Still a Lot to be Concerned About!

Apr 19, 2018 by

The School Finance Mistake

There’s been lots of talk about the school finance bill (SB 423) error and what to do about it. Governor Colyer signed SB 423 into law and at the same time urged the Legislature to waste no time in fixing the error so that the bill matches what everyone thought they were voting on back on April 7.

The $80 million error is the result of an amendment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). Aurand has been pushing amendments to require a certain level of LOB authority in an effort to “get credit” for the state for more funding than the state was actually providing. Essentially, he wants the Court to believe that, since LOB levies are not being used for enrichment as per the original intent, those levies should be credited as state aid. Of course, the reason the LOB is not being used for enrichment is because the state has not even kept pace with inflation in what is provided to schools.

To get this “credit,” Aurand has proposed amendments to mandate a certain level of LOB authority. He has tried various levels from 30% down and when he finally put the level at 15%, he got what he wanted. SB 423 contains a provision mandating that every school district levy a 15% LOB. Aurand has been pressing this issue since Montoy and his fellow legislators finally agreed when he put the mandate at a level that all school districts were now meeting anyway.

But what his amendment did was make that 15% levy part of the “new funding” in SB 423, lowering the actual amount of new money by $80 million. Without that new money, the Court is highly unlikely to approve SB 423 – as it is, they may not approve it.

When the Legislature returns on April 26, the first order of business ought to be fixing SB 423. One way to do that is to strip out the Aurand amendment. We know that some will be trying to do that. We have also heard that with the bill opened up again, some legislators may try to do all kinds of mischief. Remember that the bill passed with the smallest possible majorities. While most legislators speaking on the issue have expressed a desire to simply fix the error and move on, there are others who have openly called this an opportunity to change the funding entirely.

Tell your legislators to fix SB 423 so that it matches what was intended on April 7.

Giving Away the Money

Then there is Sub for HB 2228, a disaster of “Brownbackian” proportions.

One would think after the disastrous Brownback tax experiment of 2012 and the struggle to reverse it in 2017, legislators would have little appetite to once again damage the state’s revenue stream. But one would think that only if one had never met the Kansas Senate.

The 500 or so KNEA members gathered outside the Senate chamber on the evening of April 7 had the pleasure of listening to a long and complicated tax debate as the Senate worked HB 2228. The bill is a mad hodge-podge of tax changes, some worthy and some disastrous but the best words to describe it are “experiment” and “uncertainty.”

The bill is expected to cost the state treasury a half-billion dollars over the next five years and, coincidentally, the new school finance bill will provide a half-billion dollars to schools over the next five years! It was almost as if the Senate was looking for a way to justify voting NO on SB 423!

Less than one year after the Kansas Legislature ended the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, why would they pass a new tax plan riddled with uncertainties?

Fortunately, it is not passed yet! The House will have a chance to end this new disaster when they return on April 26. They will not be able to amend HB 2228, only to vote to concur or non-concur in the Senate changes to this House bill.

The best thing the House could do is to kill Sub for HB 2228. There is no good reason to jeopardize the state’s recovery from the Brownback experiment. Instead of unaffordable tax cuts, Kansas needs to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and communities.

Tell your Representative to reject Sub for HB 2228.

Speaking of Giving Away Revenue…

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor, held a news conference in Wichita where he announced that, if elected, he will work hard to restore the failed Brownback Tax experiment. But he will do it differently. He will start by slashing budgets and then restoring the tax experiment. He also promised to veto any tax increases and sign a pledge never to raise taxes.

We’d like to hear his ideas for restoring the highway plan, paying back KPERS, funding our public schools, and making higher education affordable.

Kobach has lots of competition in the Republican nomination race including Governor Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, and former State Senator Jim Barnett. The most prominent candidates in the Democratic Primary are State Senator Laura Kelly, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, and former Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty. We look forward to hearing what all of the other candidates have to say about tax policy and state revenues.

Read about Kobach’s news conference by clicking here. 

A Constitutional Amendment Still Looms

We must oppose any attempt to change the state constitution. Lawmakers should work together to fully fund all of our state’s priorities, including education. Eliminating judicial oversight of the education weakens us all.

The position the state is in today was not created by the schools or the Courts. It was created by past Legislatures who avoided their responsibility to care for our state and the services we share as common priorities. Education is certainly one of those priorities but so are the social service safety net, public safety, good roads and highways, and health care.

We should never say that Kansas can’t have both good schools and good highways, good schools and safe communities. This is not a zero sum game in which everyone is fighting everyone else for a piece of a limited pie. We can make the pie bigger. We can apply our state sales tax to online retailers (HB 2756). We can increase tobacco taxes (HB 2231, SB 376). We can modernize our tax code. In truth, there is much that can be done if we have the will.

Changing the constitution is a distraction, not a solution.

Urge your legislators to vote NO on constitutional amendments.

 

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The State of Our State…

Jan 10, 2018 by

Read more from CJOnline http://cjonline.com/news/state-government/education/2018-01-09/brownback-s-offer-600-million-k-12-budget-shifts

Last night, Governor Brownback delivered his final State-of-the-State address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature. And what a speech it was. It is roundly being attacked by his former allies, the most conservative Republican Legislators, with JR Claeys (R-Salina) actually tweeting, “The governor has waved the white flag of surrender from the dome, and tossed every ally he had left under the bus…Then put the bus in reverse…Then lit fire to the bus.” Wow.

Usually a final speech is a time to reflect on the accomplishments of one’s administration but this speech was short on accomplishments and long on “dreams.”

Among those accomplishments were the opening of the state’s longest hiking and biking trail, a reduction in adult obesity, the opening of the National Soccer Training Center, moving the American Royal from Missouri to Kansas, and a rising quail population. There were a few economic wins included in his list such as the opening of a new milk drying plant to serve the large dairy farms in southwest Kansas and our growing wind energy industry but overall, it did not read like a bragging list of major accomplishments.

The K-12 Education Proposal

The second part of the speech is what angered his one-time allies. Brownback announced that his budget would include $600 million in new K-12 education funding to be spread out over five years. The conservatives have been fighting the Supreme Court and arguing that money doesn’t matter in education. They have tried to say that the Court should be satisfied with just a few new dollars targeted specifically to at-risk students. They were certain they had an ally in Sam Brownback and are looking at his proposal as turning his back on his loyal followers (see JR Claey’s quote above).

On the surface, there is nothing alarming in the Governor’s education proposal. He would put $200.8 million in new education funding in fiscal year (FY) 2019 and an additional $100 million in each of FY 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. Most of the 2019 increase has already been passed as part of SB 19 in the 2017 session.

He then cites three expectations of the school system based on this new money. Specifically he wants by the 2022-23 school year:

  1. To reach a 95% statewide graduation rate,
  2. To attain a statewide post-secondary effectiveness rate of 75%, and
  3. To continue to move schools statewide toward the Kansans Can model for school redesign launched by the Kansas Department of Education.

As a means to achieve these three goals, the Governor sets the following five strategic objectives for Kansas school districts to meet by the 2022-2023 school year:

  1. Have the highest teacher pay average of our neighboring states, including having a higher teacher pay average than the State of Missouri by the 2018-2019 school year;
  2. Increase the number of school counselors and school psychologists in Kansas schools by 150.00 FTE positions each year;
  3. Have 50 schools participating in the Kansans Can school redesign project;
  4. Offer 15.0 credit hours of dual credit coursework to every Kansas high school student, at no cost to students (including tuition, fees or books), through a partnership between Kansas high schools and the state’s institutions of higher learning; and
  5. Offer every Kansas high school student, at no cost to the student, the choice of taking either the ACT college entrance exam or the Work Keys assessments (for attainment of the National Career Readiness Certificate) during his or her high school career.

In terms of the goals, it is hard to find something to argue with in this proposal.

What, of course, is up in the air is whether or not the Supreme Court will accept such a long phase in. We believe it is likely that they will allow the remedy to be phased in over time but five years might be too long. The last phased in remedy was in 2006 in response to the Montoy decision and the legislature failed – for a variety of reasons including the 2008-09 economic collapse – to fulfill the promises made at that time. Later, when the economy was in recovery and revenues were on the rebound, instead of going back to the phase in, the legislature, under the direction of Governor Brownback, gave all new revenue away in the disastrous tax cuts of 2012.

Now comes the interesting part. The Governor has proposed a dollar amount that is very likely to be supported by Democrats and Moderate Republicans, leaving the conservatives in the position of either taking that number or cutting the proposed funding for schools. It is not lost on anyone under the dome that the 2016 legislative elections were about taxes and school funding.

What happens to a dream deferred?

So asked Kansas native Langston Hughes in one of his most famous poems.

We bring this up because the third portion of the Governor’s speech was about dreams – dreams that we would argue have been deferred thanks to his own policies that devastated the revenue system for Kansas.

Brownback said, “A dream spoken sets up the architecture for the creative efforts of free men and women to build upon.” How true that is.

Then he went on to call out his dreams – and perhaps the dreams of many Kansans. These are his dreams quoted from his speech:

“My dream for Kansas is to be the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business.”

“I dream that education in the state is tailored to each student’s needs and desires.”  

I dream of leading the country in developing new treatments to heal old maladies using your own adult stem cells.”

“I dream of a future Kansas exporting wind electricity across America.”  

“Dream with me of a growing and diversifying Air Capitol of the World.”  

“I dream that Kansas will continue to be and grow as a major financial services hub.”

“Dream with me of feeding the world.”  

“I dream of reconciliation between the races.”

“I dream of a culture of life.”

This is the speech that he could have and should have given in his 2011 State-of-the-State address. Today these are simply dreams deferred while he pressed an agenda of massive tax cuts that simply starved the state’s ability to pursue those dreams.

It is what the 2018 Kansas Legislature does and what happens in the 2018 Kansas elections that will determine if dreams can be pursued or if, in the words of Langston Hughes, “they dry up like a raisin in the sun.”

To read the Governor’s speech, click here.

To see Budget Director Shawn Sullivan’s presentation to the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees, click here.

To view a video reaction to the Governor’s speech by Heidi Holiday of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Sarah LaFrenz of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, and Kansas NEA Governmental Relations Director Mark Desetti, click here.

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Less Health Care, More KPERS Delays, and Increased Student Debt

May 19, 2016 by

BrownbackLaughHow do you protect irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans?

You make the poor, children, public employees, and college students pay for them.

That’s what Governor Brownback has done with his latest move to balance a budget destroyed by his reckless tax cuts.

As state revenue continues to crater, the Legislature caved in to Brownback and refused to even talk about an “option 4” – restoring the income tax. Instead they punted to Brownback allowing him to decide what was important in Kansas. And what is important? Protecting his failed tax policy.

Most alarming to educators is Brownback’s $30 million cut to university funding. The bulk of the cut comes directly out of university budgets ($23 million) with another $7 million coming from the Board of Regents budget.

Making up for the cuts, universities will likely have to increase tuition rates. It’s not lost on those of us who have followed the budget debate this year that the legislature repealed a tuition increase cap they enacted just a year earlier specifically to allow bigger tuition hikes.

So, in order to protect a failed “march to zero” income tax policy, our students will either be priced out of a university education or saddled with additional debt.

Brownback also cut another $3 million from the Children’s Cabinet and delayed an additional $100 million in contributions to KPERS. $38 million was taken from KanCare – the state’s Medicaid program which serves the poor.

The Topeka Capitol-Journal reported that the Governor, in announcing the cuts, said, “The three main drivers of budget growth continue to be education, Medicaid and KPERS.” And so, this time around, he took money away from those three areas. He is also quick to assert that he has “protected” K-12 funding at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on K-12 funding equity and then take up adequacy.

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Oops! They Did It Again!

May 3, 2016 by

Yes, Governor Sam Brownback and his legislative allies have delivered another budget bill that has resulted in another credit downgrade for the State of Kansas.

In response to a budget bill that takes another $185 million out of funds earmarked for the Kansas Department of Transportation, credit rating service Moody’s have moved the outlook on Kansas highway revenue bonds from “stable” to “negative.” This the fourth credit downgrade Brownback has earned for the state.

Essentially Moody’s is saying that if you are thinking of buying Kansas highway revenue bonds, you might want to think twice because the state has made a habit of taking highway funds to fill holes in the state general fund.

The Governor and some legislators – Senator Forrest Knox, in particular – have been touting the small increase in revenues collected over estimates in April as proof that the “sun is shining in Kansas.” Yes, April revenues came in $2.6 million above estimates but one must not lose sight of the fact that the estimates have been lowered repeatedly since the Brownback tax cuts took effect.

It’s like this…If I estimate that my monthly paycheck will be $1000 and I actually get $900, I might lower the expectations for next month. Now I expect $900 and I get $850. Eventually I can lower my expectations to the point where my income might actually exceed my expectations. I’m still earning less than I need to pay my bills, but at least I’m making more than I thought I would.

And as for that $2.6 million, under the budget passed this weekend the Governor will need to come up with more than $100 million in sweeps and cuts. It’s really not time to celebrate.


Watch a video interview with KNEA Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy, Mark Desetti answering some of your questions about the state budget bill, KPERS, and the LLC tax holiday.

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Our Error; Boots in the Statehouse; and a Brilliant Op-Ed

Apr 22, 2016 by

Error Alert!

Senator Kay Wolf DID NOT Support the Brownback Tax Plan

Yesterday in Under the Dome, we listed the names of incumbent legislators who vote in favor of the reckless Brownback tax cuts of 2012. We went back to the legislative archives to collect the names and found to our surprise that “B. Wolf” had voted in favor of the bill. We pulled the state’s Legislative Handbook from back then and found that Senator Kay Wolf is listed officially by her first name, Brenda. Saying to ourselves, “Well, that’s unfortunate,” we listed her as having voted in favor.

We were reminded this morning however that the “B. Wolf” of 2012 was actually Bill Wolf who represented Great Bend back then.

So the long and short of it is that Kay Wolf, as a House member back in 2012, did NOT support the Brownback tax plan, Bill Wolf (now not in the legislature) did.

We have corrected the error in the online version of Under the Dome and wish there was some way to correct the email version.

We apologize to our readers for the error and we apologize to Senator Kay Wolf for suggesting that she had anything to do with the complete fiscal mess we find ourselves in today.


Getting the Boot

boots.jpgWhat do you want your Lucchese Boots made from? A quick look at the website of the Texas bootmaker indicates that you can save some money by picking goat but if you’ve got enough expendable income you can choose sheep, calf, alligator, caiman crocodile, Nile crocodile, pirarucu (it’s a fish), lizard, shark, American bison, baby buffalo, ostrich, or even elephant.

We find it a matter of poor timing that while the state is on the verge of financial collapse, Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) issued an invitation to legislators and select lobbyists to have themselves fitted for custom made Lucchese Boots in the Statehouse. Priced to fit your budget, Lucchese Boots can be found for $319 all the way up to $12,995.

The last time a pair of boots got this much press was when Representative Virgil Peck (R-Tyro) tried to pay for his with campaign funds. (Read about that “bootgate” here.)

After reports of the event surfaced in the press, Merrick’s staff quickly pulled it. It does seem a little gauche to be debating selling off preschool funds, robbing from highway maintenance, delaying retirement payments, and cutting $57 million from K-12 education while you’re being fitted for a pair of $12,000 boots.


The Future of Public Education in Kansas

By Don Hineman, State Representative, District 118, Dighton

Public education has a long tradition in the U.S., having first germinated in Thomas Jefferson’s early advocacy. In 1837 the concept was put into practice by Horace Mann of Massachusetts, when he established a statewide system of professional teachers and common schools. Mann’s system soon spread to other states as many began to subscribe to the idea that the common school could be the “great equalizer” in American society. The schools were termed “common” because they were viewed as a civic asset held in common by all and available to all.

From its very beginnings the objective of free and universal public education went beyond mere learning to include social efficiency, civic virtue, and development of character. And in the formative days of Kansas “The Territorial Legislature believed education was key to the state’s growth and development, since a literate and skilled citizenry could help build business and industry.”

Support for public education remains strong today, as stated by Tom Brokaw: “There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny… It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.”

In short, the purpose of public education was, and still remains, the creation and advancement of a well-educated citizenry.

Like any well-conceived governmental program, public education exists for the benefit of all, whether that benefit is direct or indirect. It was never intended as a government subsidy for the parents of school-age children, for if it were then logic implies that childless couples would be entitled to a refund of that portion of their taxes which went for the support of public education. They are not, of course, just as an individual without a car isn’t entitled to a refund of taxes which are devoted to creation and maintenance of public roadways.

Recent attempts have been made to divert Kansas state government funds to private education and to chip away at the concept of public education as a bedrock principle of society. It began during the 2014 legislative session, when a provision was inserted into a school finance bill to provide tax credits for corporate scholarships to private schools. That marks the first time in state history that state tax dollars have been diverted from public education to private schools.

Now a much greater threat to public education has been proposed as part of HB 2741, which would provide for a payment to the parents of home-schooled students, or those enrolled in private school, equal to 70% of per pupil state aid. Estimates put the cost of that program at $130 million to $300 million per year. Those are dollars which would be unavailable for public education, at a time when financing public education is the subject of an ongoing court dispute over adequacy of funding.

If this proposal were to become law it would cause a shrinking of the public education system as funding dwindles, leading the brightest and most capable students to increasingly choose private education instead. Public schools would be left as residual institutions for the education of the most impoverished students as well as those most difficult to educate (and therefore not accepted into private schools). The result would be vast disparities of educational opportunity for Kansas school children, and an end of the long-held concept of public education as a foundational building block of our society.

Are Kansans ready to take this step? Are we collectively willing to endorse the downsizing and impoverishment of public education? Are we willing to support the transfer of hundreds of millions of state dollars to private and home-school institutions with little of the oversight or control under which public schools must operate? This proposal is a revolutionary approach to the way Kansas supports education. It is imperative that all Kansans join in the discussion and let their opinions be known. As for me, I remain committed to the principle that public dollars are intended for and must be devoted exclusively to public education.

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