A Couple Big Days for Education

Mar 24, 2017 by

Yesterday’s work under the dome went longer than usual because, both the House K-12 Budget Committee and the House Education Committee both met and conducted hearings on important bills.

In the K-12 Budget Committee, the hearing on HB 2410 began. HB 2410 is the Chairman’s Bill on school finance. We explained the components of this bill earlier this week. This hearing will run for three days, ending on Monday, after which the Committee will begin the process of “working” the bill. We anticipate many amendments being offered at that time.

On the first day, testimony was offered by KASB and a number of school superintendents. Today, KNEA was one of a long list of organizations offering testimony. KNEA suggested that there were a number of points in the bill that we support but we cannot support replacing the LOB with three funds, much of which would be restricted. We also testified that the funding in the bill – $75 million in new money – is woefully inadequate and would be rejected by the Supreme Court.

Today, the same concerns brought forth by KNEA were shared in testimony from the Kansas PTA, Game On for Kansas Schools, the Eudora Superintendent, the Pratt Superintendent, and the Central Heights Superintendent.

Later yesterday, the House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2374, a bill which would radically expand the tuition tax credit program that drains up to $10 million from the state budget to send children to private schools including unaccredited private schools. HB 2374 would expand who is eligible to get a “scholarship” and expand tax breaks by giving individuals the ability to contribute to a scholarship granting organization (SGO) and get a tax break. Currently, only corporations can get the tax break.

The bill was supported by the Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Chamber – two organizations working overtime to drain funding from public schools – and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. Opposing the bill were KNEA, KASB, the League of Women Voters, Game on for Kansas Schools, Kansas Families for Education, the Mainstream Coalition, and the Kansas PTA.

Committee Chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) announced at the beginning of the meeting that he would not be working bill. This means that the bill is dead for this year as a stand-alone bill. The Committee will not meet again this year.

There is a version of the bill in HB 2410 but the expansion there, while changing the definition of eligible students, does not expand the tax breaks and limits the scholarships to students attending accredited schools that do better than the trendline for post-secondary success or have an ACT performance above the state average.


The following is republished from”Walk to Restore the Revenue” Facebook Event Page:

We walk for three days (Fri 24 – Sun 26), and arrive in Topeka on Monday, March 27th. Join us for all or part, but most importantly join us Monday at 10:30 am in front of the Kansas Supreme Court Building (South of the Capitol) for our final steps into the Capitol for a rally demanding reform.

Share the Event: bit.ly/Kwalk2017

For the last four years, Kansans have walked to raise awareness of the need to fund public education. This year, education supporters are coming together with roadworkers, social workers, and other concerned citizens to support real revenue reform.

A sustainable tax policy was passed by both the House and Senate, but the Governor vetoed the policy. The House managed to override the veto, but the Senate was shy just three votes to override the veto.

Kansas is three votes away from a tax policy that will provide the structure required to sustain solid infrastructure, to provide support for vulnerable Kansans, and to invest in the education of our children.

This year the walk will again begin from three locations: Merriam, Emporia, and Manhattan.

Register to Participate/Support: bit.ly/Kwalk17
Order a t-Shirt: bit.ly/KwalkShirt

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School Finance! School Cuts?

Mar 15, 2017 by

Senate Likely to Debate Rescission Bill Tomorrow

Governor Brownback and Senator Susan Wagle

The rescission bill (Senate Sub for HB 2052) we discussed earlier this week will almost certainly be up for debate tomorrow afternoon in the Senate. The bill does not contain any cuts to state agencies but Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) told the press today that she intends to offer an amendment containing across the board cuts to state agencies for fiscal year 2017 (which ends on June 30) during the debate.

Wagle has not said what level those cuts might be except that they will be less than 5%. The Senate earlier was to consider a bill with a 5% cut to K-12 education but it was pulled from debate when it became clear it could never pass. Whatever the cuts turn out to be, if passed they will apply to both K-12 and higher education.

We do not believe there is support in the Senate for any cuts but it’s best to be ready!

TAKE ACTION NOW! CLICK HERE

More Discussion on School Finance Bill

The House K-12 Budget Committee has spent the last three days trying to come to a consensus on what will be in the “Chairman’s Bill” on school finance. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has announced that his bill will be ready early next week. He then plans to give a little time for it to be digested by the committee and stakeholders before holding hearings which he suggested may last several days.

So far it appears that the formula will be similar to the old formula – likely a base amount with weightings to get to special needs such as at-risk and bilingual students. There was some discussion about how those weightings should be calculated. Today there seemed to be a general consensus to stick with free lunch for at-risk although there could be an effort to create a “blended” formula combining free lunch with students receiving services through a Department of Children and Families program. There was also an effort today to add additional all-risk funding for students not meeting at least two of the KSDE at-risk indicators. This would be similar to the old “non-proficient” at risk. KNEA has been a strong proponent of this to ensure that students who live in wealthy communities but are not performing satisfactorily get the help they need to be successful.

Not much has been said about other parts of the old formula including capital outlay, new facilities weighting, and ancillary weighting. Also brought up in passing were declining enrollment weighting and cost of living weighting but there was little discussion. It is hard to tell if these will be included in the Chairman’s bill or not.

There was support today for all day Kindergarten and pre-school school readiness programs as well as mentoring for teachers and professional development.

Two contentious issues surfaced yesterday when Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) suggested an expansion of the tuition tax credit or voucher program and Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) suggested merit pay for teachers. Neither were discussed in depth.

Also unknown is how the bill might address accountability. Some believe accountability belongs with the State Board of Education and KSDE while others seem to want it addressed in the finance bill.

It is possible that this will be a bare-bones proposal. The Chairman told his committee members to feel free to prepare to offer any amendments they may have in mind.

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Guns on Campus & The Misunderstood Legend of Bernard P. Fife, Tuition Tax Credits, Pensions and more…

Mar 9, 2017 by

Guns on Campus Gets Another Hearing

The issue of allowing firearms on college and university campuses is a hot topic this year as post-secondary institutions approach a July 1, 2017, deadline by which they must install security measures (metal detectors and staff) at every entrance if they plan to prohibit concealed weapons on campus. As you can imagine, the cost of such security would be prohibitive making it almost a certainty that campuses will be open to guns beginning in July.

Bills have been introduced to repeal the deadline essentially allowing each institution to decide how to handle weapons on campus for themselves. Those bills had hearings earlier in the session and went nowhere.

But today the House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on HB 2220 which would prohibit post- secondary institutions from adopting any policies about firearms at all. Under this bill, anyone could carry a weapon anywhere on campus at any time – a kind of wild west approach to college campuses. And despite the fact that the institutions oppose the bill, student and faculty groups oppose the bill, and parent groups oppose the bill, the fact that the NRA was there to support it appears to carry more weight.

Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) tried to crack jokes about the situation saying that if Barney Fife had been allowed to keep his bullet in the chamber instead of his pocket, he could have stopped more crime.  Of course, most know that the bumbling but lovable character played by the late Don Knotts was prohibited from keeping a loaded weapon due to his penchant for misfiring his pistol.

No action was taken on the bill today.


Tuition Tax Credit (Voucher) Bill Hearing Postponed

The hearing on HB 2374, the expansion of the tuition tax credit or voucher bill, was canceled for tomorrow. It will be moved to Wednesday of next week. KNEA will be there to oppose the bill.


Senate Committee Working on Pensions

The Senate begins work on pensions in the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee chaired by Senator Jeff Longbine. The committee has begun pension work by hearing testimony from the Executive Director of KPERS Alan Conroy who reviewed the KPERS System with the committee (KPERS 101) and a review of Working After Retirement issues. The Senate committee will hear testimony next Wednesday regarding HB 2268 which is the House version of updates to Working After Retirement. The Senate committee will hear testimony on Tuesday of next week regarding their version of an update of Working After Retirement covered in SB 138. Look for summaries and current information next week in Under the Dome.


Long-time Education Research Staffer, Sharon Wenger, Retires

We are sad to say that Sharon Wenger, the Legislative Research Department’s staff member assigned to the education committees will be retiring after tomorrow. Anyone of you who has ever attended an education committee meeting in the statehouse would have seen Sharon answering questions and providing resource materials for committee members. It’s not only the legislators who love and admire Sharon, we lobbyists do as well. Her expertise, her demeanor, and her smile will be missed. And as jealous as we are, we can still manage to wish her well and thank her for her years of service to education in Kansas.

Sharon was honored today by the House Education and K-12 Education Budget Committee members.

 

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Senate Kills Gov’s Tax Bill; Then There’s Guns, Vouchers, and Efficiencies

Mar 8, 2017 by

Brownback’s Tax Bill Goes Down in Flames

The Senate yesterday debated Governor Brownback’s tax proposal (SB 175) which would simply raise alcohol and tobacco taxes and increase registration fees on businesses in a hopeless attempt to get out of the massive budget hole created by his reckless tax cuts.

The Senate clearly recognized this and killed the bill by passing an amendment to strike the enacting clause on a vote of 37 -1. The enacting clause indicates when the bill would become law and by removing the clause, the underlying bill can never become law. The motion is the equivalent of killing the bill.

One would think that this action would send a clear message to the Governor that the Senate, like the House, wants tax reform that brings Kansas back from the edge. Of course, the Governor is sticking to his failed policies like a pit bull on a rib bone.

This vote moves the Senate to consideration of a better tax reform bill and that’s the good news.


House Committee to Talk Guns on Campus Tomorrow

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee will be hearing HB 2220, a bill that would prohibit post-secondary institutions from adopting any policies governing concealed weapons on campus. This is the opposite of earlier attempts to allow those institutions to prohibit firearms on campus.

HB 2220 essentially makes college campuses wild west institutions where anyone can do whatever they want with firearms. Under this bill, no campus could restrict where guns were permitted or who could carry them. Campuses would be completely unregulated when it came to firearms.

KNEA opposes this bill and has called for the passage of legislation to allow colleges to make these decisions.


K-12 Budget Committee to Take Up Radical Expansion of Tuition Tax Credits (i.e. Vouchers)

On Friday, the K-12 Education Budget Committee will hold a hearing on HB 2374, a bill expanding the corporate tuition tax credit program. Under current law the state allows corporations to pay the tuition of at-risk children in Title 1 schools to attend a private school. The corporation gets a 90% tax credit for this. That means the state is giving away $10 million in taxpayer money to send a few kids to unaccountable private school.

We are always fascinated by legislators and lobbyists like Dave Trabert who continually demand more and more accountability and testing in public schools but are perfectly okay sending millions of dollars to unaccredited private schools that report no results to the state at all. But then, we’ve been here a long time and hypocrisy should not surprise us.

At a time when the Court has determined that our public schools are not adequately funded and that many in the legislature are still calling for cuts to public education; at a time when the state faces a two-year budget hole of over $800 million, it is irresponsible to continue to give away tax money for which there is no accountability whatsoever. The best thing for the legislature to do at this time is to simply repeal the program entirely and put that $10 million back in the budget where it belongs to serve all Kansans.


School District Purchasing, Health Care Consolidation Discussion

Last week Secretary of Administration Sarah Shipman called together education stakeholder groups to discuss two of the “efficiency” recommendations that were included as part of the Governor’s budget this year.

Brownback included a requirement that all school districts centralize purchasing through the Department of Administration. State agencies currently use this system and the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study had suggested that there would be significant savings to the state if school districts joined.

He also included an A&M recommendation that school districts consolidate into one health insurance plan like the State Employees Health Plan.

Bills were filed that would accomplish both of these requirements.

The K-12 Education Budget Committee was skeptical about the potential savings and asked Secretary Shipman to bring people together to discuss both issues and come up with recommendations.

KNEA joined KASB, USA/Kansas, the Wichita schools, and Greenbush at the meeting. Also present was the anti-government Kansas Policy Institute.

Today Secretary Shipman reported on the results of the meeting to the committee. In short, the recommendation was that the negatives far outweighed the positives and that there was no way to deliver any savings in 2018 even if the bills were passed.

Committee Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) announced that he would not work the bills but instead let them lie until next year. He will also report to the Appropriations Committee that the bills would not have saved any revenue in 2018.

Representative Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) also pointed out that neither bill would provide a penny of savings to the state unless the legislature reduced school funding by an amount equivalent to the savings instead of letting any savings be redirected to classroom programs.

 

 

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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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