At-Risk funding still being challenged

On Monday, KNEA testified in opposition to HB 2540 which would require a school district to transfer the portion of State Foundation Aid that is directly attributable to the at-risk student weighting and high-density at-risk student weighting to the school district’s at-risk education fund. Additionally, the Kansas State Board of Education would be required to provide a list of approved at-risk educational programs to each school district. No expenditures could be made from a school district’s at-risk education fund for any program or service that is not included on the list of approved at-risk educational programs.

Representatives of the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) and the Blue Valley school district also testified in opposition to HB 2540, citing the restrictions placed on at-risk funds would hamper districts from working with a variety of students that fall under the heading of “at-risk.” The lone proponent was former Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neil representing the Kansas Policy Institute.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) who used the Legislative Post Audit At Risk Report as the basis to restrict the use of at-risk funds to certain approved programs. It was pointed out by KNEA that the bill would eliminate the ability of school districts to implement programs such as Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) without going through the approval process. Under questioning by Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita), legislative staff stated that the prohibition of programs like JAG would not be in line with the bill as currently written. The end result would end the ability of districts to pilot programs for eventual implementation.

The Senate Education Committee also took up at-risk funding, beginning to work SB 271 which addresses the sunset to the high-density at-risk weighting in the school finance formula. Currently, high density at-risk is set to sunset on July 1, 2020. SB 271 would remove this weighting’s expiration date. The committee has decided to use SB 271 as a vehicle to restrict the way school districts could use at-risk funds much like the efforts of the House Education Budget Committee’s work on HB 2540. While today’s work centered around the sunset date, more amendments were presented to restrict the use of the at-risk funds, but the amendment was not addressed as the committee ran out of time. The chair stated the committee will continue their work on SB 271 later.

Mental Health Parity Bill gets a hearing

House Bill 2459 had a hearing in the House Insurance Committee. The bill is meant to address the suicide and substance abuse epidemics in Kansas and around the United States. The legislature had focused on teen suicide, passing the Jason Flatt Act and the school mental health pilot project in order to help teens who exhibit behaviors that are warning signs of potential suicide.

Sadly, suicide is a growing problem among all populations. Particularly alarming are statistics showing dramatic increases among police officers, military personnel, farmers, and millennials. For those ages 10 to 34, suicide is the second highest cause of death in Kansas and is the 10th leading cause of death overall in our state. On average, one person dies by suicide every 20 hours in Kansas.

HB 2459 would require insurance companies to cover mental health and substance abuse issues the same way they cover physical health challenges. Medical necessity would be determined by the medical professionals caring for individuals. Pre-certification by the insurance company in order to access care would no longer be necessary.

The hearing was quite emotional with parents, family members, and mental health care professionals urging the committee to adopt the bill. The opponents were the big insurance companies doing business in Kansas.

A high-stakes citizenship test?

The House Education Committee held a hearing on a bill by committee chairman Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center) that would require all high school students to pass a civics test based on the citizenship test given to immigrants seeking to become American citizens.

Huebert and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt spoke in favor of the bill with Huebert saying he wanted to move this concept from “idea to the Governor’s desk.” Attorney General Schmidt was more tempered, suggesting that people generally needed to be more conversant about civics and that he had pursued a similar idea in the past.

Opposing the bill were KASB and KNEA, both of whom suggested the bill ignores the fact that all Kansas high school students are required to take and pass classes in history and government and that those classes are based on high standards. KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti pointed out that under current law and regulation, a student had to take a government class and pass the class tests to get credit. Without that credit, a student could not graduate. Both organizations also argued whether or not it was the legislature’s place to take on curriculum and assessment, areas that should be under the control of the State Board of Education.

Desetti also suggested that perhaps all candidates for public office should be required to pass such a test. Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) asked the chairman if he would be open to such an amendment!