The State of Our State…

Jan 10, 2018 by

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Last night, Governor Brownback delivered his final State-of-the-State address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature. And what a speech it was. It is roundly being attacked by his former allies, the most conservative Republican Legislators, with JR Claeys (R-Salina) actually tweeting, “The governor has waved the white flag of surrender from the dome, and tossed every ally he had left under the bus…Then put the bus in reverse…Then lit fire to the bus.” Wow.

Usually a final speech is a time to reflect on the accomplishments of one’s administration but this speech was short on accomplishments and long on “dreams.”

Among those accomplishments were the opening of the state’s longest hiking and biking trail, a reduction in adult obesity, the opening of the National Soccer Training Center, moving the American Royal from Missouri to Kansas, and a rising quail population. There were a few economic wins included in his list such as the opening of a new milk drying plant to serve the large dairy farms in southwest Kansas and our growing wind energy industry but overall, it did not read like a bragging list of major accomplishments.

The K-12 Education Proposal

The second part of the speech is what angered his one-time allies. Brownback announced that his budget would include $600 million in new K-12 education funding to be spread out over five years. The conservatives have been fighting the Supreme Court and arguing that money doesn’t matter in education. They have tried to say that the Court should be satisfied with just a few new dollars targeted specifically to at-risk students. They were certain they had an ally in Sam Brownback and are looking at his proposal as turning his back on his loyal followers (see JR Claey’s quote above).

On the surface, there is nothing alarming in the Governor’s education proposal. He would put $200.8 million in new education funding in fiscal year (FY) 2019 and an additional $100 million in each of FY 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. Most of the 2019 increase has already been passed as part of SB 19 in the 2017 session.

He then cites three expectations of the school system based on this new money. Specifically he wants by the 2022-23 school year:

  1. To reach a 95% statewide graduation rate,
  2. To attain a statewide post-secondary effectiveness rate of 75%, and
  3. To continue to move schools statewide toward the Kansans Can model for school redesign launched by the Kansas Department of Education.

As a means to achieve these three goals, the Governor sets the following five strategic objectives for Kansas school districts to meet by the 2022-2023 school year:

  1. Have the highest teacher pay average of our neighboring states, including having a higher teacher pay average than the State of Missouri by the 2018-2019 school year;
  2. Increase the number of school counselors and school psychologists in Kansas schools by 150.00 FTE positions each year;
  3. Have 50 schools participating in the Kansans Can school redesign project;
  4. Offer 15.0 credit hours of dual credit coursework to every Kansas high school student, at no cost to students (including tuition, fees or books), through a partnership between Kansas high schools and the state’s institutions of higher learning; and
  5. Offer every Kansas high school student, at no cost to the student, the choice of taking either the ACT college entrance exam or the Work Keys assessments (for attainment of the National Career Readiness Certificate) during his or her high school career.

In terms of the goals, it is hard to find something to argue with in this proposal.

What, of course, is up in the air is whether or not the Supreme Court will accept such a long phase in. We believe it is likely that they will allow the remedy to be phased in over time but five years might be too long. The last phased in remedy was in 2006 in response to the Montoy decision and the legislature failed – for a variety of reasons including the 2008-09 economic collapse – to fulfill the promises made at that time. Later, when the economy was in recovery and revenues were on the rebound, instead of going back to the phase in, the legislature, under the direction of Governor Brownback, gave all new revenue away in the disastrous tax cuts of 2012.

Now comes the interesting part. The Governor has proposed a dollar amount that is very likely to be supported by Democrats and Moderate Republicans, leaving the conservatives in the position of either taking that number or cutting the proposed funding for schools. It is not lost on anyone under the dome that the 2016 legislative elections were about taxes and school funding.

What happens to a dream deferred?

So asked Kansas native Langston Hughes in one of his most famous poems.

We bring this up because the third portion of the Governor’s speech was about dreams – dreams that we would argue have been deferred thanks to his own policies that devastated the revenue system for Kansas.

Brownback said, “A dream spoken sets up the architecture for the creative efforts of free men and women to build upon.” How true that is.

Then he went on to call out his dreams – and perhaps the dreams of many Kansans. These are his dreams quoted from his speech:

“My dream for Kansas is to be the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business.”

“I dream that education in the state is tailored to each student’s needs and desires.”  

I dream of leading the country in developing new treatments to heal old maladies using your own adult stem cells.”

“I dream of a future Kansas exporting wind electricity across America.”  

“Dream with me of a growing and diversifying Air Capitol of the World.”  

“I dream that Kansas will continue to be and grow as a major financial services hub.”

“Dream with me of feeding the world.”  

“I dream of reconciliation between the races.”

“I dream of a culture of life.”

This is the speech that he could have and should have given in his 2011 State-of-the-State address. Today these are simply dreams deferred while he pressed an agenda of massive tax cuts that simply starved the state’s ability to pursue those dreams.

It is what the 2018 Kansas Legislature does and what happens in the 2018 Kansas elections that will determine if dreams can be pursued or if, in the words of Langston Hughes, “they dry up like a raisin in the sun.”

To read the Governor’s speech, click here.

To see Budget Director Shawn Sullivan’s presentation to the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees, click here.

To view a video reaction to the Governor’s speech by Heidi Holiday of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Sarah LaFrenz of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Kansas NEA Governmental Relations Director Mark Desetti, click here.

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Special School Funding Committee Wraps Up Three Days of Meetings

Dec 19, 2017 by

The 2017 Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision (hereinafter referred to as the SCCRSFD) wrapped up their third day of meetings today, ending with a presentation from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Schmidt spoke broadly about article VI of the Kansas Constitution and wondered generally about whether or not the Court’s interpretation of that document is congruent with the people’s. “Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t,” said Schmidt. “But maybe we should ask.” Schmidt also wondered whether “adequacy and equity” were the best way to consider what is “suitable.” In his written testimony, Schmidt said “Determining whether a law is ‘equitable’ – i.e., fair to all – is a traditional role of courts. But determining whether an amount of funding is ‘adequate’ is more traditionally a legislative function, not a judicial function.”

Most of today was consumed with constitutional studies, including a report on the history of the education article in the Kansas constitution. The 1861 Wyandotte Constitution had an education article which remained unchanged until 1966 when the legislature proposed the current language which was adopted by voters in the November 1966 general election. It has remained the same since then. But another report to the SCCRSFD noted that since the Montoy decision in 2004, the legislature had proposed 39 statutes and constitutional amendments that would stop school districts from suing or prevent the Court from issuing an enforceable remedy in a school finance lawsuit.

The Committee also looked at what the other 49 state constitutions have to say about education.

Monday was spent in a deep data dive. The Committee studied at-risk funding – how many kids are on free lunch, how many are in at-risk programs, how many are in each district, and what are the criteria used for placement in an at-risk program. They looked at special education, preschool, virtual school, and kindergarten enrollments; and they examined personnel reports.

They studied post-secondary progress, assessment scores, and graduation rates; they counted out-of-state students attending Kansas schools, and they reviewed the fees that had been charged for all-day kindergarten in some districts.

And they kept coming back to “how much?” How much money will they need to put into K-12 education to meet adequacy? If there were anything like the consensus around the room, it would probably be the belief that $600 million is the magic number. It was the only number tossed about repeatedly. Some on the committee seemed to imply that this could not be done due to a belief that it would have to be provided in one year. This was key to Rep. Larry Campbell’s (R-Olathe) repeated questions on whether or not schools could efficiently spend that much money in one year. But on the other side were legislators who promoted a phased-in approach. This was repeatedly brought up by Sen. Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) who recounted with AG Schmidt the actions they took in 2005 and 2006 in response to the Montoy decision. Back then the Court accepted a three-year phase-in of new funding.

A big part of the funding discussion was focused on how to find $600 million. Fiscal staff presented revenue-raising ideas, showing the committee how much certain taxes would raise if the rates were raised incrementally. And representatives of other agencies (Corrections, Aging & Disability Services, Children & Families, Health & Environment, the Judiciary, and the Board of Regents) provided details on how they would absorb an 18% budget cut which would free up $600 million to be transferred to K-12.

The Committee now will forward their data and findings to the full legislature in the hope that this will jump-start the process when the 2018 session convenes on January 8.

Remember that the Court expects briefs on the solution to be filed by April 30. AG Schmidt and state’s attorney Arthur Chalmers both told the Committee that they needed a solution passed by March 1 to give enough time to prepare for the April 30 deadline. That’s a very tight timeline for a legislature used to stringing things out until the last minute!

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No Movement Today; Back to Work Next Week

May 5, 2017 by

The Legislature wrapped up business early today with no progress on the tax issue which is keeping things in limbo.

There have been several tax bills proposed but all pulled back when it was clear from caucus meetings that the votes were not there to pass them.

This is not necessarily bad news. Remember that we are only five days into the veto session and legislators are working to find the “sweet spot” at which a tax bill will raise enough revenue to stabilize the budget and fund our schools and still get enough votes to override an expected veto from Governor Brownback. This will take some time.

In the meantime, it is important for Kansans to let their Senators and Representatives know that it is time to abandon the failed Brownback tax experiment and that they must hold out until the solution fills in the budget holes, provides for KPERS and KDOT, and funds education at a level acceptable under the Gannon decision. What’s the key? Don’t vote for anything less!

The House K-12 Budget Committee meeting for today was cancelled. We expect they will meet again on Monday to pass out HB 2410, the school finance bill.

There had been rumors that they would stay in session through the weekend but the lack of progress on taxes has apparently made that unnecessary. Both Chambers will be back on Monday, convening at 10:00 am.

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It’s All About Keeping Your Word

May 4, 2017 by

Legislative Counsel Advises K-12 Budget Committee

Inside the foyer of the Kansas Supreme Court “within these walls the balance of justice weighs equal”

Former Senator Jeff King has been hired as legislative counsel to advise the Legislature, particularly on the school finance issue. King appeared before the K-12 Budget Committee today to discuss the Gannon decision and HB 2410.

There was some presentation as King shared lessons from the 2005 Montoy decision and subsequent legislative actions and his thoughts on the decision in Gannon.

King was then asked a number of questions but we think there were some important takeaways from the discussion.

First, King told the Committee to make sure they provide the funds that are promised. If you say you’re going to give the schools $150 million new dollars each year for five years, vote for a plan that provides the funding. This was the lesson from the Montoy settlement. The Legislature promised several years of funding and then reversed. The Court will not allow that to happen this time.

Secondly, don’t think that the focus in the Gannon decision on the performance of the lowest quartile of students means the amount provided for the other three quartiles is sufficient. The Court did not say it was sufficient. Don’t plan on taking money from the top three quartiles and redirecting it to the lowest quartile.

Finally, build a legislative record that demonstrates how your decisions were reasonably calculated to address the Court ruling and the needs of Kansas school students. Part of King’s job is to help them assemble that record.

The Committee may meet again tomorrow at which time they will consider any other technical amendments to the bill and possibly pass it out of committee. Depending on what else happens in the House and Senate, this could be delayed until Monday.

Tax Decisions Remain Stalled

The challenge of assembling a tax and revenue package that restores stability to the state revenue stream and provides funding both to meet the state budget as a whole and to adequately fund the K-12 education system must be quite difficult.

We have seen several plans float to the surface only to be pulled and sent back for alterations. We also continue to hear more about different factions working to put together a plan to run up the flagpole.

Part of the discussion is whether it is better to rip off the band-aid and have one vote on a big package that does it all or to take several votes on smaller packages that add up. Politically, we believe that ripping off the band-aid is the way to go. Tax votes are always hard so just do what needs to be done in one big vote. The easiest way to fix the problem is to simply repeal the failed Brownback tax experiment and return to the stable system we had in 2012. But that does not appear to be in any of the legislative discussions.

At a minimum, we believe the plan they pass must repeal the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, and re-establish a progressive three-bracket structure. The plan must be structured to fully fund KPERS, stop sweeping money from the highway fund, and provide for adequate funding of K-12 education to meet the Gannon ruling.

And while we are all frustrated that this has not already been accomplished, we need to remember that today is day four of a potentially 24-day session. There is still plenty of time for them to meet, debate, and craft the appropriate plan.

NEA Statement Regarding Federal Action to Repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act

American Health Care Act plays Robin Hood in reverse

Students and families stand to lose health care, while the law guts protections for people with pre-existing conditions

WASHINGTON – May 04, 2017 –

The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a controversial and deeply flawed plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement regarding passage of the American Health Care Act.

“The American Health Care Act (AHCA) plays Robin Hood in reverse. It fails to deliver better, cheaper health care for all Americans, instead giving massive tax cuts to the rich while causing 24 million people to lose coverage.

“This bill will slash funding to the Medicaid program that serves millions of students including those with disabilities. Apparently, snatching health care coverage from children and families was not enough for House Republican leaders and the Trump administration. The act also allows states to jettison existing essential health benefit requirements and to remove protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Bottom line, this bill is harmful and irresponsible. Families should not have to face the threat of bankruptcy due to unaffordable medical bills.

“We urge the U.S. Senate to stand with American families and reject the harmful and deeply flawed AHCA.”

To learn more about the specific concerns NEA’s nearly three million members have with the legislation, please click here.

Follow us @NEAMedia


The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at

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Logic, Budgets, and Taxes

May 3, 2017 by

We have a belief in the logical order of decision making. That is, since the state is out of money and can’t fund its current budget, there will need to be a revenue/tax bill passed that allows state services to continue. We also know that the legislature must meet the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon. So our logic is to approach this in a specific order. First, pass the new school finance formula that determines how much money is needed for K-12 education. Second, pass a state budget that spells out funding for all state agencies/services. Finally, pass a comprehensive tax plan that allows the budget to be funded.

Putting the tax bill first constrains actions on the budget and school finance.

But logic does not always apply under the dome.

Right now both chambers are arguing about tax policy while the school finance formula and budget are stalled.

Many legislators are fighting for the application of a logical order. They want to make only one more vote on taxes and they want that vote to both fill the state’s budget hole and fund our schools.

Yesterday a planned tax vote in the Senate was pulled and today the same thing happened in the House. That’s not bad news. It is a result of legislators making the case for logic and denying votes for a bill that does not solve the two problems they face.

What it is important to remember now is that we are only three days into this veto session and the legislature has 24 days available and budgeted. There is no reason to panic and ignore rational decision making. And while we all want this done, it is more important that it be done right.

K-12 Budget Committee Considers Taxes in School Finance Bill

Within this ongoing debate about how much in taxes and what to pay for, the House K-12 Budget Committee met today to talk about the possibility of putting dedicated tax increases in the school finance formula bill to pay education increases.

The first part of the discussion was simply whether or not that was constitutional under the “two-subject” rule. Since the bill already contains at least one tax provision – renewal of the statewide 20 mill property tax levy – it would appear to be legal, provided that the proposals in the bill specifically reference paying for provisions in the bill.

After some discussion including asking questions of House Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), there did not appear to be consensus on whether or not this was a good idea. One problem brought up by several legislators is that even if this legislature put the taxes in the bill and targeted them to education, future legislatures would be free to sweep those revenues for other purposes.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow to hear from Jeff King, the attorney hired by the legislature to advise the Committee on the likelihood that this bill would be found to be constitutional.

Tax Agreements Scheduled for Votes; Votes Cancelled

Things indeed seem messy in the quest to find a tax bill that will fill the holes, fund our schools, and get enough votes to override an expected veto by the Governor (84 in the House; 27 in the Senate).

The first tax bill this session (HB 2178) easily passed both chambers before being vetoed by Governor Brownback who insists that his failed tax experiment is working. The House secured 85 votes for an override but the Senate failed to get to 27.

It was said that the Senate would be voting yesterday on a new tax bill but the bill in question would not have raised enough money to fix the problems facing the state right now let alone fund a new school finance bill. Leadership did not bring the bill forward for a vote.

Instead, the tax conference committee met again to hammer out another bill, this time putting it in a Senate bill so that the House would vote first. That vote was expected after lunch today but again, the vote was delayed. As we write this update, we are waiting for the House to reconvene. Rumors under the dome are that the bill is still short of what is necessary for funding and so is also still short of the needed votes. If this is true, it is very likely that there will be no vote today.

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