Temporary Teachers and Braille Materials

Feb 13, 2018 by









Teaching as Community Service

The House K-12 Budget Committee today had a briefing on the Teach for America Program. It’s clear that they want to expand their presence in Kansas.

Teach for America recruits college students to be temporary teachers in hard to staff schools. These students are given some training over the summer and then dropped into a school with a very challenging student population (high poverty, high numbers of ELL students). They generally spend two years teaching and then leave for better-paying jobs.

The TFA representativeness assured the committee that their recruits leaving teaching to become doctors and lawyers and serve on boards of directors where they become community leaders.

The students, however, are left in schools with a constant staff churn while the future doctors and lawyers get essentially some time with community service.

We would love for high achieving young people to become teachers in all schools but we want those people to seek a career in teaching; to provide continuity for our students. Teaching should not be community service on one’s way to a better paying job.

Frankly, it is possible for us to do better. Kansas ought to invest in teachers. Pay them well, provide benefits and a sound retirement system. Hold them to the highest standards for entry into the profession. Respect them. These future doctors and lawyers could never aspire to be doctors and lawyers without excellent career teachers.

We don’t need Teach for America. We need a system that values, rewards and respects career educators.

House Ed Debates Braille Services in Private Schools

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2613 which would require public school districts to provide assistive technology, sign language interpretation, or Braille materials to students in private schools.

The bill came about in response to a lawsuit against the Blue Valley School District. According to the parents suing, the district unilaterally changed their daughter’s IEP by requiring her to receive her Braille services in the public school. Blue Valley had apparently been providing Braille materials to her private school for four years.

The debate in committee boiled down to issues of curriculum – the public district would be required to provide materials that would not benefit any public school children because the private school curriculum is different – and opportunity – if the child has to go to the public school for services, then she is being denied the opportunity of attending a private school.

Questions by Committee members focused on cost and reflected continuing frustration that the state is funding special education well below the statutory requirement to reimburse 92% of excess costs.

This won’t be an easy issue for the Committee as both sides of the argument had compelling arguments.

The bill was not worked today.

read more

Colyer’s “State of the State,” The Annual Dyslexia Debate

Feb 8, 2018 by

Governor Colyer Gives His State of the State Address

He’s not staking out a solid position on school funding

Governor Jeff Colyer addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate yesterday to outline his vision for Kansas. He addressed seven broad areas that he hopes the state can deal with:

  1. freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace (and particularly in the statehouse),
  2. transparency in government,
  3. abortion,
  4. job creation and in particular the aircraft industry,
  5. the crises in our foster care and mental health systems,
  6. healthcare, and
  7. public education.

On the first two issues, he lauded the efforts being made by the legislature so far in the 2018 legislative session and even suggested that the package of transparency measures introduced by Democrats are deserving of support.

“A group of legislators, led by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, have put forth several transparency proposals as well. Many of you are working hard on this issue, and your efforts deserve recognition and support.”

Colyer also announced four transparency measures that his administration will take including no longer charging Kansans for open records requests of less than 100 pages, ensuring the Administration relies on official email accounts to conduct state business, instituting performance metrics for Cabinet Agencies so Kansans can see how they perform, and launching a website to serve as a one-stop-shop for Cabinet Agencies to post open meetings, locations and materials.

The healthcare issue may be most challenging for Colyer – or may be an issue where he departs from his past positions – because he was a leader under former Governor Brownback in the establishment of the troubled KanCare system and refusal to expand Medicaid.

We, of course, were waiting for what he had to say about education and addressing the Gannon decision. We were hoping that he would lead on this issue. The Legislature, as you know, appears to be stalled or simply refusing to seriously talk about the issue while the Court deadline and the deadline set by the Attorney General are rapidly approaching.

Unfortunately, Colyer gave little direction to the Legislature about what he would sign except to provide a “framework” of four broad thoughts he wants to see in the solution. He called upon the legislature to keep our schools open, permanently end school finance litigation, phase-in increased funding, and demand accountability and improved outcomes. Missing in his message was any mention of the level of increased funding he believes is needed.

Here then is the full text of his remarks on education (to read the entire address, click here):

Finally, and perhaps the most pressing question in many of your minds, where will we go on education? And before we get to the elephant in the room, let me first thank you to the legislature for the remarkable investments you have made in early childhood education. Early childhood education works.

On my first day as governor, I had the opportunity to visit a public school in my hometown of Hays. I want you to know that your Governor is a supporter of public education. In Kansas, we invest in our schools, not because a court tells us to, but because we want to invest in our children and our future. We invest in teachers because they invest in our kids. We support things like the Kansans Can Redesign program because we are willing to do hard things for the youth of this state.

And now I want you to think about something. Governor Bob Docking, Governor Bob Bennett, Governor John Carlin, Governor Mike Hayden, Governor Joan Finney, Governor Bill Graves, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Governor Mark Parkinson, Governor Sam Brownback, and Governor Jeff Colyer. The last ten Governors of Kansas. Five Democrats and Five Republicans. Fifty years and counting. That’s longer than the Cold War. All ten governors have had the specter of education lawsuits overshadowing education. This must end now.

To some in politics, leadership is about being a bully or being the loudest, shrillest voice in the room. To others, it’s about staking out a position and never compromising. To me, leadership is about setting a vision and bringing people together to achieve common goals. And, as a former legislator, I know that you don’t appreciate being told what to do by a governor or anyone else for that matter. And I think the reaction to a recent State of the State address is plenty evidence of that.

What I learned from President Reagan is that we develop principles that allow us to resolve our issues. As the sign on his desk and now mine says, “It can be done.” With that in mind, I will offer a framework that I hope you can see fit to support:

  1. We must keep our schools open.
  2. We need a definitive solution that ends the school finance lawsuits FOR GOOD.
  3. Increased investments in K-12 Education must come through a phased-in approach that doesn’t increase the tax burden on Kansas families and ensures schools can effectively allocate any new funds they receive.
  4. Lastly, and most importantly, we must insist on accountability and improved outcomes.

I will sign school finance legislation that meets these objectives. This will not be easy, but public servants and leaders are not called to make the easy choices. We’re here to do the right thing, and the right thing is never easy.

House Education Committee Hears Bill on Mandatory Dyslexia Screening

The House Education Committee held its annual dyslexia hearing, this time on HB 2602 which would mandate screening all children for dyslexia.

Proponents generally blasted the public schools as knowing little about dyslexia, of refusing to provide support to children with dyslexia, and of not talking to or listening to parents. Opponents including USA, KASB, and Special Education Directors countered with all of the efforts being made on behalf of children under both Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and IDEA.

KNEA testified as neutral on the bill, raising concerns about its vagueness.

The bill seems to suggest that all students shall be screened for dyslexia. There are, however, questions left unanswered.

  • Are all students to be screened annually or is this a screening upon enrollment only? Is there an intent for there to be additional screenings later?
  • If all students are to be screened as a matter of course, are schools prepared to conduct such screenings? Are there enough trained personnel in our schools to handle such screenings in a timely manner?
  • If a school district screening suggests the child has dyslexia and the district then suggests that the student be evaluated by “a licensed physician, psychologist or psychiatrist” does the school district then have any obligation to pay for a follow-up evaluation?

In oral testimony, KNEA also took issue with the proponents’ complaints that schools and teachers do not advocate for children. KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti cited his own experience as both a teacher of 13 years and a parent of four children, one of whom was diagnosed with dyslexia. “Teachers,” said Desetti, “are the best advocates for your children inside the school building. They routinely argue on behalf of struggling students and often butt heads with principals and special education directors in demanding support services for those students.”

Desetti, as well as Rep. Steven Crum (D-Haysville) and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) noted that teachers in Kansas can now be non-renewed for battling with administration or the school board. Perhaps it is time to restore due process for Kansas teachers so that they can continue to advocate for the needs of their students.

read more

Budget Goes After KPERS; House Goes After Due Process

Feb 9, 2016 by

Debt Hypocrisy

While Governor Brownback and his allies in the Kansas legislature are quick to blast the federal government for taking on debt, they are very quiet about their own policies that are putting future generations of Kansans on the debt hook to pay for a failed tax policy.

Technically, the state cannot deficit spend. The state budget must be balanced constitutionally. But to pay for a reckless tax policy that removes hundreds of thousands of Kansas businesses from income tax rolls entirely, they have robbed the state highway fund to the point where the fund had to issue millions of dollars in bonds in order to keep working.

They then passed legislation issuing millions in bonds to shore up KPERS.

And now that those bonds have been sold, the budget committee is recommending using KPERS money to balance the budget. Their recent action would stop state KPERS payments now with the intent to reimburse the money next year.

How confident are you that tax cuts that have bankrupted the state are suddenly going to turn around and bring in the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be needed to maintain current services, pay off the bonds, and reimburse KPERS for the pilfered funds?

We’ve been waiting for the Governor’s promised “shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Kansas economy” since 2012 and all we’ve seen is a continuing downward spiral in revenue collections, cuts to state services, and a stagnant economy.

Make no mistake about it. The Governor’s tax cuts have slowed revenue collections to a trickle, forcing the legislature to rob from other funds, forcing those funds to issue bonds (debt) to stay afloat. The budget may be balanced on paper but future generations are up to their eyeballs in bonded indebtedness. How is this different from federal deficit spending?

This bill will be debated on the House floor tomorrow. It is also ready in the Senate.

Contact your legislators! Tell them NO RAIDING KPERS! 

Expanded Tax Credit Bill Likely Up This Week in House

House Bill 2457, the radical expansion of the corporate tax credit bill approved by the House Education Committee could be up for a floor vote as early as Thursday.

This bill takes the current corporate tax credit that goes to corporations who recruit at-risk students from Title I Priority and Focus schools to go to private schools and makes the “scholarships” available to any child in any public school whose family income is less than $44,000. No longer would the student need to be at risk, no longer would the student have to come from a Title I school. And the tax credit would be available to individuals as well as corporations.

While there is a $10 million cap in place for now, if $9 million were to be spent, the allocation for the next year would automatically increase – no legislative action would be needed. The Department of Revenue has set the expenditure estimate at $8.5 million. They believe that making the credit available to individuals would dramatically increase participation.

Tax money used for these credits would be available to all private schools – accredited or non-accredited – as well as home schools. Millions of tax dollars going to schools that have no accountability, administer no assessments, and report nothing to the State Department of Education.

Call your Representative and tell him/her to vote NO on HB 2457 – tax dollars are for public schools. Click here for the House roster with links to emails and phones.

House Ed Committee Hears Bill Stripping Due Process from Community College/Tech College Instructors

The House, having stripped due process from K-12 teachers in 2014 and from state employees in 2015, has now turned its attention to Community College and Technical College instructors. HB 2531 strips post-secondary instructors of due process rights.

Three instructors from Johnson County Community College – Deb Williams, Vin Clark, and Melanie Harvey – and Kathy Mendenhall from Hutchinson Community College testified in opposition to the bill. Brian Koon of Kansas Families for Education also opposed the bill.

Testifying in favor were the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, the Kansas Association for Technical Education, and Garden City Community College President Herbert Swender.

Swender took heat from Rep. Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City), an instructor at Kansas City, Kansas Community College. Swender asserted that all 19 presidents were in favor of this bill. Winn pointed out that the President of her college was in the room and perhaps she’d ask. Swender was silent.

The committee took no action on the bill. It will likely be taken up later. We’ll be watching for committee action.

Gifted Education Bill Withdrawn

A bill introduced yesterday that would have removed gifted and talented students from the state’s special education statutes was withdrawn today by Rep. Sue Boldra (R-Hays). Committee Chairman Ron Highland (R-Wamego) announced that the bill was withdrawn and will not be heard this year.

Parent groups had immediately alerted their members to the bill who were sending emails to legislators.

Boldra had intended to put gifted and talented students in a separate funding stream but that part of the proposal was not in the bill.

read more