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) that would have lapsed all new spending added by the Committee if the Supreme Court were to rule against the State in the school finance case. Landwehr’s amendment had come to be known as the “trip-wire.”

The debate on removing the trip-wire was vigorous and in the end, the Becker amendment was adopted on a vote of  71 to 53. KNEA supported the Becker amendment.

Other interesting amendments and their results were:

Motion by Rep. Whipple (D-Wichita) to prohibit non-disclosure agreements signed by state employees to silence those employees in cases of sexual harassment and/or abuse. Adopted 100 to 12.

Motion by Rep. Jennings (R-Lakin) to prohibit taxpayer funds from being spent on defense or fines for any state-wide elected official found in contempt of court (can you say Kris Kobach?). Adopted 103 to 16.

Motion by Rep. Holscher (D-Olathe) to prohibit taxpayer funds from being used for penalties or settlements of sexual harassment claims and prohibit making such claims secret except at the request of the victim. Adopted on a voice vote.

Motion by Rep. Clayton (R-Overland Park) on legislative transparency would have required names on bills. Objections and challenges came from Rep. Schwab (R-Olathe) first on germaneness (it was ruled germane) and then as not allowed under the rules. The Rules Committee determined that the amendment was out of order because changes to rules have to be done through resolutions.

Motion by Rep. Parker (D-Overland Park) to expand Medicaid. It was challenged on germaneness but found to be germane. Failed 56 to 66.

Motion by Rep. Whitmer (R-Wichita) to strip $45 million out of K-12 funding (the money he says KSDE spent illegally) and transfer it to higher ed. The amendment would also freeze tuition. The motion failed.

A motion by Rep. Garber (R-Sabetha) to stop state money from going to any city or county in Kansas that adopts a resolution or law contrary to federal law (can you say “sanctuary cities?”). Under questioning, it became clear Garber had no real understanding of the extent of his amendment. For example, if a city adopted a gun resolution that was more liberal on gun ownership than federal law, the state could not provide any funding. Failed 28 to 69.

The bill was advanced on a voice vote with the final action vote this morning.

School Finance Fix

Last night, once the budget was done and the House went home, the Appropriations Committee met and moved the contents of HB 2796 into SB 61, creating Sub for SB 61 – the school finance $80 million fix. What it does is provide a mandate that every district levy a 15% LOB (they all do now) and direct that the money raised be counted towards adequacy by the Court. It also removes the language that took $80 million out of what was believed to have been in SB 423. Sub for SB 61 is a simple fix of the problem discovered on April 9.

The bill was brought to the floor for debate this morning.

The first amendment was offered by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village) and it was a big one. It would have stripped out the mandatory LOB language, added the “Trimmer amendment” that increases BASE aid, added the “Pittman amendment” that brings special education funding up to the statutory 92% reimbursement, ends the cap on bond and interest and adds funding for parents as teachers and the ABC therapy program (two programs wanted by the Senate).

The amendment was challenged on germaneness because Sub for SB 61 is a simple policy fix and the amendment is an appropriation. After a long delay, the challenge was withdrawn and the debate on the Stogsdill amendment went on.

In the end, the Stogsdill amendment was defeated by a vote of 42 to 78.

The next amendment came from Rep. Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan). This one would just repeal the cap on bond and interest; it was one part of the prior amendment. The amendment failed on a vote of 53 to 66.

Rep. Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) offered an amendment to increase special education aid from 84% as in SB 423 to 85% – an additional $6 million. This amendment failed on a vote of 49 to 68.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam) offered an amendment to allow other districts to enter the mental health pilot program and expand cooperative opportunities. The original Landwehr amendment specified which districts could participate. Ousley’s amendment carefully kept the Landwehr amendment intact but would merely allow the State Board to choose other districts that could participate. Landwehr opposed the Ousley amendment. The amendment failed on a vote of 43 to 77.

Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) offered an amendment to mandate a 2.5% pay raise for all teachers. It was ruled not germane because you can’t put an appropriation proviso in a policy bill.

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) offered an amendment stripping out the requirement that a certain percentage of LOB dollars must be directed to the at-risk and bilingual programs based on the percentage of students in those programs. Districts should be able to decide how best to expend the dollars they get to serve their students. Rooker believes the requirement is a likely violation of equity.

Williams opposed the Rooker amendment because 248 school districts have LOB authority they are not using including her own district. They have taxing authority they are not using – they should look at their own effort and if they need money, they should go to 33%.

The Rooker amendment, the last amendment of the day, failed on a vote of 54 to 64.

In the end, not one amendment was adopted and Chairman Fred Patton (R-Topeka) who argued for a “clean fix” bill with no amendments got exactly what he wanted.

The bill was advanced on a voice vote.

Later, on emergency final action, the bill was passed on a vote of 92 to 27.

 

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