SB 235, Mandatory School Opening Bill, Fails in the House

Earlier in the 2021 legislative session, Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) introduced Senate Bill 235. This bill would have required all school districts to offer a full-time, in-person learning program by March 26. It has failed in the House on a final action vote of 55 YES to 69 NO with 16 Republicans joining all the Democrats in voting NO. The bill was opposed by KNEA, KASB, USA/Kansas and a host of public school advocacy groups.

The most interesting aspect of the bill was how it was in conflict with Republican actions during the special legislative session in changing the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA). Last spring and summer, Republican leaders blasted Gov. Laura Kelly for issuing statewide orders in an effort to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Kansas. They then enacted legislation stripping the Governor of the ability to issue statewide orders, arguing that it was better to leave decisions about dealing with the pandemic in the hands of locally elected officials.

Later, when locally elected officials worked with their local health authorities and made decisions that those same Republicans didn’t like, they reacted by trying to issue a statewide mandate requiring all schools to be fully open by March 26.

While the bill passed the Senate and the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, it was voted down on the House floor.

Voting NO were all 39 Democrats and the following Republicans: Avery Anderson, Dave Baker, Jesse Borjon, Lonnie Clark, Susan Concannon, Mike Dodson, John Eplee, Charlotte Esau, Shannon Francis, David French, Ron Highland, NIck Hoheisel, Steven Howe, Russ Jennings, Steven Johnson, Jim Kelly, Marty Long, Jim Minnix, Joe Newland, Boyd Orr, Fred Patton, Rich Proehl, Brad Ralph, John Resman, Clarke Sanders, Mark Schreiber, Adam Smith, Adam Thomas, Kent Thompson, and John Wheeler.

Senate advances SB 267 removing millions of dollars in state funding for K-12 schools – Let Your Senator Know to VOTE NO!

The Senate has advanced SB 267 which would remove $570 million in state funds for schools and replace them with federal funds that are supposed to be used for COVID-19-related expenses, including the effort to help students recover from learning loss. 

Supporters of SB 267 seek to supplant state funding for schools with federal relief dollars intended to be used to support schools in response to the global pandemic. Most believe this will violate federal rules but legislative leaders seem to care more about undercutting aid to Kansas students during a crisis than they do about pesky rules.

This supplanting of federal dollars for state dollars is probably not allowed and even if it were, it would reduce funding to help students, especially those most affected by the COVID pandemic. 

As recommended by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, the bill cuts from the Governor’s budget $183.2 million in general state aid and Local Option Budget (LOB) state aid for next year (FY 2021-22), and $280.3 million the following year, 2022-23. These are the final two years of base increases under the Gannon school finance plan, which was intended to restore base operating aid to 2009 inflation-adjusted levels over a six-year phase-in. 

SB 267 also removes $52.8 million in both years for high density at-risk weighting. This weighting factor was “sunset” in state law but was extended by proviso in the Governor’s budget. As amended, SB 267 removes both the proviso and the funding. 

Finally, the bill says the reduced state aid would be replaced by the federal ESSER funding school districts are receiving for COVID-19 relief, and these decisions would be reconsidered by the Ways and Means Committee when the legislature returns for the final veto session in May. 

KNEA joins KASB and other public education advocates in opposing these changes for the following reasons: 

The Kansas State Department of Education does not believe federal COVID funds for school districts can be used to replace general state aid and weightings. The funding is supposed to be used for costs specifically tied to the pandemic. 

There is no mechanism in the bill to actually transfer federal COVID funds in the school finance formula to replace reduced state aid. 

Even if this supplanting were allowed, it would reduce the funding available for districts to deal with the extraordinary additional costs of additional learning time and special services to help students recover from issues this year.

Because high-density weighting only goes to districts with above-average percentages of free lunch eligible students, the funding reduction would be greatest for districts with the highest percentages of students in poverty. 

Because the bill removes the high-density weighting factor proviso, there is no mechanism in the bill to replace high-density aid even if permitted by federal requirements. 

In addition, the federal ESSER aid is one-time emergency funding, not on-going support, so the state will need a plan to replace those funds when they expire. If not, school funding will eventually be reduced, even if temporarily supported by federal aid. This happened after the 2008-09 Great Recession, when school funding was reduced after federal aid ended.

The bill, SB 267, was advanced on a voice vote and will be voted on final action on Wednesday, March 17. CONTACT YOUR SENATOR AND ASK HIM/HER TO VOTE NO ON SB 267.

Senate Education Committee Endorses Anti-Transgender Legislation

Despite having no evidence of a problem, the Senate Education Committee joined several other states in supporting a ban on transgender girls from participating on girls sports teams. Senate Bill 208 was opposed in committee by Democrats Dinah Sykes and Pat Pettey and Republican Brenda Dietrich who said, “I just feel like I want to choose compassion and local control today, so I’ll be a no.”

Pettey noted, “Bullying has been a No. 1 discussion issue in this legislative body for years, and we have asked the state board to include it and curriculum in service and reporting. Now we are setting up a mechanism to support bullying through this legislation.”

Opponents of the bill, including KNEA, noted the bill would marginalize transgender girls and lead to more mental health challenges. Suicide remains a crisis among transgendered individuals.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association already regulates participation on sports teams and has noted that of all the girls participating in sports in Kansas, only five are transgender girls.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.