The 2024 session of the Kansas Legislature has officially started. The 125-member Kansas House and the 40-member Senate, both gaveled in on Monday, Jan. 8. The session is statutorily set to be 90 days. If recent trends continue, we anticipate the session will adjourn sometime in May. This includes a three-week break in April. 

The first week of every session sees the Statehouse come alive with legislators, staff, advocates, stakeholders, and everyday Kansans. Typically, committees begin to meet and discuss reorganization and rules. Often, committees have informational meetings and hearings about issues that will be deliberated in the upcoming months. The governor almost always issues the State of the State address before a joint evening session of the House and Senate. The governor’s budget director rolls out his/her budget recommendations for the following fiscal year that starts in July.

House Committee on Education 

The House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Adam Thomas, R-Olathe, with Ranking Democratic member, and KNEA member, Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, met during the first week of the session for an informational hearing on early literacy/dyslexia. Dr. Laurie Curtis, of the Kansas State Department of Education, gave the presentation. 

Watch the House Education hearing here: 

Learn more about the House Education Committee, including bills now in committee and committee members, here: 

House K-12 Education Budget Committee

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, with Ranking Democratic Member, and current KNEA member, Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, met during the first week of the session for an informational hearing on a set of July audits conducted by the Legislative Division of Post Audit. 

Watch the K-12 Education Budget Committee hearing here:  

Learn more about the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, including bills now in committee and committee makeup, here: 

Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee is chaired by Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, with Ranking Democratic member, Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa. The committee met on during the first week of the session. The Senate Education Committee joined the House Education Committee later for the early literacy/dyslexia presentation mentioned above. The link is above as well.

Learn more about the Senate Education Committee, including bills now in committee and committee makeup, here: 

Gov. Kelly’s Annual State of The State Address

The annual State of the State address is given in the House chamber before a packed audience that includes members of the Kansas House, Senate, legislative staff, statewide elected officials, special guests and other dignitaries. The governor reports on the state, or status, of Kansas and lays out their vision and agenda for the upcoming legislative session.  

KNEA President Sherri Schwanz and member-leaders Jonathon Eshnaur, Leigh Anne Rogers, Mike Harris, and Lori Greenfield were Gov. Kelly’s special guests.

The message was Kansas is thriving and Gov. Kelly’s topline issues include Medicaid expansion, public education, early childhood, tax relief, and water. 

It is great to have a governor prioritize public education as a top issue. Though we’re not surprised, we are still pleased Gov. Kelly laid out the following as part of her overall message and agenda:

  • Kansas students are making incredible progress as a result of 5 years of full funding, the high school graduation rate is at record highs and more students are going on to college or getting work credentials than ever before.
  • Gov. Kelly’s budget proposal fully funds Kansas’ public K-12 schools for the sixth year in a row: This fulfills her continued promise to support our schools.
  • The governor’s push to put Kansas back on track to fully fund special education: “Our schools must have the resources they need to educate all Kansas kids,” she said.
  • A strong stand against any attempt to send public dollars to private schools: “Vouchers will crush our rural schools, plain and simple,” Gov. Kelly declared.

See the full video of Gov. Kelly’s State of the State address here: 

Gov. Kelly’s FY 2025 Budget Proposal

Adam Profitt, Gov. Kelly’s budget director, presented her budget proposal to the Kansas Legislature and members of the public later in the first week of the session. the governor’s budget is balanced and funds schools at the constitutional levels mandated by the Kansas Supreme Court. The budget adds minimal base spending increases and prioritizes the use of one-time revenues for one-time expenditures.

See the budget proposal rollout, and questions and comments from Kansas legislators here: The presentation starts at TIMESTAMP: 10:07:35

KNEA testimony to the Special Education Taskforce

Although the SPED Taskforce technically met on Friday, Jan. 5, before the 2024 legislative session convened, it still makes our list of notable happenings. 

This unique task force was created statutorily by the legislature to tackle the issue of chronic underfunding of the excess costs of special education. The model is unique in the sense that real-life special education practitioners have been appointed to serve alongside legislators to discuss this issue.  

In an ongoing attempt to elevate the voices of KNEA members, KNEA headquarters staff worked with KNEA UniServ directors, KNEA local leaders, and other members to coordinate thoughtful testimony from several members.  

Testifying in person were the following KNEA members: 

  • Jonathan Eshnaur, Special Education Teacher, Olathe NEA

Written testimony was also provided by: 

  • Brooke Wisley, Special Education Teacher, United Teachers of Wichita
  • Thomas Barker, Social Studies Teacher, Lawrence Education Association
  • Jerald J. Braun, Special Education Teacher, Hays NEA

Timothy Graham, KNEA Director of Government Relations and Legislative Affairs, also testified.

Watch the Jan. 5 hearing here: 

Watch Tim Graham’s testimony at TIMESTAMP: 1:46:25

Watch Jonathan Eshnaur’s testimony at TIMESTAMP: 1:49:55

Learn more about the SPED Taskforce here: 

KNEA Members at the Statehouse

Recognizing that our members are our greatest assets when telling the real-time stories that can convince legislators to support our issues, KNEA has embarked upon a pilot program that has a goal of bringing more than 50 educators to the Statehouse in 2024 to help lobby legislators. 

Wednesday, Jan. 10, was our maiden voyage. Jonathon Eshnaur (Olathe NEA), Leigh Anne Rogers (Olathe NEA), Mike Harris (UTW), and Lori Greenfield (Lawrence EA) traveled to Topeka to help the KNEA Government Relations team begin to build a program called “At the Table.” This quartet of member-leaders participated in a couple of brainstorming sessions to make suggestions on appropriate training and resources for members to be effective messengers of our voices while talking to legislators.

In addition to attending Gov. Kelly’s State of The State address as mentioned previously, the four members had a small group lunch with Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes and her staff to discuss issues related to education and the teaching profession. 

KNEA is looking to replicate this several times throughout the 2024 session for members across the state. 

KNEA testimony on Senate Bill 36, the “Crown Act” 

For the first official submission of testimony to 2024 session, KNEA Government Relations staff testified on the bill that is referred to as the “Crown Act.” 

SB 36 would amend the Kansas Act Against Discrimination by adding “ancestry” and “protective hairstyles” to the list of terms used in the act. “Ancestry” would be defined as inclusive traits historically associated with a person’s ancestry, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles. “Protective hairstyles” would include but would not be limited to hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.

In the second iteration of testimony on this bill, KNEA voiced its support of the bill on two major fronts. First and foremost, being on the right side of racial justice, and second, KNEA cited the all too common dynamic of front-line educators being forced to enforce bad policy with little or no help from administrators.

KNEA testimony said the following:

Not only is this the right thing to do for the students who have been targeted, but from an educational perspective, this bill will help prevent top-down discriminatory behaviors that are ultimately left to the educator to enforce. This dynamic ultimately drives a wedge between educators, students, student families, and the communities that rely on the public education system as well as leaving the educator in the position of liability. 

We look forward to seeing this bill advance. 

KNEA members in Topeka for the 2024 Advocacy Retreat

The KNEA Government Relations team partnered with KNEA Governance to host its annual advocacy retreat on Jan. 6. The event opened with a welcome from KNEA President Sherri Schwanz followed by interim Executive Director Peggy Cochran telling her impressive story of advocacy and the importance of staying engaged. The theme of her presentation was that we can NOT go in reverse. 

Susana O’Daniel, NEA Manager of Federal Partnerships, talked about the importance of advocacy and engagement, not only from her perspective, but also from her NEA position. She also discussed her role as Government Relations Director in Arkansas under heavy opposition. 

The afternoon included presentations by Government Relations directors Tim Graham and Lauren Tice Miller. 

Tim’s presentation included a preview of the upcoming legislative session, the political environment in Topeka and how that will likely impact us moving forward. We wrapped up by spending a great deal of time talking about the importance of working across party lines, building relationships to meet our goals and objectives, and implementing our strategy and tactics.

Lauren gave a rousing presentation about the tremendously promising results of the 2023 elections, particularly as they relate to local school boards. She reported KNEA had a better than 80% success rate of candidates who ran in local school board races that carried a recommendation of support. She wrapped up by talking about how we must build on these gains to keep unreasonable people from making decisions that are detrimental to our educators, students, students’ families, and the communities that rely on public schools.

Members of governance and management, KNEA board members, UniServ chairs and vice chairs, KPAC members, UniServ Directors and administrative assistants, all chipped in to make the day a success.

KNEA Higher Education members participated in a budget briefing from Gov. Kelly’s staff

The KNEA Government Relations team facilitated a conversation regarding Gov. Kelly’s budget recommendations on higher education. Zach Vincent, the governor’s Deputy Government Affairs Director and the Kelly administration’s higher education policy lead, was KNEA’s guest in a virtual discussion about the higher education portion of the budget. His presentation shed light on the budget process and the thoughts that guided the decisions that went into the crafting of the FY 2025 higher education budget proposal.

First bill headed to Gov. Kelly’s desk – Veto expected

Rarely does the legislature move fast enough to send legislation to the governor’s desk for consideration as early as they just did. On Wednesday, Jan. 17, the Senate passed the reconfigured tax proposal (HB 2284) on a vote of 25-11 (two votes short of what would be required to override a veto by the governor).  On Thursday, Jan. 18, the House passed the measure 81-37. There were several members absent, and one Democrat voted with the Republicans. 

Gov. Kelly is expected to veto the bill, setting the stage for a fight in the very near future. It looks like the House will eventually get the 84 votes to override her veto. The Senate will be the steeper climb for the proponents of the measure.

The bill had several provisions in it including a flat tax that is widely considered unfair for everyone but the wealthy. KNEA opposed similar tax bills during the 2023 session on the grounds of fairness and feasibility. Previous overreaching tax schemes have caused tremendous challenges for public education and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past.