Some action, but still no funding solution.

Feb 26, 2019 by

Community College bill revisited, amended, and passed again; Religious “freedom of speech” bill dropped from consideration

The House Education Committee on Monday had been scheduled to work two bills – HB 2144 on community college reporting and HB 2288, the so-called “student and educator freedom of religious speech act.”

After a major amendment taking the worst parts of the original HB 2144 out of the bill, it was passed as a bill simply requiring community colleges to let students know which courses were transferrable to Regents institutions and to report some student demographic data. On a motion of Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) the bill was brought back to committee for reconsideration (this was possible because it had not yet been read in on the floor of the House and so was still under the control of the committee).

Smith had a small amendment brought to him by the community colleges that does not change the bill significantly but eases the burden on the colleges. The Smith amendment was adopted and the bill was again voted out of committee favorably for passage.

HB 2288 was sponsored by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and had Representatives Arnberger, Bergquist, Blex, Burris, Capps, Carlson, B. Carpenter, Collins, Delperdang, Dove, Garber, Helmer, Hoheisel, Houser, Howard, Humphries, Jacobs, Mason, Owens, Seiwert, E. Smith, Tarwater, Thimesch, Thomas, Vickrey, Waggoner and Wasinger, all Republicans, as co-sponsors.

The bill granted students rights they generally have under current law but would have implied in Kansas statute that teachers and other employees could violate the constitution in promoting their own religious beliefs with students. Kansas law today says that parents have control of their children’s “religious and moral” upbringing but HB 2288 would have granted educators broad rights to promote their own religious beliefs. Teachers carry their own personal religious beliefs with them at all times but in the public school, school employees aren’t allowed to promote those beliefs with students.

The bill was supported in the committee hearing by Rep. Erickson and a representative of the Family Policy Alliance. Opponents were KASB, KNEA, and the Mainstream Coalition. The bill, if passed, would encourage behavior among school employees that is clearly illegal under the United States Constitution as demonstrated by a long history of case law. As a result, lots of costly litigation would likely follow.

On Monday, the Committee had the bill on their agenda to work and vote on but at the last minute, Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka) who was chairing the committee in the absence of Rep. Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center), conferred briefly with Erickson and then adjourned the meeting without taking an action.

It would appear that the bill is now dead.

Bills on interest moving on the floor

Three bills of interest to KNEA were debated in the chambers today – one in the House and two in the Senate. All three bills were advanced and will face final action votes on Wednesday.

In the House, consideration was given to a bill sponsored by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta), HB 2006, which would require the Legislative Post Audit to review state economic development incentive programs every two years with an eye to determining if the state is getting a good return on investment.

These programs – and there are a lot of them – grant tax breaks or incentives to companies with the understanding that good paying jobs will be created in Kansas but there has never been a review to determine if jobs are actually being created.

The bill was amended to put them on a three year review cycle to ease the burden on the LPA and then passed. It will face a final action vote on Wednesday.

This is a good bill and Williams is to be commended for her efforts on this issue. The bill is long overdue. We urge legislators to pass the bill.

In the Senate there were votes on SB 128, a bill changing the requirements on emergency drills. Currently schools must hold one fire drill every month, this bill changes that to at least four per year. The bill reduces the number of tornado drills to at least two per year with one in September and one in March and requires at least three crisis drills to be held during school hours.

Overall, the number of drills is reduced and more focused. The bill will face a final action vote on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 16 also came up for debate. This bill would allow at-risk dollars to be spent on evidence-based student programs and specifically allows expenditures on Jobs for America’s Graduates and the Boys and Girls Club in addition to Communities in Schools which is listed in current law. The bill really doesn’t do much as schools can use their funds for this currently and at their discretion.

There was an attempt by Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) to amend two years of inflation funding increases into the bill. His rationale was that the Senate so far was not taking action on school finance and the Attorney General had expressed a desire to have school finance done by March 15 if there were no changes to the formula and March 1 if there were.

His amendment was defeated on a vote of 12 to 28 with all Republicans voting NO. All Democrats and John Doll (I-Garden City) voted YES for school funding.

SB 16 was then advanced without the Hensley amendment and will be considered for final action on Wednesday.

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Funding and curriculum mandates

Feb 12, 2019 by

Senate Committee on Education Finance continues hearing on SB 44

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance continued their hearing on Senate Bill 44, Governor Kelly’s school funding bill intended to end the Gannon school finance lawsuit by addressing the last Gannon ruling.

The Supreme Court last ruled that the actions taken by the legislature in 2017 and 2018 had effectively created a constitutional school finance formula but that they were off on adequacy of funding because of the phase-in of funding increases.

After addressing all equity issues in the formula, the legislature had decided to return to the funding level that resolved the earlier Montoy decision and was abandoned due to the Great Recession and the failure of the Brownback tax disaster. So they picked an adjusted dollar amount but then chose to phase that amount in over several years.

The result is that, while the Court thought the approach was right, the legislature would have to account for inflation – the legislature would need to increase funding such that inflation increases were met. SB 44 is based on the Kansas State Board of Education’s calculations and Schools for Fair Funding, the organization representing the lawsuit school districts, told the committee that if this bill passes with no other changes to the formula, they would stipulate that it meets the Gannon ruling.

School districts, KASB, KNEA and parent groups, like Game on for Kansas Schools and the PTA, and many other education advocacy groups, were united in support for the bill. The only opponent was the Kansas Policy Institute, the Koch-funded organization that supports corporate tax giveaways and seeks to block all school funding increases. KPI asserted in testimony that the Court has no right to rule they way they do and that money doesn’t influence student achievement.

Contact members of the Senate and ask them to support Senate Bill 44 without amendment. It’s time to fully fund our schools and get out of court!

You can email any Senator using this format: firstname.lastname@senate.ks.gov. Members of the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance are Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Anthony Hensley, Bud Estes, Dan Goddard, Dan Kerschen, Carolyn McGinn, Pat Pettey, and Eric Rucker.

House Ed Committee considers mandating more courses

The House Education Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on the first of two bills mandating new course requirements for Kansas high school students. The bill heard on Tuesday was one that seems to appear annually which mandates a financial literacy requirement. Brought to the committee by Rep. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, the bill would require all Kansas high school students to take and pass a course on financial literacy in their junior or senior year.

While no one disputes the importance of financial literacy, school advocates opposed the mandate. As reported by the Kansas State Department of Education, 92% of Kansas schools offer financial literacy now with 28% putting the course in their graduation requirements.

Opposition to the bill focused on several concerns:

  • The mandate would be difficult to implement due to a lack of qualified instructors;
  • The mandate would deny students the opportunity to take other elective courses and possibly interfere with the ability to earn an industry certificate in a CTE program; and
  • The real problem with financial issues faced by adults has more to do with crippling student debt and the predatory practices of payday and title lenders and credit card companies.

Opponents to the mandate included KASB, the Kansas State Superintendents Association, KNEA, and Game on for Kansas Schools. Supporters were Rep. Erickson and Walt Chappell and the Kansas Realtors Association who indicated that student debt was hampering the ability of young people to buy homes. Sadly, passage of HB 2166 will not do anything about student debt.

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Wasn’t that a mighty storm?

Feb 8, 2019 by

One storm was on the Senate floor

Senate President, Susan Wagle

The tax debate storm hit the Senate floor Wednesday night as the ice was moving in on most of the rest of Kansas. And frankly, some of the exchanges in the debate were a tad icy as well!

Senate President and self-appointed chair of the Senate Select Committee on Federal Tax Code Implementation Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) brought her pet project, Senate Bill 22, to the floor for debate. While Wagle has tried to portray her bill as real help for working Kansans, it is in reality a large corporate tax giveaway with little benefit for individual tax filers and no relief to working families.

We’ve been reporting on this bill as it was discussed in Committee but just to review, here are the facts in a nutshell:

  • It decouples the Kansas income tax code from the federal income tax code,
  • It stops retroactively the collection of Kansas income taxes on overseas earnings by multi-national corporations through the repatriation of overseas earnings,
  • It protects multi-national corporations from paying additional Kansas income taxes under the GILTI tax provisions,
  • It allows individual tax filers who will not longer itemize on their federal taxes due to the increase in the standard deduction to continue to itemize on their Kansas income tax forms

The bill has an estimated fiscal note of $192 million with $137 million of the benefit going to the multi-national corporations. $54 million would go to Kansas individual taxpayers who cannot itemize on federal taxes but would benefit by doing so on state taxes.

In the debate Sen. Wagle noted that 9% of Kansas tax filers can continue to itemize under the federal law and see a tax decrease under the Trump tax cut. Those 9%, the wealthiest Kansans, get no benefit from SB 22.

Another 9% of Kansans will see a tax benefit by no longer itemizing on their federal taxes and will see a modest tax increase in Kansas as a result. This 9% of Kansas tax filers will get a small benefit from SB 22.

The other 82% of Kansas tax filers – those working families and low income workers – get no benefit at all. Talking about this bill as tax relief for working Kansans is just not right. It really only benefits the wealthiest individuals and multi-national corporations.

What the bill will do, especially coupled with Senate Bill 9, is to drain much of the state treasury before a budget can be adopted making it much harder for Governor Kelly to address school finance, the failing foster care system, highway maintenance, health care, and the mess in our prison system. This bill is essentially a cynical political attempt to hamstring the Governor.

The only amendment considered last night was offered by Senator Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha). The Pyle amendment would have exempted social security income from state income taxes. Pyle asserted that retirees are fleeing Kansas seeking homes in those states that don’t tax social security. Pyle also admitted he had no research or data to prove his point. His amendment received only five votes. Pyle had asked for a roll call vote but failed to get five senators to support him on that.

Senator Tom Holland (D-Baldwin City) moved to send the bill back to committee with the intent of splitting the corporate and individual tax provisions and considering alternatives to simply decoupling from the federal code. His motion failed on a vote of 12 – 28 with Senator Mary Jo Taylor (R-Stafford) joining the Democrats in supporting the motion.

In the end the bill was advanced to final action on a voice vote.

Overnight storm closes almost everything…but not the Statehouse

While most of Northeast Kansas was closed due to a nasty ice storm and a dusting of snow on top of slick roads, Wagle announced that the Legislature would open so she could get her bill voted on final action.

In explanations of vote, Senator Bollier (D-Mission Hills) noted that the bill was fiscally irresponsible, that the fiscal note was speculative, and that the budget should be settled before considering tax changes. Senator Hensley said, “Kansans made it clear they don’t want more irresponsible policy when they elected Laura Kelly.”

“For the cost of this bill,” said Hensley, “the food sales tax could be cut in half.”

Republican Senator Mary Jo Taylor voted NO and suggested that the Legislature should first address their responsibilities before considering this bill.

In the end the bill was adopted on final action on a vote of 26 to 14. Senators John Doll (I-Garden City), John Skubal (R-Overland Park), and Mary Jo Taylor (R-Stafford) joined all 11 Democrats in voting no. The bill must now go through hearings and votes in the House before it can go to the Governor for signature or veto.

Governor’s school finance plan hearings in Senate Ed Finance Committee

Senate Bill 44 is currently in the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance. The hearing on the bill began yesterday and will continue on Tuesday next week.

This week many superintendents from around Kansas testified in favor of the bill, as one might expect. But the most notable testimony came from Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), representing the Gannon lawsuit districts.

SFFF told the committee that should the Legislature pass SB 44 without amendment and with no changes to the school finance formula, they would stipulate to the Court that the solution met the funding needs of schools providing the Court retained jurisdiction in order to ensure that future Legislatures do not renege on the promises made in this legislation.

Senator Denning (R-Overland Park) pressed SFFF repeatedly on this issue to make it clear that the bill would be acceptable despite the fact that the inflation factor used in the bill – and recommended by the Kansas State Board of Education – is somewhat lower than the actual CPI.

We will see if this information has an impact. If adopted as is with no changes to the formula, SB 44 could actually end the Gannon school finance lawsuit.

This hearing will continue next week when KASB, KNEA, Game on for Kansas Schools, and the PTA will testify in favor. The only opponent will be the Kansas Policy Institute who consistently asserts that schools have more than enough funding right now and are failing.

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Of Taxes and Torpedoes

Feb 1, 2019 by

A Tale of Two Tax Committees

Senate President, Susan Wagle

If you’ve been reading our reports, you know that we are focused for the time being on the tax discussion in the House and Senate where the latter is grappling with Senate leadership’s desire to give away hundreds of millions of tax dollars before we figure out how to finally fund our schools, expand Medicaid, restore our highway department, and fix our damaged foster care system. It almost feels like the plan is to give away as much revenue as possible so it won’t be possible to do those things. Partisan politics where Senate leadership is willing to risk returning to Brownback-style policies appears to be the prevailing strategy to torpedo Governor Kelly’s budget.

The House is taking a different approach to dealing with the unintended consequences of President Trump’s tax policy- which has been derided by Republican leadership in the Kansas Senate but willingly supported by the six Kansas Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate when the bill came to them.

In the Senate, Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) has taken the matter into her own hands, stripping authority for tax issues from Tax Committee Chair Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) and forming her own committee with herself as chair, the Senate Select Committee on Federal Tax Implementation.

Wagle’s Committee held a hearing on SB 22, a bill to decouple the Kansas income tax from the federal income tax in order to allow individuals to continue itemizing and to assist corporations in not paying taxes on their overseas earnings.

In the days of discussion – first in Tyson’s Assessment and Taxation Committee and now in Wagle’s Senate Select Committee – the conferee time has been handed over to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the chamber has happily filled that time bringing in corporate tax accountants to wail about the unfairness of it all while making veiled threats about leaving the state if they don’t get what they want. Department of Revenue staff- whose jobs are to provide careful and reasoned analysis of these issues- sit in the committee room waiting patiently to be asked to what seems to be a party they’ve clearly not been invited to.

With about six minutes left in the meeting today, Wagle pushed the bill out of committee on a voice vote. It will now go to the full Senate for debate, probably next week.

Then there’s the House Committee on Taxation chaired by Steven Johnson (R-Assaria). In contrast to the Senate, Johnson has not brought a bill forward. Instead he is holding briefings by the Department of Revenue on how the various issues play out in reality. They spent one day on itemized deductions diving into how many Kansans actually did itemize before the change and what the impact is on those taxpayers who can no longer itemize. They even reviewed hypothetical scenarios to reveal the impact on middle class taxpayers.

They had another day to dive into the two corporate provisions – GILTI and Repatriation – to find out how these provisions work in the real world, again looking at how a typical corporate entity would be taxed with and without the changes sought by the Chamber.

The Chamber will have their time before the committee but not until a bill is scheduled for a hearing. The difference is that in the Senate, the Chamber has essentially been given the spotlight before the committee while the Department of Revenue waits silently in the wings.

It’s a rhetorical question, but we must ask; which chamber is interested in ramming a corporate wish list through the process and which is working deliberately and thoughtfully?

So back to cynical, partisan politics. There are some who believe that Wagle and her allies in the Senate want to ram as many revenue slashing bills through the Senate as they can simply to deny Governor Kelly the ability to responsibly deal with the State’s budgetary obligations – schools, highways, health care, and the crumbling foster care system. In that way, Wagle and her supporters can criticize the Governor for not solving those problems. It’s kind of like a similar strategy used against public schools. Defund them so they’ll struggle, label schools a failure and enact policies that benefit a select few while calling it all “reform.” The Kansas City Star has hypothesized that this is all about Senator Susan Wagle and her desire to run for the United States Senate now that Pat Roberts is retiring. The Star noted, “It’s a deeply cynical, hyper-partisan approach to tax policy.” To read the Star’s take, click here. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out in the coming weeks.

Governor’s school finance bill to get a hearing next week- A CALL TO ACTION.

Senate Bill 44, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill that would enact the State Board of Education’s finance recommendation in response to the latest Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon lawsuit, will get a hearing in the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance next Wednesday.

The bill will provide for the inflationary funding increase called for in the Supreme Court ruling without making any other changes to the school finance formula. If adopted as is, most education advocates believe that it will finally result in a fully constitutional school funding system – the first such system in about a decade!

We hope that the Senate will approve the bill with no changes and do so quickly. With the deadlines set by the Supreme Court, the Legislature’s response should be done by March 1. That would allow time for the Attorney General to prepare for the April Court hearing.

We would urge you to contact Senators and let them know how important this issue is. Kansas school employees want to be assured that their schools will open on time for the 2019-20 school year. The time for games and posturing is over. Kansas is close to closing the book on the Gannon suit and ensuring our school finance system is constitutional.

Members of the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance are; Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Anthony Hensley, Bud Estes, Dan Goddard, Dan Kerschen, Carolyn McGinn, Pat Pettey, and Eric Rucker. You can email them using firstname.lastname@senate.ks.gov. Ask them to support Senate Bill 44 without amendment.


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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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