It’s been a quiet few days in the Kansas Statehouse with both chambers moving to pro-forma sessions Monday and Tuesday so that legislators could avoid coming in to Topeka during this dreadful cold snap.

While many legislators did work remotely and some committees continued meeting, there were also numerous cancellations due to the fact that voting has to be done while in the Statehouse physically. Even on remote meetings, legislators may not use virtual backgrounds while voting; the committee chairpersons must see that they are physically in their offices. So, work on passing bills was mostly put on hold.

Returning on Wednesday, both chambers worked a few bills and some committees continued to meet.

K-12 Budget Committee begins education budget hearings; first up – The Kansas State Department of Education

This year agency budget deliberations are happening in standing committees rather than in subcommittees of the standing Appropriations Committee. As such, the K-12 Education Budget Committee began hearings on the education budget with presentations from the legislative staff and KSDE officials.

Starting with the Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget, KSDE presented an “appeal” to the committee, asking them to consider restoring some programs that were not funded in the Governor’s proposal. Much of the discussion on this first day was around those items. Among the appeals were funding for the mentor teacher program, the teacher of the year program, and additional funding for the mental health program. Legislators questioned why the Governor did not include those programs.

The special COVID-19 funds provided by the federal government were also discussed. At one point Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) suggested that COVID funds could be used to maintain and expand the mental health program as questions around student mental health have arisen during the pandemic. But Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), one of the creators of the program and a staunch advocate for mental health services in schools, pushed back, saying that the COVID funds were temporary funding the would expire, leaving the state having to fill the hole or slash the program in the future.

Discussions will continue Thursday when the Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas school districts have been asked to appear. More time will be allowed for questions to the KSDE staff as well. The hearing will continue either Monday or Tuesday of next week when others are welcome to provide testimony.

Representative Tarwater suggests stripping Wichita and Kansas City of $300 million in COVID relief funds

Rep. Sean Tarwater

Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) says the Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas school districts are “not teaching anyone.” He asked KSDE if those two districts can be stripped of the COVID relief funds and sent to other districts that, at least in Tarwater’s mind, are teaching students.

“We have on the COVID 19, that’s also on this testimony,  we have given well over $100 million to Kansas City Kansas school district and well over $200 million to Wichita neither of which are in-person learning right now. Can we remove those funds and send them to the schools that are actually working to teach the kids in person? The intent was to get the kids back in school as quickly as possible; I mean that’s 300 of 500 million and they’re not teaching anyone. Can we change that? Can we switch that stuff around?”

Representative Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee meeting, 2/16/2021

We don’t know what else we could say. Tarwater’s words speak for themselves.

Senator Bud Estes passes away.

Senator Bud Estes (R-Dodge City) passed away on Feb. 13 after a long illness. He was re-elected to his seat this past November but was not able to come to Topeka for the session.

Estes is remembered as a kind and gentle man who treated others with genuine courtesy and respect.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to Senator Estes’ family at this difficult time.