End of Regular Session (More to Come)

Mar 25, 2016 by

KSCapRegular Session Ends with Adoption of School Equity Bill

The 2016 regular session came to an end at about 4:30 p.m. today with the House adoption of Senate Sub for HB 2655, the school finance equity “fix” drafted in response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon case.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee had taken their finance bill, SB 555, made a few amendments mostly telling the Court why this was a good bill (something of a preamble “statement of intent”) and then on a gut and go motion inserted the contents into HB 2655.

The gut and go was a way around having hearings in the House with the possibility of House amendments that would put the bill in conference and slow the whole process down. They wanted out for the Easter weekend and if the House would just concur in regards to the changes to HB 2655, they could all go home.

Earlier in the morning, the Senate on final action passed the bill 32-5. All Republicans voted for the bill, five Democrats opposed it, and three Democrats did not vote.

The bill was in the House for the afternoon session. It was debated there for a couple of hours but since it was simply a matter of either concurring with the changes to the bill or sending it to conference, no amendments were permitted. The bill was passed on final action in the House on a vote of 93 – 31. Slightly less partisan, the bill got 91 Republicans and two Democrats voting yes, 26 Democrats and five Republicans voted no. Representative Rubin was absent.

Check the House Roll call by clicking here.

Up for debate now is whether or not the court will accept this as addressing equity constitutionally. If they do, then schools will be open in August. If not, then the legislature will have another opportunity to come up with another bill during the veto session which starts on April 27. Whether or not this bill will be acceptable is purely a matter of speculation. The Supreme Court will have the final say.


SB 469 Not Taken Up in the House

Senate Bill 469, the “Melcher bill” intended to end representation for teachers at the bargaining table and passed by the Senate last night by a slim margin was not taken up today in the House. The bill is no longer available for a hearing and debate or amendment in the House. But don’t think things are over yet. We will continue to be watching this issue and working to point out the chaos it would cause in local communities for school boards, administrators, and teachers.

The bill is opposed by the Kansas Association of School Boards, The Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, United School Administrators of Kansas, and the KNEA. The only proponents (other than Senators Melcher, Lynn, and Smith) are the ALEC/Koch-aligned anti-education groups the Kansas Policy Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. And, of course, Mr. Anonymous who wrote a letter to Senator Lynn excoriating the teachers’ unions and those who are members, which she read aloud with great vigor during debate.


They’re Going Home!

All 165 Kansas legislators will be home for the next month.  This gives supporters of public education in Kansas lots of time and opportunities to meet with them, talk with them, ask them questions, and advocate for public schools.

Don’t miss this opportunity to be an education lobbyist!  Head for those forums, breakfasts, and meet-and-greets wearing your school colors and ready to ask the tough questions.  If you see your representative in the community, approach them and respectfully request a few minutes to chat.  Remember, although some may have forgotten, they were elected to represent all interests, even yours.  Don’t let this opportunity to engage your representatives pass without doing so.

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Distractions you say?

Jan 29, 2016 by

Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, chairs the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee

Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, chairs the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee

Senator Mitch Holmes (R-St. John) thrust himself into the news cycle recently over his apparent belief that working in the legislature can be very distracting.  In addressing these distractions, Senator Holmes issued dress rules for women saying, “We’re really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself.”  Senator Holmes has since apologized for singling out female conferees.  Still, ongoing efforts to distract seem to be prevalent among many in the Kansas Legislature.

Consider that last year’s legislative session, the longest in state history, began very much like this year’s session where social and special interest policy were the early priority.  Looking back at the 2015 session, it was clear that the legislature was less focused on its constitutional obligation to fund state services and more focused on personal and special interest agendas.  Concurrently, there seemed to be an effort to distract the public each time the state revenue reports came in reflecting an increasingly desperate fiscal reality.  Was this coincidence?

Senior Fellow Duane Goossen from the Kansas Center for Economic Growth writes the following in a January 28, 2016 blog post:

The 2012-2013 tax changes so damaged the state revenue stream that Kansas does not have enough income to meet even a conservative or “efficient” set of expenses. – See more at: http://realprosperityks.com/the-efficiency-review-small-ripples-in-a-big-pond-of-troubles/#sthash.FVqCR6wB.dpuf

Given the state of the state’s finances, it would seem that the entire focus of the 2016 Kansas Legislature should be upon providing vital state services through a reasonable and adequate budget.  Instead, we’re seeing the typical flurry of unpopular, special-interest policy bills attacking educators and public schools while the “elephant in the room” (the state budget) continues to grow into an actual “mammoth in the room.”

We encourage you to stay engaged with your representatives.  Don’t be distracted and expect your representatives to steer clear of distractions themselves.  Keeping engaged and connected is simple.

  1. Register for our advocacy messaging platform at www.joinusks.org
  2. Track bills and take action when called upon at www.underthedomeks.org
  3. Educate yourself on the issues by subscribing and listening to Kansas EdTalk at www.ksedtalk.org
  4. Share your knowledge, opinions and perspectives on social media and in your neighborhoods.  Invite your friends, family and neighbors to “plug-in” using these resources.
  5. If you believe in the promise of strong public education and support efforts to advocate for Kansas students, consider joining KPAC with a small donation of $5, $10, or $25.  You can join KPAC here:  http://www.jotform.us/kneacomm/KPACDonations

 

Don’t be distracted!  Get in the game!

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Court Arguments and Tax Discussions

Nov 6, 2015 by

School Finance Equity Hearing in Supreme Court

The Kansas Supreme Court heard from the state and from the plaintiffs in the equity portion of the Gannon School Finance lawsuit today. The hearing took about 2 ½ hours.

Attorneys for the state were questioned first. They defended the block grant funding scheme passed by the legislature (SB 7) and asserted that the money the legislature had appropriated for the equity resolution last year was appropriate to meet the requirement.

The money that had been appropriated was about $138 million but the final cost was closer to $200 million. The state argued that the money appropriated was based on what they were told by the State Department of Education. KSDE had provided an estimate of the amount that would be needed based on the prior year’s data – the only data available at that time.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs maintained that it was long past time to resolve the issue and that the repeal of a constitutionally sound but underfunded school finance formula was an inappropriate action by the legislature.

Questioning of both sides by the justices was pointed but it was difficult to tell with any certainty what position they might be forming.

We don’t know when they will make their ruling but most expect it to come early in the session.

The issue of adequacy is still to be resolved.

Special Tax Committee considers sales tax exemptions, tax credits

A special Joint Committee on Taxation spent the last two days learning about the challenges of sales tax policy and tax credits.

The committee studied the history of the sales tax in Kansas and reviewed Legislative Post Audit studies that have been conducted on sales tax exemptions, tax credits, and economic development incentives.

They took public testimony today. Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson gave them much food for thought regarding Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIFs) which have the potential to stress the budgets of school districts – particularly growing districts like Shawnee Mission.

KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti testified, urging the committee to reign in the granting of sales tax exemptions by developing guidelines under which an organization would be eligible for such an exemption. Today these exemptions are generally granted every time an organization comes before the committee with a pitch leading to an enormous laundry list of individually named organizations with exemptions.

A coalition of non-profit organizations urged the committee to proceed cautiously while the Sisters of Charity made a plea for the preservation of the Earned Income Tax Credit which applies to the lowest income Kansans.

The Kansas Livestock Association and Farm Bureau both spoke on behalf of rural and agricultural interests in the state.

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Block Grant Finance Bill Partly Unveiled

Mar 5, 2015 by

Block Grant School Finance Proposal Unveiled

Senator Ty Masterson and Representative Ron Ryckman, Jr. today unveiled the long awaited “block grant” school finance plan. The release today was essentially a press release and set of “talking points” followed by Q&A with reporters. No details of the plan are yet available.

Here’s what we know based upon the press conference.

  • School funding would increase over the next two years by about $300 million although at least half of that is required KPERS contributions. The other half we understand to be LOB equalization money.
  • The plan collapses various funding categories into one large fund in an attempt to give school districts additional “flexibility” in determining how to spend their resources.
    It would establish an “extraordinary need fund” that school districts could apply to if they found themselves with additional needs. In the press conference it was expressed that this is where districts would go if they had high student growth. It would require application to the state finance council.
  • According to Masterson and Ryckman, the plan would restore this year’s allotments.
    We will be looking for more details which should be released over the next few days. As soon as the full plan is out and analyzed, we will provide you with more information.

What Do Educators Know?

Or for that matter, what do people who love educators know?

That’s the gist of HB 2345 which had a hearing in the House Education Committee today. The bill (no one will take credit for introducing it) would prohibit anyone who is a school employee, lives with a school employee, or has a parent, sibling, or spouse who is a school employee from serving on any Kansas school board anywhere in the state. But wait! There’s more! Living with or being related to an employee of the Kansas State Department of Education also disqualifies one from serving on any school board.

The bill would purge from school boards across the state anyone who has a connection – directly or indirectly – to a school employee from service on any Kansas school board. And let us make this clear – not just the board of the district where the employee works. ANY school board anywhere!

Clearly the idea behind this bill is to stop people with any knowledge of education or how schools function from serving on a school board. In what other profession are the professionals and their families banned from serving on a policy board?

Will the Legislature next propose that physicians and nurses and their families be banned from service on a hospital board? Will ranchers and farmers serving in the Legislature be banned from sitting on the Agriculture Committee? Will attorneys be banned from sitting on the Judiciary Committee?

House Bill 2345 joins a long list of other bills that represent the war on education being conducted under the dome in Topeka.

KNEA testified against the bill in committee.

No action was taken on the bill.

What the Press is Saying

Kansas newspapers continue to weigh in on the actions and inactions of the Kansas Legislature. The Winfield Courier called the passage of the education community’s consensus collective bargaining bills (HB 2376 and SB 136) in both chambers as a “victory in the war on education.” Read their take here.

The Garden City Telegram noted that Legislators were wasting time on ideological pursuits and failing to address the real issue – a massive budget crisis brought on by reckless tax cuts. The editor specifically called out the tendency for some Legislators to “rubber stamp” issues brought to them by “the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Policy Institute, and Koch brothers.” They also referenced the willingness of Kansas Legislators to go along with anything from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Read their take here

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