Last day sees little debate but critical legislation passed

When the legislature convened on Friday morning there were three major issues outstanding for public education. They did not have a school finance plan, a maintenance of effort problem in higher education funding threatened to cut off federal funds for education in both the K-12 and higher education systems, and the 20 mill property tax levy for schools had not been passed.

The school finance and budget bills saw little debate – only one of the three major issues got mired in controversy.

But by 1:40 a.m. on Saturday, all three issues were addressed.

School Finance

Earlier in the session, the Senate killed SB 175, Kristey Williams’ (R-Augusta) funding/policy bill for K-12 education. Williams and her Republican colleagues on the House K-12 Education Budget Committee had created a “Frankenstein” school finance bill that, while funding the K-12 system, would have enacted a massive “education savings account” school voucher scheme and slashed funding for any school that had to move to remote learning. 

The bill had barely passed the House on a 64 to 59 vote and then was rejected twice by the Senate – first on a tie vote of 19 to 19 and then after a motion to reconsider the next day on a vote of 20 to 20.

During this past week, negotiations between House and Senate leadership and Governor Laura Kelly helped guide the conference committee to an agreement (HB 2134) that could be endorsed by all. 

The voucher scheme was jettisoned and a proposed expansion of the current “tax credit scholarship” voucher program was scaled back. The funding promises of the Gannon settlement were fully funded and a number of other policy ideas were rolled into the bill. 

In summary, the school finance bill:

  • Includes K-12 education funding to meet the Gannon agreement is provided for three years,
  • Codifies the Foster Care Report Card – This did not get through the 2020 session when it was shut down early due to the pandemic but later put into effect through an executive order by Governor Kelly (SB 51),
  • Expands the criteria for at-risk students to include “a student with dyslexia or has characteristics of dyslexia,”
  • Allows school districts at the discretion of the local board of education to provide tuition and fees for students in concurrent or dual enrollment programs (SB 32),
  • Provides a tuition waiver for foster care children in concurrent or dual enrollment programs,
  • Requires school districts to use a needs assessment in budgeting and require school district budgets to allocate sufficient monies in a manner reasonably calculated to ensure all students achieve the “Rose Capacities” (HB 2067),
  • Expands the tuition tax credit scholarship/voucher program by making students on free and reduced lunch (currently free lunch only) eligible and making such students from any K-8 school eligible (HB 2068),
  • Requires the Kansas State Department of Education to prepare one-page accountability reports for all accredited non-public schools in the state and also requires the KSDE to include accredited non-public schools in the longitudinal achievement report submitted to the Governor and legislature each year,
  • Extends the high-density at-risk weighting through June 30, 2024,
  • Limits at-risk fund expenditures to programs listed on the KSDE website while also allowing for three-year provision programs to be funded (SB 173),
  • Expands the availability of free pre-ACT, ACT, and ACT WorkKeys assessments to all students in public and accredited non-public schools (SB 63), and
  • Makes recommendation to school districts that they use COVID relief funds to provide hourly employees and teachers with a stipend of up to $500, providing the employee worked the 2020-21 school year and was employed for the 2021-22 school year.

The bill also puts restrictions on the use of remote learning in the future. A local school district would be allowed to provide remote learning services for up to 40 term hours to any individual student when the student cannot reasonably attend in-person due to injury, illness, or another extraordinary circumstance. 

Remote learning for up to 240 term hours would be allowed upon application to the state board of education due to disaster which resulted in widespread property damage or other condition restricting the use of the school. This may be extended by the state board of education if conditions continue to limit the use of the school. 

If a district does not have a waiver approving remote learning, the funding for any student on remote learning would be reduced to $5,000. 

The bill was adopted by the Senate on a vote of 35 to 4 and by the House on a vote of 107 to 9. The Governor has indicated she will sign it.

For more detailed information, you can read the conference committee report here.

Maintenance of Effort

The legislature was informed this week that funding in the state budget for higher education would be insufficient to meet the maintenance of effort requirements of the federal government. In order to continue to receive federal funds, states must keep up their share of funding for programs. Should the state not “maintain effort,” the federal government can withhold funds for the program.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly

The state budget that had been adopted by the legislature before the April break and included the budget of post-secondary education came up short by a little more than $100 million. The state was also informed new guidelines from the federal government would allow the sanctions (withholding of aid) to apply to both higher education and K-12 education and would put all the COVID aid at risk.

The Governor issued a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would provide half the shortfall – $53 million – and seek a waiver from the federal government allowing the state to fulfill the obligation later. This would show a good faith effort and commit to funding. 

The House Appropriations Committee, however, on a 10 to 9 vote, rejected the GBA instead opting to provide $20 million and seek the waiver. Most observers expected that this would not work. 

Later, during conference committee negotiations with the Senate Ways and Means Committee on the omnibus budget bill, the House conferees agreed to include the GBA. The omnibus budget bill (SB 159) was adopted on a vote of 98 to 21 in the House and 26 to 12 in the Senate. 

We believe this will adequately address the issue of maintenance of effort and protect federal funding for both K-12 and post-secondary education. 

The 20 mill property tax levy for schools

The statewide 20 mill property tax levy for K-12 schools accounts for some $750 million in school funding and must be reauthorized by law every two years. Normally this does not get mired in controversy but not this year!

Throughout the session, the 20 mill levy was batted about, appearing here and there as committees talked about education but not actually showing up in a bill. It wound up in the tax committee and was inserted into HB 2313. The problem is that HB 2313, during conference negotiations, was loaded up with other controversial issues.

The underlying bill would enact the COVID-19 Retail Storefront Property Tax Relief Act providing for property tax reimbursements in the event of shutdowns or capacity limitations due to disaster emergency declarations. It also included some changes to a motor vehicle property tax exemption for National Guard members.

In a conference committee report, it also included an LPA audit of the economic impact of government and non-profit competition with for-profit businesses, a “Golden Years Homestead Property Tax Freeze Act” giving property tax relief to low-income seniors and disabled veterans, and the 20 mill levy for schools. 

But then they added a property tax exemption for health clubs. This exemption has been sought for years by the owner of Genesis Health Clubs who believes the exemption for the YMCA has been harmful to him. (And did we mention he is a major contributor to legislative campaigns?) The idea was that tying this to the critical 20 mill levy extension would finally get it passed.

That didn’t work. The issue is so controversial that the Senate rejected the conference committee report on a vote of 11 to 27. (A conference committee report in a House bill is voted on first by the Senate.)

This action sent the bill back to conference where both the health club exemption and the “Golden Years” homestead property tax freeze were removed. The new conference committee report was then adopted on a vote of 35 to 0 in the Senate and 108 to 3 in the House. 

More to come

This was just the last day! We have more to fill you in on but first we’ll need a little extra sleep and then to celebrate Mother’s Day like the rest of America.

We will provide a report on the resolution of other legislative issues next week.