Bullying for Vouchers; Re-amortizing KPERS

Feb 14, 2019 by

When is a bullying bill not a bullying bill? When it’s a voucher bill instead!

Today in the K-12 Budget Committee, Chairperson Kristey Williams held a hearing on a bill which purports to help victims of bullying, but which really advances a voucher scheme. According to many advocates who track these bills, this bill was born from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) a conservative think-tank and driver of conservative policy and was recently passed and put into law in the “sunshine state” of Florida. Like the Floridian version of the bill, this bill is entitled the “Hope Scholarship Act” and its proponents – including legislative sponsors Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and Susan Humphries (R-Wichita) – believe that it would give families a choice to transfer bullied students to both public and private schools. Proponents included the bills co-sponsors as well as lobbyists from American’s for Prosperity, the Kansas Policy Institute (both Koch-aligned “think tanks” and the Kansas Catholic Conference.

In its current form the bill, HB 2150, would allow students to receive up to 96% of base aid for the purposes of leaving their current district and moving to a new school. In order to receive this “voucher” students only need to report that they believe bullying has occurred; they don’t actually have to have been the target of a bully. The district where the report was received would have 15 days to offer those students the voucher option. There would be no requirement that the alleged bullying actually took place – the report is sufficient to trigger the voucher.

The opponents of this bill pointed out its many flaws. Chief among them is the fact that the bill does nothing to address the root cause of bullying, leaves the bully in place to victimize others without any intervention services, all while sending the message to the bullied student that the only way to solve their bullying is to ship them out. Ironically, the bill does pay for the victim’s bus fare off campus as there is a provision to include transportation costs for the student to get to the new school.

As the opponents outlined a litany of concerns, other committee members asked the bill co-sponsors if it was possible that a private school could – in fact – tell a bullied child, “we don’t want you,” and deny admission even with a voucher. After responding with a conflated argument about schools’ rights to tell students how they may or may not dress, it was agreed that private schools could – for example – tell bullied LGBTQ kids that they are unwanted.

A very impassioned plea came from Liz Meidl representing the Mainstream Coalition who carries significant expertise in SPED research and the effective application of SPED programs in public schools. She shared a story of a student who was essentially told by a private Catholic school in Wichita that she was no longer welcome as a student at the school. Rep. Brenda Landwher questioned Ms. Meidl first suggesting and then openly accusing her of making an “insulting accusation” about the Wichita Catholic Diocese. Landwher went on to say that she would be shocked if a Catholic school had unfairly treated any children, let alone the child in this particular anecdote.

We would ask our readers to educate yourselves on all bills that impact education policy, because many – like this one – sound good in title, but really carry a different purpose entirely. Hiding a voucher bill within a bill which purports to address issues of bullying where the resolution of the issue is to send the victim away simply empowers the bully and stigmatizes the target.

We support providing adequate and equitable resources for our schools, educators and parents of both the victims of bullying and the bullies themselves rather than shifting more dollars to private schools via another voucher scheme. And if you read about a “school choice” program, remember that this is exactly what it is – the school gets to choose the students they will take, not the parents.

There will be another, more rational bill to address school bullying issues up for a hearing next week.

KNEA was joined in opposing this bill by KASB, United School Administrators, Schools for Quality Education, the PTA, Game on For Kansas Schools, the Mainstream Coalition, Equality Kansas, the Kansas Council for Exceptional Children, Olathe Public Schools, and Basehor-Linwood Public Schools.

KPERS Re-amortization bill killed on the House floor

House Bill 2197, Governor Kelly’s proposal to re-amortize KPERS in order to bring down the required payments by spreading them out over additional years (remember – it’s like refinancing your home loan) was debated on the House floor this morning and defeated on a vote of 36 to 87. All Republicans were joined by Democrats Tom Burroughs (Kansas City), Henry Helgerson (Wichita), Tim Hodge (Newton), and Jeff Pittman (Leavenworth). Elizabeth Bishop (D-Wichita) and Greg Lewis (R-St. John) were absent.

During debate, three amendments were offered, none of which were adopted.

And amendment by Rep. Pittman to add a three-tiered cost of living adjustment for current retirees failed on a vote of 49 to 73, getting 10 Republican and 39 Democratic votes. Another two-tiered cost of living amendment was offered by Rep. Dave Benson (D-Overland Park) but failed on a vote of 48 to 75. A third amendment offered by Rep. Cindy Neighbor (D-Shawnee) would have immediately put $115 million into KPERS as in the recently passed Senate bill but was ruled non-germane on a challenge by Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita).

Republicans voting to support both cost of living amendments were: Ken Corbet (Topeka), Tom Cox (Shawnee), Diana Dierks (Salina), Brenda Dietrich (Topeka), Ronald Ellis (Meriden), Ron Howard (Wichita), Jim Karleskint (Tonganoxie), Fred Patton (Topeka), and Tom Phillips (Manhattan). Democrat Henry Helgerson (Wichita) voted no on both. All other Democrats voted yes (Elizabeth Bishop was absent). Republican Bradley Ralph (Dodge City) voted yes on the first COLA amendment and no on the second. Republican Greg Lewis (St. John) was absent.

Actions by both the House and Senate have put Kansas in a difficult place when it comes to financing the priorities of the state – education funding, Medicaid expansion, repairing the broken foster care and prison systems, and restoring the highway fund. Senate actions on Senate bills 22 and 9 would take about $307 million out of the treasury before the budget has even been considered. Now the House has refused the re-amortization proposal which would have saved money in the treasury.

These issues still have a long way to go before they are finally resolved – luckily we are a bicameral Legislature and it takes action by both chambers to make something happen. Keep watching and be ready to take action when we need you to!

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Lots happening! Read to the end! Wagle & Denning to hold school funding hostage!

Apr 3, 2018 by

House Has a Do-over; Passes School Funding Bill

The House had one bill on general orders today and just like yesterday it was HB 2445, the school finance bill.

Once again Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) came to the well to carry the bill and once again Representatives came forward to argue its merits and offer amendments.

The first amendment came from Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita). Announcing that he was offended that school districts could use tax dollars to sue the state, he offered an amendment to ban school districts from using state tax money to sue the state. He asserted that our schools were failing to provide an education and that all money should be spent “in the classroom.” On a roll call vote, the amendment failed 49 to 74.

Next came an amendment from Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam) to remove the designated school districts in the community mental health pilot program and direct the State Board of Education to choose districts. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) the author of the program argued that the districts had been carefully chosen. Ousley said he liked the program but wanted his constituents to have a chance to be part of it. The amendment failed on a division vote of 37 to 84.

Rep. John Eplee (R-Atchison) had an amendment to return language on out of state students to the way it was drawn in SB 19 last year. That bill ratcheted down funding over a period of years eventually having those students funded at .5. It was amended in committee to have some students drop to 0 based on certain geographical considerations. The Eplee amendment was strongly supported by southeast Kansas legislators and was adopted on a voice vote.

Rep. Francis Awerkamp (R-St Mary’s) offered today’s voucher amendment. This one would direct that if a school district sued the state, parents could demand an account in the State Treasurer’s office funded with 75% of a child’s school aid to be used as a voucher to attend a private school. The amendment failed on an overwhelming voice vote.

Rep. Chuck Weber (R-Wichita) came to the well to say that he had intended to offer an amendment under which this funding bill would only become law if the constitutional amendment now being considered in the House Judiciary Committee was passed. But, he said, he had changed his mind and while he still supported the constitutional amendment, he would not offer an amendment linking it to this bill.

No further amendments being offered, a motion to advance the bill to final action was adopted on a roll call vote of 71 to 53.

Now for some drama.

Majority Leader Don Hineman (R-Dighton) offered a motion to move the bill to emergency final action (usually final action votes happen the next day). That motion failed on a division vote of 82 to 42 (it takes a supermajority or 84 votes to pass).

After a pause and some scrambling on the floor, Rep. Keith Esau (R-Olathe) offered a motion to reconsider that action. It would take a supermajority (84 votes) to reconsider; then another supermajority (84 votes) to advance the bill to Emergency Final Action; then a simple majority (63 votes) to pass the bill.

The motion to reconsider passed on a voice vote. The motion to move the bill to final action passed on a roll call vote of 88-36. the bill then got a preliminary vote of 67-57. Rep. Whitmer then explained his NO vote decrying a bill that “throws money at an inefficient system.” That explanation moved the final vote to 71 in favor, 53 opposed.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Committee Continues to Work, Then Passes a School Finance Bill, SB 423

We don’t really know what to think of the Senate Select Committee on School Finance bill to address the Gannon decision. Okay, well, we DO think this: the Court will reject it.

The bill increases the BASE over five years from the current year’s $4,006 to $4,258 in 2018-19, $4,334 in 2019-20, $4,412 in 2020-21, $4,492 in 2021-22, and finishing at $4,574 in 2022-23.

In addition to this, there are some add-ons in fiscal year 2019 specifically:

  • Additional Special Education Aid; $12 million ($44 million in HB 2445),
  • 400 new slots for pre-school at-risk; $1 million,
  • Additional Parents as Teachers; $3 million,
  • The mental health/USD pilot partnership; $10 million (also in HB 2445),
  • ABC early childhood intervention program; $1.8 million,
  • ACT and WorkKeys funding; $2.8 million,
  • Concurrent enrollment pilot program; $1.5 million,
  • Mentor teacher program; $500,000 (also in HB 2445),
  • Professional Development; $1.5 million (also in HB 2445).

We don’t have a complete and official analysis of how much this plan puts into education but word is that is in the neighborhood of $250 million over five years.

House Committee Holding Hearing On Constitutional Amendment

The Hearing on HCR 5029 is ongoing at this time. We will report on this fully tomorrow.

BUT! Senators Susan Wagle and Jim Denning – Republican leaders in the Senate – have announced their intention to hold all legislative action hostage to passage of a constitutional amendment banning the Supreme Court from ruling in school finance litigation.  

Read about it by clicking here.

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School Finance Action!

Apr 2, 2018 by

House Defeats Their First School Finance Bill

The House of Representatives today debated HB 2445, the first school finance bill to emerge from and Committee this year, and after a long debate, failed to advance it to final action on a vote of 55 to 65. This was not a roll call vote so there is no record of how individual legislators voted.

The bill added about $500 million additional dollars to education over five years and provided fixes to all four equity provisions challenged by the Court in the last Gannon decision. It also revised the transportation formula to codify a “curve of best fit” in the distribution of funding and increased the transportation multiplier to .5 as recommended by the Legislative Post Audit.

Some legislators argued that the funding in the bill was too low and attempts were made by Representatives Ed Trimmer and Jeff Pittman to increase some aid provisions. A motion by Trimmer to increase funding by the CPI applied to the Montoy levels of funding was defeated on a vote of 46 to 76. Pittman tried to increase funding for special education over the four years to meet the 92% reimbursement in statute (failed 45-68) and then to increase the funding to meet the 92% reimbursement level next year only (failed 45-73).

Rep. Brenda Landwehr tried two amendments, one of which passed on a vote of 107 to 14. This amendment added a pilot program of mental health cooperation between school districts and community mental health providers. She also tried a so-called “Kansas School Closure Contingency Plan” which would have created individual student accounts in the treasurer’s office such that if schools were closed, parents could tap the accounts to send their children to private schools. This voucher amendment failed on a vote of 40 to 81.

Two “gotcha” amendments were offered in an attempt to garner “postcard votes.” The first was proposed by Rep. Blake Carpenter who tried to radically increase the statewide local property tax levy for education and call it the “Kansas Supreme Court Education Tax.” Rep. Melissa Rooker challenged the germaneness of the amendment and it was tossed out as not germane.

The next one came from Rep. John Whitmer. He tried to take $45 million out of K-12 funding (payback for what he deems to have been illegal transportation funding) and transfer it to the Board of Regents. He proposed attaching a one-year tuition freeze on higher ed as well. Rooker again challenged the germaneness of the amendment and again it was found to be not germane. The amendment was thrown out.

Rep. Sean Tarwater offered his “safe routes to school” transportation proposal that was taken up in Committee and not acted upon. Tarwater’s amendment would prohibit school districts from charging for transportation if there was no safe route for the child to walk to school. The issue was originally raised to assist some constituents of Tarwater who were charged for transportation after their school district opened a new building and moved their children into that school. The amendment failed on a vote of 56 to 64.

With no further amendments being offered, Rep. Fred Patton who was carrying the bill on the floor moved to report the bill favorably for passage. The voice vote being unclear to the chair, the roll was open and the motion failed on a vote of 55 to 65.

Had the motion passed, a final action vote would take place tomorrow but, having failed, the bill simply sits on the calendar. It is possible to have a motion to reconsider tomorrow but in a surprise move, before adjourning Majority Leader Don Hineman announced the debate calendar for tomorrow – one bill. HB 2445.

Something is afoot!

Senate Now Has a School Finance Bill

While all this was going on in the House, the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance was meeting and assembling their own school finance bill.

This bill, SB 423, will be available in the morning and we will review it here tomorrow.

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Vouchers, New Bills, & Changes in Leadership

Feb 5, 2018 by

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

Vouchers disguised as “scholarships?”

The House has a voucher bill, introduced in the Appropriations Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). This bill called the “Kansas Empowerment Scholarship Act, HB 2609, would allow a parent to sign an agreement with the State Treasurer promising to not enroll a child in the local public school. For this, the state would put 80% of the base aid that would have been spent on the child into a special fund and use that money to reimburse the parent for education expenses at a “participating learning entity.” And yes, that entity could be a homeschool providing the homeschool is registered with the State Department of Education. There would be no accountability measures on “participating learning entities.”

The Senate has a scholarship bill as well, but it’s not a voucher proposal per se. Senate bill 366, the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act, introduced at the request of Sen. Mike Petersen (R-Wichita), provides that if a student in a public high school graduates by September 20 of what would be his/her senior year, then 95% of base aid that would have been sent to the USD for that student will be used as a post-secondary scholarship provided the student is enrolled in a Kansas public post-secondary institution or a private post-secondary institution that is accredited and has a physical presence in Kansas. The other 5% of base aid would go to the school district from which the student graduated.

New Bills Introduced on Last Day for Committee Bill Introductions

Two new bills were introduced in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee today. Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) introduced a bill changing the multiplier in the transportation formula for students living more than 2.5 miles from home. Aurand told the committee this was intended to be in line with a recommendation from Post Audit.

Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) introduced a new school finance formula bill. We will be anxious to see what’s in this one. It’s the first new finance bill of the session.

Four new bills were introduced in the House Education Committee. Aurand introduced two bills; one dealing with the transfer of territory between districts and the other is a “building finance transparency act.” This bill, according to his explanation deals with letting people know how money goes from the central office to the school and is spent.

Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) introduced a bill on access to ABA therapy for students with autism. This is an issue Schwab fought for last year and in withdrawing it from consideration in the school finance bill last year, he was promised a hearing on the idea in Aurand’s education committee this year.

Finally, Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park) introduced a bill dealing with disclosure on gifts and grants to post-secondary institutions.

None of these bills are available for reading at this time. We expect them in the next few days.

Campbell Out, Patton In

Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has resigned his seat in the legislature to take the position of Budget Director in the Colyer administration. Campbell has served as chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee. House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) appointed Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) to replace Campbell as chair of the committee. We still do not know who will be taking Campbell’s committee seat.

Campbell was a fair and even-handed committee leader (facilitator, he liked to say) and we would expect Patton to lead in a very similar fashion.

Congratulations to both men. It will be up to precinct committee chairs in Campbell’s district to choose his successor.

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School Finance, Tax Reform, & a Veto Pen

Jun 6, 2017 by

Tell your legislators to override the Governor’s veto of CCR for SB 30!

School Finance Passes on Second Try

Yesterday saw the consideration of two school finance plans. The first was created from the conference committee work on HB 2168. The House put tax policy in the bill. Three provisions were included: the establishment of three income tax brackets, the repeal of the glide path to zero, and the repeal of the LLC loophole. Additionally, the bill would direct all state income tax receipts to K-12 education in Kansas. Under this, all other state services would have to be funded with sales and excise taxes and fees.

This bill also required a “trailer bill” (CCR SB 30) that included other tax provisions many of which lowered the income tax receipts possible under the change in brackets. The revenue raised in the bill was lower than other tax bills considered this year.

KNEA, along with other education organizations, opposed the bill (contained now in CCR SB 19). This bill failed on a vote of 32-91 and was sent back to the conference committee. Since the tax trailer bill was tethered to the school finance bill through a provision that assured if one of the bills failed, they both failed, there was no need to then vote on the trailer bill.

Back in the education conference committee, the income tax changes were stripped out of CCR SB 19 and it was sent back to the floor as a school finance bill only. With the tax policy stripped out, the report was adopted in the House on a vote of 67 to 55 and later in the Senate on a vote of 23 to 17.

KNEA believes that the education finance bill that passed is not likely to meet constitutional muster because the funding is not adequate and because there are several provisions which may be considered by the court to be disequalizing. Additionally, the bill expands the tuition tax credit program diverting state money to private schools. We know that many legislators voted against the bill for these reasons; others voted against it because they have no interest in increasing funding for schools. We also know that many legislators who agree with us on the above issues also voted for the bill because they firmly believe at this late date something must be sent to the court for review. They are counting on a court ruling to move more legislators to support a better plan perhaps in a July special session.

Tax Bill Finally Passes; Governor Vows to Veto

After the failure of the tax/school combo bill, the tax conference committee met and assembled a new tax plan (again in CCR SB 30) that restored the three income tax brackets at higher levels than now but lower than 2012, repealed the glide path and the LLC loophole, and phased back in to law some of the family-friendly deductions (medical care, property taxes paid, mortgage interest, child care) over several years. This bill raised significant new revenue – about $600 million per year – and helped Kansas families. KNEA, AFT, Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, and other allies in Rise Up Kansas threw their support behind the tax bill.

The stand-alone tax bill (CCR SB 30) was ultimately adopted by the House on a vote of 69 to 52 and then by the Senate after midnight on a vote of 26 to 14. We were delighted that a good tax plan was finally adopted but of course, there is still one more hurdle – the intransigence of the man on the second floor.

It wasn’t long before Governor Brownback let it be known that he would veto CCR SB 30. We expected this. After all, Brownback has invested much of his tenure in destroying the tax basis of Kansas, starting with the reckless and irresponsible tax cuts of 2012.

Legislators and Kansas voters know it is time to get the state’s fiscal house in order. In August and November of last year, voters threw out many of the most vocal supporters of the Brownback experiment, replacing them with moderate Republicans and Democrats. Despite Brownback’s lame duck status and persistent rumors of his pending appointment to a position in the Trump administration, he vows to leave the state in fiscal collapse. And sadly, it appears that some in the Legislature are okay with that.

At this time, after six years of falling revenue, after 19 rounds of cuts to state services from universities to K-12 education to public safety, roads and highways, and the social service safety net; after multiple credit downgrades; after putting the state in massive debt through bonding and skipping payments to KPERS, it is time to turn this ship around. It is time to get on the path to fiscal stability.

The Kansas House and Senate must stand up and override the Governor’s veto of CCR SB 30. If they do not, they risk the closure of public schools on July 1.

We need every Kansan who cares, to contact their Representatives and Senators and call upon them to override the Governor’s veto of CCR SB 30.

You can tell your legislator that you want them to override the Governor’s veto easily here.

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