School finance issues take front and center.

Mar 12, 2019 by

So far in the run-up to the Kansas Supreme Court hearing on the legislature’s response to the Gannon school finance ruling, the Senate has been making some progress.

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance held a hearing on Governor Kelly’s school funding bill, Senate Bill 44, earlier in the session. They did not work that bill but instead split it in two. Senate Bill 142 contains the provisions dealing with the inflation factor called for in the Court decision; Senate Bill 147 is the remainder of the education budget (about 98% of all funding).

A hearing was held on SB 142. It was passed out of committee and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. The provisions in this bill are exactly the same as those in SB 44. SB 147 is being discussed now in the Senate Ways and Means Committee and we would anticipate it will be out soon.

At the moment, the best action to take would be to pass both SB 142 and SB 147 and send them to the Attorney General so he can prepare for the Court hearing.

As we have reported here before, we are not certain that SB 142 will meet the Court ruling. There are two interpretations of the ruling – one held by Schools for Fair Funding and another by the State Board of Education. It would serve the state well to get a bill over to the Court for consideration.

The combination of SB 142 and SB 147 represent a responsible action in response to the Court. They will not jeopardize the constitutionally-sound formula that equitably distributes funding and there is a chance that the Court will accept the inflation increase.

And then there’s the House.

House K-12 School Budget Committee chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) revealed her response to education funding. This bill, House Bill 2395, represents a wish list of extreme conservative policy agenda promulgated over the years by former Speaker Mike O’Neal and Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert.

In Williams’ bill there are many changes to the school finance formula and there are numerous accountability and accounting changes. In this case, accountability means requiring districts and the KSDE to post links on webpages. There are changes to bilingual education and at-risk education. It strips the requirement for reimbursing 92% of the excess costs of special education. It includes the vouchers for alleged bullying bill- remember the one heard in Williams’ committee earlier in the session that would give kids a voucher for even reporting bullying but would do nothing to actually address bullying. This bill with all of its log-rolled policy is over 100 pages long!

As for the Gannon response, this bill provides two years of base increases instead of the four in the other bills, bringing base state aid up to a lower amount than in SB 142. And then it removes the language placing a Consumer Price Index adjustment in the future, meaning, there would be no commitment to maintaining school funding in the future.

There is a lot to dislike in HB 2395 and more than enough reasons to vote NO including the fact that the Gannon response in this bill is almost certain to be rejected by the Court.

If the Legislature truly wants to end the cycle of litigation, the way is clear. The best thing to do right now is to take the Senate approach. Pass SB 142 and SB 147; let the Attorney General get to work and see what happens in the next hearing before the Supreme Court.

Underfunding in response to the Court’s ruling, ending future inflation factors, messing with the formula all while granting a wish list of deeply conservative policies intended to put more pressure on schools and students would take us backward.

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Dyslexia Task Force Holds First Meeting

Jul 13, 2018 by

The Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia met yesterday in the Statehouse for what was essentially a meeting designed to learn about each other – what each person brings to the task force – and to review the charges put to the task force by the Legislature.

Dyslexia legislation has been an annual debate for many years. In the 2018 Legislative Session, a bill was brought forward that would have mandated every elementary child be screened specifically for dyslexia by the school district. Testimony in the education committees was often heated as parent advocacy groups and special education directors shared opposing stories of what is possible, legal, and achievable.

Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), a member of the House Education Committee and a retired public school superintendent, working with other legislators including Rep. Tom Cox (R-Shawnee) who brought the original bill, came up with the idea of forming a task force to bring recommendations back to the Legislature. KNEA strongly supported the task force formation. When the House passed the task force bill and sent it to the Senate, Senate Education Chair Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) worked with her committee to ensure that teachers would be members of the task force. KNEA worked with Baumgardner and the members of her committee to make sure the teacher voice would be on the task force. As a result, four teachers are members of this task force: Jennifer Bettles, Sarah Brinkley, Jeri Powers, and Tally Fleming.

The four charges given to the task force are:

  • Research and recommend evidence-based reading practices to address dyslexia or characteristics of dyslexia for use by schools;
  • Research and recommend high quality pre-service and in-service professional development activities to address reading difficulties like
    dyslexia, including identification of dyslexia and effective reading interventions to be used in schools and within degree programs, such
    as education, reading, special education, speech-language pathology, and psychology;
  • Study and examine current state and federal laws and rules and regulations, and the implementation of such laws and rules and
    regulations that affect students with dyslexia; and
  • Identify valid and reliable screening and evaluation assessments and protocols that can be used and the appropriate personnel to
    administer such assessments in order to identify children with reading difficulties, such as dyslexia or the characteristics of dyslexia as part of an ongoing reading progress monitoring system, multi-tiered system of supports, and Child Find special education eligibility for students.

Members of the task force were divided into four subcommittees assigned to address the four charges.

Those assignments are as follows:

Subcommittee 1; Research and recommend evidence-based reading practices to address dyslexia or characteristics of dyslexia for use by schools;

  • Rep. Brenda Dietrich, chairperson, Member House Education Committee
  • Jennifer Bettles, Title Reading Specialist, Herington Elementary, Herington USD 487
  • Jaime Callaghan, Director of Student Services, Auburn Washburn USD 437
  • Christina Middleton, Parent of a child with a diagnosis of dyslexia, Founder of Decoding Dyslexia Johnson County
  • Sonja Watkins, Principal, Hugoton USD 210

Subcommittee 2; Research and recommend high quality pre-service and in-service professional development activities to address reading difficulties like dyslexia, including identification of dyslexia and effective reading interventions to be used in schools and within degree programs, such as education, reading, special education, speech-language pathology, and psychology;

  • Dr. David Hurford, chairperson, Professor, Pittsburg State University
  • Alisa Matteoni, Parent of a child with a diagnosis of dyslexia, Board member International Dyslexia Association KS/MO Branch
  • Jeanine Phillips, Parent of a child with a diagnosis of dyslexia, Founder of Fundamental Learning Center, Wichita
  • Jeri Powers, Reading Specialist, Prairie Ridge Elementary School, Desoto USD 232
  • Angie Schreiber, Center Director, Cradle to Career Literacy Center

Subcommittee 3; Study and examine current state and federal laws and rules and regulations, and the implementation of such laws and rules and regulations that affect students with dyslexia;

  • Laura Jurgensen, chairperson, Attorney, KSDE
  • Mike Burgess, Disability Rights Center of Kansas
  • Lori McMillan, Professor, Washburn University School of Law

Subcommittee 4; Identify valid and reliable screening and evaluation assessments and protocols that can be used and the appropriate personnel to  administer such assessments in order to identify children with reading difficulties, such as dyslexia or the characteristics of dyslexia as part of an ongoing reading progress monitoring system, multi-tiered system of supports, and Child Find special education eligibility for students.

  • Senator Bruce Givens, chairperson, Special Education Administrator
  • Sarah Brinkley, K-6 low incidence special education teacher, Logan Elementary School, Seaman Schools USD 345
  • Tally Fleming, Classroom teacher, LaCygne Elementary School, Prairie View USD 362
  • Jennifer Knight, Parent of a child with a diagnosis of dyslexia, Families Together, Inc.

Subcommittees met to briefly discuss their charge and  possible action plans for moving forward. They will hold other meetings between now and when the full task force meets again on September 13.

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Are We Ready for Tomorrow?

Apr 25, 2018 by

The Legislature is set to return on Thursday, April 26 and at the top of everyone’s list of questions is “What about the school finance error?”

Maybe not everyone’s, but it’s on the top of our list!

We’re working on rumors and some good intelligence gathering to try and figure out how things will go down come Thursday.

First, we know there is a planned fix for the error which is tied to Rep. Clay Aurand’s (R-Belleville) effort to mandate a certain level of LOB effort and label it as part of BASE aid. The error can be fixed simply by repealing that provision and we are hopeful that will be the first order of business.

Of course, in the meantime, the state has received more good news about revenue collections and that has spurred a lot of talk about what to do with this “extra” money.

Rumor has it that the some in the House will again try to add to the school finance bill perhaps by pursuing either an amendment offered earlier by Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to change how the CPI was calculated in determining  a funding level or one by Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) that would boost the reimbursement of special education funding to the statutory 92%. Both amendments were considered in floor debate on SB 423 earlier and were not adopted, having received only 41 and 43 votes respectively.

If SB 423 is amended to fix the LOB issue and restore the $80 million, we believe there is a chance that the Court will still believe the bill falls short of constitutional adequacy either for the overall increase or for the five-year phase in. Such a Court decision could result in a special legislative session this summer. There is also a chance the Court could call this bill a “good faith effort” and give the Legislature another year to augment the future-years in the plan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If either the Trimmer or Pittman amendments were to be added, it increases the chances that the Court will approve the plan but it may also create a greater challenge getting the bill through the Senate – we are confident Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Denning (R-Overland Park) will oppose such increases. We just can’t predict what might happen to the 21 votes in the Senate if the bill gets costlier.

KNEA supports the Trimmer and Pittman amendments because both align with our Legislative Agenda and priorities. But we also believe that, should they be offered and fail, that is not a reason to vote NO on the $80 million fix. To allow SB 423 with the error to stand as the proposed solution to Gannon would be irresponsible, to say the least. And it would guarantee a negative reception in the Court, a special summer Legislative Session, and the possibility that our schools will be closed come August.

Now throw into this the Senate’s massive, “Brownbackian” tax cut bill, HB 2228. This bill, which now goes to the House, gives away more than $500 million in new tax cuts and tax adjustments. Coincidentally, the new school finance bill with the fix costs more than $500 million. Passage of HB 2228 cancels out the revenue needed for SB 423!

The Court has been very clear that they want a school finance plan that has the money in it. They have essentially said, “show us the money.” To pass a $500 million finance plan concurrent with a $500 million tax cut would be a disaster. Remember that in the early stages of Gannon, the State argued that there was no revenue for increased school funding and the Court responded that the money was there but the Legislature gave it away in the 2012 Brownback tax cuts. Deja Vu all over again!

Our hopes for the next nine days?

Fix the mistake. Repeal the Aurand LOB amendment. That will restore the bill to the level of funding that was intended on April 7 and take care of new equity challenges.

If the votes are there to increase the funding, do so. We support full funding of special education – we always have and always will. If such amendments are not adopted, pass the underlying bill that fixes the error. Do not use a desire to do more as an excuse to not fix the underlying problem.

Resist the temptation to cut taxes again. Kansas is still in recovery from the Brownback disaster. Things are looking good but this is not the time to cut taxes. We still have to meet school funding adequacy and we also need to address the mess in our foster care system, the challenges faced in public safety, the restoration of funds taken from the highway program and KPERS, and many other vital services. Tax cuts can wait. Remember that voters in 2016 sent many new legislators to Topeka specifically to restore our revenue system. It’s only been 10 months since that happened.

Good Revenue News Means We Can Have Necessary Things Again

We, like all Kansans, are happy to see continuing good news about revenue collections. We’ve repeatedly exceeded estimates thanks to the work of a bipartisan group willing to vote to repeal Brownback’s income tax changes and then vote to override his veto of their action. It looks like the state is on a path to stability once again. We’re not out of the woods but, as Sam would have said, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”

The revenue news means different things to different legislators. Some, as we noted earlier, want to go back to handing out tax cuts as if we had already satisfied the Court school finance ruling, restored the highway plan, paid KPERS back, found the 70 missing children in DCF, and so much more.

In truth, the news means that while we can have some necessary things, we still have a lot to do to get back to our beautiful Kansas.

For the first time in a long time, the legislature is looking at budget profiles with ending balances above zero. In fact today the budget committees are looking at reports that show the state meeting the required 7.5% ending balance. HB 2228, the tax cut bill would wipe that out of course but in the meantime, they can look at other things to fix.

Governor Colyer has submitted a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would take funds above the 7.5% ending balance and make an early payment to KPERS. The Legislature is supposed to be making back payments to KPERS by 2020 and this GBA would bring a portion of that payment up now. KNEA supports this GBA. It is critical that KPERS be paid back and the sooner, the better.

This one opportunity and action should be enough to convince responsible lawmakers to step back from the temptation to return immediately to the tax policy decisions that led Kansas to the brink of disaster. We don’t need another radical tax cut – that’s how the Legislature created the problems we are facing today. Now that things are turning around, we hope the Legislature will focus on restoration of services and programs that have made Kansas a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Join with Our Partners and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Irresponsible Tax Cuts

KNEA is working with other organizations to make sure that our state has ample time to recover from the Brownback experiment before considering any reductions in taxes. As they return to Topeka, it’s important for them to hear that voters want them to act responsibly to ensure our economic and budget recovery. Please take the time to email your Legislators.

Click here to send a message to your Legislators.

 

 

 

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Temporary Teachers and Braille Materials

Feb 13, 2018 by

COUNTDOWN TO MARCH 1, ATTY GENERAL DEADLINE FOR SCHOOL FUNDING FIX

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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.

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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.

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