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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Moving Towards Compromise?

Jun 24, 2016 by

UPDATE 8:30 p.m.:

As the evening draws to a close, the House Substitute Bill to fix funding equity has been passed by a vote of 116-6 with the Senate following shortly thereafter with only one no vote from Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook.  With the passing of this legislation, it appears that a fix which will pass Constitutional muster has been achieved and schools will open as so many in the education community have demanded for many months.

KNEA President Mark Farr, suggested that tonight’s effort resulting in a bipartisan solution offered a clear path forward to correct the cycle of crisis Governor Brownback’s policies have created.  “First and foremost, I’m encouraged that common sense has finally found a place in this Legislature and that schools will be open this fall.  My hope is that this won’t be a fleeting election year moment, but instead a moment where our leaders realize what collaboration and compromise can accomplish for Kansas students.”

While many of the Governor’s closest allies in the Legislature took to social media to congratulate themselves on a job well done, others pointed out that the solution came only after the urging of parents, students, educators, and citizens.  One parent in attendance was quoted as saying, “they should take care not to injure their arms patting themselves on the back for doing their job to fix a problem they created.  I won’t forget at the ballot box what and who was responsible for this mess to begin with.”

KNEA President Farr summarized the events aptly saying, “now we move directly into an election cycle where we have real choices to make.  Now we can begin the long journey of truly ending the Brownback experiment and replacing those in the Legislature who have stood by his policy to the detriment of our state and our students.”


As it became clear early today that there were not enough votes in the House to pass out the version of the equity funding fix in HB 2001, there appears to be an effort to craft a new bill.  The sticking point in HB 2001 is that it seeks to solve equity by cutting funding from all districts by 0.5%. Many believe the bill will not pass constitutional muster because of this.  Support for additional cuts exists only within the most conservative block of representatives.  For many months, these same law makers have been touting the need to ensure that more dollars make it into the classroom.  Yet HB 2001 takes money from school district operating budgets – from the classroom.

The new proposal seeks to address the $38 million dollars needed to fulfill the equity ruling by using funds from other sources to avoid cuts to districts.  Specifically, the latest version of the new bill would see the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority backfill the funding deficit up to $13 million.  Additional sources of revenue would come from the Extraordinary Needs Fund and TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). View a scan of the full handout distributed in the appropriations committee hearing by clicking here.

Education supporters from throughout the state including Kansas NEA have been unwavering in their call to the Legislature to solve the equity issue to the satisfaction of the Courts and ensure schools open this fall.  Focusing on that effort should be the singular focus of the Legislature.  Today’s activity under the dome may indicate representatives are moving towards a compromise.  Still, this situation is very fluid and as we’ve seen in the very recent past, anything is possible.

What happens next?

After the new bill is introduced into the House it is expected that Legislators will return to their home districts for the weekend and resume work on the bill on Monday.  KNEA will continue to maintain a presence in the statehouse and report on activity through Under the Dome.  Take any opportunity you have to reach out and contact your representatives.  Tell them that their singular focus should be to pass a clean funding bill which fulfills the Supreme Court’s ruling on equity.

What about the Senate?

The Kansas Senate has its own nearly identical version of HB 2001 titled SB 1.  While many in the Senate pushed for Senators to focus on that bill as it is their Constitutional duty to do, Senator Jeff King instead introduced a Senate Resolution.  The Resolution would allow a statewide vote on a Constitutional amendment stripping the Courts of the power to “threaten to close our schools” as Senator King reiterated.

Senator Anthony Hensley characterized King’s resolution as a “red herring,” intended to distract the body from the purpose of the special session which is to resolve the equity issue.  It was pointed out in discussion that existing law prohibits the Courts from threatening to close schools, but the deeply conservative faction in the Senate pressed forward.  Senators Holmes, Abrams, Arpke, and Masterson engaged in varying degrees of rhetoric criticizing the Courts as “all powerful” and “extremists.”

The proposed amendment failed to get the required 2/3 vote necessary to pass the Senate.

How did we get here?

The Supreme Court has simply followed its lawful procedure in this case.  After taking the case brought before the Court upon complaint of citizens, the Court ruled that an unconstitutional and unlawful funding condition exists relative to Kansas public schools.  One part of that condition is equity.  The Courts ruled that the Legislature would have until June 30, 2016 to resolve this unconstitutional condition or the Courts would be forced to suspend the distribution of funds to an unconstitutional system.  Closing schools is one possible outcome caused by the failure to address the unconstitutional aspects of the formula.

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Special Session Ahead

Jun 22, 2016 by

2016-05-11 16.08.11Parents, students, citizens, families and educators are planning to gather tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. on the south steps of the ‪#‎ksleg‬ statehouse (adjacent to 10th Ave) to rally to “SAVE OUR SCHOOLS.” This is a grassroots effort planned by parent and citizen groups.

 
In 2014, KNEA began its “Join Us.” campaign to encourage Kansas citizens to join the efforts of our members to promote public schools in Kansas. We’re now seeing the results of those efforts. KNEA supports the effort of the groups who have organized on their own to plan and lead tomorrow’s rally.

 
With less than a day to go, KNEA President Mark Farr has encouraged KNEA members to remain engaged and vigilant, and to keep contacting their representatives with a clear message. The Legislature must respect the ruling of the Court regarding funding equity (equalized funding for all KS schools) with a clean bill. Most importantly, KNEA and Kansas citizens expect schools to be open this fall and fully resourced with staffing and materials necessary to provide the best education possible for students. The Court has done its job. Multiple statewide surveys indicate that citizens support the Court and look to the Legislature to finally do its job.  After the longest session in state history last year, Kansans have very little appetite for any shenanigans that could extend the problem.

 

Ways to stay engaged:
1. Download KNEA’s mobile app from Google’s Play Store and the iTunes / iOS App Store. (Search for Kansas NEA)
2. Register to receive breaking action alerts at www.joinusks.org
3. Get updates in realtime by following KNEA’s “tweet corps” on Twitter: @kneanews, @mlboig, @desettiks
4. Get daily and special updates via KNEA’s Under the Dome website at www.underthedomeks.org

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Engage at home!

Jun 15, 2016 by

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 6.13.19 PMWith the special session of the Kansas Legislature just about a week away, now is the time for you to engage your representatives if you have not done so already.  Once they are under the dome, legislators tend to be focused on the politics within the building.  Most- not all- will take your calls, but in large part they are swimming in the ebb and flow of policy debate.

We recommend that you call your legislator right now.  As always, emails from personal accounts are okay, but personal contact is best.  Remember that KS Republican Party Director, Clay Barker has cast a dragnet to catch educators (and only educators) who exercise their right to free speech and who do so by voicing a dissenting opinion by using their school email or school devices.  Don’t succumb to their attempts to secure your silence through intimidation and fear.  Instead, take action now before the week ends and try to convey the following:

Click Here to find out who your reps are and contact info.
  • You have an expectation that the Legislature will finally do their duty according to the state Constitution and fund public schools equitably and adequately.
  • You expect them to steer clear of the political wrangling based upon the desire of some of the Governor’s closest allies to punish the Courts for doing their duty.
  • The Supreme Court does not seek out cases.  They take cases brought before the court by complaint of citizens and they rule on the constitutionality of the laws at the basis of the complaint.
  • The Court’s rulings in this case reflect the nature of the three branches of government system our state and nation were built upon to provide checks and balances against abuse of power.
  • The Legislature led by the Governor’s closest allies have created the conditions of inequity and inadequacy in school funding and it is the Legislature that is responsible for correcting these conditions so that schools will open in the fall.
  • You expect your representatives to have a single focus during this special session.  They should correct the conditions of inequity that exist without engaging in additional policy attacks in order to conclude the session quickly and ensure that schools open this fall.
  • Tell your story.  How does the actions of your representatives translate to you in your community.  Give examples.

 

School Funding Poll Results


Over a period of about one week, we conducted a non-scientific opinion poll.  The poll was modeled after a recent poll published in the Kansas City Star.  Our goal was to publish the poll publicly via social media and engage respondents statewide.  While we make no claims about the scientific nature of the poll, we did take some very specific measures to ensure validity.  The results reflect only responses from unique I.P. (internet protocol) addresses. Basically, this means that responses which were likely to have originated from the same device were excluded from the results.  We published the poll within our organization’s social media properties, but we also published the poll through promoted posts statewide.  After filtering the results as mentioned above, we ended up with nearly 2,400 responses and over 1,800 “valid” responses.  The results are displayed below along with a map displaying the general locations of respondents who completed the survey.  Click the images to view full size.

Poll Results

Poll Results

 

 

Location Analytics

Location Analytics

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We Know the Date!

Jun 8, 2016 by

Special Session - 002523Governor Brownback this afternoon announced that a special session of the 2016 Kansas Legislature will begin on Thursday, June 23 at 8:00 am. The deadline set by the Supreme Court for the Legislature to act is June 30.

We would imagine that the Legislature is hoping to get in to Topeka, get the job done, and get out. This is an election year with an early August primary. The longer the special session lingers on, the fewer days candidates will have to knock doors and campaign for votes. At issue also is the prohibition on campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session.

Everyone with an interest in the opening of school come August hopes that this will be a very short special session and that the Court will be able to issue an opinion on the results as quickly as possible. Schools will hopefully be able to fund July activities that prepare our buildings for the opening days in August.

We are pleased that the special session has been announced and we urge all lawmakers to return to Topeka ready to resolve the issue and open schools for our students in August.

We will be keeping you up to date on any news or actions taken during the time between now and June 23. As always, we urge you to stay vigilant, stay engaged, and keep talking to your legislators while they are back home.

HOMEWORK:  Make a list of 5-10 of your closest friends, family members or neighbors.  Contact them and educate them on the issues at hand while encouraging them to reach out to their representatives.  Share the following link with them to find their representatives:  http://knea.org/home/312.htm

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