Representative Greg Lewis resigns for health reasons

In very sad news today, Rep. Greg Lewis (R-St. John) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. Lewis won re-election in November after a bruising primary. In December he found himself with vision problems, feeling lightheaded and unstable. During the holidays, he found himself facing a diagnosis of a serious cancerous brain tumor that grows rapidly.

Facing surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, Lewis realized he needed to focus all his energy on his health and family.

Rep. Greg Lewis has been a steadfast supporter of public schools, school employees, and public policy that supports a good quality of life in Kansas. We will miss Greg tremendously and pray that both Greg and his family might have the strength to face this challenge.

A stipend for every teacher?

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2233, a bill that would require all school districts to provide a stipend of $500 to every teacher for the purpose of buying classroom supplies.

Sounds good? Well, not necessarily. The bill does not include any funding so school districts would be forced to take this money out of other funding sources. So they might have to reduce money for pay raises, or covering health insurance premium increases, or providing more classroom instructional support.

Further, the bill is written in such a restrictive fashion that the $500 can be used for essentially only those things that are on supply list sent to parents every year. The stipend cannot be used to purchase anything that is not entirely consumed in the school year it was bought. So if you want to buy books for your classroom library or a class set of novels, you can’t. And even though food products are entirely consumed, food is specifically prohibited by the bill. So no use trying to use the stipend for cooking projects in your classroom; forget the Kindergarten Thanksgiving feast!

Three things need to happen before this bill is a good idea: 1) schools need to be fully funded as per the Gannon decision; 2) an additional appropriation must be made to pay for this bill ($17.350 million); and 3) the bill needs to be rewritten such that the teacher can decide for him/herself what is necessary to move children to higher levels of achievement.

Should Kansas lower the food sales tax?

Kansas is one of only seven states that imposes the full sales tax on groceries and our rate is the second highest in the nation.

House Bill 2261 would lower the state food sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5%. The bill had a hearing in the House Tax Committee. KNEA has a position supporting the reduction or repeal of the food sales tax. Our testimony in support of the bill focused on the impact of the food sales tax on low-income families and their ability to purchase nutritious fresh foods for children.

Others supporting the bill included rural communities, pediatricians, healthy food advocates, dietitians, and local health departments. Opponents were the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Kansas Action for Children testified as neutral, telling the Committee that there were other options to do the same thing such as expansion of the food sales tax credit or making that credit fully refundable.

No action was taken on the bill at this time.