And in conclusion…School Finance!

Apr 4, 2019 by

Rep. Kristey Williams pulled no punches in her criticism of Senators who worked in a bipartisan effort to finally secure constitutional funding for Kansas public schools.

Wednesday; 1:30 PM conference committee meeting

This meeting started with a review by staff on what items had been agreed to and which were still unresolved.

The House then made a counter-offer to the Senate offer on finance made last evening. Here are the House points:

  • Accept the Senate position on bilingual education with advancing the LPA audit by two years,
  • Accept the Senate position not requiring a study of graduation requirements (financial literacy and computer science),
  • Accept the original Senate position on special education funding, keeping the 92% in place as in current law,
  • Maintain the House position on the artificial base for LOB calculation,
  • Maintain the House position on certification of instructional costs,
  • Accept the Senate position on bullying – no new provisions,
  • Maintain the House position on tuition tax credits, changing to the 100 lowest performing elementary schools,
  • Accept the Senate position on bond approval limits (stay with current law),
  • Accept the Senate position on transportation (stay with current law),
  • Reject the Senate’s finance package (same as the KSDE and the Governor),
  • Maintain the current House position on accountability reports,
  • Bring mental health program into the discussion.

Williams used the bulk of the meeting time to chastise the Senate for not accepting the House positions, accusing Senators of not caring about kids who are bullied and who commit suicide while she also attacked their support for the 92% reimbursement standard for special education.

In closing the meeting, Williams announced that the House would have a new offer on out-of-state students at their next meeting. And that next meeting will take place at 4:30 Wednesday afternoon!

Wednesday; 4:30 PM conference committee meeting

The final conference committee meeting had plenty of memorable moments.

Many folks were wondering what the impact of the new finance plan that Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) had presented to the Republican caucus in the morning would have on proceedings. Everyone knew that Ryckman and some of his allies had been courting members of the House all day looking for support. If strong support for his “Kids First (but not really) Plan” was there, what would happen to this conference committee.

The Senate, as we’ve reported, was sticking to their position in SB 142 – the finance plan recommended by the State Board of Education, supported by the Governor, and approved on a vote of 32 to 8 in the Senate. SB 142 provided $90 million in new school aid in the coming year. The Ryckman plan would have give $9 million to schools and banked $81 million to be used some time in the future.

Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) came to the conference committee meeting and announced she was retracting the last House offer and that, after a 15 minute recess, she would return with what would be the last House offer, including money.

When she came back she made an offer that was the House position on most of the unresolved policy position but they would grant the Senate position on funding if the Senate would agree to repeal the CPI adjustments in the out years. It was clear that the votes in the House were not there for the so-called “Kids First Plan.”

Senators Molly Baumgardner and Jim Denning who- along with Senator Anthony Hensley- led a bipartisan effort to move forward on full constitutional funding for public schools.

The Senate did not yield. After several rounds back and forth, it was clear that the Senate was not going to budge on school finance and on certain pieces of policy. The three members of the Senate team – Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg), Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), and Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) – showed a united front and supported each other in the arguments back and forth.

Williams grew angrier with each back and forth eventually accusing Denning and Baumgardner of not being Republican enough for opposing her demand to repeal the CPI and demanding that superintendents sign letters saying they had sufficient resources to help every child meet the Rose standards.

Baumgardner, who maintained a calm, professional demeanor throughout the process, finally let Williams know that she did not appreciate the ad hominem attacks on the Senators and accusations leveled at them. She then urged the House to take a caucus to come up with a final response to the Senate’s positions.

The House members left and after a long break returned to the table. Williams read from a prepared script that called the bill the “Senate/Governor Kelly plan”- perhaps in an effort to humiliate her Republican colleagues- and berated the Senators for working with the Governor and sticking to what she (Williams) deemed to be an irresponsible plan. But with that, she announced the House would take what the Senate offered and run it on the floor. Baumgardner adjourned the meeting.

With a determined, bipartisan approach, the Senate negotiators had managed to get SB 142 accepted as the Gannon finance response and the House backed off nearly all of their policy proposals.

Gone was the limit on bilingual education. The 92% special education reimbursement still stands. Superintendent certification of spending was abandoned along with limits on at-risk funds, an unworkable transportation policy, and much of the most expansive reporting requirements.

The result is a bill that might very well resolve the Gannon lawsuit and put the state back in constitutional compliance on school funding.

You can read the brief explaining the conference committee report by clicking here.

Thursday on the floor…

The House took up the conference committee first and adopted it on a vote of 76 to 47. Click here to see how your Representative voted.

The Senate took it up later that same day and adopted it on a vote of 31 to 8 (vote record here). The bill now goes to the Governor who is expected to sign it into law.

What happens next?

The Attorney General’s office is now tasked with writing a brief for the Supreme Court in defense of the actions taken. That brief is due on April 15 with oral arguments to follow in May.

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Conference Committee Continues On School Finance- Until House Member Walks Out.

Apr 2, 2019 by

Rep. Kristey Williams, House K-12 Budget Chair and other conferees.

9:00 AM meeting

Conferees gathered shortly after 9:00 this morning to continue discussion on school finance – or actually on school policy proposals.

The Senators came in with a counter to the last House proposal. The House had offered changes to their policy on the use of some at-risk funds.

  • Those funds could only be spent on at-risk students “ranked in the lower 50th percentile in such student’s class.”
  • Schools would be required to “evaluate outcomes data for such students , including, but not limited to, school attendance, academic progress, graduation rates, pursuit of postsecondary education or other career advancement.”
  • Funds could only be expended on “evidence-based instruction” which would be defined as “an education delivery system based on independent research that consistently produces better student outcomes over a five-year period than would otherwise be achieved by the same at-risk students.”

The Senate counter-offer rejected the bullet listed above, accepted the second, and added language to the third that would required programs to have been peer reviewed.

The Senate also accepted language extending the Dyslexia Task Force.

The Senate has so far rejected the House language ending support for bilingual students after seven years and instead suggested that the issue be revisited after an LPA study that is already scheduled and will file a report in January of 2022. During the discussion, Representative Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) asserted that schools have no incentive to help bilingual students progress and that this limit was needed to incentivize schools to help kids. She also admitted that there was no data to indicate kids were staying in bilingual programs beyond the time needed to master English.

The Senate also suggested that instead of calling for a study of graduation requirements with the goal of getting financial literacy and computer science accepted as math or science credits along with the goal of establishing an IT Commission, that both issues be handed to the Governor’s Education Council as study items.

The House agreed to the language on peer-review of programs and the extension of the dyslexia task force but will take the 50th percentile language under consideration.

As for the graduation requirements and IT Commission, Williams said it was likely the Governor’s Council would not give enough consideration to her issues and she questioned the membership of the Council because it had no legislators on it.

The Conference Committee broke to go on the floor and agreed to meet again at 1:30 this afternoon.

1:30 PM meeting

The committee reconvened at 1:30 and made a little progress when the House accepted the Senate’s offer on the dyslexia task force and peer-review of instructional programs for at-risk students. On the bilingual issue, the House agreed not to change the funding until after the LPA study was released but asked for language requiring the KSDE to collect more data on bilingual students and programs in the meantime.

The House also agreed to drop the IT Commission but to still require KSDE to study graduation requirements, doing so in conjunction/coordination with the Governor’s Education Council. Finally the House dropped some language on reporting local sources of revenue though still reporting funds spent on litigation and the number of virtual students in the district. All accountability reporting to the public would be done via a link to the KSDE website.

They broke and will meet again at 4:30.

4:30 PM meeting

It started with offers and ended with anger and a walk-out.

The Senate came with another offer – one that included an agreement by the LPA to move up the bilingual study, giving them data to make a decision in 2020 instead of 2022. They also accepted the House’s last offer on at-risk expenditures. But they held their position on the other not-yet-agreed to policy pieces in SB 16.

After some back and forth – with Baumgardner educating the conferees on a number of issues. First, Baumgardner noted existing bullying hotline that could be widely promoted instead of creating a new one. Next, she explained why the House proposal on transportation isn’t feasible (Baumgardner had clearly done some detailed research on this one). Finally, she spoke of the reality of bilingual education, specifically why some kids need more time to master English.

After her explanations were complete, the wheels seemed to come off the bus- as it were. Williams became visibly more angry and complained that the KSDE and others were not sharing information with her that should have been brought to her attention during committee hearings.

Williams was clearly planning to end the meeting when Baumgardner announced that the Senate had a funding offer.

The Senate offered Senate Bill 142, the inflation factor proposed by the SBOE and the Governor and passed by the Senate 32 to 8, language on special education funding that would retain 92% as a policy goal of the state, and accepting some accountability suggestions from the House.

Baumgardner and Hensley did an excellent job explaining the importance of the 92% to parents of special needs children and their teachers. “They would feel like an afterthought,” Baumgardner said.

An angry Williams’ clapped back asserting that the state had abandoned the 65% policy goal on “instructional spending” and that others had decided that priorities were “outside of the classroom.” “As for the rest of your offer,” Williams said, “no comment.”

Williams also refused to commit to a meeting tomorrow telling Baumgardner only that if they could meet before 5:00, would they meet. Baumgardner asked her to consider the difficulty for those constituents who listen-in or attend the meetings but Williams would not budge. Instead, she abruptly left the room.

Now, we are all left wondering what happens next.

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Attacking Employee Rights

Mar 18, 2019 by

This morning the Senate Commerce Committee, held a hearing on SB 175, which requires members of public employee unions to be notified by their employer annually of their right to drop their union membership. Some might wonder why this bill is even necessary, given that Kansas is a “right to work” er… right to work for less state. Union membership is not compulsory and is solely the personal choice of those who choose to exercise their constitutional right to assemble freely.

The impetus behind this bill comes from the main proponent in today’s hearing, the ultra-conservative-policy-pushers known as the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI). During the hearing, the anti-labor faction threatened future lawsuits and brought in anti-union celebrity Mark Janus. Ironically, while KPI has consistently kept its funding and donor lists hidden from the public, it somehow expects that public to believe that its interest is in protecting workers from themselves.

KPI believes that this bill will encourage fewer working people to join a union. That will mean lower wages and reduced benefits and with that comes the ability to cut more taxes and reduce funding to state services. In fact, KPI was up in the House K-12 Budget Committee today arguing that, when it comes to teaching our children, money doesn’t matter.

KNEA believes that all employees have the right to organize and advocate for the best interest of their profession and for their own well-being. KNEA opposes SB 175 while recognizing that this is nothing more than another well-funded attack on working professionals and on our right to choose to organize and to advocate. We will continue to track and report on this bill in the coming days.

K-12 Budget Committee Fast-tracking Williams’ School Finance Bill

Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) introduced her first school finance bill on March 12 (12 days after the date by which Attorney General Derek Schmidt had asked for the legislature to complete its work on school finance). The 81 page bill was then scheduled for a hearing on March 14. Since testimony on a bill must be turned in 24 hours before a hearing, that meant that anyone wishing to speak had one night to read and digest the bill, analyze it, and have testimony written and submitted.

KNEA, KASB, USA, and Equality Kansas all testified in opposition to the bill on March 14. Williams continued the hearing today when the Mainstream Coalition testified in opposition. A few folks testified in favor including Walt Chappell who asserted that the state already spends too much on education and Chuck Knapp who testified as an “individual citizen” but is, in reality, the CEO of JAG-K, an organization named in the bill as a special program on which at-risk funds may be spent.

Mike O’Neal who works at least part time for KPI essentially urged the committee to ignore the courts who, in his view, have no right to meddle in issues that create funding problems for the state. O’Neal suggested that funding might be better as a grant program under which districts would say what the money would be used for and promise the results they would get with the money.

Others testified in favor of only specific sections of the bill – for example, Cerner Corporation wants the sections calling for a review of graduation requirements and the establishment of an IT Commission.

The hearing closed today with no action taken on the bill. Williams has now announced that the committee will hold hearing tomorrow on SB 142, the SBOE/Kelly/Senate plan passed by the Senate last week.

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Governor’s Budget funds schools, health care, foster care… but does not raise taxes.

Jan 17, 2019 by

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly

Governor Kelly outlined her vision for Kansas in her first State of the State Address last night and the focus was on three areas: 1) funding our K-12 schools to end the “cycle of litigation,” 2) expanding Medicaid to provide health insurance for 150,000 more Kansans, and 3) restoring our foster care system so that children are cared for. One thing the Governor’s budget does not include is a tax increase.

This morning Budget Director Larry Campbell appeared before a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means Committees to put some meat on the bones of her speech. Campbell served as a Republican State Representative from Olathe before being picked by former Governor Colyer to serve as Budget Director. Governor Kelly has kept Campbell on. He is noted for his even temper, pragmatic outlook, and ability to work “across the aisle” to find solutions to complex problems.

Kelly’s budget is a one year budget except for K-12 education with is a two-year budget. For the past eight years, the Legislature has adopted two-year budgets but Kelly is breaking with that cycle this year, instead focusing on moving ahead for one year while the state continues to recover from the failed Brownback tax experiment that left Kansas on the brink of bankruptcy.

Under Kelly’s budget State Foundation Aid (BASE) would rise from the current $4165 in 2019 to $4436 in 2020, $4569 in 2021, $4706 in 2022, and $4846 in 2023. Beginning in 2024 the base would rise by the Consumer Price Index each year. This funding would provide for the inflation factor that the Supreme Court noted in the last Gannon school finance decision.

The proposal would:

  • Add $521 million from 2020 through 2023 for State Foundation Aid,
  • Fully fund LOB State Aid each year,
  • Continue funding for mental health intervention teams and the Juvenile Transitional Crisis Center in 2020,
  • Fully fund ACT and/or WorkKeys tests in 2020, and
  • Include $950,000 for the Education Super Highway, which will enable $9.5 million in matching federal funds for rural internet broadband initiatives.

Kelly asks the Legislature to pass her school funding plan by February 28 in order to satisfy the Supreme Court ruling.

Here’s what Governor Kelly had to say about education in her speech last night:

[T]hroughout Kansas’ decades-long debate over school funding, we’ve fallen into a troubling pattern. It begins with a promise from elected leaders to fund our schools. Then a failure to follow through on that promise.


That is going to change this year. This year, we will end this cycle of litigation and meet the needs of our students and teachers once and for all.


The days of doing the bare minimum to fund our schools are over. It stops now.


Remember, just a few short years ago, schools closed early because they literally could not afford to stay open. Test scores dropped for the first time in a decade. Class sizes grew – some with more than 30 kids in a single classroom.


Superintendents and principals struggled to hold their districts together, often taking on multiple roles like counselor or bus driver. Sometimes they even refused to be paid, just to keep their budgets above water.
Teachers fled the state. And those who stayed received an average salary that ranked 42nd in the nation.


The consequences were tangible and the scars are lasting.
Never again.


The consequences were tangible and the scars are lasting.
Never again.

We’re going to properly fund our schools this year. And next year. And the year after that. Every year, every month, every day that I’m governor. 

And we’re going to make sure our schools prepare our children for a changing economy. Modern classrooms with modern technologies.

Because at the end of the day, we need our children to graduate high school or college or technical school so they can find jobs right here in Kansas. So they can stay here and raise their families close to home.

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TOO MUCH TO WRITE, SO LET’S GO TO THE VIDEO…

Apr 5, 2018 by

Mark Desetti, Director of Government Relations with Marcus Baltzell, Director of Communications.

 

CLICK HERE to contact your Senator.

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