The second half of the session is starting to gain momentum but moving like a train up a hill, which is probably a good thing. Hastily passed bills debated in the darkness of night seldom end in good policy, so slowly easing into the last half of the session is a welcomed dynamic. 

Even when times change, the issues remain the same. With little or nothing making it to Governor Kelly’s desk yet, the issues of vouchers and KPERS reform are still high on our list of interest. These two issues, in particular, are getting some attention of late. 

Clay Wirestone of the Kansas Reflector wrote an editorial on Saturday, March 9. Part of that editorial reads:

Guess who’s back?

It’s our old friend, Mr. Flat Tax! And his very best friend, Ms. School Voucher! Yes, just in case you had grown bored of Kansas GOP leadership relentlessly beating the drum for policies that take from the poor to give to the rich, they’ve decided to double down.

You might recall that leaders’ preferred flat tax plan went down in a fiery crash on Feb. 20, as the House sustained Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. Yet here comes Senate Bill 539, introduced Thursday by Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker…

The new flat tax bill has a hearing set for Tuesday in the Senate tax committee.

But that’s not all! A big school voucher plan flopped last session, but Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, has rolled up her sleeves to try again with Senate Bill 509. The refundable tax credit plan costs $240 million and, as critics point out, doesn’t do much for children in the 60-plus Kansas counties that don’t have private schools.

If you wonder if such a plan could possibly be in good faith, I invite you to read my column about such plans from the last session. It turns out that rich families benefit the most…

Just to remind you, these same lawmakers could be debating and passing Medicaid expansion and medical marijuana right now. They could be exploring innovative ways to use the state’s unprecedented surplus to benefit everyone.

Instead, they’re pushing for the same tired, trickle-down retreads.

We do not have a stance on medical marijuana, but we do support Medicaid expansion because of the positive impact it would have on children in the classroom. Add KPERS reform to the list of things, amongst others, that we’d love to see the legislature spend its time on instead of vouchers and flat tax bills that are destined for ultimate veto.

Read his full editorial here: 

Kansas NEA will submit testimony voicing our concern over the flat tax bill (Senate Bill 539) that Mr. Wirestone mentions in his editorial. It’s likely to have a hearing on Tuesday of this week. 

On the issue of vouchers and the bill mentioned in the Wirestone editorial (Senate Bill 509), KNEA’s Lauren Tice Miller submitted strong opposition testimony during the bill’s hearing last week. 

In her testimony, Lauren pointed out the financial impact that such a proposal could have on the public school system. She states:

Although the title of this bill makes it sound like a great opportunity for Kansas students, the reality is this is a nonpublic school tuition reimbursement program paid for on the backs of Kansas public schools, their students, and their families…

If every student currently enrolled in accredited private schools receives this refundable tax credit, it is a total of $107,086,500 in new money to be allocated to the education budget to cover this line item.

If just half of the students currently enrolled in non-accredited private schools receive this refundable tax credit, an additional $75,162,600 would be needed

KNEA does not oppose private and home schools but rather the siphoning of public funds from the public to private schools, particularly when it’s built on unfair and untrue assumptions and assertions.

We also oppose that voucher scheme bills such as this one are always predicated upon the assumption that public schools and, in turn, public school teachers are currently failing to meet the needs of Kansas children; therefore, they need to be sent to non-public schools where, allegedly, all students are thriving.

As legislators, you often ask about the return on investment related to programs. You question whether public schools are producing results worthy of your investment. You ask what the relationship is between spending and learning outcomes. Yet, in this bill, you are willing to implement a refundable tax credit program and give away hundreds of millions in taxpayer money for schools that will never report any results to you.

We will continue to monitor and oppose this bill and any others that fall into the voucher family.

In addition to our upcoming and previous testimony mentioned above, we also had the opportunity to testify on KPERS reform on two occasions last week. The Senate Committee on Education and the House Committee on Financial Institutions and Pensions both heard “sibling bills” on KPERS Reform. Senate Bill 479 and House Bill 2659 both moved any school district employee who is required to hold a certificate to teach in any school district and any teacher or instructor in any technical college, community college, or the Institute of Technology at Washburn University from KPERS Tier 3 to KPERS Tier 2. For further clarification of what employees were impacted, it was understood that in addition to the definition above, the employee also had to have the word teacher in their title. 

While we are very supportive of moving teachers from KPERS Tier 3 to KPERS Tier 2, we testified neutrally against the bill because it did not include all educators in such a carveout. 

The Kansas Reflector reported on the Senate Bill 479 hearing and included part of our testimony in their story. It reads in part:

Timothy Graham, director of the Kansas National Education Association’s government relations and legislative affairs, pointed to state vacancies during a Tuesday hearing on the potential change. In fall 2023, the state had an estimated 1,810 teacher vacancies, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. In fall 2022, there were 1,650 reported vacancies. 

“Educators have accepted lower compensation to follow their passion,” Graham said. “They’ve consistently endured stagnating wages on top of that. They’re facing growing public demands and disciplinary situations in the classroom. … And now, like many other college graduates, teachers are starting their careers with tremendous student loan debt. Ensuring that they have a dignified and comfortable retirement after years of public service is simply the right thing to do.”

Read the entire story here: