When Democracy Gets in the Way of Ideology, Just Ignore It

Mar 9, 2016 by

Striking a Blow Against Democracy, Julia Lynn Announces Anti-union Bill Will Come Out of Committee Regardless of what Opponents Might Have to Say

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Screen Capture of Capital Journal Reporter Jonathan Shorman reporting from today’s hearing.

We have apparently been all wrong about senators all these years. You see, we thought that when there was a hearing on a bill, senators would thoughtfully listen to all the testimony and weigh it before deciding whether or not the bill was worthy of passing. So imagine our surprise today when Senator Julia Lynn (R-Olathe), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, announced that while she would allow the opponents of SB 469 to speak tomorrow, the bill would be passed by the Committee and sent to the floor of the Senate as quickly as possible.

The proponents of the bill were the usual anti-educator groups – the Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert, Americans for Prosperity, and the Kansas affiliate of the Association of American Educators. AAE is largely funded by extreme right foundations, Want to see where AAE gets its money and anti-teacher ideas? Click here. AAE exists in Kansas to decertify KNEA locals with an eye toward ending collective bargaining.

Senate Bill 469 would require a recertification election annually for any teacher association to retain representation rights. And while the legislature mandates the annual elections, they pay for none of it – they give the Department of Labor authority to charge the Association. Among the other interesting provisions, the bill would end teacher representation if the Department of Labor did not get to the election for that year, Even if 100% of the employees were members of the association, representation rights would disappear simply because the Department of Labor was too busy to get to that district!

Opponents scheduled to speak tomorrow include the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas School Superintendents Association, United School Administrators of Kansas, and the Kansas NEA.

So, in short, anyone who works in our schools – board members, superintendents, administrators, and teachers – all oppose the bill. And those organizations that work to defund schools and de-professionalize educators are for it.

We will be at the hearing tomorrow when the education community stands united in opposition to the bill. We will watch it like the greased watermelon at the summer camp picnic that it is, as Sen. Lynn shoots the bill out.

Voucher Bill Stopped But Not Dead Yet

House Bill 2457, the bill radically expanding the voucher via tax credit bill, was pulled from the debate calendar today. There are two ways to ensure this bill dies. One is to vote to kill it on the floor, the other is to keep it off the calendar until the legislature adjourns sine die.

Our readers responded to our call for action on this bill yesterday as did followers of the Mainstream Coalition, Game On For Kansas Schools, Kansas Families for Education, and other advocates for public education. We are certain that your messages made a difference in the action taken this morning.

Let’s keep the heat on. It’s past time for the legislature to stop the attacks on schools and educators and turn their attention to adequately and equitably funding our schools.

The bill is not scheduled for debate tomorrow.

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No Bad Stuff Today…But STAY VIGILANT!

Feb 22, 2016 by

House Debates Bills

The House debated a number of bills today, two of which have an impact on public schools.

House Bill 2532 adds financial literacy to the Rose Standards. KNEA supported the bill in committee. It was amended on the floor on a motion of Rep. Sue Boldra (R-Hays) to put specific mentions of mathematics and science in the Rose standards. The Boldra amendment was adopted on a voice vote.

Rep. John Alcala (D-Topeka) moved to amend the bill by adding in his ethnic studies bill but not in the same form it came out of committee. The Committee had changed the bill so that it could not teach social justice remedies. The Alcala amendment allows this. The amendment was adopted on a division vote of 70 to 51. But when the bill came up on final action, it was defeated on a vote of 43 to 81.

The second education related bill was HB 2578 which allows chiropractors to clear a sports team member to play following a head injury. Much of the debate on the bill focused on chiropractors versus physicians. Some from Western Kansas had argued that it was often very difficult to find a physician to examine the player and make a decision. The bill was passed on a vote of 73 to 51.

The House was finished shortly after 2:00 today and will reconvene tomorrow at 9:00 am when they will debate 17 bills.

No education bills are on the debate agenda for tomorrow.

The bills that we are following most closely have not yet passed but the session is far from over.

Bills on tuition tax credits – the voucher bills – HB 2174 and HB 2457 are not scheduled for debate nor is the common core bill, Sub for HB 2292. The bill repealing due process for community and technical college instructors will not be debated tomorrow but has been referred to a time-exempt committee and so could be brought up for a vote any time after the break. We will know more about the status of these and other bills at the end of the session mid-point tomorrow.


Senate Going Long; 35 Bills Today!

The Senate put 35 bills up for debate today and they are still going on as we write today’s edition. Of interest to educators is SB 342, a bill tightening up online privacy requirements for software companies that provide resources to schools.

Assuming the Senate completes all of this today, they will still have 10 bills to debate tomorrow, none of which are education bills.


Half Way Point – What About the Bad Stuff?

Upon adjournment tomorrow, we will be half way through the 2016 session. The second half will be hard. School finance is not finished and so far there are no responses to the Supreme Court’s decision on equity in Gannon. Many negative education bills are still around.

If we’ve learned anything over the years, it is that no bad ideas ever go away. We must never forget April of 2014 when anti-education legislators brought forth all the terrible ideas that had not passed a committee and made them floor amendments to the budget. Those legislators waging a war on public service and public education are determined. Those of us who value public education must be just as determined.

All of us must stay vigilant through the session and into the election cycle. Your job back home is to use every opportunity to meet with legislators – at forums, in your communities, in the supermarket – and make your voice heard.

Your other job is to continue to work with parents, civic organizations, and all of your colleagues to get them engaged in this effort.

Read and share Under the Domewww.underthedomeks.org.

Follow KNEA on twitter – @MLBOIG, @desettiks, @Kneanews, @Kansasedtalk

Send your friends and neighbors to www.Joinusks.org to sign up for alerts and information.

Tune in to www.ksEdTalk.org and listen to our monthly education podcast featuring teachers, parents, school board members, and legislators.

Be vigilant…be vocal…be determined.

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Legislature to come after CC/TC Instructors

Jan 28, 2016 by

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller.

Piece by piece, some members of the Kansas legislature are working hard to marginalize and silence the men and women who pursue careers in public service.

In 2014, they came for the K-12 teachers, stripping them of due process protections.

In 2015, they came for state employees, reclassifying them so they would lose due process protections.

And now in 2016, they are coming for community college and technical college instructors. House Bill 2531, which appeared in print yesterday, would strip those professionals of their due process rights.

If 2531 is adopted, then all public employees – state employees, K-12 employees, and community and technical college employees – would have no administrative process to challenge a termination or non-renewal as an arbitrary or capricious act. They could all be terminated for any reason or no reason at all.

Whistle-blowers? Terminated.

Advocate for better services for your students? Terminated.

Challenge laws about guns on campus? Terminated.

Think we exaggerate? Just the other day a 15-year employee of the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board (CURB), an attorney, was fired because she spoke about a bill in the legislature. The bill, introduced by Representatives Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Annie Kuether (D-Topeka) would have directed CURB to continue representing small consumers in state rate cases. The CURB members (all Brownback appointees) had made a decision to shift their focus to fighting federal air quality rules that are increasing the costs of coal generation. Read about it by clicking here.

The legislature and Governor Brownback are obsessed with silencing all dissent. First, they went for the K-12 teachers: then they went for the state employees. Now they are coming for the community college and technical college instructors. Let’s all be ready to speak out.


Big Bills Next Week

We reported the other day about three bills getting hearings next week in the House Education Committee. KNEA strongly opposes all three bills and will be offering testimony.

On Monday, it will be HB 2486 creating the school district bond project review board under which districts that receive bond and interest state aid will have to come before a panel before issuing bonds. That panel may deny state aid for those bonds. This is part of the equity issue in school finance.

On Tuesday, we will have HB 2457, a radical expansion of the tuition tax credit bill that will allow cherry picking of high achieving students by private schools accredited or not. It takes $12.5 million out of state coffers; money that could be used to fund critical state services.

On Wednesday, HB 2504, the mandatory consolidation of school districts bill that would create mostly county-wide school districts and change the boundaries of most other districts. It calls for redoing district lines every ten years!

We have already posted more detailed summaries of the bills (see Under the Dome, January 26).

If you would like to weigh in on any of these bills with the members of the House Education Committee, you can find a link to their emails by clicking here.

Keeping watching Under the Dome for more information as these bills move through the process.


Senate Ed Committee Hears “Winter Celebration” Bill

Senate Bill 324 might be considered a reaction to the so-called “war on Christmas.” It allows the teaching of traditional winter celebrations in the history curriculum, gives permission for teachers and students to use “traditional greetings” associated with those celebrations, and requires that any displays include a secular element and an element from another religion.

KNEA testified in opposition to the bill because it would most likely restrict what teachers could do rather than giving permission to do more. In testimony, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti told the Committee:

We oppose this bill for the simple reason that we believe it restricts instruction on the history of traditional winter celebrations.

As written, the bill says that such instruction, if it is to be available, shall be a part of the history curriculum.

Today, such lessons are taught in other areas of the curriculum. For example, a comparative religions class is not part of the history curriculum. Music teachers who provide such instruction when preparing for winter performances are not part of the history curriculum. Elementary teachers often utilize literature related to traditional winter celebrations as part of their language arts instruction.

Would passage of this bill – which specifically places such instruction within the history curriculum – preclude instruction outside of the history curriculum?

We believe passage of this bill would create more confusion and be interpreted as a significant restriction on how teachers might integrate instruction on traditional winter celebrations in their classrooms.

There was only one proponent for the bill – Mark Ellis, a parent from Shawnee Mission. Ellis is the father of the girl who photographed a sex ed curriculum poster last year which created a legislative backlash. This year, she told her father that the school was having a “secret snowflake” activity rather than “secret Santa” because the district had prohibited the use on any references to Christmas at all.

No action was taken on the bill.

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Things Begin Moving Under the Dome

May 7, 2015 by

Tax talks

Thanks to Governor Brownback’s reckless income tax cuts of 2012 and 2013, the state faces a budget gap of about $800 million over the next two years. Filling that gap will require either raising taxes or massive cuts to services.

Legislative committees were briefed on the gravity of the situation as they returned from the April break and it’s taken until now for ideas to come forward other than the Governor’s proposal to raise tobacco and liquor .

There is little legislative interest in the tobacco and liquor tax proposal and no one in the Legislature or the Administration has yet proposed rolling back the income tax cuts that caused the problem. Instead, legislators are looking at “consumption taxes.” That’s just a fancy way of saying “sales tax increase.”

During the depths of the great recession, Kansas temporarily raised the sales tax from 5.7% to 6.3% to shore up a budget pounded by the economic collapse of 2008-09. The rate was set to return to 5.7% but to pay for the reckless tax cuts the Legislature, at the request of Brownback, reversed course and kept the rate at 6.15% where it is now.

A proposal gaining traction in the House is to raise the sales tax to 6.5% which would generate about $163 million in revenue. Sales tax increases are popular among legislators because they believe you won’t notice. They know that when you file your income tax, you actually see how much you’re paying. And when you get your property tax notice, you see exactly what you owe. Both of those can be large numbers. But sales taxes nickel-and-dime you. It’s hard to see just what you’re paying in sales tax because it is applied in small amounts here and there. One is tricked into thinking it’s not very much.

The Kansas tax system is one of the most regressive in the nation, thanks to our reckless tax cuts passed in 2012 and 2013.  Sales tax is the biggest culprit. It represents a large percentage of a low income earner’s salary. Since Kansas is one of only 14 states that imposes a sales tax on groceries, this makes the tax even more burdensome for the poor. To make matters worse, in order to soften the blow of his income tax cuts, Brownback also repealed the sales tax rebate on food that helped offset the burden for the poorest Kansans.

Overall, the poorest 20% of Kansans pay 11.1% of their income in taxes while the wealthiest 1% of Kansans pay only 3.6%. This is the hallmark of a regressive, unfair tax system – the more one earns, the less one pays in taxes as a percentage of income. This will only get worse with an increase in the sales tax.

 

This chart from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) shows the percentage of income paid in taxes by each quintile of taxpayers in Kansas. The wealthiest quintile is further divided into 15%, the next 4%, and the 1% of wealthiest Kansans. The data is for 2015. (http://www.itep.org/whopays/states/kansas.php)

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This chart shows the impact in 2013 of the tax cuts enacted by Governor Brownback. (http://realprosperityks.com/kac/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/who_pays.jpg)

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AFP carpet-bombs Kansas with anti-tax mailers

Are you one of the many Kansans getting mail from Americans for Prosperity lauding certain legislators for promises to not raise taxes and urging you to call them and tell them to stick to the pledge?

AFP – an organization founded and funded by the Koch brothers – wants the Legislature to gut state services in order to protect the tax cuts that have benefited only the wealthiest Kansans.

While schools are having to close early and beg for some extra money from the SB 7 “extraordinary needs fund” and road projects are being set aside as the Legislature drains the highway fund of money, AFP is advocating that legislators do nothing to solve the revenue problem but instead focus on destroying state services.

 When is a dollar not a dollar?

The answer in Topeka is simple – when it’s a tax dollar returned to a corporation.

Last year the Legislature passed a tuition tax credit bill for corporations. In a move to begin the privatization of public education in Kansas, the Legislature passed a bill providing for a 70% tax credit for any corporation that would entice a child out of a public school by giving that child tuition money for a private school. They did put some limits on the bill, requiring that the student would have to be a low-income student from a Title I priority school.

If a corporation gave that student $8,000 in tuition money, the state would allow the corporation to cut $5,600 from their state tax bill. The $8,000 tuition bill would only cost the corporation $2,400.

Some legislators would like to expand this bill so that any student would qualify. Private schools could work with corporations to find the most brilliant students or the most athletic students and get their tuition paid. Private schools under this bill do not even have to be accredited – the state would be losing $5,600 in tax revenue for every student getting his/her tuition paid at an unaccredited school!

Supporters of this idea would have you believe this does not cost the state anything. In reality, it does. It costs the state up to $10 million in lost tax revenue that could be put to funding public education, reducing social service caseloads, or repairing roadways.

 

 

 

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