2017 Legislative Session
I am on the Board of Directors for the Kansas Superintendent's Association. Here is our united message concerning HB2410:
Funding for HB2410
On behalf of the Kansas School Superintendents Association (KSSA), we want to reach out and share a couple of items. First, thank you for all your legislative efforts. Your voices are being heard and change appears to be on the horizon. Second, the job is not finished. Through the leadership of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee Chair Larry Campbell, the committee has developed a school finance plan, HB 2410, which over five-years increases school budgets $751,863,231.
KSSA believes this proposal should only be considered a solid start to a possible school finance formula that meets the diverse needs of our students. Last spring, the Kansas State Board of Education recommended an increase in school funding in the amount of $893,497,231 in order to fund the initiatives found in the new KansasCan vision and the accountability of the new Kansas Educational Systems Accreditation. The Kansas State Board recommended the restoration of adequate funding occur over a two-year period. KSSA believes this increase is more indicative of the funding needs, knowing the current expectations being placed on school districts in the coming years. Rolling the additional funding over five years causes great concern, as this would mean three different legislative bodies would have to keep the promise of funding schools and a good portion of the increase would be absorbed by the cost of inflation.
As you continue to share, discuss, and answer questions with your local legislators, please know the message KSSA will be sharing with legislative leadership is the (restoration of adequate funding) increase should be $893,497,231. We understand that legislators are facing projected shortfalls in future years and may need to spread out the increase over two to three years. If you haven’t already, KSSA would encourage you and your board to have an implementation plan ready to share with your legislators. We believe it is important your representatives understand how your district would infuse these dollars into the classroom, program changes, staffing additions, and other academic enrichment opportunities for students.
April 2 - April 8 __________________________
March 26 - April 1 __________________________
March 19 - March 25 __________________________
March 12 - March 18 __________________________
February 26 - March 4 __________________________
The Senate and the House are both adjourned until March 6
February 19 - February 25 __________________________
Both opponents and supporters of Sub. for House Bill 2178 said it would raise the revenue necessary to protect K-12 funding from cuts and get the state back on sound financial footing.
The legislation was approved by bi-partisan coalitions, 22-18 on Friday in the Senate and 76-48 one day earlier in the House.
To try to kill the bill would require a veto from Brownback. His staff said he will study the measure.
February 12 - February 18 __________________________
February 5 - February 11 __________________________
January 29 - February 4 __________________________
January 22-28 _________________________________________________
As we enter week three of the
legislative session, education bills are starting to move forward. Tomorrow,
the House Appropriation Committee will hear testimony on HB 2052, which
recommends across the board budget cuts for all state agencies,
HB 2052 includes cuts
over the next three years in an effort to balance the state budget. Although
this bill doesn't have momentum yet, I would encourage you
to consider having conversations with your local legislator on how
budget cuts might impact your district, especially cuts to this year’s
The K-12 budget committee introduced two A&M
bills, both were introduced by Chairman Campbell. The bills introduced
would establish another Health Insurance Pool and a Purchasing Pool, neither of these bills have been scheduled for a hearing,
only introduced to the committee.
House Taxation wraps up Hearing on HB2023
Chairman Steven Johnson of the House Taxation Committee closed the hearing on HB2023 Monday evening after hearing from more than 20 conferees over a two-day period that started last Thursday.
The bill would repeal the income tax exemptions that were offered to LLC’s, Partnerships, & S-Corporations as part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cut package.
Much of the testimony offered Monday was from opponents of the repeal, primarily focusing on the purported economic benefits of the tax cut to growing businesses and pointing out that there are many different tax incentive policies for businesses already. The committee members were pointed in their questions and comments throughout the process, questioning the real impact on business growth.
Proponents of the repeal legislation included small business owners, a coalition of Chambers of Commerce from throughout the state and two former legislators, Mark Hutton of Wichita and Jeff King of Independence.
The committee will turn to income tax changes Tuesday afternoon and will continue to look at other income tax issues and ideas before voting on the bill. Chairman Johnson, R-Assaria, said he hopes to be able to move the bill out of committee the first week of February.
The House taxation committee meets at 3:30 p.m. in 346-S; you can follow along online through the legislative livestream at this link Room 346-S Livestream.
January 15-21 _________________________________________________
January 8-14 _________________________________________________
January 1-7 _________________________________________________
The legislative session starts Monday (Jan. 9).
Gov. Brownback will deliver the State of the State address on Tuesday and then release his proposed budget on Wednesday.
With K-12 spending making up approximately half of the state budget, education leaders are concerned about possible cuts. Brownback, however, has said he will not propose across-the-board budget cuts, although he has declined to reveal any details of his plan.
A coalition of teachers, early childhood advocates, highway contractors and state employees has released a plan to balance the budget by reversing most of Brownback’s tax changes.
Rise Up Kansas would reinstate the highest tax bracket of 6.45 percent for Kansans earning more than $40,000 per year; increase the gas tax by 11 cents per gallon; repeal the state income tax exemption for LLCs and other businesses; repeal the cap in state spending and phased-out elimination of the state income tax and start phasing down the state sales tax on food.
PREVIOUS NEWS: (2015-16) --------------------------------------------
- Rep Don Hineman's Feb. 5 report -
Don is a "Friend to Education", and always does a nice job with his newsletters.
The State Finance Council shorted and denied school district requests for additional state funding.
Getting KPERS on the Right Track - Glen Suppes
I am a member of KSSA and have been appointed to represent the superintendent's association by serving on the Kansas Association for Education Advocates (KAEA). We started the KAEA organization about 2 years ago. It is comprised of only 9 members, but they represent KSDE, KSSA, USA, KASB and KNEA. The State Board as well as the largest teacher's organization, the administrators organization, and the school board association are all represented at the table.
KAEA was the avenue that brought teachers, administrators and school board officials together in an effort to compromise the terms of the Professional Negotiated Agreement. Legislation was passed that came directly from this group.
Now the superintendents have begun working on the current KPERS issue with the hopes of providing legislation to save our educators. With concerns about the changes in KPERS, we fear the teacher shortage will become even more severe. After we lay some of the groundwork, we hope to bring the issue to KAEA with legislative support.
A few weeks ago about 4 superintendents met with Senator King in southwest Kansas. On Monday, August 17th, I will be hosting a meeting in Lindsborg with Representative Johnson to discuss our concerns about the limits on "working after retirement". We'll have 4 superintendents and the KSSA executive director present at the meeting. The concerns we share as an organization certainly reflect basically the same concerns of the teacher's organization.
Let's hope we can get the ball moving in the right direction and gain legislative support.
July 27 - Aug. 2 _________________________________________________
July 20 - July 26 _________________________________________________
July 5 - July 11 _________________________________________________
June 28 - July 4 _________________________________________________
Kansas Supreme Court stays three-judge panel's decision; vows quick resolution of equity issue
The Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed a decision by a lower court that would have increased school funding by approximately $50 million immediately.
Last week, a three-judge panel found the state’s new block grant school funding system unconstitutional and issued a temporary order that would require funding based on student weightings under the former formula.
The panel ordered the state to restore approximately $50 million in local option budget and capital outlay equalization aid removed under the block grant exclusively from lower wealth districts.
Here is a link to the panel’s decision.
On Monday, June 29, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed a motion to block the panel's ruling.
Schmidt said the panel’s order was unprecedented and accused it of playing politics because it delivered its opinion just moments after the Legislature officially ended the 2015 Legislative Session on Friday, June 26. Here is a link to Schmidt’s motion.
But earlier Tuesday, June 30, attorneys representing schools suing the state filed a motion asking the court to enforce the decision from the three-judge panel.
“The state has been repeatedly warned of the dangers of continuing down the path of unconstitutional funding,” attorneys for Schools for Fair Funding argued.
Late Tuesday, as the fiscal year ended, the state Supreme Court said the state made a basic showing required to support its request for a stay of the panel’s order. In the one-page order, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said, “The court recognizes the need for swift resolution of the equity portion of this case. An order soon will be issued outlining an expedited briefing schedule and setting an oral argument date for this issue.”
KASB has urged state leaders to comply with the ruling of the three-judge panel. Here is a link to a video recording of the KASB Monday webinar explaining the panel’s decision.
June 21 - June 27 _________________________________________________
June 14 - June 20 _________________________________________________
June 7 - June 13 _________________________________________________
May 31 - June 6 _________________________________________________
May 24 - May 30 _________________________________________________
May 17 - May 23 _________________________________________________
May 10 - May 16 _________________________________________________
The Senate has passed SB 171, which changes school board member elections. This is pretty major. They will be changed to the fall of odd numbered years, beginning in 2017.
May 3 - May 9 _________________________________________________
April 26-May 2 _________________________________________________
The Washington Post-
April 19-April 25 _________________________________________________
April 12-April 18 _________________________________________________
April 5-April 11 _________________________________________________
March 29-April 4 _________________________________________________
March 22-28 _________________________________________________
March 15-21 _________________________________________________
March 8-14 _________________________________________________
March 1-7 _________________________________________________
February 22-28 _________________________________________________
February 15-21 _________________________________________________
February 8-14 _________________________________________________
KWCH- Channel 12
- Channel 41
- Washington Monthly
- The Salina Journal
February 1-7 _________________________________________________
"It appears to me the governor has decided to balance the budget on the backs of K-12 students
and students at our institutions of higher learning," Hensley said.
Former Senate President Steve Morris - ("How it all went down" 8:35min)
Brownback announces $280 million in allotment cuts to fill budget shortfall
on table to fix budget gap
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) --
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he is considering all options to fill a massive
projected budget deficit that he didn't know existed until after the election earlier this month.
The state's nonpartisan
Legislative Research Department estimates the state's shortfall for this fiscal
year, which ends in June, will be $279 million, and it will grow by an
additional $436 million in the following year.
Based on current
spending levels, the predicted budget hole for the next year will be $715
million, The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/15qo0DB
"We're looking at
all factors - everything - spending a lot of time thinking about it, talking
with the agencies and others. We're looking at it all very thoroughly," Brownback
told reporters Monday as he was leaving a meeting of the State Finance Council.
When asked if the state
needed to tweak its income tax policies and possibly delay income tax cuts
scheduled for the future, the governor said, "We're looking at all of
Brownback promoted and
signed a bill eliminating income taxes for some business owners, reduced rates
across the board and set up additional tax cuts in the future. Democrats and
the research department have blamed the tax cuts have been widely blamed on the
governor's tax policies, including by the research department.
On the campaign trail,
Brownback repeatedly dismissed concerns about the state's finances raised by
economists and his opponents.
trying to paint a Chicken Little sky is falling' situation, which is not true.
It's a bunch of lies," he said in October.
It wasn't until six days after he won re-election that
he was first briefed that there would a budget hole this fiscal year, Brownback
House Minority Leader
Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who lost to Brownback in the election, said the
governor needs to find a solution to a problem he created. He said he did not
think the state could fix its budget problem without revisiting tax policy.
Senate Minority Leader
Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who serves on the Finance Council,
questioned Brownback's claim that he was not informed of the looming shortfall.
"I don't believe
him when he says that," Hensley said. "They would have had to have
known. (The Department of) Revenue was given the red flag over the past year
basically. And Paul and I have been talking about this for the past two
Government employees produce nothing, says ignorant Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick of Johnson County
Kansas budget gaps have lawmakers mulling taxes
Nov. 10 - KASB
Revenue figures keep falling; budget cuts possible soon
state budget situation got much worse on Monday.
Less than one week after the general elections, state fiscal experts presented
a new estimate that said there will be $279 million less in tax revenue this
fiscal year than originally projected.
And for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, revenue will come in $436
million less than originally estimated.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director Shawn Sullivan said the worsening figures
mean budget cuts — called allotments — were a possibility before the start of
the 2015 Legislative Session in January.
“The state of Kansas must continue to live within its means, just like families
do,” Sullivan said.
He said the Brownback administration will search for “efficiencies” throughout
the budget, including public school education, which makes up half of the state
During the recently-completed gubernatorial campaign, Brownback promised he
would not cut funding to schools.
Budget problems have escalated since Brownback and his allies enacted massive
income tax cuts, including the exemption of owners of 191,000 businesses from
income taxes altogether, while keeping sales taxes higher. And further tax cuts
are built into Brownback’s sweeping tax changes.
After the revenue estimating news conference, Senate Minority Leader Anthony
Hensley, D-Topeka, said Brownback will cut funding to schools, highways and
“Now, he and his followers will get exactly what they wanted — to starve public
schools, to raid the highway fund, and to cut the social service safety net
that so many Kansans depend on; all of this for the sake of his own re-election
and political aspirations,” Hensley said.
Eileen Hawley, a spokesperson for Brownback issued a statement, saying, “Now
that we have the projections for expenditures and revenues, the Governor will
go to work on a budget and policy agenda to present to the Legislature in
January. The state of Kansas must continue to live within its means, just as
families across our state do every day. Our primary focus will be to curtail
growth in state spending through additional efficiencies and policy proposals
while continuing our focus on growing the economy and creating private sector
U.S. News and World Report -
The Bloomberg National News -
The Kansas City Star -
Kansas Budget Situation Worsens
government in September again fell short of revenue projections. This time $21
underperforming revenue, coupled with previous bad economic news, present
short- and long-term challenges for school funding as Gov. Sam Brownback's
income tax cuts reduce one of the major streams of revenue to the state.
fiscal year 2013, the state collected $2.9 billion in individual income tax. In
fiscal year 2014, that figure dropped 14 percent to $2.5 billion.
July through September of this year, the state collected $574.8 million in
individual income tax, which is 8.8 percent less than the same three-month
period from the previous year.
the state is looking at a revenue shortfall by July 2016 of $238 million,
according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department.
the world of Kansas government, $238 million is nothing to sneeze at. That is
roughly the annual appropriation made by the Legislature to the University of
Kansas, or the annual amount of state funds going to the Shawnee-Mission and
Blue Valley school districts combined.
observers have sounded the alarm that Kansas is headed over a fiscal
cliff. State bonds have been downgraded by Standard & Poor's and
Moody's Investor Service. S&P said the huge tax cuts pushed by Brownback
and his allies in the Legislature have not been offset by equal spending cuts.
if that wasn't enough to raise concerns, the issue of whether public schools
are adequately funded remains in the hands of a lower court. A remedy in the
school adequacy dispute could require huge expenditures.
the gap between revenue and what has been budgeted has increased over the past
several months, a former 12-year Kansas state budget director, Duane Goossen,
who worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations, said the prudent
public policy would be cutting spending now instead of waiting later in the
fiscal year when cuts will have a more dramatic impact.
that would require politically unpopular decisions during the campaign season. Currently, the state is working off of projections that were made in
April by budget experts that make up what is called the Consensus Revenue
group will meet again next month to adjust the current fiscal year estimate and
the estimate for the next fiscal year, both of which will be used by the
governor and Legislature during the 2015 session that starts in January.
figures for October will be provided by the Kansas Department of Revenue by the
end of the month. Election Day is Nov. 4 and the Consensus Revenue Estimating
Group meets again Nov. 10. Stay tuned.
Report outlines impact of cuts to K-12 education funding
At the Rail
July 21, 2014
By Martin Hawver
Don’t look for it on any of the palm cards that you find wedged into your screen door, but when all the campaigning and voting is over, whoever makes it to the Kansas House next session is going to be faced with ugly choices about cutting spending or raising taxes.
Yes, whoever winds up being governor, it still very seriously just comes down to balancing the state budget. That’s Job No. 1, and while there are still Renewable Power Standards and guns and abortion and education, it is still all about the budget.
Kansas had $434.6 million in the bank when last fiscal year ended, yet most of that balance is going to be eaten up this year.
Whether that balance gets to zero next June or before is still a guessing game. But the state is going to need new tax revenues or it’s going to have to cut spending on virtually everything it spends money on ranging from education to social services to just keeping the agencies running.
So far, likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis is saying that the next couple years of scheduled state income tax reductions need to be halted. No, that’s not increasing taxes, it’s just not doing the cuts that are on schedule and which nobody has filled out their tax forms to claim yet.
Gov. Sam Brownback is quiet on what to do, if anything. Why talk about anything that is—what’s the word?—unpleasant?—until after the election. Until the budget busts, or he is officially notified of a projected ending balance of less than $100 million, nothing absolutely, positively needs to be done. He’s on board with that.
But, whoever gets to be governor, it’s going to take votes in the Senate and the House to cut spending or raise taxes or find some way for the state to hold its fiscal breath.
Oh, and the Kansas Supreme Court, which has a school finance lawsuit to deal with, has only dealt with the cheap ($130 million) part—equalizing state aid for schools—not the big issue of deciding whether the state is spending enough on schools to produce students who will be smart enough to spur the Kansas economy and support themselves.
That’s the mess that the new Legislature, and those brand new House members who make it to the Statehouse in January, are going to have to deal with.
Once they’re in Topeka, and their new business cards and stationery have been printed, it gets ugly. That talk on your doorstep about efficiency and small government gets put to the test.
It sorta makes that “I’ll represent your values” stuff a little shaky, unless you hand the candidate back a list of state taxes that could take a bit of an increase. Or maybe some state services that you think you can do without…and that means absolutely do without, not just delegate to local units of government to undertake at the cost of higher property taxes or fees.
Now, if your primary interest in state government is naming a piece of highway after a notable local official or fighting the federal government over anything ranging from gun laws to the fate of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, it shouldn’t be too tough to make a choice for your elected representative.
But if you intend to live in Kansas for the next couple years, it probably ought to be fiscal issues you want answers—probably detailed answers—to, and whether to provide the level of services that you want means taxes are in play. Are you one of those 190,000 Kansans who aren’t paying state income tax anymore? Feel comfortable with that? Then what can you or your neighbors do without?
Or, are you seeing the state do things that it just doesn’t need to do? Does that overpass or that bridge look good enough for now? Figure that kids made their way to school before there were those yellow buses?
There’s an easy way to vote, and one a little harder. This might be the year for that…
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report
Anger, revenge shouldn’t be motives in local school-funding decision
Sam Brownback has been a Tea Partier since before the Tea Party was born. When he became governor of Kansas in 2011, he set about making the state a testing ground for conservative principles, including cutting funding for some public education and the eventual elimination of the state’s income tax...
What do higher state revenue estimates
Yesterday, a group of state budget and tax experts and
university economists released the official consensus revenue estimates for the
current budget year ending June 30, 2014 (Fiscal Year 2014) and next year (FY
The new April estimates update projections made last
November. The report says receipts to the state general fund will be
$105.6 million more in the current year and $74.3 million more next year than
projected in November, or an average of about 1.5 percent per year. However, that simply means that revenues will be 1.5 percent per year
higher than previously expected - not that state revenues are
actually growing at that rate.
Total state general fund revenues are now projected to
be $5.96 billion this year, which is 6 percent less than last year ($6.34
billion). The loss is due to a 14 percent drop in state individual income
tax revenue from the rate cuts approved by the Legislature and the Governor. Total
SGF revenues next year are projected to be $5.99 billion, or 0.5 percent more
than the current year. Individual income tax revenue is not projected to
increase at all next year. Total taxes receipts - which exclude transfers and
other adjustments to the state general fund - are expected to increase 1.3
percent from the current year to next year.
A much more detailed report from the consensus revenue
estimating group will be released next week, and will include new projections
for state economic activity. For now, the new estimates suggest the state
economy is growing slowly: less than would be hoped after the significant tax
cuts passed two years ago to stimulate the economic growth. However, revenue
growth is also projected higher than expected five months ago.
That means the state general fund should be better
able to absorb the cost of the school finance bill passed earlier this month
and waiting for Governor Brownback’s signature (or veto). The school
funding bill adds about $130 million for school district state aid next year
beyond increased funding already approved by the Legislature and proposed by
the Governor. The new revenue estimates were increased by $178 million
over two years. The Legislature has not passed appropriations bills for state
programs other than K-12 and higher education.
The new estimates only consider the current fiscal
year and next year (FY 2015). Previously projections indicated the state
would likely face a budget deficit in future years if state revenues do not
increase at more than normal historical rates, because of future income tax
rate reductions already locked in place and projected increases in mandatory
spending such as health care caseloads and pension costs.
The Senate Ways and
Means Committee will meet Tuesday, April 22 at 10:00 a.m. to review
the consensus revenue estimates and other budget issues. The House
Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday, April 30,
to review the consensus revenue estimates and take action on appropriations
bills for bill state agencies.
Here is a link
to the consensus revenue estimate “short” memo that will be expanded next week,
and a news story
about competing political views on the new estimates.
Kansas bill renews debate about how easy it should be
to fire teachers
By SCOTT CANON The Kansas City Star
The Kansas City Star
Even the folks who fire teachers in Kansas aren’t sure
what to make of a law change that would make firing teachers easier.
For generations, the state promised that before
getting canned teachers could get an appeal. If a hearing officer disagreed
with the teacher’s bosses, the instructor stayed in the classroom.
In eleventh-hour logrolling in the Legislature, that
tenure-lite protection was wiped out by lawmakers venting the conviction that
such safeguards intended to protect teachers from ax-grinding bosses serve
mostly to coddle the lazy and incompetent.
The Kansas Association of School Boards — representing
the people who hire and fire teachers — might be expected to embrace the
The organization issued a statement last week that it
“supports changes in the due process system to restore more authority to local
school boards to ensure effectiveness of their employees.” But, the statement
continues, “the bill goes further than the positions adopted” by the group.
Teachers unions responded much more emphatically, and
“It’s not too damn hard to fire a teacher,” said
Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for the Kansas National
Education Association. “It’s just that the teacher has a redress of due
process, a hearing officer, (a chance to say) ‘Here’s my take. Here’s what
we’ve done to address the area of concern, and I believe this is
Lawmakers who backed the change — it becomes law if
Gov. Sam Brownback signs it — argued that dumping dead weight from the faculty
has become harder than it ought to be.
“I don’t like tenure. I never have,” said Rep. Ward
Cassidy, a Republican from northwest Kansas who worked as a high school
principal for 20 years. “Good principals have a whole lot of other things to do
besides going through all you need to fire a teacher.”
The Legislature’s provocative move puts flame to the
tinder of conflict between teachers unions and conservatives. The
still-developing reaction is complicated by confusion about whether existing
union contracts temporarily extend tenure or how principals will now go after
Kansas would be far from alone if it shaves away
teacher job protection. Florida, North Carolina and the District of Columbia in
recent years moved to reduce or eliminate tenure in public schools. Missouri
teachers are probationary for five years before firing them becomes more
Conservatives see special job protection as a chief
reason why Johnny can’t keep pace with peers in Norway or Japan. They see
Kansas’ current rules as a troublesome hurdle for weeding out teachers who
substitute videos for lesson plans or who otherwise coast through the classroom
Teachers groups counter that safeguards for
experienced teachers reflect the particular demands of the job. Might not a
teacher hesitate to give a tough grade to the star quarterback, they ask,
without job protection? Would a teacher vulnerable to losing a livelihood
report suspicions of child abuse, something required of them by law, if the
suspect parent sat on the school board?
Neither argument is new. The change is. And sudden.
Critics note that the provision was bargained into a
school funding bill in the last days before lawmakers left Topeka for their
annual spring break. The change had none of the usual committee hearings that
seek to explore the merits, or flaws, in proposed new laws.
Yet it would overturn a system that’s governed the
dismissal of teachers in Kansas for more than half a century.
Neither the school boards organization nor the Kansas
School Superintendents Association — two groups whose memberships gain leverage
from the bill — supported such an abrupt change. Both had put state funding for
schools as a much higher priority.
While they broadly back some measure that would
increase their freedom to fire failing teachers, they’d preferred to negotiate
terms with unions.
“Our superintendents and principals came up through
the ranks with these due process procedures in play. This is all they’ve ever
worked with,” said Cheryl Semmel, the executive director of the Kansas School
Superintendents Association. “We were caught a little by surprise.”
Brownback has praised the Legislature for its changes
to school financing, but he’s not weighed in publicly on the change in tenure.
Without that change, existing law gives teachers no
special appeal for their first three years with a district.
Once offered the standard school year contract for a
fourth year, however, teachers gain what state law refers to as “due process
rights.” Choose not to rehire that teacher for their fifth, or 15th, year and
that person can demand a hearing.
A hearing officer — an attorney who must undergo
continuing education in employment law — is chosen from a pool of candidates by
lawyers representing the teacher and the school board. The school board must
comply with the hearing officer’s ruling.
School administrators and teaching union officials say
the hearings are rare, usually fewer than a dozen a year in the state. In the
buildup to that point, however, principals and superintendents carefully
document their case of misbehavior or incompetency and ways the teacher was
told to shape up. Most fired teachers, often at the urging of their union
representatives, don’t bother with the due process hearing.
That preparation for dumping a teacher is unlikely to
go away if the new changes become law. Like all workers, with or without that
appeal process, teachers can challenge a firing in civil court. They can contend
violation of their civil rights motivated by, say, their race or their exercise
of free speech.
“All teachers will still have access to due process
that will defend the exercise of their constitutionally protected rights,”
Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said in an email
He also argued that the change doesn’t stop unions
from negotiating various appeals protection in contracts they strike with
school boards. Rather, the lack of a state requirement would change the leverage
But both sides of the argument say the special process
matters. Critics of various forms of public school teacher tenure say the
appeals hearings tend to judge the fastidiousness of the boss’s firing plan
rather than classroom performance.
“Unless it’s real misbehavior, something inappropriate
with a student or felony conviction … it becomes a lot harder,” said Sandi
Jacobs, managing director of state policy for the National Council on Teacher
Quality. “It becomes a process hearing and not about whether kids in that
classroom are learning.”
Union officials counter that the hearings protect
against situations distinct to teaching — particularly when they might
challenge administrators to protect students.
“Teachers deserve that,” said Randy Mousley, the
president of United Teachers of Wichita. “How can we be advocates for our
children if we don’t have the right to speak out?”
Many of the groups who care about the issue, on both
sides, express discomfort with the Legislature’s quick action.
Jacobs’ organization, for instance, wants probationary
periods stretched to five years and tenure granted only after meeting
performance standards. Still, it would keep a firing appeal in place.
StudentsFirst, a self-styled reform group, also wants
performance to trump experience. Yet its vice president of national policy,
Eric Lerum, said the state should give direction on firing rules.
“You’ve made it easier to get rid of teachers, but you
have to figure out who to fire, who to keep and who to help grow and become a
better teacher,” he said.
Tom Krebs, a lobbyist for the state school board
group, said the changes go awfully far very fast.
“This system is close to 60 years old,” he said. “You’ve
had several generations of teachers operating with these systems in place. Then
you have, in a sense, an overnight sea change.”
Confusion, meanwhile, has set in at the local level
over whether local districts could include their own appeals rules in collective
“People are going to have to interpret what this
really means,” said Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson.
Whatever the practical effect, the bill fits the
national trend buoying those who believe it’s too hard to dump bad teachers and
upsetting others who say it’s an unneeded step in the wrong direction.
David Thompson worked for years as a school principal
and superintendent and saw some teachers “who didn’t belong in the profession.”
But he said competent administrators can work either to improve their
performance or boot them from schools.
“They’ve always had that power,” said Thompson, now a
professor who heads the Department of Educational Leadership at Kansas State
University. “It was just a choice of whether they chose to exercise it.”
OK, no more late-night meetings for the Kansas Senate. They get into too much trouble after dark.
Members approved an absolutely awful education bill in the wee hours of Friday morning.
• Instead of the state fully meeting its constitutional obligation to equalize funding inequities among wealthier and poorer school districts, the Senate plan would force Kansas residents to choose between property tax relief and adequate school funding.
• It cuts funding for transportation, at-risk students and virtual education. Districts with larger numbers of needy students, like Kansas City, Kan., would take the hardest hit.
• It sets the stage for disruption with a provision barring school districts from spending money to carry out the Common Core curriculum without legislative approval. News flash, folks: Kansas school districts already are spending money to implement the Common Core. To stop now would throw educational programs wildly off kilter. And the Senate is overstepping with this provision; the state Board of Education makes decisions on curriculum.
• The bill also makes it easier to fire school teachers without administrative due process.
• And, at a time when Kansas needs every penny it can find to fund public education, the Senate bill offers tax breaks to families who homeschool their children or send them to private schools. Businesses that donate to scholarship funds for low-income students to attend private schools would receive tax breaks, too.
All in all, a disastrous job. Fortunately, the House is on a better track. So far, members there seem inclined to do the right thing and find money to correct the constitutional funding imbalance found by the Kansas Supreme Court, about $129 million. They seem to be avoiding the temptation to load up a bill with ideological baggage.
Let’s hope that common sense approach prevails when the two chambers get together to reconcile differences in their bills.
By BRAD COOPER
The Kansas City Star
TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s election year proposal for the state to pick up the bill for all-day kindergarten is apparently dead, key lawmakers said Tuesday.
The governor’s plan to phase in funding for all-day kindergarten is being cast aside as lawmakers scramble to find money to resolve what the courts decreed an unconstitutional wealth disparity between rich and poor school districts.
Legislators are under a court order to find an estimated $129 million to fix the problem by July 1 or risk having a panel of state judges fashion its own solution. This year’s legislative session is set to end May 15.
“Now is not the year,” said House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Johnson County Republican.
Merrick was joined by lawmakers from the Senate who do not believe enough money is available to fund the court ruling and add a major new education program.
“There’s fairly broad consensus that’s off the table,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and chairman of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Senate President Susan Wagle said the Legislature’s first responsibility is to comply with the court’s ruling.
“After we have completed that task, there will not be enough funding for all-day kindergarten,” the Wichita Republican said in a statement.
Brownback opened the session with a plan to add $16 million a year until it reaches $80 million annually to pay for all-day kindergarten.
The governor’s conservative allies had doubts about the program’s effectiveness from the start of this year’s legislative session.
They argued that all-day kindergarten would be used as a substitute for day care with little academic rigor.
But Brownback vigorously campaigned for his plan, visiting several schools across the state to tout the benefits of all-day kindergarten.
He called the spending proposal a strategic investment to ensure children are better positioned to succeed in school.
On Tuesday, the governor had clearly shifted direction.
“Our focus is on solving the equity issue for our schools,” Brownback said in a statement. “Working with legislative leadership, I am looking at a wide range of options to resolve this issue.”
Of the 286 Kansas school districts, Kansas City and 250 others provide all-day kindergarten out of their budgets. Twenty districts charge for full-day kindergarten. Fifteen school districts statewide do not offer all-day kindergarten.
Brownback’s proposal would have benefited thousands of families in Johnson County. The Shawnee Mission, Olathe, Blue Valley, De Soto and Gardner Edgerton districts charge parents for their kids to attend all-day kindergarten.
Parents generally pay about $300 a month — or sometimes nearly $3,000 a school year — for their kids to attend all-day kindergarten in Johnson County.
The governor’s proposal would have made the biggest splash in the Shawnee Mission district, where about 1,700 kids attend full-day kindergarten. In Blue Valley, about 1,200 are enrolled.
Blue Valley Superintendent Tom Trigg said losing money for all-day kindergarten was an unfortunate consequence of the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found uneven funding levels between rich and poor school districts.
“School districts are going to be disappointed,” Trigg said “But when you compare the consequence of potentially not meeting that mandate of the court to funding an additional program, it pales in comparison. I don’t think anybody expects them to be able to do both.”
The Kansas Board of Education has been trying to get funding for all-day kindergarten for several years.
“We believe in the value of early education,” said Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker. “The sooner you have children in a structured learning environment, the better they’re going to do throughout their schooling.”
Lawmakers are still struggling to find a solution for resolving the disparity cited in the Supreme Court’s opinion.
Democrats are proposing to take $129 million from the state’s reserves to meet the court’s order. Meanwhile, Republicans tried — and then abandoned — a plan to put more money into schools. That proposal was tied to incentives that would have given parents more choice in deciding which schools to enroll their children in.
Republicans have crafted another plan that education experts say provides money for the court order but redirects some cash from other funds within school funds to fix the problem.
“This kind of takes money out of one pocket to put into another,” said Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. “It means almost every district is going to lose some operating money.”
Rep. Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Republicans are trying to limit the amount of new money that goes into complying with the court order.
Rhoades said it would be a “real chore” to get a majority of Republicans to agree to spend tens of millions of dollars more in new money on schools.
Not Everyone is a Winner in Court Ruling
By Rod Haxton, editor
School officials from around the area were supportive of the Supreme Court decision that says the state must come up with $129 million to meet equitable standards for public education in the state.
But that doesn’t mean that every school district is an immediate winner in terms of additional money.
The Scott County district (USD 466), for example, won’t realize a single dollar from the court ruling.
And there remains the possibility that Gov. Brownback and the Republican-controlled legislature will find a way to limit the state’s responsibility for funding education in spite of the court decision.
“The ruling wasn’t as favorable as we expected,” says USD 466 Supt. Bill Wilson.
“The court decision dealt with the issue of equitable, but not suitable funding for education,” he says. “The decision has no impact on us at all.”
That’s because the district doesn’t qualify for state assistance through Supplemental General State Aid or Capital Outlay State Aid.
In fact, in Scott, Lane and Wichita counties, the only district to receive an immediate benefit from the ruling is the Wichita County school district. If the legislature meets its obligation, Wichita County will receive $65,170 in LOB aid and another $17,756 in capital outlay aid.
Wichita County Supt. Keith Higgins isn’t banking the money just yet.
“I think (the legislature) will get around it some way. I don’t feel the ultra-conservative faction in the legislature wants to part with dollars for any reason,” says Higgins.
If the legislature doesn’t provide the money as ordered by the court by July 1 they will be in contempt, Higgins notes.
“In order not to follow the Supreme Court ruling I would think (the legislature) would have to change the Constitution and I don’t know how they can go about doing that,” he added, making reference to the “suitable” funding requirement as written in the state’s constitution.
The only issue addressed by the Supreme Court was whether the legislature was providing “equitable” funding for public education. That’s why some, but not all, districts could be receiving money if the legislature agrees to abide by the ruling.
Many of the poor districts around the state could receive additional money in order to put them on par with those districts which have the capability of raising greater amounts of money for education. However, the definition of a poor district doesn’t seem quite so precise when five of the six districs located in Johnson County in northeast Kansas are eligible for additional LOB funding through the finance formula.
Shawnee Mission will get no added money as a result of the court ruling while the Olathe district is due to get $5.6 million.
Supt. Bill Wilson acknowledges that the poor districts in Kansas needed this court ruling in order to fix the issue of equitable funding.
Left unresolved is the bigger issue of “suitable” funding as called for in the state’s constitution. And that’s what most school district administrators were hoping to see settled by the court.
That includes the school finance formula and basic state aid per pupil. At one time, state aid had climbed to $4,400 per pupil before it was cut in 2008-09 in response to the Great Recession. Today, basic state aid is $3,838 - well short of $4,492 which is where the law says it should be. To bring state aid to that level would cost the state an estimated $455 million.
Now the ball is in the legislature’s court.
Gov. Brownback and the legislature may agree to follow the court order and come up with $129 million by the July 1 deadline or they can buy additional time by appealing the decision. At the same time, the three-member district court panel still has to decide how much money the state must come up with in order to provide a suitable education. The legislature is much more likely to balk at paying a $455 million bill if that is the court’s decision.
“The legislature could end up appealing the first decision and if the suitable funding issue comes down the way we expect, I would certainly expect them to appeal that,” says Higgins. “We’ll wait and see what happens between now and July 1.”
In order to delay the possibility of finding hundreds of millions of dollars, the legislature could request another school funding study similar to the Augenblick and Myers report.
In the meantime, administrators expect more pressure from the legislature to cut education costs as those same legislators look for ways to redefine the state’s responsibility in funding public education.
“There’s always a push for more consolidation and to do away with administration,” says Higgins. “In our district we’ve gone from three administrators to two. Greeley County has just one administrator as does Healy. I think our districts are doing everything we can to keep money in the classrooms.”
Higgins says that the elimination of one administrative position last year helped to provide pay raises for staff members.
Wilson says he isn’t making plans for much new money coming into the Scott County district next year. It’s obvious the court ruling hasn’t helped the district and Gov. Brownback’s initial proposal to boost basic state aid by $15-$20 per pupil will only provide about $15,000.
In addition, if the governor funds the first phase of his plan to have mandatory all-day kindergarten, it will only boost state assistance by another $10,000
Beyond that, it’s just a matter of whatever the district can gain through increased enrollment.
“We continue to review our budget, manage our resources and make adjustments where we can in order to minimize the impact on our kids,” says Wilson.
“This is about funding the law as it’s written. Until it’s funded adequately, it’s the kids who are being hurt because we’re not able to do all that we can or all that we want in order to provide them with a quality education,” he adds.
In the Gannon decision, the Supreme Court told the State that they are underfunding public education in Kansas. They told the State to immediately work to restore equitable funding for capital outlay and local option supplemental aid across all 286 school districts in the state. That has to happen by July 1, 2014. They also said that the base aid given for each student in Kansas is too low, but they told the lower court to work out a different way of determining what that level should be at before requiring that the State increase funding to that level. We can expect a decision on that next year sometime, followed by an appeal from the State, and maybe another Supreme Court ruling, so we could be years away from a decision.
The Constitution of the State of Kansas declares that the State must provide for an adequate and equitable public education. Public school funding was cut during the recession, but when revenues returned, Governor Brownback and his Legislators chose to enact an enormous tax cut rather than restore this lost funding. While this lawsuit did not address that decision specifically, the actions of Brownback and the Legislature contributed to the inequity and inadequacy of public school financing in Kansas. The Supreme Court decided on two basic aspects of the suit. You'll hear them referred to as the "equity" part, and the "adequacy" part.
The equity part references the ability for every public school district in Kansas to receive the median level of funding for capital outlay and local option budget, basically buildings, maintenance, and staff. Each District is allowed to raise money locally (through property taxes) to fund these areas, but the school finance formula acknowledges that some Districts have wealthier populations than others, and some districts cannot cover certain costs. One example cited is the greater transportation requirements of Districts in Western Kansas. The State covered the difference between "rich" Districts and "poor" Districts, until 2010, when they stopped paying.
The Court's decision requires the State to cover the equalization, and to restart payments. They have given the State until July 1, 2014 to comply, or the Court will take other measures to see the matter settled.
As you can imagine, some Districts will receive a lot of money from this settling of debts, while others will receive little. One estimated breakdown for Johnson County suggested that the wealthiest Districts, Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley, would get almost no money ($64,000 in supplemental aid for BV, $0 for SM), while the most in need, KCK and Olathe, could get $8-10 million each.
While the Court did not lay out a set amount of money that is needed to equalize the Districts, the approximate number from the Kansas Department of Education and Legislative Research Department is $130 million. Note that this is an annual increase, not a one-time payoff. The State's budget would have to accommodate this increase every year.
Several of the usual extremist suspects have pointed out that nobody has mandated the number be $130 million, and the State Legislature will look closely at all of their options before deciding how to proceed. Susan Wagle, Senate President, said, “I don’t know that we have a number for that, and we aren’t going to restrict ourselves."
You can expect shenanigans and whining on the way to July 1. They could, for example, try to lower the amount of aid to all districts, resulting in cuts rather than increases, to "equalize" all the Districts as per the Court's order. They could amend the Kansas Constitution to remake the school finance requirements at the root of the issue. Or they could do nothing, and let the Court decide what should happen on July 1, though this seems unlikely given the rhetoric about how "the Courts should not hold the purse strings."
On the larger issue in the lawsuit, of whether the amount the State allocates to teach each Kansas student is enough to provide an adequate education, the Supreme Court punted. This is the Base State Aid Per Pupil, or BSAPP, or just "Base Aid," that you've heard about. The lower court ruled that the current Base Aid value is too low, and mandated the State raise that level. The Supreme Court agreed, but said the lower court used a poor metric for determining how much money was enough to achieve this standard.
In a previous lawsuit (there have been many) the courts determined a financial formula for determining how much Base Aid was enough. But in Friday's decision, the Court decreed that a monetary formula was inadequate, for two reasons: First, because how much it costs to educate a student is a moving target, changing every year due to inflation, demographics, etc., and second, because they felt there was a need to tie some measure of student achievement to the money. Adequate education, they reasoned, requires a measure of how well educated the students are.
As a guide for the lower court, the Supreme Court cited something called the "Rose Standards" which refers to a Kentucky case that set some achievement standards for measuring educational success.
But basically, the Supreme Court kicked this can down the road, and we will have to wait and see what develops.
What to expect
The equity decision is one the Legislature will have to deal with by July 1, but you can expect the Governor's loyalists to try to wrangle their way out of it, or at least lower the amount they need to spend. Without revenue increases (more taxes) the State's annual budgets can't sustain an increase of $130 million.
The adequacy part will have to come up again, once the lower court makes a new determination on how to calculate the BSAPP. In their original ruling, the lower court mandated an increase of over $400 million. It could take years to reach a decision.
In general, the far right wing seems pretty happy with this Court ruling, as they have already planned several measures to gut public education further. Primary among those are "scholarships" donated by corporations to "rescue" public school students from "failing" Districts and send them to private, for-profit, unaccountable "educational entities," instead. There have also been notions floated to pull all public funding from arts and sports programs because they don't provide gains in "measurable student achievement." Music class isn't on the test, as it were. This is being called "student centered" funding, and is something to watch for.
What can you do, now?
Between now and then there is an election. Vote for State Representatives and Senators who understand the importance of a strong, free, and accessible public education system, for every Kansas child. But do more than that. Do more than vote. Get educated on the issues, talk to your neighbors, friends, and family. Attend a PTA meeting, chat with other parents, and get the word out. Then take them all to vote with you.
Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling seen by many as win for both sides
By Dion Lefler
The Wichita Eagle
Constitutional crisis averted.
At least for now.
That’s how some Kansas political officials and observers see Friday’s Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school funding, which took a limited and measured approach to school finance without direct orders to lawmakers to increase funding.
The court tossed some of the issues back to the Legislature and a lower court with instructions on how to proceed, while leaving enough wiggle room to allow both sides to claim at least partial victory.
The decision came after more than a year of litigation by school districts that charge the Legislature isn’t meeting its burden to provide suitable funding for schools.
They were met with threats from fiscally conservative lawmakers of constitutional amendments to rein in the court’s authority.
But after Friday’s decision, school officials expected some increased funding while lawmakers significantly tamped down earlier rhetoric about the court trampling the authority of the Legislature.
At a news conference featuring the governor, the attorney general and Republican House and Senate leaders Friday afternoon, there was no mention of constitutional amendments to strip the court of any authority over school funding or change the way justices are selected.
That marked a major rhetorical shift for conservatives, who have contended that school funding is solely the business of the Legislature.
Friday’s decision “gives some breathing room to deal with the potential explosiveness of this issue,” said Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University in Topeka. “Politically, this gives a lot of breathing room to everybody.”
“It could be a victory for Kansas if we know what adequacy (of school funding) is and we can agree how to fund it,” said Joy Eakins, a Wichita school board member. “We’ve got to get beyond lawsuits and have a conversation about how to fund education.”
There is still plenty to argue about, even in the court’s limited ruling.
A leader of the school districts’ legal team says $129 million is the remedy for what the court says ails education funding – primarily issues of fairness in how money is distributed to districts.
Republican leaders of the conservative-dominated Legislature say the ruling allows them to craft a less-expensive remedy and possibly solve the problem with no additional money.
The Supreme Court was tasked with reviewing the ruling of a three-judge panel that had found the state had failed in its constitutional duty to provide for suitable funding of public education.
The panel ruled that cuts in the state budget had underfunded education by about $440 million a year and “created unconstitutional, wealth-based disparities” by the way the funds were divided between districts.
The Supreme Court upheld part of the lower court ruling on inequities in funding with regard to capital building projects and the local option budget. The LOB is local property tax money that provides support to schools. That’s in addition to base aid from the state plus “weightings,” extra money for hard-to-teach pupils, including those with disabilities, poor students and students deemed at risk of dropping out.
But the Supreme Court set aside the panel’s ruling that the state was underfunding education. The justices ruled the panel had not used the proper method to determine the amount of underfunding because it based its decision entirely on cost studies.
The Supreme Court sent that issue back to the panel with a lengthy set of instructions on how to determine what is adequate.
Justices also set a deadline of July 1 for the Legislature to address inequity by either restoring $129 million in funding reductions or crafting another solution that would be reviewed by the three-judge panel.
Who’s in charge?
The court also sent lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback a message that it won’t back away from the contentious issue of school finance.
A substantial section of Friday’s 110-page opinion cited precedents from several other states explaining in detail why courts have a constitutional duty to ensure that suitable funding is provided and how that doesn’t step on the Legislature’s turf.
“Our Kansas Constitution clearly leaves to the Legislature the myriad of choices available to perform its constitutional duty; but when the question becomes whether the Legislature has actually performed its duty, that most basic question is left to the courts to answer under our system of checks and balances,” the unanimous court ruling said.
That, Beatty said, is a direct answer to the governor’s State of the State speech in January.
In that speech, Brownback said: “On the No. 1 item in the state budget – education – the Constitution empowers the Legislature – the people’s representatives – to fund our schools.
“This is the people’s business, done by the people’s house through the wonderfully untidy – but open for all to see – business of appropriations. Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else.”
Ordering the closing of the schools represents the court’s most potent option to force the Legislature to comply with an order to increase funding.
Although the Legislature has passed a statute to prohibit the court from closing schools, it has never been tested and it’s never been clear whether justices would follow that law or strike it down.
On Friday, Brownback deferred the separation-of-powers question to Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who said the court’s decision showed proper deference to the Legislature.
“On the whole, the outcome today was good for the state of Kansas and good for the notion that decisions about school funding ought to be made by the people’s representatives in the Legislature,” Schmidt said.
“The other side asked for a court order to substantially … increase the money appropriated for the Kansas public school system, and the court said no,” Schmidt said. “We asked for a court order saying this matter shouldn’t be in front of the court at all … and the court disagreed with that as well.”
Essentially, he said, “the court adopted a middle ground, saying they’re going to continue to review the Legislature’s and the governor’s decisions on school funding because of the constitutional provision, but I read this case overall to say they’re going to be highly deferential to the recent decisions of the political branches. And I think that’s good news.”
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said he was pleased with the decision.
“We know what the parameters are,” he said. “Now we can start working on solutions, and everything’s wide open. … We’ll attack the problem and give a solution to it. That’s what we’re here for.”
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the ruling clearly sides with legislators, who have said they want all funding considered as part of adequacy, not just base state aid and weightings.
“The focus has changed,” she said. “The focus is now about equity. It’s not about amounts.”
It’s still early to say how the court’s decision will play out politically in the upcoming elections and beyond.
In November, Brownback and all House members will be on the ballot. Brownback will almost certainly face House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, who has made increased funding for schools the centerpiece of his campaign.
Beatty said the justices saved Republicans from going into this election season in the midst of a showdown with the court.
Putting a constitutional amendment on the August primary or November general election ballot could bring out dormant pro-school moderate Republicans and hurt more conservative candidates, he said.
Beatty cited a poll two weeks ago showing 59 percent of Kansans wanted the court to increase funding for schools.
Although the pollster, Public Policy Polling, is associated with Democrats, “this is the same poll that had (Sen.) Pat Roberts destroying (former Gov.) Kathleen Sebelius in a Senate race, so it’s not all Democrats,” he said.
Ken Ciboski, a Wichita State University professor of political science who is an active Republican, said he doesn’t think those poll results would hold up if it came to a question of whether the Legislature or courts should control school funding.
“I think the feeling across the state of Kansas would be with the Legislature on this,” he said. “I think there are some pretty strong feelings along these lines.”
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he thinks the court’s decision to proceed slowly on the issue of overall school funding boxes in the legislative conservatives, whom he opposes at almost every turn.
Friday’s ruling won’t provide the tailwind that conservatives would need to get the two-thirds majority in the House to send a court-limiting constitutional amendment to voters this year, he said.
But it does strongly assert that courts have and will continue to have a role in school finance, said Ward, a lawyer and member of the House Judiciary Committee.
He said the most likely outcome is that Brownback and Republicans will “address these two little things (capital funding and LOBs) and get to the election.”
However, he said by deferring to the court on the smaller matters, the Republicans would undercut their own argument for defying the court if it eventually issues an order demanding additional funding for schools.
“If they don’t yell now, they lose their credibility on that issue (later),” Ward said.
Like Davis and Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley, Ward said he’d like to see the Legislature increase school funding right now.
“We don’t have to wait for the judges,” he said. “We could address adequacy of funding in the next month. But we won’t, and that’s frustrating.”
Supreme Court to announce long-awaited school finance ruling
The plaintiffs: The Kansas Legislature has failed to
meet its constitutional duty to “make suitable provision for finance” of public
schools in the state.
The state: Determining the amount of money spent on
public schools is a political decision that should be left to the Legislature.
TOPEKA — School officials throughout Kansas, not to
mention state legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback, are anxiously awaiting a
decision Friday morning by the Kansas Supreme Court in the school finance
lawsuit, Gannon vs. Kansas.
Few people dared to guess on Thursday what the
decision might be. But the announcement of the pending decision sparked a new
round of political jousting.
Democrats said Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the
GOP-led Legislature will likely now have to face the consequences of their cuts
to state income tax rates and business taxes.
“Because of the governor’s misguided income tax cuts
for the Koch brothers, either we’ll have to go raid the transportation fund to
pay for any short term finance of schools, or the Legislature will thumb its
nose at the Supreme Court. We’ll see what happens,” said state Sen. Tom
Holland, D-Baldwin City.
The long-awaited decision is expected to be announced
around 9:30 a.m. The case was filed by several school districts, parents and
students alleging the Kansas Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional
duty to “make suitable provision for finance” of public schools in the state.
In January 2013, a three-judge panel ruled largely in
favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the state to increase state funding by more
than $500 million per year.
Both the state and the plaintiffs appealed that
ruling. Plaintiffs argued that the trial court did not go far enough in
ordering increased funding. The state, meanwhile, argued that determining the
amount of money spent on public schools is a political decision that should be
left to the Legislature.
The court’s ruling today will come after Kansas
lawmakers have already passed the midpoint of their 2014 legislative session.
Brownback issued a statement, reiterating his proposal
to provide state funding for all-day kindergarten, which he said “is long
overdue and a true path forward.”
State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said she
believed those critical of the Kansas Supreme Court will use an adverse
decision against the state to increase attempts to weaken the court.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who is
running for governor, said a discussion of increased funding to schools as the
Legislature passed the midpoint of the 2014 session was “long overdue.”
“Kansas parents, kids, teachers and business leaders
don’t need a court order to tell us to fund our schools. Providing our kids
with a world class public education is both a moral and constitutional
obligation, which is why I offered a plan two years ago to restore school
funding. Gov. Brownback rejected it, causing class sizes to grow and fees on
parents to increase,” Davis said.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and Sen.
Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who is chairman of the Senate Education
Committee, said they were glad the decision was going to be handed down.
“I’m very pleased that we are getting a decision while
we are still in session, before our budget is passed,” Wagle said. Wagle said
the Legislature needs to analyze the decision carefully before responding to
it. “It’s important to us that we do what’s right for Kansas kids and Kansas
schools and I’m very thankful that they are sending it out tomorrow while we
are still here,” she said.
Abrams said the ruling “is a big, big event.” Abrams
said he wished that the decision had come down earlier in the legislative
In 2005, the court ruled in an earlier case, Montoy
vs. Kansas, that the state had failed to provide suitable funding and ordered
the Legislature to increase funding by at least $853 million a year over the
following three years. After a bitter special session that summer, lawmakers
eventually complied with that ruling, but the state began cutting back on
school funding in the wake of the Great Recession that began in fiscal year
Those cutbacks prompted the plaintiffs to return to
court in 2010 with the Gannon lawsuit.
The suit challenges the state’s “base state aid per
pupil” formula, which is the basis for setting each district’s general fund
budget, as well as state aid for capital outlay and local option budgets.
USD 413 collateral damage in Ash Grove dispute
Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 7:33 pm
USD 413 faces $1.5 million to $2 million in lost funds due to the dispute over Ash Grove’s 2012 property tax valuation.
School District Superintendent James Hardy reported on the dispute’s effects on the district to the USD 413 School Board at the regular meeting Monday.
“The school district is basically collateral damage in this issue,” he said.
The school district, along with the City of Chanute, Neosho County and Neosho County Community College, received more money from local taxes when tax abatements for improvements to the Ash Grove cement plant in Chanute expired in 2012. This does not mean that the school district received more money overall.
“When valuation goes up, state aid goes down,” Hardy said, “so our budget basically stays the same.”
Hardy said if H.B. 2456 passes, which would change the way property for cement plants is valued for property tax purpose, local property tax valuation could drop back close to where it was in 2011.
“State aid lags one year behind valuation,” he said. “If valuation goes down, state aid goes up but it takes the state some time to catch up.”
Because of this, Hardy said the school district will face a year where they receive less money from local taxes and do not receive more money from the state to make up for it if the valuation goes down.
If that happens, the estimated losses are $352,000 in general fund state aid, $370,000 in local option budget state aid and $181,790 in state aid for bonds and interest to help pay off the bonds on the buildings.
Hardy said these estimates have been vetted with the Kansas State Department of Education.
“This is for one year,” Hardy said. “Then state aid will catch up and we’ll be right back where we were in 2011, everything will be the same and we can keep going. But there’s going to be that one year that we’re just going to get beat up on.”
The court of tax appeals may also rule that Ash Grove must be repaid local taxes, which could increase the amount of money lost by the school district to $1.5 to $2 million.
Hardy said that the school district is not taking sides on the issue, but wants the board and the community to know how the district will be affected.
Also in his superintendent’s report, Hardy gave the board an update on the tornado shelter at Main and Lincoln. He said the contract has already been signed and the contractor, Protection Shelters of Viola, has met their financial obligations regarding building in Kansas.
The most important step in building the storm shelter is acquiring doors with the proper rating from the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Hardy said the doors were ordered Feb. 17, the same day the school board approved Protection Shelters’ bid. Construction will begin as soon as the weather is favorable.
Hardy also presented School Board President Ross Hendrickson with a certificate of achievement from the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Posted by · February 19, 2014 2:02 pm Comments
The Kansas Legislature is seeing a flurry of activity this week on bills that affect public education and many of them have run into opposition from two groups in northeast Johnson County that specifically monitor education legislation.
Both the group Game On for Kansas Schools and the Shawnee Mission Area Council of PTAs (SMAC) have sent out legislative alerts in the last week about several bills. Among those are bills that would authorize private charter schools, allow vouchers to be used in private schools and eliminate the Common Core standards that are already being implemented in the public schools.
A third group, MainStream Coalition is sponsoring a forum Thursday (Feb. 20) at 7 p.m. at Colonial Church on Mission Road that will address education issues in the legislature. That panel is titled “Education Under Assault.”
State Rep. Melissa Rooker, who sits on the House Education Committee, said the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship bill, seen as a voucher bill by the groups opposing it, will be heard Friday by the committee. That is one of the bills that Game On will be opposing.
“We are most concerned about the continuing promotion of expansion of charters, vouchers (sometimes referred to as “corporate tax credit scholarships) and online schools,” said Judith Deedy of Game On. “We continue to try to increase the awareness among Kansans that these bills pose a threat to our children and the future of our state.”
Today the education committee was scheduled to hear testimony about the bill that would nullify the Common Core standards, a move that was defeated in last year’s session. Another bill the committee has been grappling with this week involves the parent opt-out for human sexuality classes. Rooker said it is written as “health and human sexuality” so it may require clarification. The bill is designed to make school districts have parents opt-in to sexuality courses, but Rooker does not want it to affect health classes as well, which are required in Shawnee Mission.
The bill has roots in a controversy at Hocker Grove Middle School over a poster that was part of supplemental materials that have since been suspended. Rooker said she “does support the teaching of sex education” but thought the material at the middle school was inappropriate.
“I generally prefer a parent opt-out,” Rooker said. Parents should be paying attention to what is taught in their chldren’s schools, she said.
The committee process ends next Tuesday in Topeka and then bills will move to the floor.
PUBLIC MIND: Legislature, governor should meet education obligations
Vince Miller, Parsons parsonssun.com
To The Sun:
Because the Kansas Legislature is in session, I would like to make a few observations on state funding of Kansas schools.
In 1992 the Kansas base state aid per pupil was $3,600. Adjusted for inflation, that would amount to $6,001 in 2013. The 2013 BSAPP was $3,838, or just $2,302 in 1992 dollars. As funding has dropped, education costs have gone up because of federally mandated special education costs and all-day kindergarten. In the 2008-2009 school year, the BSAPP was $4,400, or 15 percent higher than 2013. State law provides for a BSAPP of $4,492 for 2009-2010 and each school year thereafter. The Legislature has ignored its own commitments to local school districts. The governor’s proposal for the next fiscal year would raise the BSAPP by $14, or .36 percent. Inflation for 2013 was 1.47 percent, which would require an increase of $56 to stay even.
At the same time schools are being starved for funds, the governor and the Legislature enacted tax law changes in 2012 and 2013 that will reduce state revenue by $703 and $886 million over the next two years, respectively, with projected deficits of $108 million and $204 million. Included in these tax changes were provisions that I find it hard to believe the majority of voting Kansans are aware of. Sole proprietors, partners, LLC members, and S corporation stockholders are now exempt from Kansas income tax on their earnings. As a former member of an LLC and S corporation this means that I would not have to pay tax on my earnings, but my employees would still have to pay tax on their W-2 wages. The argument for this approach is that these business owners are the ones who create jobs, and income tax exemption is an encouragement for them to do so.
In my nearly 40-year career as a certified public accountant, I never had a client tell me he was not going to hire an employee he needed because he would have to pay Kansas income tax on the additional profit he made from that employee. However, I often had clients tell me they were unable to find employees with the skills they needed.
So what outcomes can we expect from this continued underfunding of our schools? Obviously we will have higher local property taxes, fewer teachers, larger class sizes, fewer academic choices and deteriorating facilities. These changes will be more pronounced in the poorer districts, which include nearly all of those in Southeast Kansas.
I have been a lifelong Republican, because I used to believe it was the party of fiscal responsibility. I believe, however, that fiscal responsibility includes paying your debts and meeting your obligations. When cutting taxes becomes the holy grail of a political party at the cost of providing basic governmental services, I believe that party has lost its way. I would strongly urge voters to contact their local senator and representative and urge them to repeal these inequitable tax law changes and to fund Kansas schools in accordance with their previous commitments. These legislators’ e-mail addresses and phone numbers are published in this newspaper on a weekly basis. — VINCENT T. MILLER, CPA, Parsons
The future of the State General Fund
January 24, 2014
—Duane Goossen, KHI's Vice President for Fiscal and Health Policy, served as state budget director for 12 years in the administrations of three governors — Republican Bill Graves and Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. He also served in the Kansas House of Representatives from 1983 to 1997.
Gov. Sam Brownback has recommended revisions to the already approved fiscal year 2014 and FY 2015 state budgets. In both fiscal years the governor proposes to spend more than the state receives. The governor’s spending proposals can be financed in the short term by drawing down the state bank account, but what happens after that?
The Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) has released a new projection of what the governor’s proposals mean for the future of the State General Fund (SGF). The projection shows the state’s bank account dropping to almost zero in FY 2016, and in FY 2017, FY 2018 and FY 2019 substantial spending cuts must be implemented to stay solvent. Without the spending cuts, the SGF would have a negative balance of $921 million by the end of FY 2019.
The KLRD projection is particularly important because it offers credible insight into the future of the SGF that is otherwise not easily available to policymakers and the public. The governor’s budget documents do not contain any discussion or projections of what may happen after FY 2015.
How does KLRD make these projections? To estimate revenue in FY 2016 and beyond, KLRD assumes that sales tax receipts will grow 3.75 percent each year and that income tax receipts will grow 5 percent, then subtracts the cost of tax cuts that will continue to phase in.
To estimate spending, KLRD adds the likely cost of “must do” increases for human service caseloads (mostly Medicaid) and the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, plus enough to keep school finance at present levels and continue phasing in the governor’s all-day kindergarten proposal.
The revenue assumption is generous. Four percent growth, not 5, has been the norm for this type of income tax projection in the past. The spending assumption is conservative by not taking into account any increases beyond very basic items that the state must plan for each year.
Even with generous revenue and conservative spending assumptions, the KLRD projection indicates that the state’s revenue stream does not support current spending patterns — let alone any new investments. The state cannot allow the bank balance to fall below zero, which means hard decisions are ahead. Lawmakers might be able to avoid most of those hard decisions during this legislative session by using the balance in the state’s bank account, but that puts the state in a more precarious financial position for the future.
Bleeding Kansas Shows Peril of GOP Bid to End
By Tim Jones
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
has a prairie-wide smile, a friendly manner and an abiding hatred of his
state’s income tax. He pushed an unprecedented cut for individuals and small
businesses through the legislature last year and is now plotting, as he says,
to “take it to zero.”
Neighboring states in the nation’s sprawling midsection have taken note and
are moving to piece together tax cuts, lest Kansas lure away jobs -- which is
exactly what Brownback, a 56- year-old first-term Republican, wants to do. At
least eight governors have said this month they want to cut or eliminate their
“Kansas is the starter gun for tax competition,” said Grover Norquist,
president of Americans for Tax Reform,
the Washington-based group that pressures members of Congress to sign a
no-tax-increase pledge. “Brownback fired off the shot that said ‘Go.’”
The race presents significant hurdles. Kansas lawmakers haven’t figured out
how to pay for the tax cuts without potentially crippling public schools and
other local government functions. Reducing the income tax has left a projected
$2.5 billion revenue hole through fiscal 2018, according to the Kansas
Legislative Research Department. On Jan. 11, a state court ruled that the
legislature was illegally underfunding schools and ordered a payment of $440
“It’s a major fiscal risk,” Chris Mier, managing director of analytical
services at Loop Capital Markets in Chicago, said of
Brownback’s income-tax push. “Are the alternative revenue sources going to
produce the revenue they need?”
Brownback: Keep schools open and leave funding to Legislature
As re-election bid looms, governor recounts accomplishments of first three years
Posted: January 15, 2014 - 6:31pm
Read the full transcript of Gov. Brownback's 2014 State of the State address.
By Andy Marso
Gov. Sam Brownback used his annual State of the State address on Wednesday to say that school funding should remain in the Legislature's purview, with a decision pending in the state Supreme Court.
With a re-election bid looming, Brownback also recounted accomplishments of his first three years and gave a couple of specifics on this year's priorities. But his comments on school finance stood out as timely and pointed.
"On the No. 1 item in the state budget — education — the (state) constitution empowers the Legislature — the people's representatives — to fund our schools," Brownback said. "This is the people's business, done by the people's house through the wonderfully untidy — but open for all to see — business of appropriations. Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else."
Facing Democratic challenger Paul Davis, who was in the audience as the House Minority Leader, Brownback ticked off a number of legislative victories.
He highlighted income tax cuts that he procured solely with the support of the Legislature's Republican super-majorities, but spent much of the speech pointing to less controversial endeavors that passed with bipartisan support, like a technical education program, water conservation initiatives and funding for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan.
Rep. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys, said the governor admirably articulated the merits of a conservative approach.
"My first impression: It was a very powerful speech," Carlson said. "We're growing the Kansas economy, we're growing jobs in Kansas and we're growing our ability of a small, limited government to perform core functions."
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, had a polar opposite reaction, calling the speech "perfunctory" and without the "snap" of a usual State of the State address.
"I was surprised at how flat the speech was," Ward said. "There was no energy."
Brownback noted that unemployment in the state has dropped from 6.9 percent in 2010 to 5.1 percent today and the state's ending balances have replenished after the ravages of the Great Recession.
"But for all of the good happening in our state, too many of our fellow Kansans are still struggling," Brownback said.
Brownback said his upcoming budget will include $2 million to address housing shortages in rural areas that have seen growth in part because of a state program that offers tax breaks and tuition assistance to those who relocate to them.
He also reiterated his intent to propose funding for statewide all-day kindergarten and hinted at a proposal for higher education, which was subject to controversial cuts last year.
"Our Kansas universities are critical," Brownback said. "We have been making strategic investments in areas of unique excellence and importance to the Kansas economy and more are included in my budget proposal."
Carlson, the House tax committee chairman, said the governor's support for all-day kindergarten puts it "in the limelight," but passage isn’t assured.
"I think we're going to look at it during the session this year and see what are the actual dollars in the kindergarten program," Carlson said.
As promised, Brownback offered an apology for historical mistreatment of American Indian tribes. He also touched on the history of slavery, racial segregation and abortion in Kansas.
He said Kansas' role throughout history has been to "blaze the trail for America out of the wilderness" at such tumultuous times.
He lauded the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" when thousands of anti-abortion protesters descended on Wichita for demonstrations that led to 2,600 arrests.
"The Summer of Mercy sprung forth in Kansas as we could no longer tolerate the death of innocent children," Brownback said.
Brownback said Kansas is leading an "American Renaissance" based on a return to traditional "virtue and character." He urged trust in God over government, peppering his speech with seven references to a higher power, including several in the opening and closing.
"Our dependence is not on Big Government but on a Big God that loves us and lives within us," Brownback said. "Our future is bright. Our renaissance is assured if we move from dithering to action, if we listen to our own better angels and the still, small voice that calls us onward."
Eagle editorial: Still more tax cuts?
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman
Even after the state’s historic $1.1 billion income-tax break, a new Kansas Chamber of Commerce poll of CEOs found strong demand for more tax cuts. If that priority prevails at the Statehouse, then the public schools, universities, social services and other budget areas hoping for restored funding could be out of luck.
You would expect more evidence of gratitude by now for the 2012 tax cuts, which ended state income taxes for nearly 200,000 companies as of last year and lowered personal income-tax rates on what Gov. Sam Brownback vowed would be a “glide path to zero.” The governor and Legislature intended the reform as a fast-acting way to help businesses and to bolster economic and population growth.
And after all, as Wichita certified public accountant Gary Allerheiligen noted at a small-business forum this week in Kansas City, Kan., “Many small businesses in Kansas can now say, ‘I am no longer a Kansas taxpayer.’”
But in the poll of 300 executives and owners of mostly small businesses, conducted in November and December, 57 percent said they paid too much in state and local taxes (up from 50 percent for 2012 and 55 percent for 2011 and 2010) and 64 percent said they thought it would help the economy to lower taxes. Asked for the top two issues affecting their profitability, 40 percent of those polled said lower business taxes – 10 percent more than last year.
Maybe executives have just been too busy running their businesses to notice the state tax cuts yet, or too distracted with anger over their higher federal tax bill.
Maybe the Topeka action on income and sales taxes the past two legislative sessions heightened business owners’ awareness of their tax burden – and the troubling reality that the governor and lawmakers, fighting to cover spending obligations, dropped the statewide sales tax only to 6.15 percent last year, rather than to the scheduled rate of 5.7 percent.
Or maybe the benefits of the income-tax cuts for business are being blunted by local property-tax hikes that have occurred – not coincidentally – across much of Kansas in response to state funding cuts to local governments. In the poll, questions about “possible revenue sources for the state” found the greatest opposition to increasing property taxes (91 percent), followed by income taxes (87 percent) and the statewide sales tax (75 percent, up from 64 percent opposition in 2012).
Whatever is behind the surge in interest in tax cuts, chamber president Mike O’Neal sees it as a signal to keep pushing for lower taxes while ensuring the recent cuts aren’t rolled back. “We aren’t done. We’re on a track to continue to reduce,” O’Neal said in a conference call with state media. “Not only should we play defense and make sure that’s not undone, we need to keep plowing ahead.”
And what the Kansas Chamber wants from the Legislature, it tends to get.
Top three ways Supreme Court could avoid school finance shutdown
One week out from the start of the legislative session, and everyone is still waiting with bated breath for the Kansas Supreme Court to rule in the school finance case. Which leaves pundits and gadflies little else to do for the time being than to sit around and speculate about what will happen, and then what will happen next.
The conventional wisdom currently takes two forms: a slam-dunk win for the plaintiffs, with an order to increase funding by hundreds of millions of dollars, leading to a constitutional showdown between the court and the Legislature; or a slam-dunk win for the state, overturning the court's previous ruling in Montoy vs. Kansas (2005), and holding that the court has no authority to question the political judgment of the Legislature regarding appropriations.
The latter, of course, seems to be little more than a pipe dream even among conservatives who take that view. Judging by conservative blogs, and the very nature of the latest Kansas Policy Institute public opinion poll, even they are bracing themselves for an adverse decision, and are girding themselves for the constitutional battle to follow.
But let me suggest there are at least three ways the court could conceivably rule that would avoid the whole showdown between the legislative and judicial branches and thereby leave both sides a little disappointed. First, however, a little review about how we got here:
In Montoy, the Court said that for funding to be constitutional, the Legislature must consider two factors: the actual cost of providing an education, including reasonable administrative costs; and the equity with which those funds are distributed. Adequacy and equity.
The equity piece applies not just to the base funding the state gives to school districts, but also to other parts of school budgets that the Legislature has authorized, namely Local Option Budgets, or LOBs, and capital outlay budgets.
Both of those are somewhat discretionary funds, and it's up to each local school board to decide how much it needs. But in property-rich districts like those in Johnson County, it takes a much smaller mill levy to raise any given amount of money than it does in poorer districts. Thus, the Legislature provides "equalization aid" to subsidize those budgets for poorer districts, so that 1 mill of property tax in Galena, or even Kansas City, yields roughly the same amount of revenue as 1 mill in Olathe or Blue Valley .
In the current case, Gannon vs. Kansas, the plaintiffs argued -— and the trial court agreed — that since 2008-2009, the Legislature has walked away from both of those commitments, slashing base state aid without any regard for the actual costs of running schools, and failing to fully fund the equalization formulas. The LOB formula is now only partially funded, and the capital outlay formula has gone completely unfunded for years.
So how can the court untie this knot without bringing down the wrath of a vengeful governor and Legislature? (Think constitutional amendments; changing the way Supreme Court justices are selected; lowering the mandatory retirement age for justices to force a few of them out to pasture; messing with their pension plans ... etc.) Here are some possibilities:
• Dismiss for lack of standing: This was an argument Solicitor General Steve McAllister raised during oral arguments. He said the plaintiffs made a huge procedural mistake by failing to put anything in the record about who the named plaintiffs, Luke Gannon et al., even are, let lone how they individually have been harmed by the alleged constitutional violation. At most, this would be a delay move by the court because it would just force the plaintiffs to refile the case, take a few depositions by those plaintiffs and go through the whole lengthy, and costly, process again, leading in all likelihood to the same result anyway. However, it does seem that if a majority of justices wanted to take that route, they would have done it already. It wouldn't take three months to write that opinion.
• Uphold on equity; punt the rest: The equity issue is really the least defensible for the state. The equalization formulas still exist in statute, suggesting the Legislature still acknowledges they are necessary. It just hasn't funded them, and it really has provided no plausible rationale for that, other than saying it just doesn't want to. If the court acts only on that issue, it would be hard for others to argue that the justices are "legislating from the bench." The Legislature enacted those formulas; the court has previously upheld them as constitutional. According to the Kansas State Department of Education, fully funding the LOB equalization would cost $103.9 million next year. Capital outlay equalization would be in the range of $25 million. That's still a chunk of change, but less than the full package and a little more defensible politically. That would leave only the big-ticket item of base state aid unresolved, to wit:
• Remand for a new cost study: In Montoy, the Court used two different cost studies that the Legislature itself commissioned to come up with a base funding level that lawmakers eventually adopted. That's what led to the statute that is still in place saying base state aid today should be $4,492 per pupil, instead of the $3,838 the state is actually funding.
At the Gannon trial during the summer of 2012, however, the plaintiffs relied on one expert witness to update those cost studies, and it was a witness who wasn't involved in either of the original reports. They also presented school officials from plaintiff districts who testified that costs have gone up and current funding was inadequate, but not by how much. The state, for its part, offered no alternative evidence to suggest that $3,838 is an adequate figure, other than the self-evident fact that schools seem to be getting by with it anyway, so what the heck.
One conceivable middle path out of that problem would be to demand new evidence. Remand the case — either back to the trial court, or to the Legislature itself — and tell both sides to put new, current cost estimates into the record and come up with a new figure that is supported by evidence.
That, in essence, is what the court really did in Montoy, a case that was heard by the Supreme Court, in one form or another, five times before it was finally dismissed in 2006 — and then a sixth time in 2010 when the court refused to reopen it.
Kansas Makes the NYTimes once again - not good!
Education advocates challenge poll on school finance
December 30, 2013
A recent poll by a conservative lobby group suggests that a large number of Kansans oppose the idea of courts determining how much money should be spent on public schools.
But advocates for public schools are criticizing the poll, saying the questions were loaded with false or misleading information intended to sway the way people would respond.
The poll was conducted Dec. 18-19 by SurveyUSA
on behalf of Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank that lobbies for lower taxes, limited government and “school choice” initiatives such as charter schools and vouchers.
The first question in the poll asked respondents for their opinions about a school finance lawsuit now pending before the Kansas Supreme Court. The appeal challenges a lower court ruling that said the Kansas Legislature has violated the state constitution's requirement to provide adequate funding for public schools.
The trial court ordered the Legislature to increase state funding by nearly 15 percent, to $4,492 per pupil — the amount already provided for in statute, but which the Legislature has not fully funded through appropriations.
In asking people's opinion about the courts' role in deciding such a case, the KPI poll first explained the case differently:
“A state court has effectively ordered legislators to increase school funding by $443 million, which would also automatically increase local property taxes by another $154 million,” the survey stated. “Regardless of whether you believe schools are adequately funded, how would you respond to this statement: It is appropriate for the courts to have final say on decisions of how much taxpayer money is spent on education.”
The survey of 500 adults from throughout the state showed the public almost evenly divided on the issue, with half saying they disagreed, and 47 percent saying they agreed. The survey had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points either way.
KPI president Dave Trabert said the claim that local property taxes would rise as a result of the decision was based on an assumption that if the state was ordered to increase its share of education funding, then local districts would automatically allow their “local option budgets,” or LOBs, to rise accordingly.
“Unless local school boards proactively vote to reduce their LOB rates, local taxes would increase by default,” Trabert said in an email to the Journal-World.
But others familiar with the lawsuit said the premise of the question was misleading.
Under state law, districts can supplement their base budgets by up to 31 percent with money raised from local property taxes. But those LOBs must be set each year by local school boards as part of their annual budgeting process.
"Nothing is automatic," said John Robb, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case. "The Legislature would determine how best to fund the schools, not the courts. KPI knows this and yet they persist in fear mongering."
Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll noted that some districts were forced to raise their LOBs to make up for cuts in state funding, and so restoring those state cuts could lead to cuts in local taxes.
"In some districts they've had to jack (up) their local mill rate, if they wanted to keep their funding at the same level," he said. "So they either had to choose to cut their funding or increase their mill rate."
SurveyUSA CEO Jay Leve defended the poll and the wording of the questions.
"We work with our clients in collaboration and ask questions we believe are accurate," Leve said. "We don't intentionally put false premises in any question."
The Supreme Court has not indicated when it will rule on that case, but many observers expect it around the same time the Kansas Legislature begins its 2014 session in January.
Kansas City Star: Much Rides on the Future of Kansas School Funding
A decision by a three-judge panel hit with a boom on Jan. 11 of this year,
and has reverberated ever since in Kansas political and educational circles.
Once again, a court ruled that the Kansas Legislature has violated the
state constitution by underfunding public schools. If the judicial panel’s
decision is allowed to stand, it could set off a constitutional crisis in
addition to worsening the state’s already perilous budget situation.
A reversal, though, would send the wrong message to lawmakers and possibly
encourage them to invest even less in educating children.
We probably won’t have to wait long for the completion of the next chapter.
The Kansas Supreme Court, which heard the case on appeal, is expected to make
public its ruling early in 2014.
The Legislature’s failure to adequately pay for public education is a
long-running Kansas story. The Supreme Court in 2005 ordered lawmakers to put
more money into school financing. Conservatives bitterly decried the ruling,
but finally settled on increasing allocations for three years until they were
funding schools by an additional $755 million annually.
The state kept its word for two school years. Then the recession hit.
Starting in the 2009 school year, Kansas cut funding to its elementary and
secondary schools by more than $500 million. After rising to a high of $4,438
per pupil in the 2008-09 school year, base state aid is now $3,812.
Such is the lack of confidence in Kansas’ will and ability to properly fund
public education that when Gov. Sam Brownback recently said he would like to
move to universal all-day kindergarten, people instantly wondered what other
essential classroom services would be cut to pay for full-day classes.
By rashly signing off on deep income tax cuts, the Republican governor and
the conservative-dominated Legislature have worked themselves into a corner
from which few good options are possible.
Assuming the Supreme Court upholds the district court panel’s ruling, as
expected, the Legislature would have to choose compliance or defiance.
To reach the level of funding agreed upon in 2005 would cost an additional
$450 million a year. That would require the Legislature to either cut too
deeply into the reserve fund, or take more money from other underfunded
services, such as colleges and universities or prisons.
Some legislative leaders have said they would ignore an order from the
state’s high court, trotting out the old argument that the judiciary has no
business telling lawmakers how to spend money.
But the Kansas constitution says that the legislature must make “suitable
provision” for financing public schools, and the business of the courts is to
uphold the state constitution. It’s difficult to predict what a standoff would
mean for the state, other than vast amounts of taxpayer money spent on legal
The best course would be for the Legislature to roll back some of the
income tax cuts that have decimated the state budget and forced Kansans to pay
more in sales taxes and property taxes.
Unfortunately, too many lawmakers are still beholden to the myth that
income tax cuts are the road to a job-creating economy. More than a year after
the cuts took effect, we’re not seeing the promised turnaround in Kansas. But a
number of conservatives would have to be unseated in the August and November
elections to force a reversal of the income tax cuts.
The school funding debate is expected to play a role in Brownback’s re-election
bid against his presumed Democratic opponent, state Rep. Paul Davis of
Lawrence. And it will surely be part of conservatives’ ongoing attempts to
undercut the independence of the courts by doing away with the nonpartisan
judicial selection process.
Brownback understands very well the high stakes of the expected Supreme
Court decision. It will likely fall to him to lead the Legislature to some
course of action. His ability to do so will loom large in his political future.
Brownback holding cards close to vest as session starts
Topeka — Going into the final legislative session of his term before he faces Kansas voters again, Gov. Sam Brownback will likely make major decisions on school finance, abortion, and renewable energy.
But the Republican governor, who enjoys strong Republican majorities in the House and Senate, is holding his cards close to the vest as he also focuses on his reelection campaign.
Brownback held brief interviews with reporters last week to talk about the upcoming session that starts Jan. 13. Brownback delivers his State of the State address Jan. 15.
Approximately 5 months after the session ends, Kansas voters will decide whether to give Brownback a second term, or elect likely Democratic nominee Paul Davis, the House minority leader from Lawrence.
Brownback deflected questions about how he would respond if the Kansas Supreme Court orders the Legislature to increase funding to public schools. A lower court panel ruled the state should increase funding approximately $500 million per year because the state unconstitutionally cut school funding. Meanwhile, Brownback successfully pushed for massive income tax cuts that will certainly result in a budget explosion should the court tell the state to restore school cuts.
"Let's see what they do," Brownback said referring to the state Supreme Court which is expected to issue a decision in the next month or so. "My primary push on a near-term basis is to see that the schools are not shut down," he said. In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court briefly considered keeping schools closed until legislators complied with court-ordered funding.
Will Brownback's purge of the GOP come back to haunt him?
By Scott Rothschild | Lawrence Journal-World
TOPEKA — Alarmed by the sharp change of direction in state government under Gov. Sam Brownback, a group of former Republican legislators has vowed to try to change his policies, with some members of the group working against his re-election.
The group of 70 people calls itself Traditional Republicans for Common Sense.
"The governor's poll numbers show that Kansans are not happy with what he is doing," said Rochelle Chronister, a spokeswoman for the group who has served as a legislator, state welfare agency secretary and chair of the Kansas Republican Party. "I think he has to be held accountable," Chronister said.
The group includes a number of well-known names in Kansas politics, such as former Senate President Steve Morris of Hugoton and former state senator Jean Schodorf, who has switched to the Democratic Party and is running against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. In fact, there are a number of Republican state senators in the group who were defeated in last year's GOP primary by allies of Brownback.
She said the Traditional Republicans group opposes the tax cuts pushed through by Brownback, including those that exempt certain businesses from income taxes while repealing tax credits aimed at helping low-income Kansans.
"We are very concerned about the trickle-down economics theory of the governor," she said.
Brownback has said his tax changes will stimulate the economy, but critics say the changes benefit wealthy Kansans while bankrupting schools and social services.
Chronister said the tax cuts will also make it impossible to provide the necessary funds to schools, especially if the Kansas Supreme Court orders an increase in a pending case.
And the group opposes efforts by Brownback to hand-pick appellate court judges without input from a nominating commission.
"Why would you trade a merit system for a political system? But of course if you are making a power grab that is something that you would do," she said.
And one policy that has personally irked Chronister is the recent proposal by Brownback to take $12 million from a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and use that for a program to boost grade-school reading scores.
"When you have that much money leftover in TANF to finance a reading program, you are not doing your job. That money should be used to help people earn a living," said Chronister, who used to be in charge of the agency that administers TANF.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- After two years of making wholesale changes in the Kansas income tax code, Republican state officials will sit back in 2014 and see whether the economic growth they envisioned takes hold.
With the help of the GOP-controlled Legislature, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through tax cuts for nearly 200,000 businesses and individual income taxpayers during the 2012 and 2013 sessions. His goal was to set the state on a path toward eliminating income taxes over time and attracting new residents and businesses.
"It's been a weak (national) recovery. But I'm very encouraged by the data that we have right now and I'm encouraged that our revenues to the state have held so strong. Things are working," Brownback said, noting it was too early to deem the cuts a success but pointing to "nice gains" in the Kansas portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area, southeast Kansas and northwest Kansas.
House Taxation Committee Chairman Richard Carlson said surrounding states have taken notice of Kansas' changes, but he doesn't expect legislators to do more when the session starts in Jan. 13.
"I look for the next year to be quiet. I think it's looking pretty good right now," the St. Marys Republican said. Brownback is also seeking to be re-elected in 2014.
But if revenues are any indication, legislators are likely to have little extra money next session for budget contingencies -- such as increases for public schools or a prison expansion. Kansas will collect $5.86 billion this fiscal year, according to a November fiscal forecast, 7.6 percent less than $6.34 billion collected in the fiscal year that ended June 30. And personal income tax collections are expected to decline 14.7 percent in the current fiscal year.
Though the fiscal forecast also projects $5.92 billion in revenue come the 2014-2015 fiscal year -- a 1 percent increase -- any surpluses will evaporate and leave a shortfall by the 2018 session, documents from the state's Legislative Research Department showed.
"It's going to be a disaster on the state's budget," Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said of the tax cuts recently.
Whatever happens, the cuts likely will be front and center during Brownback's bid for a second term.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who's running against Brownback, has been one of the harshest critics of the tax cut. The Lawrence Democrat argues Kansas cannot afford to lose that much money from a main source that quickly and that essential services, such as public education and social services, will bear the brunt of the effects.
"Gov. Brownback promised his tax plan would be a 'shot of adrenaline' to the Kansas economy, but adrenaline is something we feel immediately," Davis said. "The only immediate effect we're feeling from the Brownback tax plan is a budget crisis."
Davis said removing income taxes as a source of revenue puts the burden on sales and property taxes, which can disproportionately affect low- and middle-income wage earners.
"Kansans who are out of work can't afford to wait five years for jobs," he said.
Carlson said an improving national economy would amplify the effects of Kansas' tax cuts by creating more opportunity for job growth. And House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, senses the state is improving based on new business filings and a November unemployment rate that dropped to 5.1 percent.
"Recovery is a slow process, but there are lots of hopeful signs," Merrick said. "With that in mind, I'm always interested in examining ways to make our tax structure less burdensome to families and businesses and more conducive to economic growth."
Democrats also have argued that Kansas has a property tax problem, pointing to the fact that cities, counties and school districts have been forced to raise tax levies to pay for essential services and to pick up the cost of programs that were previously supported by the state.
Carlson understands the concern about property taxes, but said the state has to be wary of stepping in and taking authority away from local governments by placing restrictions on what they can collect.
"I do try to steer clear of that. I think we should let the people decide, but it is a concern statewide," he said.
Where will the money for
Kansas’ all-day kindergarten plan come from?
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says he believes in
the importance of kindergarten.
So much that he’s willing to increase public
spending so all children can attend full-day sessions, not just the half day
the state currently funds.
Too bad educators don’t believe him. Too much
history, governor — you’ve got a track record to overcome.
Kansas educators are used to Brownback
cutting public education, not funding it properly. And a major question is
unanswered about the proposal — where’s the money coming from?
The answer, many fear, will be taking the $80
million from the very sort of programs that would help young children,
especially those from less privileged families.
So you see the dilemma. This is why polite
nods and smiles greeted Brownback’s announcement this week that his January
budget unveiling will include a plan for the state’s school districts to
receive funding for all-day kindergarten for five years. No word on what
happens in year six.
Here’s how Kansas Families for Education
framed their response:
“This would be a great advance if it was
coming in addition to the basic school funding revenues already required by the
Kansas constitution. Our organization has long advocated for All Day K.
However, given that Gov. Brownback signed and the legislature he campaigned for
passed the largest cut to public education in the history of Kansas, this doesn’t
begin to compensate for the harm that has already been done. This looks more
like a campaign tactic than a real effort to restore school funding for all of
Moreover, the governor is linking his
newfound support to the premise that all-day kindergarten will boost reading
Actually, governor, to really impact literacy
rates, you need to begin much earlier.
Start at birth or even with the nutrition of
the mother-to-be and continue it forward. A crucial time period is birth to 3
years, while children’s brains are developing rapidly.
Oh. That bumps right into other Brownback
endeavors. The ones that have sliced families from the rolls of safety net
programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Educators know all-day kindergarten is
important. Nearly all of the state’s 286 school districts already offer it,
digging into tight finances to cover the costs or charging parents a fee. Yes,
they’d welcome extra funding.
What they aren’t
comfortable with is robbing from needy children to do it.
Sen. Hensley expects Gov. Brownback to make supplemental budget request to fill in school shortfall
Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday declined to say whether he would make a supplemental budget request to fill a nearly $38 million shortfall in public school funding.
"We'll be announcing budgets in a timely fashion," Brownback said. The 2014 legislative session starts in January.
But Brownback did say that school funding, Medicaid and pensions will be parts of his proposed budget that will "stick out as the growth area."
In the 2013 legislative session, Republicans passed a budget that set the school finance formula at $3,838 in base state aid per pupil in the current fiscal year and at $3,852 per pupil in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2014.
But a new estimate by the state shows funding will fall $17.8 million short in the current fiscal year and $19.9 million short in the next.
If the additional funding isn't provided, the base state aid will fall to $3,812 per student in the current year and to $3,823 in the next.
That size of a reduction in the Lawrence school district would mean the loss of $456,645, or the equivalent of the cost of eight teachers, although officials cited no specific plan to bridge such a shortfall if it were to occur.
"All I can say is that at this point I don't think its productive to speculate," said Lawrence School Board President Rick Ingram.
"It is too early and there is too little information to make any kind of decisions or even think about how we would handle this. If it looks likely that we will get a cut, then the board will sit down and figure this out," Ingram said.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka met with the Republican governor on Wednesday to discuss school finance issues.
"The governor told me yesterday he is going to recommend an increase in the base state aid per pupil. I'm assuming that the ball is in his court and that he will address this issue with a supplemental, plus an increase in the base state aid," Hensley said.
But Hensley said that "hanging over this whole process" are the income tax cuts signed into law by Brownback and the pending school finance lawsuit before the Kansas Supreme Court.
The state has appealed a lower court panel ruling that said legislators unconstitutionally cut school funding while passing mammoth tax cuts. The decision could force the state to increase school funding $500 million per year.
By MARY SANCHEZ The Kansas City Star
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says he believes in the importance of kindergarten.
So much that he’s willing to increase public spending so all children can attend full-day sessions, not just the half day the state currently funds.
Too bad educators don’t believe him. Too much history, governor — you’ve got a track record to overcome.
Kansas educators are used to Brownback cutting public education, not funding it properly. And a major question is unanswered about the proposal — where’s the money coming from?
The answer, many fear, will be taking the $80 million from the very sort of programs that would help young children, especially those from less privileged families.
So you see the dilemma. This is why polite nods and smiles greeted Brownback’s announcement this week that his January budget unveiling will include a plan for the state’s school districts to receive funding for all-day kindergarten for five years. No word on what happens in year six.
Here’s how Kansas Families for Education framed their response:
“This would be a great advance if it was coming in addition to the basic school funding revenues already required by the Kansas constitution. Our organization has long advocated for All Day K. However, given that Gov. Brownback signed and the legislature he campaigned for passed the largest cut to public education in the history of Kansas, this doesn’t begin to compensate for the harm that has already been done. This looks more like a campaign tactic than a real effort to restore school funding for all of our students.”
Moreover, the governor is linking his newfound support to the premise that all-day kindergarten will boost reading scores.
Actually, governor, to really impact literacy rates, you need to begin much earlier.
Start at birth or even with the nutrition of the mother-to-be and continue it forward. A crucial time period is birth to 3 years, while children’s brains are developing rapidly.
Oh. That bumps right into other Brownback endeavors. The ones that have sliced families from the rolls of safety net programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Educators know all-day kindergarten is important. Nearly all of the state’s 286 school districts already offer it, digging into tight finances to cover the costs or charging parents a fee. Yes, they’d welcome extra funding.
What they aren’t comfortable with is robbing from needy children to do it.
By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS The Kansas City Star
By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS
The Kansas City Star
The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved its first-ever policy aimed at addressing the way faculty and staff at six state universities use social media.
Establishing the policy was a direct result of controversy that erupted earlier this year when University of Kansas associate professor David Guth wrote on his personal Twitter account about the National Rifle Association and its members’ children. The comments went viral, and Guth was put on administrative leave until the university could figure out how to respond.
“When the incident with David Guth occurred at the University of Kansas, it made the nine-member board realize no policy existed regarding the use of social media,” said Breeze Richardson, a board of regents spokeswoman.
The board said in a statement that the policy was needed because of social media’s “particular susceptibility to misuse and damage to our universities.”
“The goal was to craft a constitutionally sound policy, utilizing Supreme Court language, that does not violate the free speech or due process rights of university employees while also establishing guidelines for employees and employers,” Richardson said.
The regents’ general counsel, Julene Miller, solicited review of the policy from the state attorney general’s office.
The regents’ policy, effective immediately, gives a university’s top leader the authority to suspend or fire any faculty or staff member who improperly uses social media, including Facebook, Twitter and other sites.
The policy’s list of improper uses includes communications that incite violence, disclose student information or research data, or are “contrary to the best interest of the university.”
The Guth matter has been resolved and will not be subject to the new policy.
He was placed on leave Sept. 20 after posting a comment after the Washington Navy Yard shootings. “Blood is on the hands” of the NRA, he tweeted. “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”
KU officials in October said Guth would not be allowed to teach again this academic year. He was assigned non-classroom responsibilities, including some administrative assignments, to be met “away from campus to the greatest extent possible,” a university statement said.
Kansas schools face major
challenges in the wake of recent funding cuts. (Kansas Center for Economic Growth)
Kansas has cut state education spending,
largest source of funding for local school districts, by $745 per student, or
more than 13 percent, since the start of the recession, after adjusting for
inflation. This is one of the deepest cuts in the country and will make it
harder for Kansas school districts to pursue much-needed reforms. For example,
is widespread agreement that recruiting, training and retaining
high-quality teachers is the most important thing that schools can do to help
students succeed. But many Kansas school districts have been eliminating
teaching positions in recent years, even as enrollments increase. Failure to
pursue education reform, in turn, will make it harder for Kansas to develop the
skilled workforce it will need to compete in today’s global economy.
Moreover, the income tax cut that Kansas enacted
last year threatens to dig Kansas’ education funding hole even deeper. Gov.
Brownback’s recent budget proposal, for example, recommends cutting education
funding by an additional $216 per student
over the next two years, on top of
cuts the state has already made. And Kansas policymakers are
considering new tax cuts this year that would further reduce the amount the
state can invest in education and other services. For the sake of the future,
Kansas needs to change course. The state should be boosting its lagging
investment in its schools, Kansas’ most important economic asset. It should not
by cutting that investment even further.
The politics have already
started…especially when you consider that House and Senate leadership were
in the Governor’s Meetings.
House and Senate
leadership offices said today they didn’t
get a heads-up about Gov. Sam Brownback’s announcement Monday that he would offer a plan for state
finance of all-day Kindergarten for Kansas schools.
The plan, to phase in
state funding at about $16 million a year for five years proposed by Brownback,
was last tried by Democrat former Gov.Kathleen Sebelius.
There was some grumbling today among Republicans about the surprise
initiative, which carries with it significant support among Democrats and moderate
Republicans and which may pull moderate
Republican support to Brownback’s reelection bid.
In the tricky political
world of the Statehouse, the surprise may
mean some problems among Republicans who weren’t made aware of the issue before
it went public.
Key here: The $16 million
first-year buy-in is probably most vulnerable in the House Appropriations
Being like Texas would be costly
Kansas budget per pupil just went down
December 13, 2013
When legislators left Topeka in June, they thought they had funded the school finance formula at $3,838 per pupil in fiscal year 2014 and $3,852 in FY 2015.
As it turns out, the budget per pupil will be lower than that.
In fall and spring of each year, the Division of the Budget, the Kansas Legislative Research Department and the Department of Education complete a “school finance consensus estimate” to calculate the cost of funding the state’s school finance formula. This fall, the estimating group determined that the amount lawmakers included in the budget will only be enough to cover $3,812 per pupil in FY 2014 (July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014) and $3,823 in FY 2015.
Public schools have larger enrollments than predicted this year, more students have been classified as “at risk” than expected, and the statewide mill levy did not produce as much revenue as estimated earlier — all of which means the budgeted state dollars do not stretch as far as hoped.
ow much would it take to get back to the expected level? An additional $18 million in FY 2014 and $20 million in FY 2015.
That’s not all though.
Kansas law calls for the state to pay 92 percent of special education costs. The school finance consensus estimate shows that FY 2014 funding falls $66 million short of that and FY 2015 funding $74 million short. And the portion of the school finance formula designed to provide school districts with “supplemental aid” (local option budget aid) is also short $95 million in FY 2014 and $104 million in FY 2015.
Altogether, the estimate identified a $377 million shortfall between the two years to reach $3,838 per pupil in FY 2014 and $3,852 in FY 2015 and to fund special education and supplemental aid as the formula requires.
However, $3,838 and $3,852 are still well below the statutory requirement of $4,492 per pupil (KSA 72-6410). The state has never reached $4,492, but did fund $4,400 per pupil in FY 2009 (see chart below).
If lawmakers add enough money to get back to $3,838 and $3,852, how much more would be needed to make it to $4,492? The estimators did not calculate an “official” number, but it comes to roughly $450 million per year.
Wow! Lawmakers are a long distance from the state’s written school finance requirements, and they will have their work cut out for them in the next legislative session no matter what happens with the school funding case now being considered by the Kansas Supreme Court.
—Duane Goossen, KHI's Vice President for Fiscal and Health Policy, served as state budget director for 12 years in the administrations of three governors.
Gov. Brownback raises pension costs as school issue
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:02 pm
TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Republican legislators and school officials met this week to discuss funding for public schools and the retirement fund for teachers and other state workers.
The discussion during a 90-minute meeting Monday touched on the state’s finance formula and other responsibilities, such as keeping the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System solvent. Brownback said increases in state contributions to the system as a whole should be considered, not just how much Kansas spends per student each year.
“Our goal is to ensure Kansas schools remain strong and produce students who are prepared for college and careers,” Brownback said Tuesday. “That means having a funding process that accounts for the all the elements of our education system, including a sound pension fund that helps us hire and retain skilled teachers.”
The pension funds and school finance formula are separate line items in the state budget, but Brownback stressed that they are linked. Kansas spends more than $3 billion on K-12 education annually, plus contributes $323 million to the retirement fund for teachers and staff.
Dale Dennis, deputy education commissioner for fiscal and administrative services, said legislators made the decision about seven years ago to require school districts to show pension funds on their budgets, even though the revenues come from the state.
The funding is sent by the state to the districts but immediately “boomerangs” to KPERS to be invested, Dennis said. Districts can’t spend the money or to collect any interest off the funds.
“I don’t think it is a bad idea because it tells the public and the taxpayer that the state is paying for it,” Dennis said.
John Robb, a Newton attorney representing school districts in a school finance case on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court, said the state ran into trouble with its pension system when legislators failed to make adequate contributions to the system starting in the 1990s. The decision caused the gap between what the state owes to beneficiaries and what it has in the fund to grow.
Robb said it “is absurd” to think that schools must shoulder the cost of making the pension system solvent, noting income tax cuts Kansas enacted in 2012 have reduced how much money the state has to spend on services.
“The state pension plan and the schools are both state responsibilities and both are underfunded,” Robb said. “The constitution protects education. It does not protect tax cuts.”
KPERS officials said in September that the system’s unfunded liability had risen to $10.2 billion, despite a 14.5 percent net return on investment. Legislators and Brownback pushed changes in the system in 2012 that included increasing employee and employer contributions to improve long-term solvency.
Texas experiment results in higher taxes
By MICHAEL SMITH
Michael Smith is an associate professor at Emporia State University.
When Gov. Sam Brownback cried, "Look out, Texas. Here comes Kansas!" in his 2013 state of the state address, he probably did not mean higher property taxes, relocated minimum-wage jobs and unequal school funding.
Yet, these problems balance out Texas' storied economic growth. Brownback wants to eliminate Kansas' income tax, the single largest share of revenues. This means massive changes to school funding, services and property taxes. The impact on economic growth is less clear.
With no income tax and a relatively modest sales tax rate of 6.25 percent, Texas also features some of America's highest property taxes. A recent report by the Lincoln Institute of Land Use Policy names San Antonio, Fort Worth and El Paso among the nation's top five for home property taxes.
Nor is there relief from industrial property taxes: America's top five include Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas and San Antonio. Granted, Texas' property values are much lower than those on the East and West coasts, and this eases the taxes.
Still, Texas' property taxes are clearly higher than those in Kansas, which also has affordable property costs and low assessments. Despite this, Texas still ranks only 40th among states for per-pupil education funding. Wealthy, suburban districts near Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio take care of their own, while students in the less-wealthy parts of the state take the brunt.
Just recently, Texas courts ruled the state's school funding system unconstitutional. According to the successful plaintiffs, $43,000 per classroom separates the state's wealthiest school districts from its poorest ones.
Texas is indeed America's fourth-fastest growing economy, just edged out by the West Virginia and North Dakota, two much smaller states which are both more dependent than Texas on the drilling, mining, and fracking industries. Yet Texas' growth is also surpassed by quirky Oregon. The birthplace of the very un-Texan concept called "smart growth," Oregon is Texas' opposite, with no sales tax and heavy reliance on the income tax. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, but here is what's really smart: realizing that economic growth is influenced by many things, not just one tax.
Texas' economic miracle also casts a long shadow. The state leads America in percentage of people without health insurance (one in four residents, not counting the state's many undocumented immigrants). Nearly 10 percent of Texans work for minimum wage, compared to 6.5 percent nationally. Finally, not all of Texas' "new jobs" are really new at all. Gov. Rick Perry's controversial "move your business to Texas" ad campaign in other states earned the ire of many people, ranging from California Gov. Jerry Brown to trash-talking New Yorkers on "The Daily Show."
Jokes aside, the larger point is that many Texas jobs are simply relocated from other states to a place where wages are lower, environmental protections fewer, health care benefits rarer, and unions harder to organize. In these cases, Texas is winning a zero-sum game at the expense of other states and their workers.
Texas' economy still has plenty of bright spots, with robust growth in sectors ranging from biomedical research, to trade with Mexico, to immigration, to natural resources, to tourism. Yet, it seems simplistic to attribute all of this just to having no income tax. Kansas should not sacrifice its long history of moderate politics, funding for schools, high student performance and graduation rates, support for universities, and good roads to copy a state whose geography, economy and demographics are fundamentally different. We also need a climate that really creates jobs instead of just moving them from other states, at lower wages. Finally, there are those steep property taxes.
For my money, it's high time that we tell Texas, "Don't mess with Kansas!"
School finance defining debate of Brownback administration
School administrators say they are struggling to make ends meet
BASE STATE AID
State funding in the form of base state aid per pupil makes up the biggest portion of school operating budgets. A look at where aid stood over the last five years:
In 2008-09, before the budget cuts of the recession, base state aid was $4,433 per pupil.
By the time Gov. Sam Brownback took office, it had dropped to $3,937.
In his first year in office, base aid fell further to $3,780.
It is now $3,838 and should increase to $3,852 next year.
By statute, current base state aid should be $4,492 per pupil.
By Celia Llopis-Jepsen
BALDWIN CITY — On Thursday morning at Baldwin Primary Center, a pre-kindergarten through second-grade building in rural Baldwin City, school nurse Carrie Enick found herself juggling priorities.
Enick, the sole nurse for the district’s four schools, had a list of vision screenings to get through that day, but an allergic reaction at the primary had delayed her plans.
“I’m about three hours late getting to another building,” she said, a portable device for conducting vision tests in hand.
A few years ago, Enick was one of two nurses caring for the 1,400 students of Baldwin City Unified School District 348. As state aid dwindled, dropping one of the positions was one way the district coped.
Now she farms out some of her daily tasks to teachers, training them to dispense medications and conduct tube-feedings.
“I truly feel like I can’t do what I need to do in any building,” she said. “I’m trying to do the minimal in every building.”
When Gov. Sam Brownback took office, schools like this one were already reeling. The recession had brought what were likely the largest cuts to their operating budgets in state history.
But once the recession faded, those funds didn’t rebound as some had hoped. Meanwhile, the governor cut income taxes — reductions meant to bolster the economy.
Whether Brownback made a shrewd fiscal decision or should have restored school funding is one of the most contentious debates of his administration.
In an interview this past week about his record on K-12 education, the governor said the matter should be viewed in perspective.
“I came in and we were facing a huge budget hole,” he said, “and teacher pensions have been horribly underfunded.”
He emphasized that Kansas has great schools and added that base state aid, which school districts use for operating costs, will increase next year. Overall funding for K-12 education, meanwhile, has risen each year of his administration.
Paying the bills
The fact that overall funding has increased is little comfort to parents like Christi Darnell, a mother of two and former president of the parent-teacher group at Baldwin Primary.
Darnell notes that her district is better off than most — it has a healthy local tax base. Yet, she said, “we feel like we’re barely hanging on.”
Baldwin Primary doesn’t look like a school that is struggling. The architecture is beautiful. The library’s desks are lined with widescreen Macs. In the classrooms, the older students learn to use laptops.
But the building and technology were paid for primarily with local taxes.
Meanwhile, class sizes have risen from 16 or 17 children per class to 22 or 23. There is no librarian anymore, no computer teacher for the library’s lab, and the school is short 1.5 custodians.
For a few years, principal Deb Ehling-Gwin started work at 4 a.m. each morning to help clean the building.
“It’s the small-town lifestyle that’s being threatened,” said Darnell, who sees schools as the heart of her community, “and what else is Kansas but small towns?”
Up or down?
Brownback took office in 2011 with an ambitious vision for schools.
He promised to boost reading proficiency and said more students would leave high school with the right credentials for college or a career.
In his first year in office, base state aid fell from $3,937 to $3,780 per student — a statewide drop of $125 million.
The governor disputes that he cut that money, because the previous year Kansas had put $145 million in federal stimulus funds toward base state aid. With that gone, the Legislature increased its appropriation, though it didn’t make up the full difference.
Nearly three years after his inauguration, base state aid is $3,838 per pupil — lower than at the height of the recession and well below the pre-recession level of $4,433.
“To me,” said Paul Dorathy, superintendent of Baldwin City schools, “every dollar they’ve expected that could have restored funding, they’ve put into tax cuts instead.”
Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican on the House Education Committee, says schools are in “survival mode.”
“We are well below the number that the Legislature put in statute as the appropriate number to fund our schools,” Rooker said, referring to $4,492 per student.
Other categories of funding are below statutory levels, too. Poorer districts now get 78 percent of the equalization aid to which they are entitled. Special education aid is a similar story, and capital outlay aid, for costs like bus purchases and roof repairs, is gone entirely. All in all, state funding today is more than $500 million below statutory levels.
For Dorathy, the crunch hasn’t always been easy to explain to patrons.
Voters in his community passed a $23 million bond issue in 2008 to build the primary, buy classroom technology and complete other projects. Then the recession hit. The district shed staff members and closed two elementaries in neighboring towns, with around 100 students each.
Dorathy couldn’t use the bonds to prevent the cuts. They had to be spent on their intended purpose.
And despite the cuts he has seen, Dorathy said he recognizes K-12 funding has gone up overall.
The single biggest increase has been pensions. Brownback wants to fix Kansas’ long underfunded public retirement system and in 2012 raised employer contributions.
The initiative is appreciated, Dorathy says, but it doesn’t help him pay the bills.
“I can’t use KPERS to gas up our buses,” he said.
Excellence in education
The debate over funding has perhaps eclipsed other facets of Brownback’s education agenda.
In 2012, the governor unveiled sweeping proposals to promote excellence in schools.
Among other things, he wanted to help high-schoolers pursue technical education. Now in its second year, that initiative pays for tuition and emphasizes jobs with proven shortages of workers, such as nursing and welding.
Clark Coco, dean of the Washburn Institute of Technology, says the program opened the door for students from all economic backgrounds.
“It was a barrier out there for some students that was removed,” Coco said.
In a single year, the number of high-schoolers enrolled at schools like Washburn Tech jumped 50 percent.
Some key initiatives have stalled, however. Brownback’s proposal to hold back third-graders who are behind in reading failed in the Legislature, something the governor sees as a setback.
“We ought to set a hard mark there,” he said.
The proposal might boost fourth-grade reading scores, as the governor has promised to do, but critics like Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, say early-childhood programs would be more effective.
Kelly also has reservations about legislating retention criteria.
“It took the parents and the teachers out of the equation,” she said.
Meanwhile, statewide reading scores have fallen two years in a row, a drop some educators see as the upshot of years of tight funding.
There were around 1,100 fewer certified employees at Kansas schools last year than before the recession. The drop was mostly teachers but also administrators. There were 75 fewer superintendents, assistant superintendents and principals.
Average teacher salaries in Kansas also lag behind 40 other states, data from the National Education Association show.
Tammy Bartels, president of the Kansas Parent-Teachers Association, says that may discourage talented people.
“If you want to have quality teachers, you have to pay them,” Bartels said. “We’re not doing anything as a state to encourage students to go into teaching.”
School finance lawsuit
The sense that funding might affect school quality is a pivotal question in the finance debate and in a lawsuit pending at the Kansas Supreme Court that argues state funding is unconstitutionally low.
Brownback rejects the idea that courts should decide the matter and said elected officials and school administrators should talk it out.
“This really should be about a dialogue,” the governor said.
Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, a former school principal and chairman of the House Education Budget Committee, describes that approach as “very positive.”
“Let’s get common-sense people to sit down,” Cassidy said, “and stay out of the courts.”
The key, he says, is making sure money is spent where it is needed. Some schools are making do with very little and others need to be more efficient.
Brownback explored that issue last year when he launched a school efficiency task force.
Its recommendations included a two-year funding cycle for schools the governor hopes will offer districts more stability for planning their budgets.
Ken Willard, R-Hutchinson, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education who chaired the task force, said the panel was a key step in tackling tough questions.
“That laid the groundwork,” Willard said.
Though schools are experiencing a financial crunch, he said, there are positive effects, too. As examples, he cited partnerships between schools and their communities, and the closing of some buildings that were just too small.
“Scarcity will encourage things to happen that ought to happen,” he said. “No one wants to talk about the C-word — consolidating schools.”
Brownback’s critics, however, say scarcity is pushing the burden of financing schools from the state to local taxes.
Statewide data show that average school district mill levies have crept up since the recession, from 47.9 mills to 51.6. Local taxes as a source of total funding rose from 34.7 percent to 37.5.
For Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, a member of the Senate Education Committee, that is a concern.
“That’s what happens when the state doesn’t uphold its constitutional obligation,” Hensley said. “Property taxes are probably the most regressive of taxes.”
But Brownback says under the current school finance formula, increasing state aid can lead to higher local taxes. Districts are allowed to levy local funds for a supplemental operating budget that can grow in relation to their general state aid.
“I want local property taxes to go down,” he said.
Base state aid will climb to $3,852 per student next year, a figure that is still below pre-recession levels. Baldwin City schools continue to seek savings.
The district office is moving to a smaller building to cut its heating bills, and at the start of the year, students showed up not just with personal school supplies but also office and cleaning supplies — two reams of A4 copy paper per student and table wipes for the classrooms.
Meanwhile, the school year is five days shorter this year. That trims the bills further, Dorathy said, but hurts the students.
“We never really wanted kids to have to feel this,” he said, “but in some ways they have.”
Kansas ranked 4th worst for school budget cuts
By: Annette Lawless - Email
Updated: Thu 5:43 PM, Nov 21, 2013
· Report: Kansas is 4th worst state for education cuts
· Related Links
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A new report by the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities states that Kansas ranks as the fourth worst state in the country in depth of cuts to school funding since the start of the recession.
"We clearly have needs to improveour performance across Kansas," said Mark Tallman, the associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Thursday afternoon, parents and educators met for a special meeting of the Andover Parent Legislative Council.
In Tallman's presentation, he said state aid to school districts was reduced by more than $400 million from the 2008-09 to the 2009-10 academic years. At the same time, federal stimulus money helped aid the state by $300 million, which was used to help pay for base state aid, local option budget aid and special education state aid.
"We've generally had an improvement for about a decade as we added funding in real terms. As funding has leveled off, our performance has leveled off," Tallman said.
Still, Kansas schools are about $100 million under budget, and cuts to education may have lasting effects on the quality of education, Tallman said. Typically, Kansas ranks as a top-15 state in terms of academic achievement. However, in recent years, scores have slipped in standardized tests like the ACT.
Tallman said a big part of the problem is that funding, even with small increases in the past year, are not necessarily going directly to students. Some of those funds have been shifted to other district priorities, like paying for teacher retirement funds and other federal and state requirements.
"I'm frustrated that we're rebounding, that we could have more money available, but the legislature is not restoring some of those cuts," said Andover parent Laura Roddy. "I understand that in the recession, some tough decisions had to be made and there were cuts, but we are recovering now, and I find it frustrating that we're not seeing a corresponding increase in school funding, particularly in school funding that can go toward operating budgets."
Roddy has two children in Andover schools. She said districts need to reconsider funding now, so it can make a solid investment in the state's future.
"We need to make sure that we're investing our dollars where they count, and I think investing our money in public education is one of the best ways we can spend our public funding," she said.
Board to review plan for developing new tests
TOPEKA - Kansas State Board of Education members are preparing to consider a proposal for a multistate group to develop new, standardized tests for public schools.
The proposal on Wednesday's agenda comes from the state Department of Education.
Commissioner Diane DeBacker said the department wants the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop math, reading and language arts tests to be given first in spring 2015.
Kansas is among 21 states involved in running the consortium, which is based in Washington state. Under the department's plan, the University of Kansas would still administer the tests developed by the multistate group.
The university has developed tests in the past.
The new tests would be based on multistate, common core standards. The standards have been attacked by conservatives as endangering local and state control of education.
Nov. 9, 2013
Brownback, Wagle: School finance ruling could trigger public fight over judge selection
By Dion Lefler
The Wichita Eagle
Gov. Sam Brownback and Senate President Susan Wagle told a Wichita business audience Thursday that the upcoming session of the Legislature will hinge on how the state Supreme Court rules in a school-finance lawsuit – a decision that could push lawmakers toward trying a constitutional amendment to change the way justices are selected.
“If that (ruling) comes out at the first of the legislative session, that will probably dominate the legislative session,” Brownback said. “It will be about K-12 financing and whatever the court rules.”
The justices are considering whether to uphold a decision by a three-judge panel that ruled the state is underfunding schools and hasn’t met its constitutional obligation to provide suitable funding for public education.
Wagle – whom the governor called a “rock star and personal hero of mine” – projected that a decision requiring lawmakers to increase school funding would push the Legislature to go to voters with a constitutional amendment to change the way Supreme Court justices are picked.
“It will be a very tough year if we’re at odds,” Wagle said. “If we get that ruling down, what we’re going to do is focus on what is the role of the Supreme Court.
“Should they be interpreting law? Should they be appropriating money?” she added. “They aren’t elected and we’re real concerned that when they do analyze how much money is appropriate for K through 12 funding, they don’t get to hear all the other testimony we hear from the other groups in the state, whether it be transportation, corrections, higher ed, all the other entities we fund.”
Brownback also disputed his critics’ claims that he’d cut base state aid for education, the payments school districts use to help fund day-to-day operations.
Brownback said he’d actually increased the state’s contribution to base aid, but the schools got less because of the expiration of federal stimulus dollars that propped up school budgets at the height of the recession.
“That federal money went away, we put more state money in, but it wasn’t as much as the federal money went down,” Brownback said. “The state money went up, but the federal money went down and I get blamed for cutting base state aid, which I didn’t do.”
Later, Brownback said that a court order for increased K-12 funding could go as high as $500 million a year, money he says the state can’t afford.
And he hinted that could mean further cuts in state aid to the university system. This year, the Legislature cut about $60 million from higher ed for this budget year and next.
“There will be a lot of debate about higher education,” Brownback said. “Funding will be a major topic.
“I’ve been supporting stable funding for higher education. I think we ought to do that and then target our investment in key areas of growth – aviation, animal agriculture and medical sciences, certainly in the Kansas City area. Those I think will probably be key issues that will come up but it’s probably going to mostly pivot on what the Supreme Court rules.”
Brownback and Wagle made their remarks at an annual presentation by the governor to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.
In the past, the state has chosen appeals judges and Supreme Court justices through a “merit system” in which a panel of lawyers elected by the state bar and laypeople appointed by the governor picked three nominees. The governor selected from those three finalists.
The Senate favors the “federal model,” in which the governor could appoint anyone he wants, with a confirmation vote by the Senate.
This year, the House and Senate passed a law to change the selection of appeals court judges to the federal system, which could be done with a simple statute change.
Brownback’s first appellate appointment under the new system went to his own office counsel, Caleb Stegall, who was quickly confirmed by the Senate during a special session in September.
But the selection of Supreme Court justices is spelled out in the state Constitution and changing that would require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the Legislature, plus a public vote.
The Senate has already passed the proposed amendment, but it stalled in the House.
At one point, technical difficulties led to a moment of political levity during the governor’s speech.
When his PowerPoint presentation crashed in the middle of his talk, Brownback quipped “This is the Obamacare website,” drawing laughter from the crowd
As an aide struggled to get the presentation back on track, Brownback took some ribbing from the crowd for the computer’s desktop wallpaper, an idyllic image of a deserted ocean beach.
“What part of Kansas is that?” one of the diners called out.
“It’s the geographic center of the United States,” Brownback deadpanned.
From Mark Tallman:
Setting the Record Straight on School Employees and Spending http://tallmankasb.blogspot.com/2013/10/setting-record-straight-on-school.html
Oct. 28, 2013
Impact of state tax changes, reduced classroom spending being felt, officials say
October 24, 2013, 1:39 p.m. Updated: 24 October 2013, 5:02 p.m.
County and education officials on Thursday said the income tax-cutting and budget policies of Gov. Sam Brownback are leading to increased property taxes and reduced services and jeopardizing schools.
The comments were made during the annual Kansas Economic Policy Conference held at Kansas University, which focused on income tax cuts implemented by Brownback and the Republican-majority Legislature over the past two years.
But talk of the cuts quickly led to a discussion on state budget constraints caused by dwindling tax revenue.
John Heim, executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said that because of cuts in state classroom spending, school finance as a percentage of Kansas personal income will next year hit its lowest level in history.
“We are spending less than our parents spent on educating us and our grandparents spent on educating them,” Heim said. That trend, he said, “needs to change.”
Brownback has called his tax changes a “real live experiment,” which he said will boost the economy and lure jobs. His office released a statement Thursday that said state general fund spending to schools has increased since Brownback took office.
But Heim and other educators say Brownback’s figures include increased state contributions for the teacher retirement system, which never was counted before as classroom spending, and recently has had to be boosted because of pension problems.
Johnson County Manager Hannes Zacharias said the tax cuts are putting the state in a revenue crunch that affects county governments.
“We are at the end of the food chain, and things run downhill,” Zacharias said.
State revenue flowing to counties is lower now than it was in 2008, he said. And now the number of Kansans needing social service and welfare assistance has grown.
“We are entering an era where those that have, get,” Zacharias said. Approximately 20 percent of the state’s population resides in Johnson County.
Over a two-year period, Brownback signed into law reductions in the personal income tax rate, while cutting popular tax deductions, and establishing the 6.15 percent state sales tax rate.
One provision of Brownback’s tax changes eliminates income taxes for some 200,000 businesses that are limited liability corporations, subchapter S corporations and sole proprietorships.
Brownback has said that measure will increase job numbers, but Zacharias said he believes businesses are establishing Post Office boxes in Kansas to take advantage of the tax break, but they are not bringing jobs to the state.
Brownback’s office, however, pointed to a federal government report that showed from August 2012 to August 2013, the workforce of the Kansas portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area grew by 2.1 percent, while the Missouri portion, which doesn’t have the tax break, grew by 0.2 percent.
Later in the conference, Justin Ross, assistant professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, said the measure will provide incentives for companies to change their tax structure for tax purposes, which will reduce revenue to the state, while not necessarily increasing any economic activity.
Carolyn Bourdeaux, the associate director of the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University, said the exemption for LLCs was “exotic” compared with tax changes in other states.
She said she imagined accountants were working overtime to help companies restructure to take advantage of the tax break.
Donna Ginther, a professor in the economics department at KU, said the tax cuts are politically charged, but the reality of their effects may be difficult to determine.
“The tendency of politics is to claim victory. Everyone will point to their favorite stylized fact. The reality is a lot messier than that,” Ginther said.
School funding lawsuit could derail Brownback's tax
Current budget practice may create shortfall in 2015
if schools win suit
Posted: October 13, 2013 - 4:46pm
By John Hanna THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Hundreds of millions of tax dollars for public schools
are at stake in a lawsuit before the Kansas Supreme Court, but so is the core
of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s vision for the state.
Brownback is banking on massive personal income tax
cuts boosting the state’s economy, and his successful push for the reductions
makes Kansas a lab for conservative fiscal ideas. But Brownback’s signature
policy stands to unravel if aggrieved school districts and students pursuing
the lawsuit succeed in forcing a dramatic increase in education spending.
The Supreme Court heard arguments from attorneys last
week in the state’s appeal of a lower-court ruling that Kansas must increase
its annual spending on aid to its public schools by at least $440 million.
Projections from the Legislature’s research staff suggest the state can’t add
so much new spending to its annual budgets with the income tax cuts in place.
“If the court orders a very large sum of money, it is
very difficult to accommodate all of them,” Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce,
a Hutchinson Republican, said of the tax cuts, which he strongly favors.
Thirty students and the Wichita, Hutchinson, Dodge
City and Kansas City, Kan., school districts sued the state, and their
attorneys hope the Supreme Court agrees legislators aren’t providing enough
money to meet their responsibility under the Kansas Constitution to make
“suitable provision” for financing schools.
The state has faced education funding lawsuits for
more than 40 years, and the latest case was filed in 2010 — only 4½ years after
the last Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the subject. The state’s attorneys
argued the constitution gives legislators broad latitude in setting funding and
lawmakers haven’t provided more money for schools because of the economic problems
that arose during the Great Recession.
“This cycle of school finance litigation must end,”
Brownback said in a statement last week. “It is the Legislature who has the
power of the purse and they must decide how (to) solve this issue in the long
But the three-judge panel that heard the lawsuit in
Shawnee County District Court called the argument that legislators have done
the best they could for schools “completely illogical,” given income tax
reductions enacted under Brownback. Yet the tax cuts didn’t arise as an issue
during the Supreme Court’s hearing until Alan Rupe, a Wichita attorney
representing the students and school districts, raised it.
“I would put it in the ‘obvious’ category,” Rupe said
afterward. “I got a sense that they’re aware of them (the tax cuts).”
The Legislature’s research staff projects that changes
in the state’s tax laws will provide net reductions worth $540 million during
the current fiscal year, with the annual figure exceeding $1 billion in fiscal
2018. But legislative researchers also project that the state’s cash reserves
will dwindle over the next six years, so that before July 2019, the state would
face a projected budget shortfall.
While the projections could allow modest increases in
spending on aid to public schools and teacher pensions, increasing education
funding as much as the lawsuit demands could create a projected shortfall by
July 2015. Critics of the tax cuts championed by Brownback have described them
“I think that he did everything he could to undercut
us in every way possible,” said Lila Bartel, a retired English, social studies
and gifted education teacher from Topeka. “Did it ever make sense to cut the
Brownback and Republican legislators who backed the
income tax cuts are confident the reductions will improve the state’s economy,
create jobs and generate offsetting revenues to sustain schools. Brownback and
his allies want to phase out personal income taxes to create what Brownback
calls a “pro-growth” state.
The governor and his allies have repeatedly described
his policies as a sharp break with the past — and Brownback has gained
attention in national conservative circles for the reductions.
“The courts have the luxury of dealing with the
(school funding) case in a vacuum, as if nothing else matters,” said former
House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a strong backer of the tax cuts who’s now president
and CEO of the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce. “For local schools to
thrive and survive, they need a vibrant local economy.”
In past rulings, the Supreme Court has said the state
constitution requires Kansas to provide each child with a suitable education.
But in comments from the bench last week, several justices wondered whether
they can set a clear legal standard and suggested they want to avoid perpetual
There is also the question of how readily Brownback
and the GOP-controlled Legislature would comply with a decision ordering a
massive increase in spending.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon, a
former state revenue secretary who has strongly criticized the tax cuts, said
for Brownback’s makeover of the state to remain on track, “He can’t have a
piece out of his control.”
If the aggrieved students and school districts succeed
in the lawsuit, she said, “They turn off the Bunsen burner under his grand
Justices tell state it broke promise to fund schools
State attorney: "The constitution shouldn't be a suicide pact"
Posted: October 8, 2013 - 10:28am
THAD ALLTON/THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL
By John Milburn
The Associated Press
Several Kansas Supreme Court justices said Tuesday the state has broken its funding promises to public schools, and an attorney for aggrieved school districts blamed massive personal income tax cuts approved by legislators over the past two years.
At issue is whether the Supreme Court will uphold a lower-court ruling issued in January ordering the state to increase school funding by at least $440 million a year. The justices are considering a lawsuit filed in 2010 by attorneys for students and several school districts, including Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Wichita.
They contend that the state has failed to comply with a 2006 Supreme Court order to increase funding, violating a provision of the Kansas Constitution requiring the Legislature to make “suitable provision” for financing public schools. The court has previously ruled that the state is required to provide schools with enough money to give every child with a suitable education.
The state’s attorneys argued legislators have wide latitude under the Kansas Constitution in deciding how much to spend and did the best they could during and after the Great Recession.
But In ruling against the state early this year, a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court noted that as the state’s economy improved, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved massive personal income tax cuts. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback pushed for those tax reductions to stimulate the economy, but critics have said they will starve state government of funds.
“They took all the resources out of the system and then stand here and plead that they can’t afford to increase funding to schools,” said Alan Rupe, a Wichita attorney representing the students and school districts. “That’s the problem that we’re dealing with here.”
A Supreme Court decision is anticipated by early January 2014. The court is hearing its second round of litigation in less than a decade, with the 2010 lawsuit following up on one filed in 1999.
A state law enacted in 2006 set the state’s base funding for public schools at $4,492 per student, but the current base state funding is $3,838 per student, or nearly 15 percent less. However, Kansas allocated about $3 billion for public schools this fiscal year.
State Solicitor General Stephen McAllister argued that the Supreme Court would be overstepping its constitutional authority to step in again and tell lawmakers how much must be spent on public schools. And, he argued, such increases in funding aren’t sustainable.
“The Legislature has to deal with the real world,” McAllister said. “The constitution shouldn’t be a suicide pact.”
But Justices Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson said the court signed off on the 2006 law — and ended the previous lawsuit — based on promises that funding would increase.
“It stands before me, in my eyes, as a broken promise,” Rosen told McAllister. “If that promise had not been kept, we would not be here.”
When McAllister told the justices that legislators had to react to economic realities when making budget decisions, Johnson told him, “This is different.”
Justice Dan Biles, who represented the State Board of Education before his appointment to the court, said legislators have described education as the state’s top priority.
“Why don’t we just hold the Legislature to what they said?” Biles said.
But Biles also questioned whether the attorneys who sued the state presented enough evidence during the lower court trial about how individual students were harmed specifically. Rupe said Kansas courts haven’t required such detailed evidenced in the past.
Kansas Supreme Court: http://bit.ly/15keyOG
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
School funding: Is it up or down?
September 30, 2013
In a little more than a week, the Kansas Supreme Court
will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit claiming that school funding in Kansas is
Plaintiffs in the case argue that since the Great Recession
began in 2008, state lawmakers have cut public funding to schools, reducing
per-pupil funding to its lowest point since the mid-1990s.
But others claim just the opposite, arguing that
"total" funding — counting all state, federal and local sources of
revenue — is actually at or near an all-time high.
According to state budget reports, there is evidence
to support both arguments.
“Total” spending — which includes everything from
teacher salaries and retirement contributions to boiler repairs and federal
subsidies for school lunches — has indeed increased since the last school
finance case was resolved by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2006.
But almost everyone who works with school budgets on a
day-to-day basis will argue that the amount of money available to pay for
teachers and general operating expenses — what is often called “classroom”
spending — definitely has gone down.
“The operating money is down, but KPERS (the Kansas
Public Employees Retirement System) and bond and interest is up,” Deputy Education
Commissioner Dale Dennis said.
What the numbers say
According to figures published by the Kansas Division
of the Budget, in annual documents called the Comparison Report, “total” public spending
on Kansas schools grew almost 24 percent from 2006 to 2013, to $5.24 billion.
In addition, total state spending has grown about 17
percent, to $3.4 billion in the current fiscal year.
However, according to budget reports, that increase is
more than explained by the growth in KPERS contributions, the money the state
puts in to cover the employer's share of school employees' retirement benefits.
That's the result of legislation
passed in 2003 that called for stepping up the state's employer
contribution rates each year in order to address the retirement system's
long-term unfunded liability.
Although advocates on both sides of the school finance
debate agree that it's legitimate to include the cost of retirement benefits as
part of the overall cost of operating a school system, school officials argue
that they have no control over those costs, or over the benefits that public
employees receive through KPERS. Those are matters determined solely by the
Another major category that has increased over the
years is bond and interest aid — a subsidy the state pays to poorer school
districts so their property tax rates for repaying bonds can be roughly equal
to that of wealthier districts. According to state budget figures, that has
grown 106 percent since 2006, to $118.5 million this year.
Classroom spending down
Under the Kansas school finance system, local
districts have two major sources of money to pay for day-to-day operating
costs: the Base State Aid Per Pupil formula, which provides a flat amount of
money per pupil based on the district's "weighted" enrollment; and
supplemental aid, often referred to as the Local Option Budget, or LOB.
The LOB allows districts to levy local property taxes
to supplement their base funding from the state, but only up to 31 percent of
their state aid. And like the bond and interest program, the state subsidizes
the LOBs for poorer districts to help keep their property tax mill levies down.
Before the last school finance case went to the
Supreme Court in 2005, the base aid formula was set at $3,863. As a result of
that case, the Legislature agreed to a multiyear plan to raise that amount,
eventually reaching a peak of $4,400 in Fiscal Year 2009, which began in the
summer of 2008.
That translated to $1.9 billion in spending by the
state for both base aid and LOB subsidies.
But that was the year the Great Recession hit,
resulting in huge declines in revenue flowing into the state.
Then-Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, was the first to
cut the base formula by executive order. A series of cuts continued into the first
two years of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.
Today, the formula is set at $3,838 per pupil. But
even that is misleading, education officials say, because in 2005 the
Legislature also changed other parts of the formula. The equivalent under the
pre-2005 formula would actually be $3,594 — or $269 per pupil less than it was
before the last school finance case. That resulted in about $2.4 billion in
spending by the state on base aid and LOB subsidies.
The base aid formula is scheduled to go up next year
In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that amount
was too low because it was not enough to cover the actual cost of providing all
the educational services required under state and federal law, particularly in
schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students.
One of the key questions the Court will be asked to
decide on Oct. 8 is whether anything has changed to make that a suitable
funding level now.
Education's 'Common Core' in spotlight
Sep 30, 2013 (Menafn - The Salina Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information
Services via COMTEX) --During a nearly two-hour discussion of the "Common
Core" educational standards in math and language arts Tuesday night in
Salina, guess which words or phrases were most used:
2. Koch brothers
4. Bill Gates
Following a presentation by Brad Neuenswander, Kansas deputy commissioner
of education, about the Common Core standards that are being implemented in
Kansas and about 40 other states, Neuenswander opened the floor to questions.
The gathering was sponsored by the Saline County Democratic Party, and
party chairman Phil Black made a point of inviting Republicans such as State
Board of Education member and former legislator Deena Horst, of Salina, as well
as Vanessa Everhart, head of Kansans Against Common Core, of Minneapolis, and Walt
Chappell, a former member of the State Board of Education and an outspoken
critic of the new standards.
Neuenswander explained that "standards" are simply a list of
things students "ought to be able to know and do" and that state law
leaves it to the state Board of Education to set those standards, such as
"being able to multiply two-digit numbers in third grade."
While the state sets such standards in each subject for each grade, it's up
to individual districts to set the curriculum, which he defined as "how to
get kids to that (standard)."
And while Kansas has long revised its standards in each subject every seven
years, Neuenswander acknowledged the process was different this time.
"The idea of common standards across states had been talked about for
years," he said, and in 2007, state education officials from across the
country said, "Let's get serious about this."
Later in 2007, Kansas agreed to help develop the standards but didn't
commit to using them until October 2010, when they were approved by the state
Board of Education.
And while Neuenswander maintained that the standards were developed by the
states, Chappell and Everhart pointed out that the federal government has used
various financial incentives to push states to adopt the standards.
Chappell also said Kansas education officials had signed documents
committing Kansas to Common Core in January 2010 -- 10 months before the state
school board approved the standards. Additionally, he said, even though he was
a member of the state school board at the time, he couldn't get a copy of the
actual standards until a month before the board was to vote on them.
Neuenswander also explained that just 85 percent of the standards are
common among the participating states, and that each state can adjust the remaining
15 percent as it sees fit -- with Kansas using that leeway to emphasize career
and technical education.
Chappell countered that each state's individual standards won't be part of
the tests being developed, so teachers won't spend time on those areas.
Salinan Alan Jilka said it appeared much of the opposition to Common Core
was coming from the right-wing Koch brothers and the American Legislative
Exchange Council, and asked Neuenswander whether he knew why; he didn't.
But Salinan Janice Norlin said it was because the billionaire Koch brothers
"want complete control ... they don't want children to grow up with
critical thinking skills."
Billionaire Bill Gates also is trying to use his wealth to influence the
debate, Chappell said, donating millions to groups such as the National
Association of School Boards to get them to back Common Core.
A handful of companies stand to gain a nationwide monopoly on textbooks,
administering tests and other services once Common Core is fully implemented,
Chappell alluded to Neuenswander's earlier description of the tests that
will be administered under Common Core; rather than simple multiple-choice
tests, students will take tests in which they use touch-screen computers to
draw graphs, combine objects and even pour virtual liquids.
"If a test requires a touch-screen, where do you get the software to
do that?" Chappell asked. "Windows 8."
Near the end of the meeting, Neuenswander and Chappell both said the issue
isn't a Republican versus Democrat issue (Neuenswander is a Republican) and
"I know this has been talked about for a long time," Horst said,
citing her experience in the legislature before she was elected to the state
school board. "It's not an Obama thing. It's about our kids needing to
work at the highest level."
Answer: In descending order, "Koch brothers," "Bill
Gates," "Algebra," and finally "verb" -- which wasn't
Sept. 26, 2013
Sept. 21, 2013
Kansas Board to Extend Fingerprinting to Teachers
Those whose prints were never taken may now have to provide them
By John Milburn
The Associated Press
The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to require certain Kansas educators renewing their teaching licenses to submit fingerprints for checks against a state criminal database in effort to better screen classrooms for convicted felons.
The 9-1 vote came during a follow-up to the board’s discussion in August of how to strengthen a law requiring prosecutors to notify the state about criminal convictions of people seeking or renewing teaching licenses.
“If it is our job to police it, perhaps we need to say this is the way it’s going to be,” said board member Deena Horst of Salina.
Kansas has been fingerprinting applicants for new teaching licenses since 2002. The new policy would extend the requirement to those teachers renewing licenses who had never been fingerprinted.
Teachers must renew their licenses every five years, but they would only be fingerprinted on the first renewal. Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis estimated the policy change would apply to about 35,000 teachers in Kansas, but said the number of actual renewals would be about 5,000 less because of retirements.
State law bars the board from issuing licenses to anyone convicted of sex crimes, child abuse, murder or certain other offenses.
Scott Gordon, chief counsel for the Kansas Department of Education, said the reporting would help the agency do a more thorough job of deciding if action should be taken against a teacher who has been charged, but potentially convicted on a lesser charge that wasn’t among the felony sex or drug crimes listed in statute.
“I don’t want to wait until a case is over before I find out how the case has been pled down,” Gordon said.
The board will finalize the policy and hold a public hearing on the change later this year.
Prosecutors are required to regularly report all felony convictions to the Department of Education so it can check them against employment rosters. But there are no penalties for not complying.
“There’s no teeth in the statute,” board member Ken Willard of Hutchinson said.
Willard said he has spoken with Attorney General Derek Schmidt about getting prosecutors to comply with the reporting statute.
Don Brown, spokesman for Schmidt, said the attorney general had “repeatedly” encouraged prosecutors comply with the law and was willing to continue to work with the board of education.
The board also voted to develop a new monthly report that would be sent to county prosecutors and district attorneys for them to return with updates on any new felony convictions involved licensed teachers. The state also will make outreach efforts to the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association to encourage more compliance with the law, as well as speaking with the judicial branch about increasing awareness.
Board member Steve Roberts of Overland Park cast the lone vote against the new policy, questioning if fingerprinting would be the best way to enforce the policy.
“I’d like a definition of what problem we’re trying to solve,” he said, adding that he supported efforts to prevent pedophiles from being in schools.
Teachers renewing their licenses will pay a one-time fee of $50 for the fingerprinting, which will be sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for background checks. Although applicants will not be required to submit to fingerprinting for subsequent renewals, a fee is charged of all teachers to run their name against criminal records annually to verify their status.
Gordon said if a teacher renewing their license did have a prior conviction for a felony they could always petition the courts to have the record expunged so that it wouldn’t appear on a background check.
Kansas Considers ACT in lieu of state tests
Districts would have various options for test requirements
By Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas may allow students to take the ACT or other tests in lieu of annual state mathematics and English tests, but the plan would need to win approval from the federal government, education officials said Tuesday.
The discussion comes as the Kansas State Board of Education considers how to move forward with its state tests now that schools have switched to new math and English standards called the Common Core.
Under the proposal, Kansas would continue to provide annual state tests, but school districts would be able to choose another option for some or all of their students.
“It gives local choice, based on the individual needs of the students,” deputy education commissioner Brad Neuenswander said.
Neuenswander said the point was that if the federal government approves options such as the ACT and SAT to fulfill annual testing requirements, then some school districts might feel those tests are enough, and that it isn’t necessary for students to take an additional state assessment.
At the same time, he said, such an approach would make statewide tallies of student scores, along with district-to-district comparisons, difficult. Currently, students all take the same tests and districts can compare their scores.
“If our No. 1 goal is we want to give a test to compare districts, then that doesn’t work,” he said.
Neuenswander said the Kansas State Department of Education would collect feedback from school administrators around the state before making a formal recommendation to the state board, which would make a decision this year.
Students take state math and English tests once a year in grades three through eight and once in high school. The state must switch to new tests by 2014-2015 to comply with federal requirements and ensure the tests match the Common Core.
The state board may commission new tests from its current vendor, The University of Kansas’ Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, or use tests developed by a state consortium called Smarter Balanced. The initial cost estimate for Smarter Balanced is $6.225 million per year, officials said.
Other options include mandating the ACT for all districts — including special ACT tests for younger test takers — but officials said that would be more expensive.
Speaking during a break, state board member Ken Willard said he liked the idea of giving districts flexibility to pick the ACT and wasn’t concerned it would interfere with statewide tallies and district-to-district comparisons.
He said collecting statewide scores was the federal government’s way of holding states accountable, but that it wasn’t necessarily in the best interest of children.
“I don’t know what those comparisons do to benefit kids,” he said. “We can hold ourselves accountable.”
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s state board meeting saw a brief but tense exchange between former board member Walt Chappell and current board members when Chappell accused them of misleading the public.
Chappell, whose views often clashed with the rest of the board during his 2009-2012 term, was the sole vote against adopting the Common Core in 2010.
Since then, he has helped lead a campaign against the standards, taking his message to state lawmakers, who during this year’s session came close to banning them.
Speaking during the meeting and during a brief break, Chappell told board members and education officials that they were intentionally misleading the public on the Common Core and the state’s ACT scores.
“That's been your role, to shut down any disagreement with the Common Core,” he said.
Board member Janet Waugh cited a board policy asking members of the public who address the board not to use the opportunity for personal attacks.
Chappell denied he was doing so and, in response to a comment from Neuenswander that he was being disrespectful, said, “To mislead the public year after year is disrespectful.”
He said state ACT scores indicated that only a third of graduating students were qualified to attend Kansas universities.
Sept. 15, 2013
Report: State funding cuts to public schools in Kansas are fourth deepest in the nation
September 12, 2013, 2:35 p.m. Updated: 12 September 2013, 6:41 p.m.
Topeka — State funding of public schools in Kansas has decreased more than in all but three other states since the recession, according to a report released Thursday.
Between fiscal year 2008 and now, state school funding in Kansas, adjusted for inflation, decreased 16.5 percent, according to the report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think-tank.
That is the fourth largest decrease in the nation, surpassed only by Arizona, 17.2 percent; Alabama, 20.1 percent and Oklahoma, 22.8 percent.
“At a time when states and the nation are trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, this decline in state educational investment is cause for concern,” the report said.
The report found at least 34 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.
The report analyzed states’ major education funding formulas and didn’t include local property tax revenue or federal funding. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has been described by some journalists as being left of center.
School finance has been front and center in the Statehouse for years and is currently the subject of a contentious lawsuit.
A three-judge panel has ruled that the Legislature has failed to live up to its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools and ordered an increase of more than $500 million.
The case has been appealed by the state to the Kansas Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in October and is expected to rule by the end of the year.
In 2005 and 2006, the state Supreme Court ordered increases in school funding. The Legislature adopted a three-year funding plan but then started to cut those dollars when the Great Recession started under Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson.
Gov. Sam Brownback oversaw more cuts in base state aid, but when state revenues started to rebound he emphasized income tax cuts instead of restoring school funding.
Brownback has said the tax cuts will boost the economy, while his critics have said the cuts will starve government services, such as education.
Base state aid has been cut from $4,400 per student in 2008-09 to a low of $3,780 per student in 2011. It has since been increased to $3,838 per student, but remains lower than base state aid from 2001-02.
Brownback’s office responded to the report, saying that Brownback “has never cut state funding for education.
“Since his election in 2010 state funding on K-12 education has increased by more than $200 million. The reduction in base state aid per pupil that occurred in 2011 was the result of federal ARRA (stimulus) money expiring,” Brownback’s office said. The stimulus funding was intended to offset state budget cuts during the worst part of the recession.
In his calculations, Brownback includes some items, such as teacher pension payments made by the state, that aren’t figured in other calculations of school funding.
The Kansas Center for Economic Growth said lower school funding will hurt the state’s economic recovery.
“Good schools and an educated workforce foster economic growth, and we are shooting ourselves in the foot by reducing our investment in our schools and students,” said Annie McKay, the group’s executive director.
The center, which formed earlier this year, describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts research and analysis to promote balanced state policies that help ensure all Kansans prosper.
“These cuts have undermined our ability to educate Kansas’ children and there will be consequences for Kansas’ economy,” McKay said.
Education On The Brink: Kansas Schools Short Over A Billion Dollars
Kansans already know that Governor Brownback has short-changed our schools since he took office, having cut funding over $100 million for public schools before cutting $66 million for higher education this year.
This week though it became painfully clear exactly how deep the hole is that the governor and his anti-education allies have created. Based upon estimates crafted by Brownback’s own Kansas State Department of Education Kansas schools are short a mere $1.23 billion.
The governor’s own budget numbers show that this year the governor is funding education $574 million below the statutory amount required. That number balloons to $656.7 million for fiscal year 2015.
This shocking gap in statutory education funding places Brownback and his GOP allies on a collision course with the Kansas Supreme Court who has already ruled once that Kansas schools are not being suitably funded.
Kansas courts this winter found Brownback had acted unconstitutionally when he failed to suitably fund education, choosing instead to pass out billions in tax breaks to the richest Kansans. The three judge panel even called Brownback’s actions “illogical”, arguing that the state can’t claim that a weak economy forced education cuts be made while simultaneously handing out billions in tax breaks for the rich and big business.
Brownback and GOP lawmakers response to this rebuke has been to double-down on tax breaks for the rich and inaction on school funding. Now they are preparing themselves for a battle in 2014. GOP leaders admit as much, arguing that Kansas will see a “constitutional crisis” in 2014 should the Kansas Supreme Court again find the state has funded education at an unconstitutional level.
In the end, the actions of GOP legislators and Governor Brownback have demonstrated that their top priority is protecting tax breaks for rich Kansans. That’s why cuts have been made to K-12 education, higher education, and corrections. It’s also why Brownback fought to raise taxes on working Kansans by $777 million this session.
At every turn Brownback has gutted programs and raised taxes to protect his ticket back to national prominence – experimental and reckless tax breaks for big business and the top 1%.
Brownback and company continue to protest this assertion, claiming to support education despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. While the evidence was already substantial, we just found 1.23 billion dollars in new evidence that contradict the governor’s protestations and prove once again that the future of our children and our state matter less than Brownback’s political ambition and dogmatic belief in trickle-down economics.
By STEVE KRASKE The Kansas City Star
By STEVE KRASKE
The Kansas City Star
The Kansas State Board of Education released a report this week with one of those eye-popping numbers that you can’t help but notice.
That’s how much the state will be underfunding public schools a year from now, the report said.
In January, it was a different eye-popper — $440 million. According to a three-judge panel in Shawnee County, that’s how much more must be spent on schools each year.
Hundreds of millions here and millions more there and pretty soon we’re talking real money, right?
The $657 million is just a figure in a report. The state has appealed the $440 million total to its Supreme Court.
But pretty soon, legislative types predict, some kind of big number is going to become a reality that the Kansas Legislature must confront. A ruling from the Kansas Supremes is expected late this year or early next.
You can only begin to imagine how a multihundred-million-dollar demand would impact the state budget at a time when Republicans are leading a “march to zero” on the state income tax.
This week, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the state can’t continue cutting taxes and paying off a half-billion-dollar school settlement at the same time.
“There’s no way both can be done,” he said.
Not so, said Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The march to wipe out income taxes will continue if only because the state has no choice, he told me. Population numbers keep drifting downward.
“We’re going to continue to have an aggressive tax policy so that we can grow,” he said.
Differing opinions aside, here’s what you need to watch. Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, are saying something very different. Schwab believes that if the Supreme Court orders more school spending, lawmakers might well balk. Their thinking: The court has no right to order them to appropriate money for schools or anything else.
Appropriating money, they insist, is the legislature’s duty as prescribed in the state constitution.
The state went down this road a few years ago. The court ordered more school spending, and lawmakers blinked and ponied up. That won’t happen next time, Schwab said.
The buzz phrase in Topeka these days is “constitutional crisis.” Bets already are being placed as to which state officials would get cited for contempt.
And then what happens to the march to zero?
Superintendents across Kansas to voice support for Common Core
District leaders coordinating public gesture for next week's State BOE meeting
Posted: June 7, 2013 - 5:55pm
By Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Superintendents from across the state are coordinating a public showing of support for the Common Core standards that came under fire in this year’s legislative session.
The superintendents plan to attend the public forum of Tuesday’s Kansas State Board of Education meeting to express their conviction that the Common Core math and English standards are good for Kansas schools — and that the State Board, not the Legislature, is in charge of curriculum standards.
The gesture is reportedly being coordinated by Ron Walker, superintendent of Geary County USD 475, who couldn’t immediately be reached at his office or on his cellphone.
At least one superintendent from Shawnee County is attending — Julie Ford of Topeka Unified School District 501. Brenda Dietrich, of Auburn-Washburn USD 437, said she would be in meetings Tuesday but otherwise had wanted to attend.
Cheryl Semmel, executive director of the Kansas School Superintendents Association, said her organization would participate, and at least one lawmaker, Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), also planned to attend.
“It’s important to show support for the State Board and the work that they do,” Rooker said, adding that she had heard from parent-teacher groups that some parents would also come Tuesday.
Semmel said superintendents are grateful that some members of the State Board of Education had put in long hours talking to lawmakers as the legislative session progressed and attacks on the Common Core heated up.
“The board is clearly a leadership body,” she said, “and we believe they’ve done due diligence and to some extent we want to thank them publicly.”
Semmel said superintendents wanted to be respectful of the board’s time and that some planned to submit written comments.
The gesture is a response to a similar move last month, when opponents of the Common Core packed the State Board of Education meeting room and presented impassioned pleas against the Common Core.
Parents, former students and the state’s two most vocal opponents of the Common Core — former State Board of Education member Walt Chappell and Rep. John Bradford (R-Lansing), who introduced the original bill this session to stop the Common Core, attended. Chappell said the show of opposition was momentous and probably the longest public forum he had seen at the state board.
The Common Core standards have been adopted by more than 40 states and were developed through an alliance of state governors and state education commissioners. Critics view the Common Core as a back-door attempt to create a federal curriculum that overstandardizes schools and violates state sovereignty.
The standards aren’t federal, but the U.S. Department of Education has supported them by providing grants to two groups to develop student tests for them. It has also required any states who wanted waivers of No Child Left Behind criteria to move toward math and English standards that focus on preparing children for college and career. Adopting the Common Core was one option to fulfill that requirement.
Kansas adopted the standards in 2010.
Senate to revive Common Core debate
Rumors swirl around approved student standards
Posted: May 31, 2013 - 11:23am
By Andy Marso
After days of rumors, the Senate announced Friday it will take up a bill reviewing the Common Core educational standards Friday afternoon.
Educators in 45 states, four U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. have agreed to adopt the standards, which stress college and career-readiness in math and English for K-12 students. But they have faced a growing backlash in recent months from conservative and Tea Party groups who fear nationalization of public education.
House and Senate education committees rejected calls earlier this session to pull Kansas from the Common Core initiative, but Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, announced on the floor Friday that the Ways and Means Committee would take a look.
“We’ll be looking at Common Core material, reviewing some of the hearings we’ve had in this building,” Masterson said.
The announcement comes on the heels of rumors that a group of anti-Common Core House members had not given up their quest top scuttle the standards, despite a growing sense of urgency surrounding ending a session already in overtime. Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Atchison, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said this week some Republicans were willing to hold off on a budget agreement until the Senate ran a bill against Common Core that the House could then vote to concur on.
Henry said many school districts are already implementing Common Core and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars training teachers in preparation.
"The horses are out running," Henry said.
Rep. Ed Bideau, R-Chanute, asked House leaders if rumors about a budget vote being tied to Common Core were true during a caucus Thursday night. While most said they had not heard anything to that effect, House Appropriations chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said he'd heard "a rumor coming from the Senate somewhere about that."
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Common Core is being used as a bargaining chip to try and woo conservative House members to vote on a tax plan that raises revenue, which has become one of the main sticking points preventing adjournment of the session.
"They're trying to placate somebody on the House side," Hensley said. "Looking for tax votes."
The states that have not signed on the Common Core initiative are Virginia, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Alaska.
Kansas adopted Common Core in 2010. The standards arose out of two associations — the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — and the federal government has thrown its support behind the initiative by providing grants to two consortiums developing math and English tests to match them.
Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled Legislature can’t seem to get anything right during the horror show that has become the 2013 legislative session.
In a stunning move Friday morning, the House voted to recess until Tuesday. That was just after the House rejected a large sales tax increase backed by Brownback and Kansas Senate.
So now the Legislature will be in session well past the 80 days it was supposed to meet. That came about two weeks ago.
Summed up, the GOP members can’t agree on what budget to pass or how to pay for it.
Isn’t that like, well, their main job?
Sure it is. But the governor and legislators have been busy with so much other important stuff in recent weeks. Remember that bill that would supposedly make it illegal for federal officers to try to enforce any gun laws in Kansas?
Yeah, got that one passed, even though it’s likely unconstitutional.
This week has been a disaster for Brownback and the Republicans.
Brownback basically has been MIA in the leadership department.
He has been promoting a large increase in the sales tax; he wants to keep it at 6.3 percent even though it’s mandated by a 2010 law to fall to 5.7 percent this summer.
The governor desperately needs the money to pay for all the income tax cuts that he and the Legislature approved in the 2012 session.
Those cuts — if not replaced with funds from the sales tax increase — will negatively affect higher education, K-12 schools, prisons, social services and other basic services the state of Kansas is supposed to provide.
But while Brownback steamrolled Senate leadership and got his tax increase, the House ignored the governor.
Members argued, quite accurately, that the 6.3 percent rate would amount to a tax increase, something the conservative House members didn’t want on their records.
Meanwhile, the Senate was pulling numbers out of the hat on Thursday, trying to figure out ways to get the House to go along with the sales tax increase. During that time, the Senate came up with the idea of reducing the sales tax on food.
The lower rate of 4.95 percent passed the Senate, but by Friday the House wasn’t buying.
So Brownback and his crew will be back on Tuesday, desperately trying to figure out a way to get out of a legislative session that just won’t end.
Common Core standards targeted
By MICHAEL STRAND Salina Journal | Friday, May 24, 2013 3:04 AM
A continued push by some lawmakers in Topeka to jettison a new set of education standards may not survive the practical need to pass a budget and tax plan.
Several bills have been introduced this session to either prohibit state money from being spent on the Common Core standards, or to prevent the standards from being implemented.
The Kansas Board of Education adopted the standards in Oct. 2010; Kansas is one of 45 states that have approved the new standards, seen as a successor to the federal No Child Left Behind law, which allowed each state to set its own standards.
But this spring, the standards have come under fire for various reasons, and some lawmakers hope, during final budget negotiations, to stop implementation of the standards.
Leading the effort is Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, who said he polled House members earlier in the week and found a majority would support repealing the standards. However, he's finding House leadership is more interested in getting an overall budget passed and avoiding any distractions.
"There's been no movement on it as of today," Bradford said Thursday afternoon, shortly after the House adjourned for the day. "There might be some additional movement on it tomorrow."
Salina official supports standards
Corbin Witt, executive director of school improvement for the Salina School District, testified in March before the House Education Committee about the standards, which he supports.
Witt calls the standards "an essential building block for a better education system," that will "challenge students to be thinkers and innovators who can solve real-world messy problems, not just find an answer."
In his testimony, Witt said the current system encourages students to be "answer-getters" because of its emphasis on "rote memorization and low-level standards."
He also noted that states joining together to agree on a common set of standards means that children will be able to move from district to district, or state to state, with "a consistency that has never been achieved."
Witt said he's talked with many people who object to the Common Core, or ask him what the problem is, and his response is to read off a list of the standards and ask what they find objectionable.
For example, the first-grade math standards:
"'Represent and solve problems with addition and subtraction.' Who wouldn't want a first-grader to be able to do that?" Witt asked. " 'Measure length. ... Be able to tell and write time. ... Work with addition and subtraction equations. ... Understand place value.' I don't see anything in here I wouldn't want a first-grader to learn."
Feds taking over
Bradford said his objection is "not so much that there's a problem with (the standards), but that it's an attempt by the government to take over the education system. When the feds take over, you see how that goes. On its face, Common Core sounds good, the general gist of it."
"There's nothing in there they don't want kids to know," Witt said. "It comes down to, 'The federal government is pushing something down the state government's throat,' and I don't really care about that, I care about what's best for kids."
Besides, Witt said, the idea behind Common Core originated with states, including those with both Democratic and Republican governors, and it's not a federal mandate.
But Witt said his "biggest frustration" is the timing of the controversy -- nearly three years after districts have started implementing the standards.
"They were adopted in October of 2010 -- why are they waiting until May of 2013 to want to tell us not to use these?" he said. "It's not like this was adopted a month ago; why suddenly now?"
Principals and administrators in the Salina district started learning the new standards in the spring of 2011, Witt said, and elementary teachers started training in the fall of 2011. In the middle schools and high schools, training started in the 2011-12 school year.
"If your concern is to save the state and districts money from having to implement the Common Core standards, you are too late," Witt said. "A lot of funds have already been spent on curriculum alignment, professional development and instructional resources."
And besides, Witt asked, "If we can't teach kids anything that's in the Common Core, does that mean we can't teach them to tell time, or add and subtract? What's left to teach them? Much of what's in these standards is also in the previous ones."
Concerns about 'data mining'
Bradford said he is also worried about the "data point collection, and data mining -- things schools have no business knowing, like your religion or voter status."
He's referring to a section on the website of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education.
The National Education Data Model is a "common framework and language for collecting, comparing, and using data to improve schools and answer important research and policy questions," according to the website.
Among the data listed are parents' annual salary or hourly rate of pay, what type of job they have and marital status.
Student data includes religious affiliation, whether the student is registered to vote and "medical laboratory procedure results."
As for the timing, Bradford noted that 16 states are taking a new look at Common Core in one way or another: "It's like Nancy Pelosi said about health care, we had to pass it to find out what's in it."
A Kansas education
Editorial by Patrick Lowry
Kansas lawmakers might be at an impasse regarding how to fund public education and other state activities for the next two years, but efforts to influence what is taught in the classroom continue unabated.
Unthwarted by attempts to banning Common Core standards that couldn't make it out of committee in either chamber, the Senate Ways and Means Committee chair is attempting to insert a proviso into the budget. Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, presented a measure that would prevent state money being spent to implement the academic standards that were devised by educators throughout Kansas and the nation.
"There is a general resistance to the federal government imposing on our schools," Masterson said.
We would argue there is similar general resistance to the state government imposing as well.
The education community has invested years creating a replacement for the despised No Child Left Behind standards. Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers with input from teachers and administrators to revamp the standards for K-12 English language arts and mathematics. The goal was to better prepare students for both college and careers while putting control of curriculum at the local level.
The plan is so good it's been adopted by 45 states, including Kansas.
But Masterson and other legislators believe it's all part of the federal takeover conspiracy. Once President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said they supported Common Core, there have been numerous attempts throughout the country by the hard right to get rid of the standards.
This budget proviso, if adopted, also would block school districts from using state money for any assessments affiliated with the Common Core. As the SAT and ACT tests already are being revised to reflect the new standards, this would prove problematic for Kansas students hoping to attend college.
The proviso also prevents the Next Generation Science Standards -- another national effort with Kansas educators leading the way -- from being implemented. Criticism of this endeavor focused on the notion that evolution was being promoted. We're guessing it was being "promoted" in the same fashion as gravity and centripetal force. It is science, after all.
This truly isn't a laughing matter. A small group of our legislators, unable to get any of these proposals to the floor of either the House or Senate, is using a backdoor approach to force politics and religion instead of education on our students, teachers and administrators. If the proviso is accepted into the budget language, the only way to prevent its implementation is by rejecting the budget.
In the past two years, lawmakers have proven themselves incapable of mastering mathematics. We have no faith they're any better with science or English.
Wichita Eagle editorial: Not a good model
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman
After the 2012 election put the entire Legislature under conservative Republican control, Gov. Sam Brownback touted Kansas as a “red-state model” for the nation. By Friday that model was looking a bit black and blue, though, as House and Senate leaders traded blame over their inability to agree on taxes and the budget.
Every legislative session includes some culminating drama, inevitably leading to deals and adjournment. But House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, clearly overpromised when they said the usual 90-day session would be trimmed to 80 days.
Brownback and Wagle underestimated the sales job necessary to persuade House Republicans, many of whom have signed no-tax pledges, that it technically would not be a tax increase to prevent a three-year sales-tax increase from ending June 30.
The governor also likely overreached in trying to pass a two-year budget, given the uncertain revenue stream in the wake of last year’s massive income-tax cuts. And it was a mistake for the governor, Merrick and Wagle to try to negotiate a fiscal deal behind closed doors, bypassing the appropriate legislative conference committees and the public.
By Friday, when the chambers were at a nasty impasse, there was even talk of Brownback vetoing any budget bill if the House didn’t also give him his desired extension of the current 6.3 percent sales-tax rate and resulting $250 million annually. A lot depends on how this conservative infighting ends, including whether the state universities and community colleges will see flat funding (Brownback’s choice), a 4 percent cut (House) or a 2 or 1 percent cut (Senate proposals). The governor is right in arguing that any cut would kill the system’s momentum, as well as hamper the ability to attract and retain top faculty.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have been misusing all the idle hours, coming up with bad ideas to further mess up the appellate courts and try to prevent any use of state funds to promote anything resembling gun control.
And Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, inexplicably thought it would be a good idea to further complicate budget negotiations, urging passage of a proviso aimed at crippling implementation of the Common Core reading and math standards and new science standards. Never mind that school districts around the state have spent three years and a lot of money getting ready for the Common Core standards, which were voluntarily embraced by 45 states and are not a case of “the federal government imposing on our schools,” as Masterson put it, or that bills to block Common Core didn’t even have enough support to make it out of either chamber’s education committee.
In the coming days, Brownback and his fellow conservatives must demonstrate that they not only can win elections but also govern. Doing so responsibly means coping with the self-inflicted budget crisis without further harming K-12 schools and higher education or vulnerable Kansans who rely on social services.
At least Kansans now know that like-minded doesn’t mean lockstep.
Kansas vs. Kansas
Governor, lawmakers find success in pitting Kansans against one another
By Jason Probst/Hutchinson News editorial board
Gov. Sam Brownback has an effective tool that he’s deployed this legislative session when he needs to turn the tide in his favor on a tough or controversial piece of legislation - the competing interests of Kansans.
When the governor wanted to cut $42 million from the Earned Income Tax Credit – a credit that encourages poor families to continue working – he proposed shifting that money to the Homestead Tax Credit instead, a credit that benefits mostly poor elderly Kansans.
Likewise, when the governor met resistance to his “glide path to zero” income tax plan, he spent the legislative spring break touring the state’s universities in an attempt to ramp up scholarly support for his desire to keep in place six-tenths-percent sales tax originally set to expire in July. Without support for the sales tax, Brownback warned, the state’s universities would face continued spending cuts.
Perhaps the most insidious example of Brownback’s tool can be found in the ongoing debate on providing treatment for the developmentally disabled population.
In a clear bait-and-switch, his administration announced a plan to use the savings from KanCare – the new managed-care system for the state’s Medicaid patients – to reduce from the state’s long waiting list the number of people with developmental disabilities.
That, however, was turned into a bargaining chip against people challenging whether a for-profit insurance company could address the lifelong needs of the developmentally disabled effectively – getting them crosswise with the governor by insisting on a “carve-out” from KanCare for this vulnerable population.
The governor and his followers once again chose to pit Kansans against each other in order to secure a political victory. Late last week, lawmakers made it clear that unless advocates of the developmentally disabled accept inclusion into the KanCare system, the $4 million originally earmarked to reduce the waiting lists for those services would be taken away.
The practice of using Kansan against Kansan is a deplorable tactic that attempts to exploit and manipulate the passions and interests of some of the most vulnerable Kansans. Pitting seniors against families, students against workers and disabled against disabled is a treacherous way to achieve one’s political goals – and a terrible way to run a state.
By JOHN HANNA
The Associated Press
TOPEKA — Kansas legislators reconvene this week facing a decision about Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to stabilize the budget by canceling a scheduled sales tax decrease, and the political climate appears to be as volatile as the state's recent weather.
The Republican governor wants the GOP-dominated Legislature to avoid cuts in higher education and follow up massive personal income tax cuts enacted last year with another round of rate reductions. The key to his plan for accomplishing both goals – and preventing budget shortfalls over the next five years – is keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent, rather than letting it drop to 5.7 percent on July 1 as planned.
The Senate has embraced Brownback's proposals on the sales tax and income tax cuts. The House approved legislation letting the sales tax drop, with less aggressive income tax cuts. Legislative negotiators had made little progress toward resolving both issues when lawmakers started their break last month.
Republican legislators involved in budget and tax issues believe a compromise is possible, but such an agreement would move away from the governor's positions. Several key legislators also said GOP legislators could remain at odds and the Legislature could adjourn without passing a tax bill, leaving a major budget mess for next year.
“We're willing to negotiate, but we're just not going to capitulate,” said lead House negotiator Richard Carlson, a St. Marys Republican. “Both sides have to look for compromise, but I don't know what that position is.”
Legislators end their spring break Wednesday, returning to the Statehouse to finish a state budget of roughly $14.5 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and to complete other business for the year. Republican leaders hope their wrap-up lasts no more than six days, so that the annual session ends in 80 days, 10 fewer than typically scheduled.
Lawmakers also are likely to consider changing education policy, rewriting state liquor laws, granting Secretary of State Kris Kobach new power to prosecute election fraud cases and authorizing $202 million in bonds to help finance a new, national biosecurity lab in Manhattan.
But settling tax issues for the year – even if legislators walk away – is crucial. House and Senate budget negotiators concede that they can't finish a spending plan for the next fiscal year without knowing how much revenue the state is expected to collect.
Brownback pushed for income tax cuts last year and wants to eventually phase out personal income taxes in the future to stimulate the economy. But he's conceded that the state must backfill its budget if it wants to avoid significant cuts to education funding and major programs. Keeping the sales tax at its current rate would provide $258 million in additional revenues during the next fiscal year.
Over the past three weeks, Brownback has toured state university, community college and technical college campuses to build public support for his budget recommendations keeping higher education funding flat in the face of proposals from lawmakers to cut it. Democrats, though supportive of higher education, have criticized the tour as a bait-and-switch campaign to boost support for canceling the sales tax decrease.
“I just don't think anybody has a handle on where this ship is headed,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.
With GOP supermajorities, there's no chance that the Legislature will seriously entertain Democrats' argument that the state ought to rethink last year's income tax cuts.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said canceling the sales tax decrease remains the cleanest solution. He expects pressure to build on House Republicans reluctant to accept Brownback's sales tax plan each day of the wrap-up session.
Over the past 25 years, lawmakers have felt squeezed at the beginning of each wrap-up to finish their business quickly, sensing that their constituents are frustrated with an inability to finish the work within 90 days.
“At some point, everybody wants to go home and end the session. That's the biggest motivator,” Bruce said. “At some point, you run out of options.”
Carlson said he expects negotiations over the sales tax rate. GOP legislators have suggested phasing down the rate or letting the tax drop some in July but not as much as planned, perhaps to 6 percent.
But the plan to drop the tax to 5.7 percent resulted from a budget-balancing agreement three years ago that temporarily boosted the tax under Democrat Gov. Mark Parkinson. Democrats have said consistently that they won't break the promise, and House tax negotiator Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, said the idea remains a hard sell among GOP representatives.
Budget projections from legislative researchers suggest that with no changes in tax laws, the state budget still would be balanced for the next fiscal year, even though future problems would loom. Schwab said the projections would allow legislators to walk away from tax negotiations if they don't appear to be making any progress.
“I don't think it's responsible, but it's possible,” he said. “We could end up saying, `OK, we're just going to go home' and punt it.”
Debate over Kansas education funding pits Brownback against his allies
By BRAD COOPER The Kansas City Star
By BRAD COOPER
The Kansas City Star
LAWRENCE — Introducing Republican Gov. Sam Brownback … the moderate?
Brownback — the conservative leader of an increasingly conservative Republican Party in Kansas — is campaigning across the state to drum up support for funding higher education with a sales tax extension.
The latest battle with the Legislature — he has lost precious few — pits him awkwardly against traditionally conservative allies.
They want to end part of the sales tax and cut higher education to pay for tax cuts that left a roughly $700 million hole in the budget for next year.
In some ways, he can’t lose.
If the state’s colleges and universities are spared, Brownback’s efforts would be a key reason why. And the governor would stand to get credit.
“If he loses, he’d say, ‘The Legislature didn’t agree with me, but I fought for higher education,’” said Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty.
“This is the sort of thing,” Beatty said, “that could drive Brownback’s opponents absolutely crazy.”
While critics can argue the governor’s tax cuts set the stage for paring back higher education and other state services, the detailed explanation of how it unfolded may be a hard case to make in the heat of an election.
“It would be much easier to say, ‘I went to the campuses and urged that we protect higher education,’” Beatty said.
Brownback would not say Tuesday whether he would veto cuts in higher education.
His tour started Monday at Wichita State and continued Tuesday with a stop at the University of Kansas. It continues the rest of the week, including visits on Thursday to the University of Kansas Medical Center and Kansas City Kansas Community College.
Brownback met privately with KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and other school officials. Afterward, he emphasized the importance of higher education to Kansas.
“A healthy, robust KU,” the governor said, “is very important to recruit companies and people from all over the world.”
The Legislature has thrust Brownback into a situation where he is coaxing lawmakers into extending a six-tenths of a cent sales tax increase approved in 2010 to fund one of the cornerstones of his gubernatorial campaign — higher education.
“He is sending a clear signal to the Legislature that he is going to defend his higher-education budget,” said Fred Logan, a Prairie Village lawyer whom Brownback appointed to the Board of Regents.
However, Brownback is having trouble getting House members to support the tax extension. Many conservatives either voted against it in 2010 or campaigned against the sales tax to get elected. It puts the governor in an unfamiliar political position.
“In some ways it makes him look (like) a slightly more moderating force in the politics of the state,” said Wichita State University political scientist Ed Flentje. “I don’t know that’s where he wants to be.”
Democrats think that’s clearly by design.
“They are trying to make him look more moderate,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. “(But) people know that the Republicans have total control of government and he’s in charge.”
Plus, the Legislature is stacked with lawmakers elected with Brownback support and from a purge of moderate Republicans.
“No governor,” Davis said, “has probably ever had a friendlier Legislature.”
Still, Brownback’s position on higher-education spending and the sales tax puts him at odds with conservative leaders in the House.
They’re trying to find ways to cut spending while letting the sales tax lapse and still gradually cutting income taxes while growing revenues in the future.
Brownback rejected suggestions that signing new tax cuts last year spurred the higher-education funding fight.
“We can have solid, good higher education in the state of Kansas and a stable tax structure,” he said. “This is very doable.”
Rep. Marc Rhoades, the House appropriations committee chairman, has pushed for the budget cuts while criticizing the state’s colleges and universities for raising tuition at a faster pace than inflation.
“The average graduate leaves with $22,000 in debt and a diploma which may or may not translate into a real-world job,” Rhoades, a Newton Republican, said in a statement after the governor announced his tour last week. “This system would benefit from a discussion of return on investment.”
Brownback said Tuesday the dispute in the Legislature reflects new lawmakers who he says are not yet familiar with higher-education finances.
The House plan is very different from the plan in the Senate, which wants to keep the sales tax but cut higher education to a lesser extent than the House. The Senate has largely backed Brownback’s plan to more aggressively cut income taxes over the next several years.
The Senate proposed a 2 percent across-the-board cut to higher education, while the House agreed to a 4 percent cut.
The proposals mean colleges and universities would lose somewhere between $15 million and $30 million, not counting other projects that may not be funded, such as $10 million for a new education building at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee said senators might back off the cuts.
Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said savings of $15 million to $30 million from a new law that merges the Turnpike Authority with the Kansas Department of Transportation could be used for higher education.
“I would be willing to use (those savings) to keep higher ed where it was at in the governor’s proposal,” Masterson said.
Sen. Wagle to push for charter schools
By Dion Lefler
The Wichita Eagle
State Senate President Susan Wagle told a Wichita Republican club Friday that she wants to push ahead with expanding charter schools in the state after the Supreme Court rules on a pending school-finance lawsuit.
Wagle, R-Wichita, said charter schools – which generally operate on public funding but with more independence from regulation than regular public schools – could provide an education as good as or better than public schools at a lower cost to taxpayers.
“We have a very narrow charter-school law,” Wagle told the Wichita Pachyderm Club. “Those who have creative ideas and have successful ways to educate students for less money, they can’t operate within Kansas. We need to broaden our charter school law at the state level so we can have some alternative schools for these kids to go to.”
In Legislative hearings, opponents of charter schools have argued that independent charter operators could cherry-pick the best students to boost their test scores, while sticking the public schools with lower-achieving students who are harder to teach. In addition, they expressed concern that charter schools could undercut public education by diverting needed resources and employing uncredentialed teachers.
Bills to allow more charter schools and relieve them from school district oversight have been introduced in both houses of the Legislature, but are currently parked in committee.
The holdup, Wagle said, is the Gannon vs. State of Kansas lawsuit challenging whether the state is meeting its constitutional obligation to provide “suitable” funding for public schools. A three-judge panel ruled the state is falling short, but the state has appealed the case to the Kansas Supreme Court.
“This year, because of this dark cloud that’s been hanging above us – the Gannon lawsuit – the district court said we could in no way change the (school funding) formula,” Wagle said. “And we felt restricted in that we didn’t want to go to court with making maybe big changes in our educational system.”
That will likely change once the court case is decided, she said.
“We wanted to hear what the Supreme Court rules and then we want to react,” Wagle said. “I believe you will see some reform measures after this ruling comes down and you’re going to find a very active Legislature in responding to this court case.”
Kansas has 15 charter schools, but unlike charters in other parts of the country, they operate under direct supervision of the local school district. The closest ones to Wichita are Walton Rural Life Center in Harvey County and Yoder Charter Elementary School, which serves a predominantly Amish community in Reno County.
Diane Gjerstad, lobbyist for the Wichita school district, said allowing independent charters closer to the city could conflict with the district’s efforts to offer a wide variety of learning environments within the public sphere, including magnet schools geared to preparing students for specific career fields and traditional schools built around back-to-basics education and strict discipline.
“Wichita public schools offer the greatest amount of choice in the state,” Gjerstad said. “The richest part of our choice in Wichita is our magnet schools. If magnet schools were created today, they’d probably be called charter schools.”
Lack of tax policy puts Kansas’ reserves at risk
BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau
If lawmakers walk away this year without an agreement to bring new revenue into the state by extending a temporary sales tax hike and cutting the value of popular tax deductions, the state could quickly fall into deep financial trouble, according to an analysis of new budget projections.
An estimate by Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget division shows that Kansas would burn through all its reserves and have to cut $64 million in 2014 if no tax policy changes are approved. That would balloon to $545 million in cuts in 2015, the figures show.
“I don’t think we can walk away without a plan in good conscience,” said Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan, who is the Senate’s chief tax negotiator. “To postpone what needs to be done, in my mind, would be bad policy.”
New state tax revenue estimates released Friday show the tax cuts Brownback signed into law last year will lead to sharp declines in income, which is the primary reason lawmakers are considering 2 percent to 4 percent cuts to higher education, reduced funding for aviation training and less money for the state’s courts system. Even with those cuts, the state could face a gap between anticipated revenue and spending in coming years.
The new estimates didn’t do much to change the debates over tax and spending in the statehouse.
Lawmakers are still under pressure from Brownback to extend a temporary six-tenths of a cent sales tax hike that came in the face of the recession and is slated to expire in July. House Republican leaders say they have no appetite for extending the sales tax, even if it accommodates more income tax cuts, and they’ve voted 120-0 against a Senate tax cut plan that depends on extending that sales tax.
But Brownback is trying to rally Republicans around his plan to extend that sales tax rate as part of an effort to further reduce income taxes, raise more revenue for the state by phasing out tax deductions and, in turn, potentially protecting higher education from 2 percent to 4 percent cuts that university officials warn could set the state back a decade.
These budget problems are primarily driven by the hastily-approved income tax cuts Brownback signed into law a year ago after lawmakers drastically altered Brownback’s original proposal in hopes of killing it.
That tax cut eliminated taxes on profits for nearly 200,000 businesses and farms and dropped rates for individuals. Brownback and his conservative allies in the legislature and at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce say cutting taxes is the best way to spur economic growth, which, in turn, will produce thousands of new jobs that feed the economy and spur increased new sales and property taxes.
Brownback’s budget director, Steve Anderson, provided updated estimates of how Brownback’s budget and tax plan would shake out under revised revenue estimates.
They show Brownback’s budget and tax plan, which hinge on continuing the sales tax and eliminating the home mortgage deduction immediately, would provide the state with roughly 9 percent of their total spending left in the bank next year and in 2015.
Democrats and many moderate Republicans, meanwhile, say it’s a reckless plan that endangers K-12 education, highways and higher education. Recently, two top economists from opposite ends of the political spectrum agreed that the plan Brownback signed is the worst in the nation.
But Brownback’s administration says the cuts he approved last year have to be looked at in conjunction with his proposal this year, which helps pay for some of that cutting by phasing out tax deductions, such as the popular mortgage interest deduction.
“What I put forward was different than what passed last year,” Brownback said earlier this week.
Now, he said, he wants to broaden the tax base and that’s part of his original plan.
“You’re seeing step two of what we proposed last year,” he said.
The Senate rejected Brownback’s proposal to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction in favor of a plan to phase out all deductions, except the charitable contributions deduction. Their plan, which is closest to the governor’s, would bring in $497.3 million in new revenue over five years to offset the budget problems caused by last year’s tax bill. Most of that would come from extending the sales tax increase.
The House rejected Brownback’s plan and created its own, which would cut the value of deductions, bringing in $391.8 million in new revenue over five years.
The governor’s plan would have brought in $685.3 million in new revenue over five years, with most of it coming from the sales tax continuation.
Donovan said he hopes to reach some sort of agreement, and he predicted that nobody would like it.
“When we walk out of there and a lot of people are unhappy with us, it’s a sign we didn’t favor one faction over the other,” he said.
School board cuts $800,000 from programs
Published 4/16/2013 in Local News : Education
By RACHAEL GRAY
The USD 457 Board of Education Monday night decided to cut $800,000 from programs for the 2013-14 school year.
During a program budgeting meeting last week, teachers, staff and community members decided to recommend fully funding elementary and middle school education, as well as health services.
The board approved the measure 5 to 1 with Jean Clifford, Gloria Hopkins, Alex Wallace, Mark Rude and Tom Blackburn voting in favor and Tim Cruz voting against.
Program budgeting is a process by which staff and community members prioritize funding for each of the district's 15 represented programs, ultimately recommending to the USD 457 Board of Education how much money they believe each should receive.
Kathleen Whitley, chief financial officer for the district, presented the information at Monday night's regularly-scheduled Board of Education meeting.
All other programs are recommended to be funded at 98 percent, which could mean a cut of 17.5 positions in the district, totaling $800,000. Programs funded at 98 percent include high school instruction, special education, technology, counseling, transportation, media services, curriculum/assessment, supplemental services, plant facilities/maintenance, building administration, district-wide administration and activities.
The positions slated to be cut would include a high school teacher, two special education teachers, a half-position counselor, four bus drivers, four custodians, a painter, two bilingual paraprofessionals, two half-time library paras, an assistant principal and three special education paras.
Whitley said if elementary, middle school and health services would have been funded at 98 percent, those position cuts would have been more drastic.
Cruz said Monday night the district's decision was hasty. He wanted to consider raising the local option budget to help fund the positions on the chopping block.
Whitley said Monday night it's expected the state will fund the district next year at the same rate as this year. With operating costs increasing, Whitley said the district won't have the same amount of money.
Clifford said since 2008 the district has had a diminishing budget.
"While the first three programs are funded at 100 percent, it's really 93 percent of what was in the past. And 98 percent really means 91 percent of what it was in the past. And yet we have the same or more students and have increasing demands on the district," she said.
"This is really a bare bones budget. We are really down to the wire on budgeting," she said.
Cruz said the board hasn't had enough discussion on how the cuts will impact the schools.
"To lose four bus drivers, that means more kids on the bus with one bus driver. You start to lose the safety of our kids," he said.
Cruz said he isn't in favor of raising taxes, but may consider it an option to save positions.
Whitley said specific positions and cuts would be decided at a later meeting.
"We have to do that quickly so we can transfer people to open positions available," she said.
State still dealing with tax cut fallout
By MICHAEL STRAND
When the Kansas Legislature convened in January, many thought it might do something unprecedented and complete the session in just 80 days instead of the 90 or more it usually takes.
But when the lawmakers reconvene May 8, they still must put together a budget and a tax program to match it -- and they've already used 75 days.
To help influence those decisions, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, is traveling the state meeting with news organizations and hosting "meet and greets." He was in Salina on Wednesday.
Davis said this year's Legislature is different from those of the recent past in several ways.
For one, the Senate, where a team of Democrats and moderate Republicans had become known for blocking large parts of Gov. Sam Brownback's agenda, "is very loyal to Gov. Brownback now," he said, while the previously more conservative House is "more eclectic."
Additionally, he said, many lawmakers who opposed the 1-cent sales tax implemented three years ago now support keeping it in place -- as do many new lawmakers who unseated incumbents who had supported it.
"The night it passed, there was talk like it was the end of civilization in Kansas," Davis said. "And then people went out and campaigned on it. A lot of folks were defeated because they voted for it."
The increase took the state sales tax 6.3 cents, with it due to drop back to 5.7 cents on July 1.
A regressive tax
And though Davis voted for the sales tax three years ago as a measure to prevent further cuts to public schools and other parts of the state budget, he now opposes extending it.
"It's not for anything specific, such as K-12 school funding," he said. "It's to pay for the income tax cuts" that are a centerpiece of the governor's agenda.
A sales tax is more regressive than the income tax and affects the poor more than the wealthy, Davis said, especially given that Kansas is one of a handful of states that still charges sales tax on groceries.
The worst tax policy
The shifting of the tax burden, Davis said, led the state to be singled out recently.
Governing magazine asked analysts with the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the right-leaning Tax Foundation which state had the worst tax policy.
"Without hesitation," the magazine states, both answered Kansas.
In the interview with Governing, Tax Foundation attorney Joseph Henchman was quoted as saying, "Good tax reform broadens the tax base and lowers rates. That's what Gov. Brownback wanted to do. But the Legislature took out the 'broaden-the-base' part. They just passed a tax cut, which can be justifiable if you want to reduce the size of government or expect other revenue sources to go up. But they didn't cut spending and they don't expect revenue to grow, so it's just a hole."
Henchman also said the decision to no longer tax income from business partnerships is just "an incentive to game the tax system without doing anything productive for the economy."
Fails on many levels
Nick Johnson, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wasn't as kind, telling Governing magazine, "The law fails almost every test of good tax policy, starting with adequacy, affordability and sustainability. It fails both vertical and horizontal equity tests. Vertically, it's beneficial to high-income taxpayers and harmful to low. It doesn't do much for the middle either."
"People don't understand the scale of what's been enacted," he was quoted as saying. "It's jaw dropping. I'm hard-pressed to identify another state that has ever passed a larger tax cut package overall to its budget."
April 14, 2013
Left- and right-leaning finance experts say Kansas tax changes worst in country over past two years
The tax changes approved last year with only Republican support and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback are being called the worst tax measures passed by a state in the last two years.
That's according to an article in Governing magazine text that quotes right- and left-leaning financial experts.
Exempting from taxes pass-through income for business owners provides "an incentive to game the tax system without doing anything productive for the economy," said Joseph Henchman with the Tax Foundation.
Nick Johnson with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the tax package "fails both vertical and horizontal equity tests." And he said the size of the cut was so "jaw-dropping" it will prevent the state from making investments in education and infrastructure.
April 9, 2013
Kansas 2014 budget in flux until tax plan settled
April 8, 2013 11:42 PM EDT
TOPEKA — Kansas legislators left for their monthlong break without finalizing the state’s $14 billion budget, with many spending cuts favored by Republicans still pending and more possible changes to the tax code.
Lawmakers spent more than a week negotiating the budget before adjourning late Friday. Although they settled several issues, including changes in abortion and gun regulations, disputes over higher education and income taxes remain unresolved.
The Kansas Senate is recommending a 4 percent cut in funding for the state’s public universities and community colleges. The House favors a 2 percent cut while capping salaries at state agencies to generate about $36 million to make up the difference.
On Monday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said state agencies have been spending less than what they were authorized on salaries in recent years, choosing to use the savings for other operations and projects. He acknowledged that would amount to a cut to state agencies, which the Senate has been hesitant to embrace, but he said he was hopeful for a compromise.
“I think we’re really close on that,” the Newton Republican said. “Once you take care of those pieces, we have about 98 percent of (the budget) done.”
Lawmakers also are fighting about how to further cut Kansas income taxes, though a revenue report due out before they return to work on May 8 is expected to help settle the debate. The report, compiled by nonpartisan researchers and economists, will look at current economic conditions and calculate how much Kansas can anticipate collecting in taxes through June 30, 2014.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wants to keep the state’s 6.3 percent sales tax, which was approved as a temporary hike in 2010 to help stabilize the budget, while tweaking other income tax provisions.
Brownback said Monday that he was working with legislators to reach a compromise on taxes, adding that it was important to settle the issue before finishing the budget. He said he wanted a package that would maintain core government spending and has healthy reserves but moves toward eliminating income taxes.
The Senate plan largely mirrors the governor’s proposal, but the House has voted to let the sales tax increase expire, allowing it to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1. The House plan also would make other tax adjustments with an eye toward future cuts in income tax rates if overall tax collections grow.
But both chambers, controlled by Republicans, want to eventually eliminate income taxes in Kansas.
However, Democrats said Monday that Republicans are making tax and spending decisions based on the drop in revenue caused by the large income tax cuts that were made last year.
“Every time they are looking under a rock for dollars, it’s all about paying for the tax cuts,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.
Rhoades said the proposed cuts to the next budget are a combination of trying to keep government spending in check and to pay for the tax cuts.
“It’s both, but it’s because we got a tax plan in 2012 that the House didn’t want,” Rhoades said, referring to the aggressive tax-cutting plan approved last year.
The Senate approved the plan assuming it would be amended in the House, but the House approved it after the Senate refused to accept any House changes. Brownback signed it knowing it could complicate future budgets without tweaking the law in the future.
“Regardless of what the tax plan was last year, my intention is to look for ways to make government trimmer, more efficient and smaller. That desire won’t change,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, added that the budget problems were “self-inflicted” by the tax cuts. Hensley said he and Davis were focused on educating the public about the impact of the cuts and what they will mean in the coming years.
Some estimates, he said, project that the state could be as much as $1 billion short of revenue absent additional revenue sources or spending cuts by fiscal year 2018.
Eagle editorial: Which Kansas is that?
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman
Gov. Sam Brownback drew the honor Saturday of delivering the Republican weekly address, which is meant to respond to the Democratic president’s weekly address. In the process, Brownback painted an unrecognizable picture of the state after two years of his leadership.
After saying “you change America by changing the states,” Brownback ran into trouble with some specifics of what he called Kansas’ “financial turnaround.”
When he said Kansas went from having $876.05 in the bank to a $500 million ending balance two years later “and did it without tax increases,” he left out the part where a 1 percent sales-tax increase passed in 2010 sustained state revenues and state services as the federal stimulus money dried up and the economy struggled. Nor did he mention that he campaigned against the temporary sales-tax hike in 2010, helped last year to oust moderate Republican legislators who had voted for it and now wants the 2013 Legislature to make it permanent.
Talk about a turnaround.
As for Brownback’s claim that “we didn’t cut state funding to schools, we didn’t cut state funding for our universities and colleges, we didn’t cut state funding for our Medicaid system, we didn’t cut state funding for our prisons” – where to start? Perhaps with the districts, including Wichita, that have been forced to close schools and cut programs because of state reductions in base per-pupil funding and capital outlay equalization dollars, while the governor has used pension funding and debt payments to claim he’s spending more on schools. And, of course, Brownback didn’t mention that a Shawnee County three-judge panel has ordered the state to put at least $400 million more into K-12 schools.
In saying that “we passed the largest tax cut in state history – eliminating the income tax on small businesses altogether,” Brownback didn’t go on to explain the devastating impact the 2012 tax plan is projected to have on the state’s revenues and, it follows, ability to fund schools and social services over the next few years. Nor did he mention the tax breaks for lower-income Kansans that were eliminated so 191,000 businesses could pay no income tax and individuals could pay less.
KanCare just started Jan. 1, so he was jumping the gun in saying “we reformed our state’s Medicaid system to save a billion dollars over five years.” And many legislators and other Kansans have questioned the wisdom of consolidating agencies and eliminating programs – two more of his points of pride.
Brownback is due praise for his work on water and technical education, and he gets to enjoy the ride of the improving economy.
But it’s hard for those who know the whole story not to hear such an address and wonder which Kansas Brownback is talking about – the one he’s actually governing or one made of political spin and presidential ambitions.
Even in pro-gun states, bid to arm teachers stalls
Proposals stem from Connecticut shooting
DAVID A. LIEB
April 8, 2013 3:37 PM EDT
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — When a gunman killed 26 children and staff at a Connecticut grade school, Missouri state Rep. Mike Kelley quickly proposed legislation that would allow trained teachers to carry hidden guns into the classroom as a “line of defense” against attackers.
Similar bills soon proliferated in Republican-led states as the National Rifle Association called for armed officers in every American school.
Yet less than four months later, the quest to put guns in schools has stalled in many traditionally gun-friendly states after encountering opposition from educators, reluctance from some governors and ambivalence from legislative leaders more focused on economic initiatives.
The loss of momentum highlights how difficult it can be to advance any gun legislation, whether to adopt greater restrictions or expand the rights to carry weapons.
Since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., legislators in at least four states — Connecticut, Colorado, Maryland and New York — have passed significant gun-control measures. The Newtown attack came less than five months after a gunman killed 12 people and injured 70 at a Colorado movie theater.
So far, South Dakota is the only state to respond with a new law allowing school personnel to carry guns into elementary and high schools. Similar legislation is awaiting the governor’s signature in Kansas. And Arkansas has enacted a new law allowing colleges to let staff with concealed gun permits bring their weapons on campus.
But Kelley has shelved legislation that would have let Missouri school staff carry firearms if they have concealed gun permits. His legislation never received a public hearing even though he is a House majority whip responsible for rallying Republican support for bills.
Kelley, an NRA member, tried to cast the bill’s demise in a positive light.
“It’s done the No. 1 thing that I wanted, and that’s to bring awareness to schools about some of their safety issues,” he said.
House Speaker Tim Jones vowed this past week that Missouri’s Republican supermajorities would still pass some sort of pro-gun measure this year. But it’s unlikely to involve arming teachers.
In Oklahoma, where pro-firearms measures usually get a warm reception from lawmakers, gun-rights advocates faced an uphill battle against educators opposed to any effort to allow guns in schools. A bill letting schools develop policies for arming trained employees died in the Senate Education Committee.
“As a rule, it’s very difficult to find educators and administrators that support the idea of putting arms in the schools, for whatever reason,” said Rep. Steve Martin, chairman of the Oklahoma House Public Safety Committee.
After opposition from education groups, the North Dakota Senate defeated a bill last month that would have let people with permits bring their weapons into schools. And the New Hampshire House rejected legislation that would have let local school districts seek voter approval for their personnel to carry guns.
“The chances an armed teacher will hit a child are high,” Dean Michener, of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, told lawmakers earlier this year.
When NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for armed school officers, he warned that gun-free schools “tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.” His message carried extra heft, because many lawmakers in the more than two dozen Republican-controlled states are NRA members. The NRA did not respond to request for comment about the state response to its proposal.
In some states, Republican governors have put the damper on legislative efforts to place guns in schools.
Just days after the Newtown shooting, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation letting concealed weapon permit holders — including teachers — carry guns in schools, because there was no provision for local school districts to opt out.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence raised concerns this past week about a bill requiring an armed “school protection officer” onsite during school hours.
“Decisions that are nearest and dearest to our hearts ought to be made by parents and local school officials,” Pence told reporters.
Some states such Texas and Utah already allow teachers and administrators to bring guns to school, though the practice is not common. Just three Texas school boards have granted permission for concealed guns, said state Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican who is sponsoring legislation to train armed teachers for classroom gunfights.
In Minnesota, where the gun debate is on hold at the Capitol, the small town of Jordan recently decided to place satellite police offices in its public schools. The intent was that the mere presence of police would deter any would-be attackers.
Some ardent guns-rights supporters remain hopeful that stalled legislation still can pass this year.
Texas Rep. Dan Flynn, a Republican co-author of a bill allowing guns on college campuses, said opposition from public universities and big cities has so far kept the measure from coming to a vote. But the Legislature doesn’t adjourn until Memorial Day.
“This is still Texas,” Flynn said. “And in Texas, the Second Amendment is right up there with mother, God and apple pie.”
April 3, 2013
Part-time Salina School District employees no longer eligible for health insurance unless they work over 30 hours a week
By MICHAEL STRAND Salina Journal | Tuesday, April 02, 2013 3:00 AM
About 130 employees of the Salina School District are finding out they will no longer be eligible for health insurance through the district as it adapts to the federal Affordable Care Act.
For many years, employees working at least 17 1/2 hours a week had been eligible to buy health insurance through the district. The district contributed $360 a month toward the premiums, which total $960 monthly for a family policy or $410 for single coverage.
That 17 1/2-hour threshold is the same threshold as eligibility to be in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, said Steve Dorzweiler, the district's director of human resources.
But several provisions of the federal health care reform law -- often referred to as "Obamacare" -- are causing the district to tighten its eligibility standards, Dorzweiler said. Beginning in fall 2013, employees will have to work at least 30 hours a week to get health insurance through the district.
One provision of the Affordable Care Act requires employers to offer health insurance to all employees working at least 30 hours a week, while another provision requires that health insurance costs less than 9.5 percent of an employee's pay.
Employers are free to continue offering insurance to employees who work less than 30 hours a week, but the 9.5 percent rule counts even for an employee working only a few hours a week, Dorzweiler said. The more hours an employee works, the more likely it is that his or her insurance premium would meet the "affordable" requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
Were the district to offer a plan that costs more than 9.5 percent of a given employee's pay, and the employee instead decides to buy insurance through the "exchanges" being set up, the district would be fined $3,000.
Additionally, Dorzweiler said, the district is going to have to spend more time keeping track of the hours that employees work.
"We used to determine eligibility for benefits based on how many hours they were scheduled to work," he said. "Now it's going to be how many hours they're actually working."
That can get complicated with some employees, such as substitute teachers, he said, because of their irregular work schedules.
"We'll have to monitor that and look at their eligibility," he said.
That extra monitoring is important, Dorzweiler said, as the Affordable Care Act also penalizes employers who don't offer insurance to everyone who is eligible -- those averaging 30 hours or more a week.
The law does say that an employer can miss as many as 5 percent of eligible employees, and not offer them insurance. Beyond that, however, the law allows for fines of $2,000 for each eligible employee -- not just $2,000 for each eligible employee who wasn't offered insurance.
Dorzweiler estimated that penalty would cost the district $3.3 million.
In all, he said, about 130 employees will lose their eligibility for health insurance through the district, but he wasn't sure how many of them currently use the district's plan.
Letters were sent out to affected employees this past week, he said.
"They will no longer be eligible after Aug. 31," he said. "We wanted to give them all as much leeway as we could."
Kansas Senate advances
expansion of concealed carry of guns
Topeka — The Kansas Senate
on Tuesday advanced an expansion of concealed carry of guns that could result
in allowing firearms in schools and campuses.
"When a gun is in a
school and harm is meant, there is only one thing that is going to stop that,
and that is another gun," said state Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona.
Referring to the mass
shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. and the unarmed teachers
who were killed while trying to protect students, Knox said, "We've got to
get our heads out of the sand. There are guns and there are people with evil
intent and law enforcement is not always the first responder. The first
responders at Sandy Hook are all dead."
Knox's bill says that a
public building cannot prohibit concealed carry if it doesn't have security
equipment or personnel to ensure that no one is carrying.
The bill would allow a
four-year exemption for any public building by making a security plan and
submitting that the attorney general and law enforcement.
Knox's bill would also
allow school districts and state colleges to designate employees to carry
concealed weapons at work.
The House has passed a
Knox said university campuses
are particularly vulnerable, and he said based on studies there are 35 students
carrying a gun illegally for every 1,000 students. That means there are
approximately 700 illegal guns on the Kansas University campus now, he said.
He said if licensed
concealed carry holders would be allowed to carry on campus, rapes and other
crimes would decrease.
But state Sen. Marci
Francisco, D-Lawrence, said allowing guns on campuses would make "those
places less safe."
Francisco says she feels
safe on the KU campus. "I've spent a fair amount of time on campus and
never felt the need or interest to carry a gun. I rely on the law enforcement
that does exist," she said.
State Sen. Pat Pettey,
D-Kansas City, offered an amendment that would have removed schools and postsecondary
institutions from the bill. But that was defeated.
Kansas House defeats school choice measure
By JOHN MILBURN
By JOHN MILBURN
The Associated Press
TOPEKA — The Kansas House defeated legislation on
Monday that would create a school choice scholarship program funded by
House members voted 63-56 against advancing the bill
to final action, dealing a blow to supporters who saw the measure as a means to
give parents of poor or special needs students a choice in where to send their
children to school.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Kasha Kelley said
the measure wasn't about the parents' party affiliation. It was about giving
the students an opportunity they otherwise might not receive, she said.
“We are sacrificing their future because we are
protecting a system,” said Kelley, an Arkansas City Republican.
The measure would have let parents of low-income or
special needs children in elementary or secondary grades apply for scholarships
to send their children to private or parochial schools.
Corporations would receive tax credits for
contributions to a qualifying scholarship-granting organization. The program
would have been capped at $10 million annually and would have awarded
scholarships to students for up to $8,000 annually.
Public school districts would not be penalized if any
students who received a scholarship left for a private or parochial school. The
districts would continue to receive state funding for one year.
Opponents argued there were too many questions about
the tax credit provisions and whether schools accepting the scholarships would
be accredited and students enrolled could enter college without having to seek
additional paperwork. They also said it was a step toward creating vouchers for
parents to take outside the public school system, including home schools.
“What we're really talking about is diverting public
funds to private or parochial schools,” said Rep. Nile Dillmore, a Wichita
Democrat opposed to the measure.
But Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and
supporter of the bill, said rejecting the measure preserves the status quo in
public schools and denies parents the chance to give their children a better
“We must move beyond being system-focused,” Kinzer
Brownback not thrilled by rewrite of reading reform
Gov. Sam Brownback issued a low grade Wednesday on
amendments passed by the Senate overhauling his plan to mandate third-grade
students who flounder on a standardized reading test to be held back.
The version endorsed 30-10 in the Senate would
establish new rules for retaining first-graders who lacked reading proficiency.
The adjustment didn't mesh with a 2010 goal established at the outset of the
Brownback administration to upgrade the reading test scores of fourth-graders
"We'll look at it," the governor said when
asked about the Senate's work. "I think we've got a good design. I'm glad
to see the discussion."
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, authored the amendment
placing emphasis on first-grade reading. She said waiting to implement remedial
instruction until third grade would be insufficient because research suggested
better outcomes with earlier intervention for students.
"We need to let facts get in our way here,"
Kelly said. "The earlier you start developing a child's reading skills,
the more likely they'll be proficient when they enter fourth grade."
Kelly was the lone Democratic senator to vote for the
bill. Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, also endorsed the measure, while Senate
Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, didn’t.
Brownback said the most significant objection offered
to his plan for retaining third-grade students was pupils might face ridicule
from peers if they had to redo an elementary grade.
"There is a far greater stigmatization if you
can't read," Brownback said.
The original version of Brownback's reading reform
bill failed to gain enough votes to pass out of Republican-dominated House and
Senate education committees. His bill surfaced after maneuvering by Sen. Steve
Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican who agreed to changes to keep a reform bill
on the table.
The Senate placed in the rewritten House Bill 2140 a
stipulation that more than one test of student skills would guide retention
decisions. The Senate bill expands the role of parents, principals and teachers
in evaluation of whether a student with modest reading skills must be held
The legislation would target elementary schools with
reading scores below the statewide average. Nonprofit organizations and school
districts would be eligible for $5 million in grants for remedial instruction.
Truce declared in Kansas ‘war' on teacher bargaining
By JOHN HANNA
The Associated Press
TOPEKA — Kansas legislators have dropped their pursuit of a proposal to narrow contract negotiations between teachers and school districts to give education groups a chance to work out a compromise.
Chairman Marvin Kleeb confirmed Thursday that the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee won't vote this year on a bill dealing with teachers' bargaining rights. Kleeb said groups representing teachers, school superintendents and local boards of education will work for the rest of the year on a new version.
“We decided to give them a chance to actually work together,” said Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican. “Hopefully, some good can come out of this.”
The bill would limit the issues that must be negotiated between teacher groups and school boards to pay, holidays, sick leave, personal leave and the hours that teachers work outside their classes. School boards could still opt to negotiate over other issues affecting teachers' duties, but that list would not include how teachers are evaluated or how many classes they must teach each day.
Kansas has about 34,400 full-time teachers in its public schools, according to the state Department of Education. Teachers are not allowed to strike under Kansas law.
The measure had the support of some key Republican legislators, school superintendents and local boards of education. But the bill prompted the 25,000-member Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union to warn of a “war” on educators.
The KNEA, the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas School Superintendents Association issued a joint statement Thursday saying they had agreed “it was time to start anew.” They said they intend to produce a compromise proposal by December, so that legislators can consider it next year.
“It's good news. It should have been done this way in the first place,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. “It would have created a lot less angst.”
Republicans who supported the bill said they wanted to encourage innovation in public schools by giving local districts more operational flexibility. Also, a task force appointed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback recommended changes in January, saying rewriting the law would help local boards “determine what works best locally to drive efficiencies.”
But critics of the measure saw it as an attempt to weaken the KNEA, which has a long history of supporting Democrats and moderate Republicans and has been a vocal critic of the conservative Republican governor.
The bargaining bill is Sub for HB 2027. Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Panel pushes KPERS 401-k discussion to next year
March 21, 2013 6:31 PM EDT
Copyright 2013 CJ Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
With the session ebbing, members of a House committee said Thursday they felt rushed into considering major changes to the state's pension plan and put off further discussion of reform until next year.
Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, made the motion to table Senate Bill 117, a vehicle for designing a 401(k)-style direct contribution plan for new members of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
Barker, a former judge, said he prefers to be "methodical, prudent and cautious" on all major decisions.
“I don’t think in the last few days we have been methodical," Barker said. "We’ve tried to be reasonable and prudent, but we can’t be cautious cause of time constraints.”
Barker's motion was adopted by the House Pensions and Benefits Committee nearly unanimously.
The KPERS debate was revived last week when big-name associates from financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisors came to testify about their direct-contribution plan after private talks with Gov. Sam Brownback and other high-level state officials at the company's headquarters in Austin, Texas.
Direct-contribution plans are favored by many conservatives because they place the risk for investment losses on the employee rather than the state. Market downturns were a factor in the estimated $9 billion shortfall between what KPERS has promised current members and what the system is projected to have available to pay out. Other states have run up even higher projected pension shortfalls, known as "unfunded actuarial liability."
During Thursday's committee hearing Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka, noted that after much study last year's Legislature passed a bill to integrate a "cash balance" plan into KPERS — seen as a compromise between the traditional pension system and the direct-contribution plans now common to the private sector.
The cash balance plan, which isn’t yet in effect, is projected to help pay down the unfunded liability by 2033. Alcala said that given that, he was "not sure why this issue was rushed before this committee.”
“I felt this was really on the fast track," Alcala said of the direct-contribution debate. "I didn’t feel comfortable making a decision on this right now. In fact, if I had to make a decision without this being tabled, it would have been no. It would have been no to all of this.”
Rep. Virgil Weigel, D-Topeka, said he echoed Alcala's comments and also was put off by what he perceived as an "undertone" of blaming state employees — who held up their end of the pension contribution agreement — for the KPERS shortfall.
Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, agreed that the committee hadn’t had enough time to debate the merits of various direct-contribution schemes. But he said he remains interested in giving state employees that option — which provides more portability than traditional pensions — and he would welcome revisiting it next year.
“I don’t want to shy away from this forever," Howell said. "I think this is something we need to explore.”
House approves bill to channel future state revenue growth to income tax cuts
BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau
The Kansas House voted 82-39 Thursday in favor of a bill that channels any growth in state government revenue beyond 2 percent toward income tax cuts.
It’s a follow-up to the elimination of income taxes for 191,000 businesses and farms and lower rates for individuals signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012.
House Republican leaders initially sought to divert about $382 million in sales tax money from a long-term highway improvement plan to the state’s general fund to mitigate deep cuts in state services caused by the tax cuts. But that was swiftly jettisoned during a debate and initial vote Wednesday.
Without the highway money, the House GOP tax plan could tank the state’s budget in a year or two, forcing cuts to state services. But leaders say they expect to reach a compromise with Senate Republicans who last week approved their own set of tax cuts.
Both the House and Senate bills would reduce the value of income tax deductions over the next few years as income tax rates decline.
Negotiators from both chambers are likely to debate a compromise in coming weeks.
Democrats decried the bill and called it a $392 million tax increase because it pushes down the value of deductions, such as the popular mortgage tax deduction.
House Approves Ban on Union Pay Dues
The Associated Press
March 19, 2013
A bill barring public employee unions in Kansas from deducting money from members’ paychecks to help finance political activities cleared the Republican-dominated Legislature on Tuesday.
The House voted 68-54 in favor of the measure, and it now goes to GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, who’s expected to sign it. The Senate approved an identical version last week after supporters narrowed the bill’s scope to address concerns that the legislation violated free speech rights.
The bill’s passage was a political victory for conservative Republican legislators and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. They failed to push it through the Legislature in 2011, despite large GOP majorities and Brownback taking office as governor, because of a split among GOP senators including some who lost their seats last year.
Supporters of the bill argue that state and local government agencies processing payrolls shouldn’t be entangled in transactions that divert money to political action committees. Supporters also contend the change will protect public employee union members from having part of their pay funneled to candidates or causes they oppose.
“It gives members of public sector unions a choice in whether they want to contribute to the political actions of these organizations,” said Eric Stafford, a Kansas Chamber lobbyist.
Opponents of the bill note that union members generally must agree to paycheck deductions beforehand. Kansas also has been a right-to-work state since the late 1950s, meaning workers must opt into unions and cannot be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
“This is the Legislature trying to tell employees and employers what they can and cannot do with what is the employees’ money ultimately,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. “I just don’t think we have any business inserting ourselves into something like that.”
Critics see the bill as an attempt to weaken the political influence of public employee unions by making it less convenient for them to contribute to political causes. Such unions strongly support Democrats and are vocal critics of Brownback.
Another bill pending before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee would narrow the scope of contract negotiations between teachers’ unions and local school boards. In addition, Brownback’s administration and some GOP House members have renewed a push to mandate a 401(k)-style pension plan for new teachers and government workers, despite an overhaul last year aimed at bolstering the long-term financial health of the state retirement system.
The House vote on the paycheck bill came only hours after Heather Ousley, a Merriam mother, finished a three-day, 60-mile walk from her home to the Statehouse to protest what she sees as attacks on teachers and public education.
Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the 25,000-member Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said public employee groups are “under siege.” He said the bill singles out public employee unions for special restrictions.
“The bill is there because we disagreed with the Chamber and the governor, and we need to be silenced,” Desetti said. “Go after us, but you’re not shutting us up.”
Unions became more suspicious in January when Stafford, answering questions during a hearing by the commerce committee, snapped, “I need this bill passed so we can get rid of public sector unions.” Stafford later acknowledged he lost his cool and apologized, saying supporters of the bill have no such goal.
Also, when the House passed a version of the bill in January, it defined political activities broadly enough that critics said it could prevent unions from testifying before the Legislature about worker safety or hinder communications between a union and its members.
Rep. Marvin Kleeb, who is chairman of the commerce committee, said that was never the intent, and the Senate rewrote the bill before passing it last week. The House’s vote Tuesday was to accept the Senate’s changes.
Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican, said union members will still be able to write checks or give money individually to PACs but, “The point is to protect individual rights.”
Budget containing 4 percent cut to higher education gains preliminary approval
March 19, 2013
Topeka — With only Republican votes, the House on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a budget that would cut higher education by 4 percent, keep public school funding flat and reduce dollars in numerous other areas of state spending.
Democrats said the austerity plan, on top of years of recession-era budget cuts, was being driven by Republican-approved income tax cuts.
"We have a budget built on a tax plan that doesn't support our children but sacrifices them for the benefit of the wealthiest among us and large corporations," said Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield.
Republican supporters of the budget said it was a responsible plan as they pushed it through on a 71-51 vote. A final vote on the measure is expected Wednesday.
Democrats said the 4 percent cut, totaling $29.2 million, to higher education would lead to tuition increases.
But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said regardless of the budget, the state's universities will increase tuition. "They raise tuition because they want to," he said. "On higher education, it is out of control. At some point we are going to hit the stone wall," he added.
Higher education officials have argued that reductions in state spending on universities in recent years has had a direct impact on the size of tuition increases.
Under the 4 percent cut, Kansas University would lose nearly $10 million, including $4.2 million at the KU Medical Center.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the cut doesn't make sense when the Legislature wants KU Med to produce more doctors and nurses. "How are they going to do that?" he asked.
Higher education officials did win a victory when Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St Francis, won approval of an amendment that lifted a wage and salary cap that had been placed on universities. Higher education representatives had complained loudly that the cap would have frozen even federal and private grant funds.
But the provision, essentially freezing salary and wage expenditures to current levels, remains in the bill for the rest of state government.
Rep. Melanie Meier, D-Leavenworth, said that will prevent the under-staffed prison system from filling vacant positions.
Several legislators complained they were given just a little more than one day to analyze the 512-page budget.
"I think they understand that there is so much bad stuff in this budget that they don't want people to have time to read it — or else they wouldn't support it," said Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence.
Charter Bill Nearing Vote
March 19, 2013 5:04 PM EDT
A bill to overhaul Kansas’ charter school system, rejected by the House Education Committee, could find new life in the Senate.
Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was ready to put the bill to a vote Tuesday, but discussion, led largely by the bill’s opponents, postponed the vote.
S.B. 196 would allow for the creation of charter schools that are independent of local school boards and free of most state laws and regulations. Kansas currently has 15 charter schools. All are operated by school districts and required to follow state law, though they may seek waivers of Kansas State Board of Education regulations.
Abrams presented a number of amendments to the bill that passed. One of the amendments could address concerns that the bill doesn’t require charter schools to offer the same range of special education services that traditional public schools do. Under the amendment, charter schools would be financially responsible for special education services. That could mean, for example, contracting with a school district or other party.
Another amendment changes the bill’s funding formula. Originally, charter schools would have received state aid based on the at-risk weightings of their surrounding school district. The amendment means schools would receive aid based on the statewide average figure per pupil instead.
The committee also added a provision requiring that existing charter schools remain bound by the current charter school law, meaning they wouldn’t be exempt from state laws.
Despite the amendments, a few senators seemed unmoved in their opposition.
Sens. Vicki Schmidt, Kay Wolf and Pat Pettey were vocal opponents of the bill, while Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, a special education teacher for Topeka Unified School District 501, said he would reserve his comments until the committee prepared to vote.
Abrams indicated he hoped to vote before the meeting’s end, but discussion of the bill put that plan on hold.
Schmidt, R-Topeka, cited several reasons for her opposition, including that the bill wouldn’t ensure effective oversight of schools.
She said for-profit colleges, city councils and others would be allowed to authorize and supervise charter schools yet might not have the necessary expertise.
Schmidt also opposed another amendment that passed, allowing tax deductions instead of tax credits for donations to charter schools.
“I don’t think we should do this until we know how it marries with what we’ve passed,” she said, referring to a bill that passed the Senate last week and would phase out personal tax deductions in proportion to declines in income tax rates. “We shouldn’t create another exception in the tax code.”
Schmidt and Wolf, R-Prairie Village, also expressed concerns that private schools would become charter schools under the law, thereby increasing the statewide number of students.
“We don’t have the funding for our current schools,” Wolf said. “I see no way that we in our economic climate right now, if we have additional students come on board, that we can possibly fund them.”
Pettey, D-Kansas City, said it was unacceptable that certification requirements wouldn’t apply to charter school teachers.
“There’s 44 professions that we require licenses for, all the way from doctors to body piercing,” Pettey said.
But Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, said the bill would provide families with educational choices.
Parents are in charge of their children’s education, Arpke said, and this bill would recognize that.
“I think parents should have a choice to send their kids where they think they’ll get the best education,” he said.
Speaking after the committee meeting, Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist Mark Tallman said the amendments were improvements to a bill that his association still considers unconstitutional. The KASB has testified that the bill violates the Kansas Constitution by bypassing school boards in the creation and operation of schools.
Kansas Senate approves bill preventing union paycheck deductions
By JOHN MILBURN
TOPEKA – The Kansas Senate approved legislation Thursday prohibiting public employee unions from deducting money from members’ paychecks to help finance political activities over objections that the bill targets traditional Democratic supporters.
The vote was 24-16 and sends the bill back to the House to consider changes made by the Republican-led Senate. The House approved the measure earlier in the legislative session, but senators removed language that raised concerns about limiting free speech rights of union members.
“I think the Legislature has crossed the line when we have a bill like this on the floor,” said Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City. “I’m flabbergasted. Just because you can technically do this doesn’t make it right.”
Kansas is a right-to-work state, which means workers must opt into unions and can’t be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Workers may also agree to have money automatically deducted from their paychecks for a political action committee connected to the union, which then distributes the money to political causes and candidates as it sees fit.
Proponents argued the measure would protect members of public employee unions from having part of their pay funneled to candidates or causes they oppose. Supporters also said state and local government agencies processing payrolls shouldn’t be entangled in such transactions.
“We are withdrawing the government from any activities involved in these payroll deductions,” said Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which rewrote the House bill.
Public unions have argued that the bill is an attempt to weaken their political power by making it less convenient to make contributions for political purposes. Democrats argued Thursday that Republicans were using their large majorities in the Legislature to attack unions that traditionally have supported Democratic candidates.
“That is flat out wrong. That is tyranny,” Holland said.
But Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, a schoolteacher, said the bill was about giving public employees a choice and removing any pressure they may feel from peers to contribute to a PAC, even if they don’t agree with the PAC’s ideology. Smith said he wasn’t a member of the Kansas National Education Association, one of the unions that would be affected by the legislation.
Several bills have been introduced this session that attempt to curb the rights of public employee unions, including narrowing the collective bargaining rights of teachers to negotiate with school districts.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and teacher, said the paycheck deduction bill would make it difficult, if not impossible, for public union members to participate in the political process. He the contract between the Department of Administration and the Kansas Organization of State Employees stipulated that the group would repay the state for the cost of handling the PAC deduction, roughly 6 cents per transaction.
“PACs are groups of little people. PACs are the power of the people,” Hensley said.
Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said public employee union members could set up an automatic bank withdrawal for PAC contributions, similar to the way utility bills or other expenses are handled by individuals and families.
Senate majority leader: Income tax cuts will mean at least $50 million in spending cuts
BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau
A bill that would push income tax rates down while eroding the value of most tax deductions and that would extend a sales tax increase that was set to expire this summer won approval in the Kansas Senate on Thursday.
With 25-14 support, the bill will now likely wait on the sidelines until the House votes on its own tax-cut proposal.
The tax cuts are expected to force corresponding cuts to the state’s evolving budget for next year. That could include cuts to state universities and state courts, although much is likely to change in the coming weeks.
Driving down income tax rates is a top priority for Gov. Sam Brownback and most of the Senate Republicans he and other conservatives helped during last summer’s grueling Republican primary elections.
But it has forced a debate about extending a sales tax increase that was approved in the face of recession-fueled budget problems in 2010. That left many Republicans with a choice between reversing their stance on the sales tax in the name of cutting income taxes or opposing income tax cuts to let the sales tax decline in July as scheduled.
Sixteen Senate Republicans who opposed increasing the sales tax in 2010 voted Thursday to extend it indefinitely in order to drive down income tax rates.
Some of them noted impending budget problems caused by income tax cuts signed into law last year after moderate Republicans resisted deep tax cuts because of budget concerns and conservatives pushed through a bill that many thought would never become law.
Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, said he has voted against tax increases and for cuts for years. But he said the state has to continue the sales tax at its current level to make the rest of the budget cuts work.
Those who endorsed the plan including the sales tax extension but opposed the sales tax increase in 2010 include Sens. Steve Abrams, Pat Apple, Elaine Bowers, Terry Bruce, Les Donovan, Mitch Holmes, Dan Kerschen, Forrest Knox, Julia Lynn, Ty Masterson, Rob Olson, Mike Petersen, Mary Pilcher-Cook, Larry Powell and Susan Wagle. Sen. Dennis Pyle passed on the vote Thursday.
Republican Sens. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick and Vicki Schmidt of Topeka voted no, saying they strongly oppose breaking their promise to let the sale tax decrease from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent this summer.
Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, said he opposed the plan because he promised to let the sales tax expire during his successful campaign against Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf last summer.
“People call me plenty of things, but they can’t call me a liar,” he said.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the bill not only breaks lawmakers’ promise to let the sales tax decrease, it also takes more money from taxpayers than it gives them in its first four years of implementation.
“The Legislature’s continuation of tax policy is designed to benefit the big businesses of the wealthy at the expense of hard-working Kansas taxpayers,” he said.
Holland and other Democrats say that relying on the sales tax while eliminating income taxes for 191,000 businesses, lowering rates for individuals, eroding deductions and cutting the state budget creates a regressive tax system that hurts the state’s neediest.
Lawmakers will likely have to cut a minimum of $50 million in state spending from next year’s budget to accommodate income tax cuts, Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said.
The cuts could, however, go much higher – to perhaps $70 million, he said.
Such spending cuts could grow in following years to deal with lower revenue resulting from the income tax cuts. But if the income tax cuts spur economic growth, as Republicans project, the spending cuts may not be as extreme, Bruce said.
The proposal faces strong opposition in the House, where Republican leaders say they don’t want to extend the temporary sales tax increase.
Senators and House representatives may compromise on the sales tax issue in some way, but it’s not clear how just yet, Bruce said.
“Nobody is going to walk away with everything they want,” he said. “But, hopefully, it’s what the state needs right now.”
Under the plan advanced by the Senate, the sales tax would be frozen at 6.3 percent, and income tax rates for the state’s bottom bracket would be trimmed from 3 percent to 2.5 percent in 2014 and dropped to 1.9 percent in 2016. The top rate would drop from 4.9 percent to 3.5 percent in 2017.
Rates would then be cut more whenever the state has more than 4 percent annual revenue growth.
Brownback had proposed eliminating the real estate property tax and mortgage interest deductions to bring in more state revenue to offset reduced income taxes.
But senators rejected those ideas.
House budget committee proposes holding funding to current levels for wages and salaries for higher education
March 13, 2013
Topeka — The House budget writing committee has proposed more cuts to higher education that would hold the amount of funding for salaries and wages to the current level for two years.
That proposal, by Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, is on top of an across-the-board 4 percent cut, or $29.2 million, in state funding to higher education that Republicans on the committee approved on Tuesday. That would include a nearly $10 million cut at Kansas University.
On Tuesday, KU officials criticized the across the board cut, saying it would hurt the school's ability to help grow the Kansas economy.
But on Wednesday, neither officials with KU nor the Kansas Board of Regents had an immediate response to the latest proposed cut.
Fiery debate over expansion of concealed carry, assertion of state gun rights as Kansas House advances bills
March 13, 2013
Topeka — The Kansas House on Wednesday advanced gun bills that could produce a standoff between state and federal law officers, and open up campuses, classrooms and the Statehouse to concealed weapons.
Supporters said the bills would make Kansas safer and assert the constitutional right to bear arms. Opponents said the measures would endanger public safety and lead to costly litigation.
House Bill 2199, called the Second Amendment Protection Act, and House Bill 2055, expanding concealed carry, were approved on a voice vote. A record vote during final action is scheduled for Thursday.
The most heated debate surrounded HB 2199, which says that any personal firearm, accessory or ammunition that is owned or manufactured in Kansas and that remains in the state is not subject to federal law. And under the bill, federal authorities trying to enforce any kind of rule on such a firearm would face possible arrest and criminal charges.
Several legislators said pitting local law enforcement against federal officers would set up a dangerous situation and jeopardize the public.
State Rep. Virgil Weigle, D-Topeka, said he worked for 28 years in local, state and federal law enforcement.
"When I was a federal agent, I wanted to make sure the locals had my back," Weigle said. "What you are doing here is going to destroy that relationship."
State Rep. Diana Dierks, R-Salina, said, "I am appalled that we are even thinking of passing this bill. We still belong to the United States."
But state Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, said Dierks was wrong. "The United States belongs to the citizens of Kansas, not the other way around," he said to a round of applause.
State Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, a former judge, tried to amend the bill to remove the state authority over federal law and replace that with a provision that would direct the attorney general to defend Kansas gun rights in court.
State Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, urged support of Becker's proposed change, saying, "Our beef is not with federal agents. Criminalizing their behavior is not the solution. Let's take the fight to the proper venue, the courts."
But opponents said Kansas needed to assert its sovereignty and that the federal government should be held in check.
State Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, R-Grandview Plaza, criticized federal authorities for their actions in deadly confrontations in Ruby Ridge in Idaho and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. "They get a lot of things wrong," he said.
Becker's amendment failed 59-60.
On HB 2250, concealed carry license holders would be allowed to carry their weapons in city, county and state buildings that didn't have adequate security, such as metal detectors and guards.
"If you can't provide security, let us carry," said state Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka.
But opponents said the bill was coercing local governments to bend to the will of the Legislature. "That is exactly the opposite of what I thought the best government was about," said state Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove.
Universities, state-owned hospitals, nursing homes, community mental health centers and safety net clinics would be exempt from the law for four years.
But under another provision, universities and schools could decide whether to allow employees to bring their weapons to work.
State Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, said since supporters argued that expansion of concealed carry improved safety, even around grade-schoolers, he proposed an amendment to allow concealed carry in the Capitol. The amendment was approved.
BOE concern: Lawmakers Infringing on It's Authority
March 12, 2013 7:09 PM EDT
The Kansas State Board of Education voted Tuesday to send a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback and each member of the Legislature reminding them of the board’s authority and responsibilities under the state Constitution.
Conversation at this month's meeting of the state board turned repeatedly to whether the Legislature would pass a bill banning Kansas' current mathematics and English standards — and whether that would infringe on the board's authority.
The House Education Committee is considering a bill that would force the state board to scrap its current guidelines in those subjects, called the Common Core. The committee has held two hearings on the standards, which Kansas adopted in 2010. Most states are using them, effectively creating a set of national standards in math, reading and writing for the first time.
Discussion in the Education Committee has centered on whether the federal government pushed Kansas into accepting the Common Core and whether the standards are a good choice for Kansas schools.
Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker updated the state board on that discussion Tuesday, telling the board that some lawmakers had received incorrect information about the Common Core.
"It's been frustrating to sit in the audience and not be able to provide accurate information," said DeBacker, who may get a chance to speak at a third hearing on the standards on Wednesday.
"Determining the standards in the state of Kansas is your authority," DeBacker also said. "We have to be mindful of that and remindful of that."
A few board members asked what recourse the board had if the Legislature passed a bill canceling its math and English standards and how best to communicate with lawmakers.
"What strong voice can we have, individually as board members and collectively as board members?" asked Jim McNiece, of Wichita.
"I'd like to know what our recourse can be to help some of these committees understand that the standards are our responsibility and that it isn't a legislative decision," said Sally Cauble, of Liberal.
Ken Willard, of Hutchinson, said he wasn't sure whether the bill violated the board's authority, but that he was concerned about misunderstandings among lawmakers.
He said the "prevailing sentiment" among skeptics seemed to be that Kansas should avoid federal encroachment on education matters, but there was little evidence that the Common Core leads to greater federal control.
DeBacker said some lawmakers think the U.S. Department of Education pressed Kansas to adopt the Common Core by linking it to grants called Race to the Top. She said Kansas hadn't qualified for those grants and had made the decision not to make the changes the federal government was looking for in doling them out.
By a vote of 7-2, the board decided to draft a short letter to the governor and lawmakers noting its duties and roll under the Constitution. One board member, Willard, abstained.
Meanwhile, the board voted to work with the Center on Educational Testing and Evaluation at The University of Kansas on next year's math and reading assessments.
Kansas will adopt new state tests in math and reading in 2014-15 to reflect the Common Core. Current tests are based on standards from 2003.
The tests to be used starting in 2014-15 are still being developed, leaving a one-year gap. The board will ask the center to modify current tests to match Common Core. The modified tests will serve as next year's math and reading assessments and as interim assessments after that. Interim assessments are extra tests that districts can administer to get a sense of how their students will perform on the main state tests.
Kansas Bill Would Allow School Employees to Carry Guns
The Kansas City Star
Christina Blair of Shawnee has twin daughters in high school, including an aspiring teacher.
She worries what might happen “if a madman comes in with a gun and you’re locked in a classroom. How do you defend against that? You can’t,” Blair said.
“I would feel much safer,” she said, “if there was another way for teachers to defend their classroom.”
Judith Deedy of Mission Hills has heard arguments about how gun-free zones might invite violence against the defenseless. Yet with three kids in elementary schools, she’s not convinced that arming school staff is the answer.
“Guns in schools with curious children,” she said. “What more could possibly go wrong there?”
The national debate over guns and classrooms has taken root in Kansas, where some lawmakers are maneuvering to allow schoolteachers to carry guns.
Two bills to expand the state’s concealed-weapons law contain provisions that would let school boards allow any employee licensed to carry a concealed handgun to bring a firearm to work.
They echo others introduced in Missouri and at least a dozen other states following the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.
The bills follow a path scouted by the National Rifle Association, which has called for armed security guards at every school to fend off the next mass shooting.
“When you’ve got somebody coming in with a gun that intends harm, the only real answer is a good guy with a gun,” said state Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican and the primary sponsor of the gun legislation.
His line closely mimics the words of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, and his organization’s stance that the road to safety is manned with broader use of firearms to keep danger at bay.
Knox said the legislation gives school districts more latitude to decide how to protect themselves from armed intruders. He said schools could decide who gets to carry concealed weapons and impose any further requirements. The measure would include community colleges and universities.
“We need to give schools flexibility,” Knox said, “to do whatever they choose.”
The Kansas bills are expected to see action this week, close on the heels of South Dakota becoming the first state to expressly allow school employees to carry guns.
Officials at the National Conference of State Legislatures said other states have granted exceptions to their weapon-free school zones that might be interpreted to allow teachers to carry guns.
But the organization was not aware of any state law specifically authorizing teachers to carry firearms — the way South Dakota has done and Kansas is contemplating.
Missouri’s bills appear stalled, at least for the moment, in committee. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has made clear his opposition.
Today, the Kansas House is expected to take up a bill that would require the state, cities and counties to allow concealed weapons into their buildings unless they have security checkpoints at public entrances.
College and government-run hospitals could still ban guns for four years without installing the security measures.
A comparable bill in the Senate is scheduled for a committee hearing Thursday.
Efforts to allow concealed weapons in public buildings have fizzled in previous legislative sessions. But this year, the idea is greeted by a decidedly more conservative Senate.
Neither officials from the National Rifle Association nor the Kansas State Rifle Association returned calls for this article.
An NRA spokesman told The New York Times that the group supported and lobbied for the South Dakota legislation.
Even without legislative action, some think guns might still legally find their way into Kansas schools. The state association of school boards contends existing law might already give superintendents the power to authorize their staff to carry firearms.
Some teachers say they feel vulnerable in their classroom, noting there’s not much that would keep an intruder out.
“We’re really just sitting ducks here,” said Tina Keith, a Shawnee Mission social studies teacher.
Keith would support letting teachers carry concealed weapons if the faculty had training beyond the eight hours of instruction spelled out in the state’s concealed-carry law.
“Having the general public believing or knowing that people within the school are armed or trained would be a deterrent,” she said.
Yet other teachers and some parents aren’t ready to put triggers at the ready.
“The people that would have guns — they’re not trained to be a police officer that knows how to attack a situation,” said Randy Davis, a retired Merriam police officer and the father of two high school students.
“If you are putting a life-and-death piece of equipment into your hands, are you prepared to take the next step?”
Some area school districts are cool to the idea of letting staff carry weapons.
“It just makes no sense,” said Shawnee Mission Superintendent Gene Johnson. “There are better ways for us to address safety issues than putting a gun in everybody’s hand.”
Blue Valley Superintendent Tom Trigg said he did not expect his district to allow employees to carry weapons if the bill became law.
Both districts are participating in a school safety project — called Defense of our Schools — that involves roughly 200 school officials and police officers from across Miami and Johnson counties.
Created in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, it intends to identify the best practices for school safety.
“We’ve got a good plan,” said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, “but it needs tweaking.”
Meanwhile, schools in other parts of Kansas have started taking action to protect students in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.
The Emporia School Board voted in January to post armed guards — both retired police officers — at the school district’s middle school and high school. The guards started Feb. 1.
The district started looking at armed guards before the Sandy Hook shootings when officials attended a training session on school shootings that was offered by the Department of Homeland Security, spokeswoman Nancy Horst said.
From that training, they learned that having guards on site would greatly reduce any response time to a crisis, she said. She said the new security was added with little or no public resistance.
“One of the reasons that this went through fairly quickly and didn’t get a lot of backlash,” she said, “is those men are retired police officers and have been in our community a long time.”
Andover schools selects Greg Rasmussen as next superintendent
By Suzanne Perez Tobias
The Wichita Eagle
The Andover school board has voted unanimously to select Greg Rasmussen as the district’s next superintendent, officials announced.
Rasmussen, one of three finalists interviewed last week, is superintendent of schools in Middletown, Ohio, and a former assistant superintendent for elementary schools in Wichita. The board voted Monday night to hire him.
“We welcome Greg back to Kansas,” Roger Elliott, president of the Andover Board of Education, said in a statement released by a district spokeswoman Tuesday.
“Middletown (Ohio) City Schools leaders sang his praises many times over for the impact Greg has had on their school community,” Elliott said. “Likewise, the Andover school community looks forward to the Rasmussens’ return this summer to begin working together for the betterment of 5,500 deserving students.”
Rasmussen and his wife, Nancy, grew up in Kansas and lived in Andover for nine years. Their two children graduated from Andover Central High School in 2005 and 2009.
“Nancy and I have enjoyed our time in Ohio, but we are excited to return to a special place like Andover,” Rasmussen said in the district e-mail Tuesday.
“Andover is one of the top school districts in the state, and I look forward to continuing the tradition of excellence.”
Rasmussen worked for nine years in the Wichita district, first as executive director of instructional technology, then as an assistant superintendent.
He applied for Wichita’s superintendent position in 2008 after former superintendent Winston Brooks moved to Albuquerque, but he was not a finalist.
He has been an educator since 1982, serving as an elementary classroom teacher, building principal and state and district-level administrator. He has a Bachelor of Arts from Bethany College and a master’s degree from Kansas State University.
Rasmussen will replace Mark Evans, who was named superintendent of Omaha Public Schools in December. Evans was a deputy superintendent in Wichita before becoming Andover superintendent in 2005.
AP: Legislators debate Kansas innovative schools bill
TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas lawmakers on Thursday continued debating legislation aimed at creating 10 innovative school districts that would be exempt from many state rules and regulations in exchange for improving student achievement.
The House gave first-round approval to its bill Thursday after debate over exempting the 10 districts from many laws governing teacher contract negotiations and due process. Senators approved a similar version on a 31-7 vote that would expand the pilot project to 10 percent of the 286 school districts.
The districts would be chosen from a pool of applicants and would receive an exemption from numerous state laws for five years, including receiving flexibility over mandatory annual student testing.
Proponents say the bill will give the districts the freedom to make decisions on student programs and organization that will encourage innovative approaches to learning.
House Education Committee Chairwoman Kasha Kelley said she had visited with superintendents who indicated they were supportive of the concept, adding that many rules and regulations "throttle" local efforts to be innovative.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Abrams said school districts for the project selected would form a coalition that would review those rules and make recommendations for their removal or changes that would benefit all Kansas districts.
"Let's find out if that is indeed the case. I'm suggesting that we should not stand in the way and let them try that," said Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican.
Opponents contend Kansas already has a strong public school system. They argue the proposed exemptions from rules and regulations would remove some protections for teachers and make it harder to attract qualified educators.
Rep. Ed Trimmer, a former teacher from Winfield, said reinserting the contract and due process requirements wouldn't prevent districts from being innovative, but that a lack of teacher rights and input on working conditions could have a negative impact on education outcomes.
Kelley said there was no dispute that Kansas had "great teachers" and that the bill only sought to remove bureaucracy that stands in the way of them doing their job to their potential. She also said superintendents suggested that teacher contracts, even though exempt from the bill, would remain negotiated as is the current practice.
"Teachers have a very critical role in this innovation process," said Kelley, an Arkansas City Republican.
Trimmer also said districts could be exempt from current rules on the number of school days, academic standards and transportation.
"We're trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist by creating one that could be far worse," said Trimmer, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.
The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee is considering a separate bill that would rewrite the state's laws on teacher negotiations, limiting the number of items that could be subject to contract talks between teachers and school boards. Supporters have said that it would give districts more flexibility in operations and lead to a more efficient system, while critics contend the measure is an attack on teachers by eroding their collective bargaining rights. Hearings on that bill are scheduled to continue Friday
Fight continues over Kansas math, English standards
March 6, 2013 8:28 PM EST
Copyright 2013 CJ Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Rep. Sue Boldra, R-Hays, a former social studies teacher, urged her fellow legislators not to reject Kansas’ mathematics and English standards Wednesday.
The House Education Committee is considering a bill that would force the Kansas State Board of Education to scrap its current math and English standards. The standards at issue are called the Common Core and have been adopted by most states, effectively creating national guidelines in math and English. Kansas adopted them in 2010.
At a hearing on the Common Core, Boldra, who taught social studies for 35 years and now teaches at Fort Hays State University, said the standards were a step forward for Kansas schools. She rejected accusations that the Common Core, led by a consortium of states, was imposed on Kansas by the federal government.
Critics of the Common Core say the federal government pressured or enticed states to adopt it by tying it to grants and waivers of federal law. Last month, the committee heard testimony from a group of opponents to the Common Core, including Robert Scott, a former Texas commissioner of education.
Boldra participated in revising the state’s social studies standards in 2005 and 2012. She said the most recent standards that she helped work on, which haven’t been adopted yet, incorporate Common Core concepts into social studies. The Kansas State Board of Education will vote on those standards this year.
Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, was sharply critical of the Common Core, asking whether it had been tested in a pilot program.
“If it's a great program, why aren't all 50 states jumping in head first?” Bradford said.
But Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, asked why opponents were so upset at the idea of nationwide standards, adding that consistency in math and English guidelines among states would be helpful for students who move.
“If there's a federal fingerprint on this, why is that necessarily a bad thing?” Rooker asked.
Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, disagreed.
“If it comes from the federal government, then I have reservations, because everything that comes from the federal government has a cost to it,” he said. “It costs too much of that thing called freedom.”
Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, said the Legislature had a right to examine the state board’s decision to adopt the Common Core.
“Over 50 percent of our budget goes to schooling,” Highland said. “We have a right to get involved in what goes on in the educational process.”
In an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal last month, Kansas State Board of Education Chairwoman Jana Shaver defended the Common Core as rigorous and said adopting standards was the state board’s prerogative.
Under Article VI of the Kansas Constitution, the state board oversees public schools. The board reviews and approves standards for various subjects on a seven-year cycle.
Though Boldra opposes the bill to drop the Common Core, she said after the meeting that she didn’t think the bill infringed on the state board’s authority.
The Kansas State Department of Education has said that if the bill passes, it will take two years to develop new standards and that will come with additional costs.
speaks for measure limiting negotiable items
An overflow crowd of educators expressed
disbelief and skepticism during a sometimes heated debate Wednesday over a bill
that would allow school districts to opt out of collective bargaining on a
number of issues.
The Kansas National Education Association
teachers' union was already peeved that Substitute House Bill 2027 passed the
House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee without its input last
week. It was pulled back to the committee for a full hearing Wednesday, but
union representatives seemed to have not forgiven the initial maneuver, nor the
involvement of a select group of Kansas superintendents, including Seaman
Unified School District 345's Mike Mathes, in crafting the bill.
Mathes and other proponents cast the bill as
a local control issue. They noted that while it limits the items that are
mandated to be negotiable, districts will have the authority to continue
negotiating items not on that list, if they so choose.
"In my opinion, most school districts
will continue exactly as they're doing now," Mathes said, drawing grumbles
of dissent from the standing-room-only gallery.
There were several such minor outbursts of
protest during the hearing, ranging from fake coughs to audible laughter. At
one point, committee Chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, asked those
present to "be respectful of everyone's opinions."
The hearing's confrontational atmosphere was
established early on as Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, R-Grandview Plaza, asked
whether Sub HB 2027 would address teacher tenure.
"In the real world tenure does not
exist," Rothlisberg said. "You've got to perform to keep your
Ken Willard, a member of the state education
board, informed Rothlisberg that the bill didn’t touch on tenure, though that
was one of the areas of concern expressed by Gov. Sam Brownback's School
Efficiency Task Force, which Willard chaired.
The task force also recommended narrowing the
number of negotiable items, which makes up the bulk of HB 2027. It originally
would have undercut KNEA by opening negotiations to any group or individual,
but Mathes and other officials from the Kansas School Superintendent
Association along with the Kansas Association of School Boards recommended keeping
one-party negotiations, while giving districts more flexibility to only
negotiate items they choose.
David Schauner, KNEA's general counsel, said
the bill remains unacceptable to his organization because it takes the number
of mandatory negotiated items from 30 to five and excludes major components,
such as health benefits.
Schauner also noted that the bill as written
would void all existing contracts negotiated between KNEA and school districts
— a measure he said was possibly not constitutional.
Schauner said he was "embarrassed and
ashamed" by the bill and said it makes little difference to local control
because teachers aren’t allowed to strike and districts ultimately already hold
all the cards in their negotiations with KNEA.
"They don't have to agree on anything at
the bargaining table," Schauner said. "Nothing."
Schauner also touched on the superintendent
survey that Mathes and the KSSA have cited as proof that their position
reflects the will of the state's 282 superintendents.
Schauner attached a copy of the survey
results to his written testimony. It showed that the 186 superintendents who
responded were almost evenly split on mandatory negotiations for insurance
The committee didn’t
finish hearing testimony Wednesday, and Kleeb said it may continue Friday.
Kan. lawmakers mull changing school bargaining law
TOPEKA -- The largest teachers union in Kansas is warning of a "war" on educators as the Republican-dominated Legislature considers a proposal that would narrow contract negotiations between teachers and public school districts.
The proposal, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday, would reduce the number of issues that teachers' groups could negotiate with local school boards. For example, teachers would still be able to negotiate such things as pay and sick leave, but no longer on how they are evaluated.
Supporters of the legislation recently asked for suggestions from the union after a backlash and have slowed the measure's progress, but they are still determined to reduce teachers' bargaining rights, said Karen Godfrey, president of the 25,000-member Kansas National Education Association.
"This bill, as it's written, is incredibly harmful to the way we operate now in school districts," Godfrey told The Associated Press on Monday, a few days after she issued a scathing analysis of the legislation and called it part of a "war on teachers in Kansas."
The bill will be reviewed Wednesday in the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.
The committee's chairman, conservative Overland Park Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb, said he's open to suggestions for changes from all parties. Kleeb said the bill's backers hope to encourage innovation in public schools by giving local districts more operational flexibility.
Groups representing school boards and superintendents -- past allies of the KNEA in education funding issues -- are backing efforts to rewrite the bargaining law. Also, a task force appointed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback recommended changes in January, saying rewriting the law would help local boards "determine what works best locally to drive efficiencies."
The KNEA stepped up criticism last week when the bill emerged from Kleeb's committee, and a few members of local school boards who oppose the bill joined the union during a news conference Monday. The teachers union contends there's no real need to change the bargaining law and believes some backers of the bill want to weaken the KNEA, which is one of the most vocal critics of Brownback and his allies.
Kleeb said he's disappointed in the KNEA's reaction, saying its criticism is overblown. He noted that groups representing superintendents and school boards have been interested in rewriting the law for years, though with Democratic governors and less conservative lawmakers, the idea hasn't gotten much traction.
Kleeb said any changes proposed by the teachers union would be considered. But, he added: "I think I'm going to be surprised if they want to make anything work. ... They really seem to be taking a hard line."
KNEA and its allies see no other option but a hard line. Kleeb's committee crafted the measure after the House approved a separate bill to prohibit KNEA and other public employee unions from automatically deducting union dues from members' paychecks to finance political activities.
The bargaining bill would limit the issues that must be negotiated to pay, holidays, sick leave, personal leave and the hours teachers work outside their classes. School boards could still opt to negotiate over other issues affecting teachers' duties, but that list would not include how teachers are evaluated or how many classes they must teach each day.
Kansas has about 34,400 full-time teachers in its public schools, according to the state Department of Education. Teachers are not allowed to strike under Kansas law.
Late last week, Godfrey called the bill's consideration "a pivotal moment in Kansas history" and issued a statement under the headline, "There is a war on teachers in Kansas."
She also said the KNEA was surprised and disappointed by support for the bill from some school superintendents and the Kansas Association of School Boards. They worked with the bill's supporters before Kleeb's committee endorsed a version last week. House GOP leaders routed it back to committee for another hearing as protests intensified.
"We as Kansans are going to have to decide whether we are going to embrace democracy, collaboration, openness, or whether we're going to accept the sham of democracy or the silencing of dissenting voices," Godfrey said during a news conference late last week. "We will not compromise in our advocacy for quality public schools for every child."
But Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the school boards association, said the group always has felt that the bargaining law "went too far" and has wanted to give boards more flexibility for years.
"What's changed is the Legislature is more interested in dealing with them," Tallman said.
Supreme Court Stays School Finance Ruling
March 1, 2013 8:17 PM EST
Kansas’ highest court ordered mediation Friday in an education funding lawsuit and stayed a lower court’s ruling directing legislators to increase spending on public schools.
Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the state Supreme Court last month to order mediation and to put on hold a ruling by a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court that required the state to boost annual spending on school by at least $440 million.
The high court issued two one-page orders, each signed by Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s stay will remain in effect until it rules in the lawsuit, but it also said the parties will follow a normal schedule for submitting written legal arguments even as they participate in mediation.
John Robb, a Newton attorney representing the school districts and public school students who sued the state, said that lessens concerns about Brownback and Schmidt seeking mediation to delay a final decision in the case. He also said he was optimistic about the chances that mediation will resolve the lawsuit.
Brownback and Schmidt, both Republicans, and some GOP leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature also reacted positively to the court’s brief orders and held out hope for mediation at least narrowing the issues involved in the lawsuit. Schmidt said the Supreme Court “helped advance the case in an orderly manner.”
Brownback said the ruling allows the Legislature to “now consider all options when it comes to fulfilling its constitutional obligation to fund our schools. We look forward to working with all parties through the mediation process to resolve this important issue.”
The district court panel ruled in January that the state isn’t meeting its obligations under the Kansas Constitution to suitably fund schools, requiring legislators to provide additional aid. Following the lower-court order would work against efforts by the conservative Republican governor and the GOP-dominated Legislature to move toward phasing out the state’s individual income taxes to stimulate the economy.
Robb said the stay isn’t surprising, and noted that his clients didn’t seek mediation but said they are open to proposals for resolving the lawsuit.
“Anything that might help move this case along and get adequate funding for the kids is good news,” Robb told The Associated Press. “Anything that might move this case toward resolution is worth trying.”
The lawsuit was filed in November 2010 by the parents and guardians of 32 students and the Wichita, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kan., school districts, with the state as the defendant.
The Supreme Court gave the parties in the lawsuit until March 8 to pick a mediator, and, if they can’t agree, the court will make the appointment. The high court’s order mentions only the parties in the lawsuit as participating in the mediation, but Robb said he hopes legislators will be involved, because they would have to approve any spending required by an agreement.
“It’s a practical issue,” Robb said. “To fix this, it’s going to take legislative action.”
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said she wants lawmakers from different geographic areas and representing different types of school districts to be involved in the mediation.
“Communication is always helpful,” she said.
The Kansas Constitution requires the Legislature to “make suitable provision” for financing the state’s “educational interests,” which the Supreme Court has said means lawmakers must finance a suitable education for every child. Rulings in 2005 and 2006 led legislators to promise large increases in spending on public schools, but they backed off during the Great Recession.
The district court panel directed legislators to return to funding base state aid at $4,492 per student, the amount promised in 2008. The current figure is $3,838, which is $654 less per student — almost 15 percent lower. Even with the decline in base aid per student, the state has continued to spend more than $3 billion a year and more than half its general tax revenues on public schools.
Current and past judicial orders on school funding have sparked interest among legislators, particularly GOP conservatives, in amending the Kansas Constitution to prevent the courts from determining whether lawmakers are spending enough money on schools. The Senate has approved such a change, as well as a proposal to give the governor and legislators more power over appointments to the state’s appellate courts.
Bill Unsurprisingly Crafted for Specific Purposes
March 2, 2013 11:40 PM EST
The president of the Kansas National Education Association and a lobbyist for the group are more than a little upset they weren’t allowed to provide input into a bill about teacher’s collective bargaining rights.
Without taking a position on the bill itself, it’s safe to say KNEA president Karen Godfrey and lobbyist Mark Desetti shouldn’t be surprised by how the bill was drafted and moved along.
It isn’t unusual these days for bills to be drafted without soliciting input from those who might find reason to object to the purpose and intent of the legislation.
And to be fair, it should be noted legislators drafting a bill to make Kansas a union state rather than a right-to-work state likely wouldn’t seek input from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. That comparison may be a stretch, but the point is most legislation is drafted to reflect the ideas of those sponsoring or supporting it.
The voices of those not “on board” with a bill — including legislators — generally are heard during legislative committee meetings. Opposing legislators also can be heard on the floor of the House or Senate.
The bill on collective bargaining rights, House Bill 2027, is still in play and will come up for a committee hearing somewhere, during which supporters and opponents may offer testimony. For Godfrey and Desetti, that will have to suffice, and they aren’t alone this legislative session.
Godfrey and Desetti said they had been deserted by longtime allies — the Kansas Association of School Board and Kansas School Superintendents Association — who had collaborated with Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, on the bill concerning collective bargaining rights.
The spokesman for KASB acknowledged he had been asked by Kleeb to offer language that organization could support and did so. But the spokesman said KASB’s position on collective bargaining was well known and what he did was no different than discussions he’s had with other legislators.
That’s an indication Kleeb knew what he wanted the legislation to accomplish, where he wanted to go for input and where he didn’t want to go.
There are many bills floating around the Statehouse that reflect the wishes of those proposing them. Not a lot of input is being sought from people with opposing viewpoints.
That’s the way it’s going, and no one should be surprised.
If Kansas legislators want to go to the voters to settle their contention that the judicial branch has no say in what is spent on public education in Kansas, so be it. But at least let the election be at a time when it would be inclusive and would yield an accurate referendum of the people’s will.
The Senate last week approved a constitutional amendment that would specify that the Legislature alone would determine education spending. It is a dangerous proposition, because it removes an important check and balance of American democracy from a specific area of governance – just because legislators don’t like how the courts have ruled on that particular matter.
But the voters can be the judge about whether it is wise to amend the state constitution in this way. The problem is that the Senate would have the vote scheduled for the primary election in August 2014. Primary elections are notorious for low turnout, especially for independent voters, and this clearly is a tactic to engineer the desired outcome.
It is the same tactic the Senate is using to change how supreme and appeals court judges are selected, which also is headed to the August 2014 ballot if approved by the House. State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, tried in vain to amend both measures to schedule referendums on the November 2014 general election ballot.
Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, argued that delaying would send a message that the issue is not an emergency, potentially leading to another order before the election by the State Supreme Court to increase spending.
That’s hogwash. If Kansas can wait 17 months until August 2014 to vote, we can wait another three beyond that.
The language of this education amendment also is suspect. It says in part: “A vote against this proposition would retain the current provision in the Kansas constitution, which has been interpreted by the Kansas Supreme Court as empowering that court to order the Kansas Legislature to fund public schools in whatever amounts that the Kansas Supreme court may determine necessary.”
That’s bad language. The Kansas Supreme Court never said it interpreted the constitution in such a way. The constitution requires that the Legislature provide a “suitable” education to all students, and the state’s courts have used the Legislature’s own cost study and its own budgetary decisions to provide a barometer for “suitable” spending.
All of this suggests that legislators don’t genuinely care about what citizens really think but rather have an ends-justifies-the-means ethic. And when it comes to tinkering with our state constitution, that is deeply troubling.
If the House wants to advance these measures, fine. But the least our representatives can do is insist on a November general election referendum to ensure the legitimacy of the election and the integrity of our democratic system.
By John D. Montgomery/Hutchinson News editorial board
Where are we Headed?
Hays Daily News
Editorial by Patrick Lowry
Until an investigative reporter for the Wichita Eagle uncovered a massive discrepancy in the numbers Gov. Sam Brownback was touting, the state's chief executive was able to boast of the remarkable turnaround Kansas was experiencing since he entered office.
Crediting his administration for enacting $2 billion in budget cuts in presentations around the state, the governor began offering other reforms to downsize and streamline government. At the top of Brownback's wish list was a dramatic cut in state income taxes. Other big-ticket items included less interference from the judicial branch, more control over the distribution of education funding, not only a refusal to expand the Medicaid program under the federal health care overhaul but privatizing the administration of the state network, a reshuffling of departments, and further calls for going down the "glide path" to zero state income tax.
Most legislators who didn't endorse the governor's plan were eliminated during the 2012 elections. Brownback is surrounded by enough "yes" men and women to push through whatever policies he'd like. Minions caution the public to give the Roadmap for Kansas time to take hold and produce positive economic results. Oh, and in the meantime, expect a little belt-tightening.
As the aforementioned journalist discovered, however, "Brownback has blamed his predecessor for a $2ââ billion spending hike that never happened and taken credit for spending cuts he didn't actually make."
Budget Director Steve Anderson since has stepped up as the fall guy, apologizing for passing along incorrect numbers to the governor. Brownback, meanwhile, has not backtracked at all. Fellow conservative legislators downplay the error, assuring the public the mistaken figure was not used in any of their budget calculations.
While that likely is accurate, the $2 billion has been used to set the state on its current course. The public was led to believe this governor produced results by doing things differently. Support for Brownback and his policies was built on this salt foundation.
"Fiscal discipline has seemingly become a lost art in government," the governor said in last month's State of the State address.
Support for Brownback's path is so strong, even most legislators don't believe the fiscal projections from the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department. While acknowledging the planned collective tax relief will surpass $4.5 billion during the next six years, collective budget shortfalls at current spending will hit $2.5 billion during the same time frame.
In order to shore up state revenues, Brownback's administration wants to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction as well as tax credits that help offset food and childcare expenses, raid the highway fund, and block the scheduled decrease in state sales tax. Already in effect is a wholesale reduction in state aid to needy families. As these measures will not be enough to cover the gap, the state will be forced to cut most everything it funds -- including education.
Why would Gov. Brownback be willing to risk the livelihoods and mere subsistence levels of hundreds of thousands of Kansans while only the well-off receive any net financial gain? And why are other states looking to Kansas as a model of fiscal constraint?
Because tax-cut guru and former presidential budget director Arthur Laffer theorized eliminating income tax would spur economic growth. And the American Legislative Exchange Council, which offers boilerplate legislation to states that benefits big business interests, is a big believer in the so-called Laffer Curve. Gov. Brownback said eliminating income taxes will be "a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy."
The bond credit rating organization Moody's doesn't think so. It said the tax cuts will result in "no improvement in economic growth." Finance experts who dissected Laffer's hypothesis concluded the consultant manipulated numbers to arrive at his conclusions. The report "Selling Snake Oil to the States" outlines how Laffer's tax-cut approach actually decreases per capita income.
When flawed hypotheses and incorrect data are relied upon to predict future economic growth, we can't help but worry. Kansas is not headed for a short period of belt-tightening. We are driving straight into a self-inflicted financial crisis that will adversely affect the lower and middle classes.
Third grade reading bill defeated; 'innovation districts' bill moves forward
Topeka — The Kansas Senate Education Committee on Tuesday narrowly defeated one of Gov. Sam Brownback's major education policy initiatives: a bill to require third-grade students be held back if they are not reading at grade level.
On an unrecorded 5-6 vote, the committee rejected S.B. 169, the "Kansas Reads to Succeed Initiative," which Brownback touted during his State of the State address in January. That was the speech in which Brownback made the dubious assertion that "29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level."
That figure was based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exams, which are not given to all students and which are not aligned with Kansas reading standards. Data from the state's reading assessments, which are given to virtually all students, show only 11.3 percent of fourth-grade students scored below standards in 2012.
With a few exceptions, the bill would have required schools to hold students back in the third grade if they scored in the bottom performance level on the state's third-grade reading assessment.
The bill also would have provided $12 million over two years from the Children's Initiative Fund (tobacco settlement money) to pay for reading intervention programs in earlier grades.
Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker expressed concern about the bill when she briefed the State Board of Education about it earlier this month. Chief among her concerns was that it circumvented the state board, which has the constitutional authority for "general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state."
The bill would have put the Kansas Children's Cabinet in charge of distributing the money in the form of competitive grants to nonprofit organizations, school districts or a combination of the two. Priority, though, would have been given to applicants who could put up a 30 percent match from nonstate and nonfederal funds.
The committee debate focused on many of the typical arguments heard over third-grade retention laws, which have been enacted in a handful of other states: Supporters say schools do more harm than good by promoting students who can't read at grade level; opponents argued that it would be unreasonable to put so much emphasis on an 8-year-old's score on a single standardized test, and that doing so might well increase that child's chances of dropping out of school in the future.
The surprise, though, came from Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, who turned out to be the swing vote on the panel.
Kerschen won his seat in 2012 after defeating incumbent Sen. Dick Kelsey of Goddard in the August GOP primary. Kerschen had been endorsed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and, thus, was thought to be a close ally of Brownback.
But Kerschen said, among other things, that he objected to taking parents out of the equation when making decisions about a child's future.
Innovative Districts Act clears committee
The Senate panel did endorse another bill Tuesday that would give a limited number of districts authority to dispense with many laws and regulations governing schools by applying to be designated as a "public innovative district."
S.B. 176 was spearheaded by committee chairman Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who said it would be a kind of pilot project in response to claims by some administrators that they are hamstrung by cumbersome regulations.
The bill would allow up to 10 districts at a time to be designated as innovation districts. Those districts would still be subject to federal laws requiring special education and handicapped accessibility, as well as general public health and safety laws. They would also have to comply with state accreditation requirements, and they would get the same funding as other schools under the state school finance formula.
But they would be exempt from a host of other laws and regulations, notably laws requiring collective bargaining with teachers.
The committee advanced the bill on an unrecorded voice vote. it now goes to the full Senate.
Sound Off: School money
Lawrence Journal World
Over a year ago the Kansas State Board of Education found that the Lawrence school district had retained far too much money in the district’s contingency fund. What was the exact dollar amount of that overage? The state mandated that those funds be spent. Has this money been spent? If so, how exactly was the money spent?
The amount of money a district is allowed to hold in a contingency reserve fund is set by statute. The Kansas State Board of Education has no role in regulating that amount. According to information provided by the Lawrence school district, the cap has been set at 10 percent of the district’s general fund expenditures since Fiscal Year 2009. That law had a sunset provision, meaning if the law had not been renewed, the cap would have reverted to 6 percent of expenditures. In 2011, the Kansas Legislature allowed the sunset to expire, meaning the Lawrence school district would have had to spend down about $3 million from its contingency reserve fund for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. However, midway through the fiscal year, the 2012 Legislature reversed that decision and passed a bill permanently setting the cap at 10 percent. For the current fiscal year, the district has budgeted to end the year with $6.6 million in its contingency reserve fund, which is 9.966 percent of its budgeted general fund expenditures for the year.
Plaintiffs file cross-appeal in school finance lawsuit
Plaintiffs in the Kansas school finance lawsuit say the district court did not order a big enough increase in education funding, and they're asking the state Supreme Court to order much more.
In a cross-appeal filed with the Kansas Supreme Court this week, the plaintiffs — a coalition of school districts and individuals — argue that the trial court should have ordered about $1.3 billion a year in additional spending, far more than the estimated $515 million the trial court ordered in January.
In its order last month, a three-judge panel ruled the Legislature needs to increase base per-pupil funding to $4,492, the amount currently required by statute. That's also the amount that the Supreme Court accepted as constitutional when it reviewed the last school finance case, Montoy vs. Kansas, in 2006.
Since 2009, however, the state has cut school funding in response to declining revenues brought on by the recession. Base per-pupil funding this year is set at $3,838.
Increasing the base funding amount to $4,492 would cost about $442 million, according to Kansas Department of Education estimates. The trial court also ordered increases in special education funding. It also ordered the legislature to restore "equalization aid" for the capital outlay budgets of lower-wealth districts.
The state is appealing that ruling. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has also filed motions to stay the trial court's order pending appeal and for the Supreme Court to appoint a mediator to resolve the dispute.
But in documents filed with the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the plaintiffs said they are also appealing the ruling, arguing that the trial court's award was too small. They argue that base funding should be set somewhere between $5,723 and $6,365 per pupil.
The plaintiffs cite three sources that were used in the trial to support those estimates: an update of a cost study commissioned by the Kansas Legislature by the consulting firm Augenblick and Myers; an update of another cost study performed by the Legislative Post Audit Division; and applying an inflation adjustment to the Supreme Court's order in the Montoy case.
John Robb, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that a funding formula of $6,000 per-pupil would cost the state about $1.3 billion a year.
The plaintiffs also want the High Court to rule that education is a "fundamental right" and that by under-funding public schools, the state has denied students their rights to due process and equal protection — two claims that the trial court rejected.
The Supreme Court has not yet set a schedule for the appeal. But attorneys say that under a normal schedule, the Court would schedule oral arguments for the fall, with a decision expected around the first of next year.
Legislature Protest Rally in Topeka
Topeka -Nurses, teachers, clergy, elected leaders and others will rally at the Kansas Capitol Saturday to push back against what they view as an increasingly extreme legislative agenda. Kansans from a variety of backgrounds, political parties and professional backgrounds will be in attendance and among the featured speakers.
"(Gov. Brownback) and legislative leaders need to know that what they're doing will not happen in some back room where nobody notices," said Lisa Ochs, AFT Kansas president. "The people of Kansas will know exactly who is destroying our quality of life and our future."
AFT officials said "divisive, extremist bills being threatened by some legislators are known as 'model legislation' from the corporate lobby ALEC-essentially a one-size-fits-all legislative template the group has introduced in a number of states.
"They're threatening Kansas with bills that have nothing to do with our state," Ochs continued. "They're the same ones, written by the same corporate lobbyists, we've seen submitted in one state after another across the nation.
¨Speakers at Saturday's rally in addition to Ochs will include:¨State Sen. Anthony Hensley, State Rep. Paul Davis, Former state Sen. Jean Schodorf. Vanessa Oyler, KU Medical Center nurse, Rev. Joshua Longbottom, Plymouth Congregational Church pastor, Dave Reber, Free State High School biology teacher, Resa Boydston, Kansas Neurological Institute technician, Randy Mousley, United Teachers of Wichita President, Sulma Arias, Sunflower Community Action executive director,
"Governor Brownback cannot claim to care about our state's future while dismantling it," Mousley said. "As a science teacher, I can tell you that slashing education and then expecting our kids to compete in a global, knowledge-based economy is shortsighted and self-defeating in the extreme."
AFT Kansas is the oldest public employee union in the state, and represents all public employees statewide, including teachers, other school employees, and health care workers.
Senate approves constitutional amendment to remove courts from school finance decisions
February 20, 2013, 5:55 p.m. Updated: 20 February 2013, 6:26 p.m.
Topeka — The Kansas Senate on Wednesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the courts from school finance decisions and give exclusive power to the Legislature on how much state funding public schools receive.
Supporters of the measure said it was needed to rein in overreaching judges, while opponents said it would let legislators avoid their constitutional duty to adequately fund schools.
The resolution passed on a 27-13 vote, just enough to satisfy the two-thirds required majority for constitutional amendments. Only Republicans supported the proposal, while five Republicans and all eight Democrats opposed it.
If it receives a two-thirds majority in the House — 84 votes in the 125-member chamber — then Kansas voters would decide the issue in August 2014.
Republicans hold a 92-33 margin in the House, though some Republicans have voiced concerns about trying to remove judicial review of school finance. However, Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, has said he wants the Legislature “to make it clear that defining what is a suitable provision for public funding of education is a job for the people’s elected representatives — and no one else.”
The Senate action comes as state officials are dealing with a January ruling from a three-judge panel that the Legislature has failed its constitutional duty to adequately fund schools, and needs to allocate a minimum of $440 million to annual school funding. The state has appealed the decision to the Kansas Supreme Court.
In the wake of a Supreme Court decision in a similar school finance lawsuit in 2005, the Legislature adopted a three-year funding plan but then started to cut those dollars when the economy soured.
State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said Wednesday that as revenue started to rebound, the state should have restored the cuts, but instead Brownback pushed for tax cuts last year.
“We welched on the deal,” Holland said. “It’s a self-inflicted crisis.”
But the sponsor of the amendment, state Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, said elected representatives, rather than appointed judges, should be in charge of school finance.
“This gives the decision to the people of the state as to who they want to make the final decision over one of the most important things we do here in the Capitol,” King said.
Currently, the Kansas Constitution states that “The Legislature shall make suitable provision for the educational interests of the state.”
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1608 would add that financing the educational interests of the state “is exclusively a legislator power … and as such shall be established solely by the Legislature.”
Superintendents Decry Attacks on K-12 Education
February 20, 2013 11:53 AM EST
Geary County Schools Superintendent Ronald Walker said Wednesday amplified attempts by Kansas politicians to micromanage K-12 public education threaten to damage instruction of children.
"Kansas has always performed academically in the top 10 of all states," he said. "As bills are introduced in the current Legislature without the input of educators, the state is in jeopardy of losing ground."
Walker's skepticism about bills imposing budget and curriculum reform working through the House and Senate was shared by other Kansas school officials testifying to the House Vision 2020 Committee.
Controversy emerged this session about bills to limit collective bargaining rights of teachers and to prohibit automatic withdrawal from teacher paychecks of contributions to political action committees.
The Senate was expected to vote Wednesday on a constitutional amendment intended to limit capacity of the Kansas Supreme Court to order increases in state aid to Kansas public school districts. A school finance case is on appeal to the Supreme Court following a Shawnee County District Court ruling the state failed to fulfill its obligation to provide funding for suitable education of students.
Mike Folks, superintendent of USD 379 school in Clay County, said the political climate in Kansas resulted in portrayal of educators, in some circles, as "public enemy No. 1."
"Our schools are doing a great job but continue to run into road blocks with a reduction of resources, unfunded mandates and loss of legislative support," he said.
During the hearing, the superintendent of Riley County's USD 378 said Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators who want to require 65 percent of district resources to be spent on classroom instruction didn't grasp societal changes influencing student needs.
"With a more transient and mobile population families are spread coast to coast," said Superintendent Brad Starnes. "Families don't have the extended family support, so they turn to the schools for help."
He said the Riley County district opened a day-care center and extended before- and after-school offerings. Rising child poverty compels districts to serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and to send students home with food packs for weekend meals, he said.
Government mandates regarding bullying, illegal drugs, character development and financial literacy are cost drivers not accurately reflected in appropriations, he said. The expense to districts of security upgrades in buildings, installing cameras in buses, drilling for emergencies and hiring armed guards is underappreciated, he said.
"We're in it for the kids," Starnes said. "We love kids. We want to protect them at all costs."
Starnes said he questioned legitimacy of a recommendation by Brownback to require third-graders who score badly on state reading assessments to be held back. Retention may not be the best strategy for advancing a student's academic skills, he said.
"A lot of research is showing how that being held back is detrimental," Starnes said.
Walker, of USD 475 in Geary County, said legislators should not proceed with a plan to block implementation of new curriculum, known as the Common Core, due to the false impression it was inspired by the administration of President Barack Obama.
"We should not shy away from it due to a misunderstanding of how it was developed," he said. "It is my belief the state should fully embrace this strongly researched curriculum that was developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers."
February 19, 2013
Brownback Budget Director Apologizes for Numbers Error
John Hanna, Associated Press
February 19, 2013
Topeka — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director apologized publicly Monday for supplying him with an incorrect figure that led the Republican governor to make erroneous claims about total state spending under his Democratic predecessor.
Budget Director Steve Anderson said in a statement that the mistake occurred in entering data on an internal administration spreadsheet. The information was passed along to Brownback’s office, and he used the material in recent presentations to groups about his budget and tax proposals.
The error showed total state spending peaking at $16 billion during the state’s 2010 fiscal year, under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson. The actual spending for fiscal 2010 was about $14 billion.
Relying on the mistaken figure, Brownback used a Power Point chart to suggest total state spending had declined significantly since he took office in January 2011. While total spending is lower now than it was two years ago, it’s still 2.6 percent higher under the current, fiscal 2013 budget than it was under the fiscal 2010 budget.
“We should have caught the incorrect information but we did not,” Anderson said in his statement. “I apologize to Governor Brownback and the citizens of Kansas for this error.”
Anderson said the error has been rectified in the administration’s internal spreadsheet, and Brownback’s office produced an updated version of the governor’s Power Point presentation with the correct figure. Anderson stressed that the incorrect figure wasn’t included in the budget proposals that Brownback submitted to legislators last month.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a conservative Hutchinson Republican and a Brownback ally, didn’t see the mistake as significant. He said legislators rely for information not only on the Budget Division but the Department of Revenue and their own research staff, so mistakes get caught.
“We’ve dealt with people giving us bad numbers in the past, and usually, the other two agencies end up figuring it out at some point,” Bruce said. “It’s up to the Legislature to do their due diligence and reconcile those issues.”
But House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said the latest mistake is part of a pattern in which the administration has provided misleading information to the public.
Earlier this month, the Department of Revenue released figures showing that Brownback’s proposals this year to overhaul the state’s personal income tax code would provide the biggest percentage reduction in income taxes to filers with adjusted gross incomes of $25,000 or less. The analysis excluded about 289,000 filers who don’t owe income taxes under state law, and most of them are in lowest-income category, because, the department said, the governor isn’t proposing any changes for them.
Also, the analysis didn’t account for the governor’s proposal to cancel a decrease in the sales tax scheduled for July.
Brownback’s critics also take exception to his repeated public statements that only 54 percent of the funding for the state’s public schools is spent on instruction, when state law sets a goal of 65 percent. The State Department of Education reports a figure of almost 62 percent to the federal government, and Brownback’s allies and critics are arguing over what should be included as spending in the classroom.
“I think there is the pattern from this administration of trying to make numbers fit whatever their end policy goal happens to be,” Davis said. “My level of trust in the information that’s being provided to us is certainly waning.”
Total state spending has more than doubled since fiscal 1993, when it was about $5.9 billion. It peaked at almost $14.7 billion in fiscal 2011, a budget year split between Parkinson’s administration and Brownback’s.
In fiscal 2012, which concluded June 30, spending declined about 2 percent, to just under $14.4 billion. Spending is expected to hit about $14.4 billion under the current budget.
Wichita Eagle editorial: Brownback’s numbers are suspect
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman
Credit Steve Anderson, Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director, for Monday’s apology for a whopper of a claim that state spending has dropped nearly $2 billion since 2010. But that leaves other suspect numbers being used by the administration – and worries that the governor’s legislative allies will think nothing of passing laws based on them.
A chart that Brownback has used in presentations around the state, and shared with The Eagle editorial board in a meeting last month, said that state spending had peaked at $16 billion under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson in 2010 when it actually was $14.04 billion.
Rather than representing the “first bending down of the cost curve in 40 years for the state,” as Brownback characterized it to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in December, state spending actually rose between 2010 and 2011 before dipping in 2012 to a level still above that when Parkinson left office.
It’s hard to believe such a big, bogus number could masquerade as fact until The Eagle’s Dion Lefler challenged it, leading to Anderson’s acknowledgment that “we should have caught the incorrect information but we did not.”
Anderson’s public apology to the governor and Kansans didn’t address the other issues Lefler explored in the Sunday Eagle – why Brownback has said, including in his State of the State speech, that only 54 percent of school funding is reaching the classroom and that “total spending averages more than $12,600 per student per year.”
The 54 percent figure is not what the state and federal education departments consider to be accurate, though Brownback told the editorial board that his number came from the state Education Department. The real number is actually 61.9 percent, and Kansas was ranked 12th in the nation in 2010 for the share of school spending going to instruction. The $12,600-per-pupil number is similarly problematic, stemming from a 2011 law that required the state Education Department to include capital and bond funds; the per-pupil amount the department reported to the census for 2012 was $10,396.
The Brownback administration’s numbers have come into question on other issues, too, including how merging the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the state Transportation Department would save $30 million over two years and how privatizing Medicaid will save $1 billion over five years. Of course, many also would say his calculation that deep income-tax cuts won’t wreck the state budget is a case of fuzzy math.
Plus, Brownback has said that “29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level.” That’s a misuse of the results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress survey, in which Kansas actually ranked 10th best in the nation. The better measure is the state assessment, which found 10.1 percent of fourth-graders failed to meet the state standard in reading that year.
What’s going on here is clear: Brownback is embracing and repeating numbers that help promote his agenda, including what he sees as the need to push back against a court order for more state funding of public schools.
But Kansans need to trust that what they hear from their governor, especially again and again, is rooted in truth, not cherry-picked, spun or flat wrong.
February 17, 2013
Kill the Messinger
LTE, Junction City Daily Union
Tom Brungardt, Retired teacher and KNEA leader and current Junction City BOE member
“The first messenger that gave notice of Lucullus’s coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man daring to bring further information, without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him...". Plutarch’s Lives
From such passages in ancient writings comes the phrase “don’t kill the messenger.” It is a warning well heeded, for if there is no one to give the other side of an argument, then leaders will sit while wars rage around them, listening only to those who flatter them.
Such is the situation in the Kansas Legislature now, as the very conservative elements in the Republican Party seek to pass bills aimed at silencing any person or group that offers an alternative to their way of thinking. Senate Bill 109 is one such bill. It prohibits local units of government, such as city or county commissions, or boards of education from lobbying members of the legislature. City Manager Jerry Vernon and Superintendent of Schools Ron Walker, as well as members of the city and county commissions, would be forbidden from going to the legislature and testifying on behalf of the citizens who elected and employ them.
The bill also states that dues could not be paid to organizations such as the Kansas League of Municipalities, the Kansas Association of Counties, and the Kansas Association of School Boards, because those groups go before the legislature and lobby.
There is an exception to the prohibition. A representative of a local government may go respectfully to the legislature, if so requested by a legislator.
Instead of making an appointment, one now has to seek an audience.
Public employee organizations are another target. The companion pieces of legislation, HB 2023 and SB 31, along with HC 2123 have been dubbed by their authors as “payroll protection bills.” These bills prohibit any monies collected by organizations such as the Junction City Education Association, the Junction City Police Officers’ Association, and the Junction City Firefighters Association and their state-wide parent organizations, from collecting dues through payroll deduction, if any of those monies are used for “political activities.” We aren’t talking just about monies collected in order to contribute to political candidates. Those monies are already treated separately. No, these bills contain such a broad definition of “political activities,” that the organizations in question would be reduced to social clubs, organizing company picnics, and not much more.
These local units of government and public employee organizations often stand in opposition to positions taken by the authors of these bills. But instead of attempting to fight it out in the marketplace of ideas, these legislators want to kill the messengers. The legislators and their allies, (principally the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Policy Institute) would counter that their intent is not to kill these organizations. They only want them to collect their dues through means other than payroll deduction, which wouldn’t kill them outright. It would however, mortally wound them.
All these actions take place within the context of a governor who is trying to radically makeover the state. He wants to eliminate the income tax, alter the method by which judges are chosen, amend the state constitution to make the legislature its sole interpreter ,and generally reduce government down to a size that can, in the words of Grover Norquist, be drowned in a bathtub.
In order to do that Governor Brownback first went after his own party, injecting himself into primary elections, attempting to rid the GOP of any moderates in state offices. Such actions were without precedence and, in many cases, successful. Now, with conservatives in control of the GOP and the GOP in firm control of the legislative process, the governor and his followers feel like they can run the tables.
Having, for the most part, rid themselves of moderates within their own party, far right Republican legislators and the governor have set their sights first on the other group that opposes them: public sector unions. Now with the introduction of SB 109, they are taking aim at local units of government.
It’s time to speak out against such actions. There are many important issues that might be coming before voters in the next several months. I think there will be at least two constitutional amendments on ballots very soon. What will you know about them? What will you want to know about them? How will you find out about them if one side of the argument is shut out of the debate? Is it one of our values to shut out the other side of an argument?
Do we kill the messenger or defend his or her right to deliver the message?
February 16, 2013
Supporters of Amendment say Legislature should have sole authority on School Funding
Topeka — School finance decisions by the Legislature shouldn't be open for review by the courts, according to a supporter of a proposed constitutional amendment that would make the Legislature the sole authority on funding public education.
Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said Wednesday the amendment is needed to clarify that the Legislature — not the courts — has the power to appropriate funds for schools.
Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, asked Abrams what recourse schools would have if the Legislature doesn't follow through on promised funding.
Abrams said determining a suitable provision for the finance of schools, "I'm going to suggest is what the Legislature says it is. They are the final arbiter."
He said if the public is unhappy with a legislator's vote on school finance, then voters can vote that legislator out of office.
The exchange occurred during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1608, which says that the financing of educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power.
The measure is in response to court orders for the Legislature to increase school funding.
Last month, a three-judge panel ruled that the state has failed to provide adequate funding for schools and ordered an increase of at least $440 million. The ruling came in a lawsuit that was brought by a group of school districts because of state funding cuts to schools during the recession.
In 2005 and 2006, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance system unconstitutional and threatened to shutter schools if the Legislature didn't increase funding.
The proposed constitutional amendment would need two thirds support in the House and Senate before it could be placed on the ballot during the state primaries in August 2014.
Dan Thatcher, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said since the 1970s, 45 states have gone through school finance litigation.
"Kansas is definitely not alone in this situation," he said.
He said that in cases similar to Kansas, where plaintiffs have alleged inadequate funding, the plaintiffs have won 62 percent of the time.
He said a recent study showed that the school finance lawsuits nationwide have resulted in a 6 percent increase in total spending on schools and 13 percent increase in state spending on schools.
February 13, 2013
Wichita school district fights bill to change funding for at-risk students
BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau
Wichita and several other major Kansas school districts fought a proposal Tuesday that would take poverty measures out of the school finance formula, focusing instead on test scores.
Under Senate Bill 103, districts would no longer be able to count students beyond third grade as “at risk” just because they qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Instead, districts could count only students who are on academic warning or don’t meet math and reading standards as “at-risk,” a change that could dramatically change state funding in some districts.
Walt Chappell, a former state school board member from Wichita, said basing a student’s designation as “at-risk” on their parents’ income is an “artificial measure which greatly inflates the budgets of school districts with large numbers of low-income families.”
“Just because a child’s parents may be unemployed or have limited income; this fact has little to do with that student’s ability to learn,” he wrote in testimony to senators. “Children all over America and foreign countries live in poverty but can and do excel academically.”
But several school districts opposed the shift.
Poverty has a big impact on a student’s success, said Diane Gjerstad, a lobbyist for Wichita public schools. That’s because poor students are less likely to have access to computers, books, health care and the support at home that helps kids excel.
For example, Wichita’s West High has 1,300 students – 86 percent get free or reduced lunch, she said.
The school uses its at-risk funding to help students get basic needs, such as clothing, food, shelter, medical care and mental health services. It also uses that money to pay for 13 college students and seven teachers to tutor students.
The proposal would “undo an effective system of targeting dollars to meet the needs of economically disadvantaged students,” she wrote in testimony given to lawmakers.
Sen. Steve Abrams, a Republican from Arkansas City, said he’s not sure when the Senate Education Committee will vote on the bill.
“There are some very wealthy students that just have a difficult time at school,” he said. “There are likewise some very poor students that have an easy time or are very successful at school. So there is not a direct correlation. Is there some correlation? I suspect there is. But I’m not sure that’s the best measurement to be able to identify those students who are truly at risk.”
February 12, 2013
Bill Targets Union's Exclusive Access to Teachers' Email Addresses
February 11, 2013 6:02 PM EST
The list of bills proposing to change how school boards negotiate with teachers unions is growing.
The House Education Committee heard testimony Monday for and against House Bill 2221, which would prevent school boards from granting teachers unions exclusive access to teachers' email addresses and mailboxes at school, and to teacher orientation meetings.
Currently, local teachers’ unions may negotiate with school boards to be the only professional organization in their district with this access.
The Equal Access Act would require that school boards grant access to other organizations as well, or else grant no access at all.
Proponents of the bill include the Kansas Association of American Educators, a nonunion professional organization that offers liability insurance for teachers.
KANAAE executive director Garry Sigle testified at the hearing, telling legislators that the current system hinders free flow of information.
“Without equal access, teachers are underinformed and underprotected,” Sigle said.
But Kansas’ main teachers union, the Kansas National Education Association, said exclusive access was negotiable and up to school boards to decide.
“School boards can deny access,” said KNEA attorney Marjorie Blaufuss.
Blaufuss also expressed concern that the bill would redefine “professional employees organizations” to include organizations that offer professional development or liability insurance, even if these groups aren’t bargaining units.
This amendment to the Professional Negotiations Act would be “inappropriate” because the act is about organizations that negotiate on behalf of teachers, she said.
Other proponents of the bill included the Kansas Policy Institute.
Policy director James Franko said the bill would simply “level the playing field.”
“The NEA and AFT are not being denied access in any way,” Franko said, adding that the current system stifles certain groups.
“Government-sanctioned monopolies raise eyebrows,” he said.
Another opponent, Barbara Casey, a fifth-grade teacher from Shawnee Mission Unified School District 512, said the bill risked curtailing access for all groups.
“I’m confident that this bill would have the opposite effect of its stated purpose,” Casey said.
A large district like Shawnee Mission, she said, could receive requests for access from so many organizations that the district would end up handling the situation by cutting off access across the board.
Wichita Eagle editorial: Cause for optimism?
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman
If it’s a good-faith move, the state’s request last week for mediation in the ongoing school-finance lawsuit seems like cause for cautious optimism. Too bad there are so many other reasons to view it as a stalling tactic unlikely to prevent a constitutional showdown.
Acting at the request of Gov. Sam Brownback, Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed motions Thursday with the Kansas Supreme Court requesting both the mediation and a stay of last month’s Shawnee County District Court ruling that current state funding of K-12 public schools is unconstitutionally low.
To his credit, Brownback acknowledged in a statement that “we owe it to Kansas taxpayers, parents, teachers and students to examine every available avenue to resolve this dispute to the satisfaction of all involved.”
But the parties in the lawsuit would go into mediation far, far apart.
When the three-judge panel sided with the school districts that sued the state, including Wichita’s USD 259, it called for lawmakers to raise the base per-pupil state aid by $654.
Meanwhile, Brownback recommends no per-pupil increase for schools next year and only $14 the next.
The gap between zero and $437 million, which is what the court’s funding directive would cost the state in the 2013-14 school year, is quite a chasm to bridge in mediation or anywhere else, especially with the governor trying to cover a budget shortfall created by last year’s imprudent income-tax cuts and asking the Legislature for more.
Hopes for a settlement are dragged further down by other recent schools-related activity at the Statehouse.
The GOP push to alter the constitution to give Brownback more power to choose appellate judges and to spell out that “the financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power” are both aimed at avoiding a replay of 2005 and 2006, when the Legislature dramatically increased school funding on orders from the state Supreme Court. Brownback’s claim that only 54 percent of education dollars go to instruction, and insistence on aiming for the arbitrary 65 percent standard, similarly seems meant to undercut arguments that schools are underfunded. The Statehouse also is seeing efforts to curb school districts’ lobbying and teachers unions’ political activity and collective-bargaining power – legislation that hardly could be interpreted as pro-public schools.
Plus, it’s hard to see any agreement reached with a mediator automatically holding up in the House or Senate, where appropriations for schools and other state-funded services must be approved. And if the confidentiality of mediation “will enhance the probability that a settlement can be reached,” as Schmidt said, it would deny Kansans the ability to observe such an important decision-making process.
But a court order is not the preferred method for getting the Legislature to follow the constitution and “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” If mediation can be the means to ending both the lawsuit and the trend of deep cuts to school operating budgets, Kansans should be all for it.
February 9, 2013
UTW president: Kansas Legislature taking "open season" on teachers
A bill that has passed through the Kansas House has drawn the ire of the United Teachers of Wichita.
House Bill 2023 would stop voluntary automatic payroll deductions from union employee paychecks that a union could funnel to political activities. UTW President Randy Mousley said the bill would take away the voice of the teachers.
"The bond issues that we worked with the proponents in the 2000 and 2008 bond issues, that would be prohibited," Mousley said. "We would be prohibited from being part of the process for school board members, which we kind of think we have a vested interest in that."
Mousley said the legislature is taking "open season" on Kansas teachers.
"There is a court decision saying the legislature is out of compliance with the constitution regarding the funding for schools, yet the most important item for legislative leaders seems to be attacking teachers," he said.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, has said unions are using teacher contributions - funded by taxpayers - to support positions taxpayers do not agree with.
Mousley said there is no benefit to the state in the legislation. He said the bill is trying to silence unions and public sector employees.
There are over 4,200 teachers in Wichita. Mousley said not every teacher has to pay dues and be part of the union, but they all reap the benefits of the negotiated agreements.
"This bill is a union-busting bill, without a doubt, but it will affect every one of them," he said.
February 8, 2013
Tax Hearing, Next Week's Bills in Committee
Tough Response to Governor’s Tax Bill
The Governor’s tax plan, HB 2110, drew questions ranging from skeptical to hostile in the House Taxation Committee Wednesday afternoon. The bill would maintain the state sales tax at the current level and remove two large income tax deductions to avoid deep spending cuts next year, and then implement further income tax rate cuts over the next five years.
Several committee members criticized it as a massive tax increase, despite Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan’s assessment that all taxpayers will receive a net reduction in taxes due to the $800 million income tax cut passed last session. The hearing continues this afternoon, with KASB appearing as a proponent of the additional revenue to avoid further cuts in education funding.
Without additional revenue, the Legislative Research Department estimates the state will have to spend over $500 million in cash balances and cut about $250 million in state general fund spending to avoid a deficit next year, Fiscal Year 2014, with further reductions likely in FY 2015. The Kansas Policy Institute, appearing as neutral on the bill, supported a one-time cut of about 8% in state spending to balance the state budget.
February 6, 2013
Kansas Chamber: Bill on paycheck deductions is constitutional
A lawyer for the Chamber cited the Supreme Court's ruling in Ysursa v. Pocatello
February 6, 2013 1:45 PM EST
Testimony continued Wednesday on a bill that would restrict paycheck deductions for teachers unions if the money is to be used for political purposes, with the Kansas Chamber and a former member of the Kansas State Board of Education speaking to the Senate Committee on Commerce.
Eric Stafford, a lobbyist for the Kansas Chamber who came under fire last month when he told the House commerce committee that the bill, House Bill 2023, was needed to help destroy public-sector unions, repeated his testimony that public-sector unions are problematic because they don’t face the same market pressure that private-sector unions do.
But Stafford stopped short of stating that the bill would undermine unions.
“Ultimately this issue comes down to the role of government,” he said.
Attorney Eric Carter, also speaking on behalf of the Chamber, said previous court decisions, including the 2009 Supreme Court ruling Ysursa v. Pocatello, supported the state’s right to regulate paycheck deductions in the manner proposed by H.B. 2023.
In Ysursa v. Pocatello, the court upheld an Idaho law against paycheck deductions for political activities by unions.
“It is well-settled law that this bill is constitutional,” he said.
Walt Chappell, a former teacher from Wichita who served on the State Board of Education until last month, said teachers face intimidation from unions, something the bill would help remedy.
“This bill is not against unions,” Chappell said. “This bill protects free speech.”
Dan Murray, Kansas state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said critics misinterpreted the bill as anti-education.
“This is about good government,” he said.
Others who testified included Dave Trabert, a lobbyist for the Kansas Policy Institute. Trabert said his organization did not have a stance on the bill. However, he testified that unions pressure teachers, and that a KPI poll found little support for maintaining the paycheck deduction system as it stands.
“There’s a lot of pressure to go along,” he said.
Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said restricting deductions for political purposes was constitutional, but another part of the bill expanding the definition of political activities could be problematic.
“What I don’t want is something that weighs down this bill,” Wagle said.
Sen. Tom Holland (D-Baldwin City) said that language was “a direct lift” from model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and expressed concern that part of the bill covering public employee unions other than teachers unions would effectively shut down political speech by those groups.
KC Star editorial
In packed hearing rooms where tempers run short and accusations fly, the Missouri and Kansas legislatures are consumed with debates on bills intended to weaken unions.
This expenditure of energy at first seems puzzling. Most private- and public-sector unions are not particularly powerful in either state. Kansas already is a “right to work” state, meaning non-union workers are entitled to all the benefits of union representation, as required by the federal Taft-Hartley Act, but they need not pay any union dues.
Lawmakers could better spend their time working on health care, education or other truly significant issues. Instead, key lawmakers and leaders are preoccupied with bills seeking to make Missouri a right-to-work state, and in both states to forbid unions to automatically deduct dues from paychecks, even if union members request it.
The unnecessary attacks on unions demonstrate how susceptible state legislatures are to outside forces.
Leaders from several groups that promote “free market” policies are in Jefferson City this week to push for a right to work law. The groups include the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Tax Limitation Committee.
Every anti-union law passed is a jewel in the crown for these groups, and Republican lawmakers are happy to oblige.
Even some of the language of the anti-union bills comes from outside. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded group that pushes “model” legislation, drafted parts of the anti-union bills being considered in both states.
Lawmakers and governors talk often about “Missouri solutions” and “Kansas solutions.” But overly aggressive unions aren’t big problems in Missouri or Kansas. Legislators have enough divisive issues on their plates without letting outside groups embroil them in a fight with unions.
Proposed bill would guarantee perpetual employment for lawmakers
By Jason Probst/Hutchinson News editorial board
Kansas Senator Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, has introduced one of the most absurd pieces of legislation to ever see the light of day.
Senate Bill 119, introduced on Monday, would offer employment protection for legislators who find themselves unemployed due to a failed re-election bid. According to the bill, legislators who give proper notice to their employers before taking office - either through election or appointment - would be guaranteed a return to those same positions - with the same pay, seniority and responsibility level - they would have enjoyed had they never left the job at all.
Essentially, the bill aims to treat a stint in Topeka much like a leave of absence for medical reasons or military duty.
The proposed legislation is flawed in several ways.
First of all, there's something laughably ironic about an employment rights bill that offers protection only to lawmakers - all while those same lawmakers are actively working to undermine anything that resembles rights and protections for the common Kansas worker.
One must wonder what the all-powerful and chronically anti-worker Kansas Chamber thinks of such legislation - particularly since its president, former Speaker Mike O'Neal, is a prime example of how former legislators tend to fare well when looking for a new career.
Moreover, the bill provides an open end to the reinstatement requirement. While it does contain a clause that the employer could expect service in the legislature to be brief, there are no specific details about when an employer's obligation to reinstate a former legislator ends. Potentially, a legislator could hold his or her seat for many years, yet still expect protection under Smith's proposal.
Additionally, the bill would have the Kansas attorney general take up in court the cause of a former legislator who files a grievance. Such a measure would in effect have taxpayers and businesses paying to ensure uninterrupted employment for a small group of people.
Yet the most worrisome aspect of Smith's bill is the self-important view some legislators appear to have of themselves. To think that they should enjoy a protection that's not afforded to Kansans at large borders on the narcissistic, and is an insult to working families across the state.
Kansans appreciate the service of those who step away from their families and careers for a short while each year to guide the direction of the state. But that service shouldn't be viewed as an opportunity to create legislation that protects those legislators' own interests, or advances their personal well-being.
February 6, 2013
Officials Criticize HB 2023
Updated 3 days ago | By FOSS FARRAR firstname.lastname@example.org
If a Kansas House bill restricting political fundraising by public employee unions becomes law, it would diminish further Kansas' reputation as an education-friendly state, the top Ark City USD 470 administrator said Friday.
The measure would bar groups that represent teachers and government workers from automatically deducting money from members' paychecks to finance political activities.
A local teacher's union official said the purpose of the bill is to "keep teachers from having a collective political voice."
The state House approved the bill on a 68-56 vote Thursday, advancing it to the Senate.
Two of three Cowley County legislators voted for the measure: Ark City Republican Kasha Kelley, representing District 80, and Tyro Republican Virgil Peck, representing District 12.
Winfield Democrat Ed Trimmer, representing District 79, voted against it.
Trimmer told the Traveler that, if the bill becomes law, it likely will be challenged in court because at least part of it appears to violate First Amendment rights.
And this bill is "just the beginning" of a drive he expects from conservative state legislators to erode the power of — or eliminate — public sector unions, Trimmer said.
Kelley could not be reached for comment Friday.
Supporters contend the measure would prevent employees from being forced to finance political causes they don't support, according to the Associated Press.
Critics say the measure is designed by business groups and their Republican allies to hinder fund-raising by public employee groups, to lessen their political influence.
If the conservative Republican-controlled state Senate follows the lead of the House and passes the bill, there would be a "firestorm of protests," the top Democrat in the Senate said, the AP said.
A similar bill was stalled in the Senate in 2011, but the current bill has a better chance of becoming law this year since several Senate moderates were ousted from office in the state elections last November, AP said.
If the bill reaches conservative Gov. Sam Brownback's desk, it could become law this year, AP said.
Ballard questions need USD 470 Superintendent Ron Ballard said he couldn't see a need for the bill.
"Frankly, I don't know what the problem is," Ballard said. "It has never been an inconvenience for us to withhold money at the beginning of the year (for union dues).
"We program withholding the money at the employees' request. It is not problematic for our school district, nor for any district in the state."
The automatic payroll deduction at an employee's request saves that employee from having to write a big check for union dues at the beginning of the year, he added.
He knows of no misuse of the payroll deduction, he said.
But another issue that might be asked of legislators is what effect this bill, if it becomes law, would have on Kansas school districts' efforts to recruit teachers, especially candidates from surrounding states such as Missouri or Oklahoma, he said.
"My concern is when Kansas builds a reputation of one of the anti-education states," he said.
Ballard noted that the state Supreme Court several times within the past 20 years has confronted the issue of underfunding by the state of public education — something prohibited by the state constitution.
And if the state continues passing anti-public sector union laws, teacher candidates might look for work in other states.
Another related concern is retaining quality teachers within the state, he said. He added that during the 20-plus years he has been a superintendent of schools, he has not had any negative experiences with collective bargaining between the school district administration and teachers unions.
The teacher groups have conducted themselves professionally, and both administration and teachers have worked together to arrive at contracts that ultimately best serve students, he said.
"Apparently, some state legislators have an image of teachers using strong-arm union tactics," Ballard said. "That is not so. Kansas is a right-to-work state."
Teachers 'not pleased' Nicole Bass, academic coach at Frances Willard Elementary School, is president of the Ark City Teachers Association, the union group representing teachers in USD 470 schools.
"We have teachers not pleased throughout the state," said Bass, referring to the House bill barring payroll deductions of union dues for political fund-raising.
"The purpose of HB 2023 is to keep teachers from having a collective political voice," she said in a statement.
"They are trying to restrict union political activity of teachers and public employees, while allowing corporations to remain unregulated.
"We are the voice of students, schools and school employees, and this just isn't right."
Bass said she suspects that the state Legislature has more bills restricting public union activities in the works.
"They're coming," she said. Although Ark City teachers focus on working in the classroom helping students, they might take protest action should any anti-public union bills become law, she indicated.
'Legislative misdirection' Trimmer said that HB 2023 is not really about what it appears to be at first glance.
"It's legislative misdirection," he said. "On the surface, the issue appears to be simply asking public employees to contribute to political action committees directly instead of through payroll deductions.
"The real intent of the bill is a section that prohibits public employee associations from using member dues to advocate in any way for a candidate or issue."
Trimmer said the $20 yearly dues paid out of school district employees' paychecks to the Kansas National Education Association are paid voluntarily and will be refunded if requested.
"The employees can have $1.67 a month added to membership dues and that amount is a PAC (political action committee) contribution.
But the employees decide what to do." He indicated that restricting union dues so they can't be used for any political advocacy is unconstitutional.
"For example, that would be restricting (teacher unions) from backing a bond issue for a new high school," he said. "They can't do that."
Trimmer said the crafters of the bill apparently anticipated it would be challenged in court.
"The bill has a severability clause that if one part of the bill is found unconstitutional, it can be severed away, but the rest of the bill is kept," he said.
February 4, 2013
School operating budgets have already absorbed significant cuts.
School district general fund budgets are $190 million, or 6.8%, below the high level of funding 2009. (Each district’s general fund is determined by multiplying weighted enrollment by the base budget per pupil, and funded by the 20 mill statewide property tax, other local effort revenues, and general state aid.) School districts have partially offset those reductions by raising Local Option Budgets over $95 million. Special education state aid is largely unchanged since 2009, due to federal maintenance of effort requirements. As a result, school district operating budgets (general fund, LOB and special ed aid combined) are 2.3% below 2009.
Several important facts should be noted. First, statewide enrollment has increased by almost 2% since 2009, and total weighted enrollment is up 6.8%, mainly due to more students qualifying for free lunch and counting for at-risk weighting. Second, the consumer price index increased nearly 9.3% since 2009, so the “effective” cut in funding per pupil has been much larger than the dollar amount alone. Third, because there has been no increase in LOB state aid since 2009, additional LOB funding has been entirely financed by higher property taxes. Fourth, many districts have been unable to raise more LOB funding because they are at or near the state limit.
Although district budgets and state aid for general education operations have been reduced, other areas have increased. Since 2009, state aid for bond and interest payments have increased $35 million (although $22 million in capital outlay aid was eliminated), and KPERS contributions for school district employees $86 million. When additional local revenues for bond payments, capital outlay, food services, student fees and federal programs are included, total school district spending is higher than FY 2009. However, none of these funds are available for general education programs.
January 30, 2013
Bill Would Curtail Rights of Teachers Unions
January 29, 2013 7:17 PM EST
The House committee on commerce is considering a bill that would limit the negotiating rights of teachers unions and strip them of their status as exclusive bargaining units.
The amendments to the Professional Negotiations Act would allow teachers who aren’t part of their local unions to negotiate contracts individually or in other groups. It also would narrow the list of work matters subject to negotiation, meaning teachers unions could no longer negotiate the length of classes and number of periods per day.
Teacher evaluations, which are currently being overhauled statewide to meet federal criteria, also would be removed from the list of negotiable items.
The bill also contains language that was interpreted variously in testimony Tuesday as giving school districts the option of not negotiating with unions at all or giving them the option of not negotiating with unions outside of annual contract renewal periods.
The Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development heard testimony from proponents and opponents of the amendments.
The proponents included the Kansas Association of School Boards and two members of the Kansas State Board of Education — Ken Willard, who chaired the governor’s task force on school efficiency, and Steve Roberts, a private mathematics tutor who was elected to the board in November on a platform of fighting overregulation of schools. Both said they weren’t speaking on behalf of the board.
Willard said the bill was in line with recommendations from the school efficiency task force that the bargaining rights of teachers be restricted in order to allow school boards greater administrative flexibility.
The KASB also supports parts of the bill, including removing the number and length of teaching periods and teacher evaluations from the list of items currently subject to negotiations.
“The foundation for improved instruction is strengthening the evaluation of teachers,” KASB lobbyist Mark Tallman said, adding that school boards shouldn’t have to bargain with teachers over evaluations.
However, Tallman expressed concern about other parts of the bill. In particular, Tallman said the proposal to allow teachers to negotiate contracts individually would raise “logistical concerns.” Tallman said it was possible that school boards wouldn’t support it.
Two school board members who opposed the bill, Tom Brungardt, of Geary County Unified School District 475, and Amy Martin, of Olathe USD 233, said individual negotiations would be too much for districts to handle, since districts may have hundreds or thousands of teachers.
“I don’t know how it would work,” Brungardt said, calling it a “dangerous” way to operate a school district.
Martin said the bill would undermine negotiations by placing teachers on a different level at the negotiating table.
David Schauner, general counsel for the Kansas National Education Association, questioned the intent of the bill.
“This bill’s unspoken interest is to get rid of collective bargaining as we know it,” Schauner said.
Schauner also expressed concern over part of the bill that the KASB interprets as giving districts the option of not negotiating with unions.
The KNEA interprets the same passage to mean that negotiations should be optional outside of annual contract renewal periods.
If the bill would make negotiations optional, Schauner said it would “have the net effect of disenfranchising 35,000 people of their right to have some say collectively” in the terms of their employment.
January 29, 2013
State lawmakers hear report on education spending
TOPEKA - Kansas legislators continued their full immersion in education spending and policies on Monday, the start of another week of joint meetings by the House and Senate Education Committees.
The meetings are meant to bring the large number of new legislators up to speed on school finance issues and related topics.
State Board of Education member Ken Willard addressed the panels Monday. He also is the chairman of the School Efficiency Task Force created last fall by Gov. Sam Brownback, which is charged with finding ways for public schools to put more of their state funding directly into classrooms.
Willard outlined the panel's 12 recommendations culled from testimony gathered over three months last fall from policy analysts, administrators and education advocates. He says the goal isn't to cut funding for schools but to reduce inefficiencies in such areas as purchasing and data collection.
"That wasn't our assignment at all," Willard said, adding that most of the recommendations would require legislative action to remove perceived barriers to efficiencies.
Brownback included several of the task-force findings in his budget recommendations presented Jan. 16. One would create two-year budgets for schools to provide predictability in spending, while another proposal calls for defining classroom expenditures. Brownback says the state is failing at the goal of getting 65 percent of education spending in the classroom.
However, Willard said the common definition of classroom expenditures failed to account for such positions as librarians, counselors or speech pathologists who play a daily role in instructing and assisting students. He also said there was "no science" behind the theory that getting 65 percent of spending in the classroom really created the best learning conditions.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the task force's recommendations for changes in the teacher negotiation process would do more harm than good, and that school boards already had the power to offer unilateral contracts should they disagree with terms of negotiations between teachers and the district.
"I think there is going to be a full-frontal assault on the rights of teachers," said Hensley, who is also a teacher.
House Speaker Ray Merrick said the unusual aspect of the continued joint meetings was a byproduct of the changes in the Legislature, which saw the departure of several veteran lawmakers who were members of the education committee. The Stilwell Republican said the committee needed the extra time to review background on school policy, but expects legislation to begin moving in the coming weeks.
The dynamics in the House and Senate committees have dramatically changed and there is a lot of interest in student achievement-oriented reforms.
Merrick also said the Jan. 11 ruling in Shawnee County District Court, which declared that the state was failing to meet its constitutional mandate to properly fund K-12 education, was a chance for legislators to rethink not the amount of money that's spent but how it is spent.
"I've directed my education committee chair (Rep. Kasha Kelley) to examine creative and effective policies that will give our children the best chance to succeed," he said. "We need to put more power in the hands of parents and encourage accountability from parents, students and teachers."
The committees will continue their joint meetings through at least Friday, including a bus trip to view school innovations at a rural life center in central Kansas and career and technical education institute in Oklahoma City.
Senate Education Chairman Steve Abrams said there was value in the field trips.
"As good as these reports are, we believe you can't gauge how good these programs are unless you see them in person," said Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican and former State Board of Education member.
January 28, 2013
Quick-fix constitutional option to school funding ruling losing steam
Topeka — House Speaker Ray Merrick on Friday said it was unlikely that the Legislature could place a constitutional amendment on the April ballot that would seek to thwart a court order to increase school funding.
"I don't think that is doable," said Merrick, R-Stilwell.
When the legislative session started Monday, some GOP leaders said they could quickly adopt a constitutional amendment for voter consideration during the April 2 election.
Last week, a panel of three district court judges ruled the Legislature had failed its constitutional duty to provide adequate school funding and ordered a $440 million increase.
The decision was blasted by Republican leaders, including Gov. Sam Brownback, who called on legislators to make it clear in the law that the Legislature is in charge of school funding.
Meanwhile, Democrats say the Legislature should work to try to comply with the court order.
"On the education front, it appears to me that Gov. Brownback and the Republican leadership don't have any intention of trying to deal with the school funding issue and do so in a way that would address the looming court case that is now headed to the Kansas Supreme Court," House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said.
Davis said he believed there was enough opposition from Democrats and some Republicans in the House to block constitutional amendments aimed at redefining provisions dealing with "suitable" funding of schools. Proposed constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate before they can be put before the voters.
"This is an issue that the Legislature is going to be forced to deal with sooner or later," Davis said.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, on Friday briefed House Republicans on the school finance case in his first public comments since the decision was handed down Jan. 11.
Schmidt said Kansas University law professor Stephen McAllister will help on the state's appeal of the school finance ruling.
"We are buttressing our appellate team a bit," Schmidt said. The team also includes private attorneys from Wichita who handled the case at trial, he said.
McAllister has served as state solicitor general in several cases. Last year, he was sent to Washington, D.C., to help attorneys from Kansas and other states challenging the Affordable Care Act.
In 2006, McAllister also argued on the state's behalf before the Kansas Supreme Court in an earlier school finance lawsuit.
Eagle editorial: Look for efficiencies
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee
There were no big solutions in a report released this week by Gov. Sam Brownback’s school efficiency task force – a reflection that public schools are already relatively efficient, especially given all the demands and restrictions they face. But there were some ideas worth considering on how districts might stretch their funding further. And every little bit helps.
School officials have been understandably skeptical of the task force, particularly when Brownback initially didn’t appoint any school professionals to it. And some of its recommendations seem more focused on saving the state money or fighting ideological battles than on helping local schools.
For example, the report recommends re-evaluating the state’s obligation to help pay for school bond projects. That would help the state but hurt poorer school districts – and could go against past court rulings requiring equity in school funding.
The task force also recommended revisiting collective-bargaining rights of teachers and such issues as teacher tenure. It would be more productive to work with teacher unions than to treat them like the enemy.
But the report also had some suggestions that could help districts better plan for the future. For example, it recommended a two-year state budget cycle and ensuring the timely payment of state aid (though, as districts learned in recent years, the state can always renege on its promises, so there is no guarantee).
The report also recommended granting districts more flexibility in transferring money out of certain funds, looking at ways to streamline educational reporting, and removing possible barriers to efficiency at the Kansas State Department of Education.
It also included a list of best practices such as cooperative purchasing and privatized food services. Many districts already have such practices, but there might be opportunities for more savings.
The idea that likely has the biggest potential for savings is consolidating school administrations. Brownback has said he isn’t interested in pursuing school district consolidation (though that could save considerable money), but the task force wisely recommended that the state study administration structures and positions, including regionalizing administrations.
The task force also recommended the formation of another group to review the policy goal of having districts spend 65 percent of their funding “in the classroom.” The focus on this one-size-fits-all measure is misguided, as different districts have different circumstances and needs. Also, there is no good research linking the 65 percent threshold to improved educational outcomes.
Nonetheless, Brownback has been citing this made-up measure as evidence that schools aren’t efficient. But as the task force report noted, there needs to be a better definition of what counts as “instruction.” And as its modest recommendations indicate, there aren’t major inefficiencies.
January 25, 2013
Cody Whetstone provided the following article from The NEW YORK TIMES. Thanks Cody.
Kansas’ Governor and G.O.P. Seek to End Income Tax
TOPEKA, Kan. — President Obama stood on the
steps of the Capitol in Washington on Monday afternoon and laid out an
expansive liberal agenda for the nation. Inside the Kansas State Capitol here
this week, Gov. Sam Brownback
and Republican legislators have been drafting what could be a blueprint for the
On Wednesday, lawmakers received a bill to
inch the state closer to eliminating income taxes, a centerpiece of a broad
legislative vision that many in the Republican Party here hope will serve as a
model of conservative governance for other states, if not the nation, to
While Republican principles of small
government and low taxes have holds on large swaths of the country, Kansas
provides perhaps the starkest view of the crimson ideology that could challenge
Mr. Obama’s Inauguration Day rallying cry.
This month, the largest tax cut in Kansas
history took effect, and most of its Medicaid
system was handed over to private insurers. The bill introduced this week would
pare taxes further, with the goal of eventually eliminating the state’s
individual income tax. Mr. Brownback has already slashed the state’s welfare
roll and its work force. He has merged government agencies and is proposing
further consolidation. He is pushing for pension changes, to change the way
judges are selected and for altering education financing formulas.
“I think it is the leading edge of the
conservative economic and political movement,” said State Representative Tom
Sloan, a Republican representing the area around Lawrence. “As such, it is the
example that other state leaders will look to to determine whether the
political philosophy can mesh with the expectations of the public.”
In last year’s elections, the state bucked
its long tradition of moderate Republicanism. Conservatives ousted several
moderates in Senate primary contests and went on to victory in November. Now,
for the first time in generations, the House, the Senate and the governor’s
office in Kansas are controlled by conservative Republicans. In much of the
rest of the country, the political equation is similar: The Republican Party
now controls both legislative chambers and governorships in 24 states.
Democrats have single-party control in 13.
Many here, including the governor, have
characterized the state’s legislative endeavors as an experiment. Mr.
Brownback, elected in 2010, and his supporters are betting that their agenda
will show the rest of the country that conservatism provides a path to economic
“I think the unique thing is that we’re
applying the principles on how you get your cost down and still provide a
high-quality product,” Mr. Brownback said in an interview. “That’s been in the
private sector, but it hasn’t been in the public sector for 50 years.”
Skeptics, meanwhile, contend that Mr.
Brownback is leading Kansas toward economic devastation that will leave many of
the state’s residents without basic services and its children without a proper
“It kind of eliminates a large group of
Kansans out of that pursuit of happiness,” Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a
Wichita Democrat, said of the governor’s proposals. “They will still struggle.
They’ll pay the highest taxes. They are already working jobs with no benefits
or very little benefits.”
Representative Barbara Bollier, a Republican
representing the suburbs of Kansas City, questioned why the state was cutting
taxes at a time of sagging revenues. “It’s beyond extremely conservative
because no one else is doing it,” she said.
Legislation passed last year that took effect
this month consolidated three income tax brackets into two (4.9 percent and 3
percent). It also eliminated taxes on nonwage profits for certain types of
Supporters said these measures were necessary
to reverse years of economic stagnation. Private-sector jobs have grown just
1.6 percent in the state over the past 14 years, compared with 12.2 percent in
the 10 states with the lowest tax burdens, according to data compiled by the
Kansas Policy Institute. The state estimates that the tax cuts will generate
nearly 23,000 jobs by 2020 and $2 billion of income for the state.
“If you look at the demographics of my voter
base, a lot moved to Florida and Nevada for lower taxes,” said Senator Susan
Wagle, the Republican Senate president who represents Wichita. “I’d like to see
them come back.”
Kansas’ tax policy has caught the attention
of its neighbors. Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, a Republican, has introduced
a bill to eliminate a variety of taxes, including ones on individual income and
small businesses. Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, also a Republican, plans to
call for modest income tax cuts, and Missouri lawmakers have discussed
reforming their tax code.
But there is significant concern in Kansas
over the cost of the tax cuts, which is expected to total nearly $850 million
in the coming fiscal year. In the budget he presented last week, Mr. Brownback
proposed to help cover the cost of those cuts by keeping in place a sales tax
increase that was scheduled to expire this year and by eliminating the mortgage
interest deduction. Both proposals have proven unpopular among conservatives
and liberals alike.
“I think it’s going to be a hard sell,” said
Representative Ray Merrick, the Republican speaker of the House, who supports
the income tax cuts.
Critics say Mr. Brownback’s tax cut was
passed on the backs of low-income Kansans. The bill included the repeal of tax
credits for food, rental housing and child care that benefited low-income
residents. Because of those repeals, the poorest 20 percent of Kansans will
spend an additional 1.3 percent of their incomes, an average of $148 per year,
on taxes, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic
Policy. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, will see the share of their income that
goes toward taxes drop by 2 percent, or $21,087 per year, the report said.
“This tax bill that passed is really what I
call Robin Hood in reverse,” said Senator Anthony Hensley, the Democratic leader,
who represents Topeka.
While Mr. Brownback has aspired to make
Kansas a state without income tax, critics note that other such states have
other streams to supplement their revenue — Texas, for instance, has oil, and
Florida has tourism. And as he looks to reduce taxes, Mr. Brownback has not
increased financing for education to the level that a state appellate court
mandated this month. (The state is appealing that ruling.) Opponents fear
deeper spending cuts.
Brownback supporters say more focus needs to
be placed on efficient government spending, in education and other areas,
rather than the amount that was being spent.
But Mr. Sloan said he felt that lawmakers
were simply tailoring spending to fulfill the tax cuts, risking essential
services without so much as discussing what the priorities should be.
“Bottom line is, if the
governor’s right and I’m wrong, the state will prosper,” he said. “If I’m right
and the governor’s wrong, then the state will suffer long term. I hope he is
correct because that’s the path we’re on, but I have my doubts.”
January 21, 2013
What did the Court order?
The state cannot change the school finance formula as it currently exists if
the result would be an amount lower than revenues produced by the current
formula with a base state aid per pupil of $4,492, which is the amount
currently in state law but not funded by the Legislature.
Beginning next school year, the state cannot make an appropriation resulting
in less revenue to school districts than a base budget of $4,492 per pupil,
which would require an estimated $442 million, plus $22 million required in
the current year to maintain the base of $3,838. Also, the state cannot use
the current practice of “prorating” or underfunding general state aid, which
results in a reduction in the base budget per pupil below the current statutory
amount. To maintain the base at $3,838 in the current year, the Legislature
will need to add $22 million or the base will drop about $30.
The state cannot make any changes to school district LOB that would “create
a wealth based disparity in the distribution of funds or in the ability to use the
local option budget of a district.” The state must provide full funding of the
LOB equalization formula, at cost of about $85 million.
The state must restore equalization funding for capital outlay. If equalization
funding is not provided, the local capital outlay levy is unconstitutional and
cannot be used by local districts. Therefore, districts could not collect any
capital outlay funding except transfers from other funds. If funded, the capital
outlay levy state aid formula would require $22 million in additional aid.
The Week Ending, the Week Ahead
Governor Sam Brownback kicked off the session with his State of the State address Tuesday night and budget message Wednesday morning. We've reviewed details of his budget and proposal for early reading support and grade level retention in earlier posts (below).
State Government and Budget. Next week, the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means Committees begin to dig deeper with briefings on an audit of the Juvenile Justice Authority, which the Governor wants to fold into the Department of Corrections (Tue, H. Appropriations; Thursday, S. W&M); overhaul of state Medicaid programs into KanCare (Wed, H. Appropriations, Thurs, S. W&M); and the Kansas Turnpike Authority, which the Governor wants to merge with the state Department of Transportation (Thurs, S. W&M).
Judicial Selection. In his address, the Governor called for a change the way state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court judges are appointed. Currently, the Governor must choose from nominees selected by a nominating commission dominated by the Kansas Bar - called "merit selection." This past Wednesday and Thursday, Senate Judiciary held hearings on SCR 1601, which would have the Governor make appointments subject to Senate Confirmation, called the "federal model;" and SB 8, which creates a commission to review and make recommendations on the qualifications of the Governor's nominations prior to Senate action.
Next Tuesday, House Judiciary holds hearings on another package of proposals:
- HB 2019, which would have the Governor make appointments to the Court of Appeals with Senate confirmation. (Federal model)
- HB 2020, which requires partisan election of Court of Appeals judges in a general election.
- HCR 5002, a constitutional amendment providing for the Governor to appoint Supreme Court judges confirmed by the Senate. (Federal model)
- HCR 5003, amending the constitution to require partisan election of Supreme Court judges.
- HCR 5004, which would place the Court of Appeals in the state constitution and change the membership of the nominating committee to include four attorneys, five members appointed by the Governor and six members appointed by Legislative leaders. (Merit selection with the "4-5-6" plan.)
The committee could begin voting on these proposals as early as Wednesday. Many conservative legislators support a change in the selection of judges - partly as a result of opposition to recent school finance decisions. However, changing the Supreme Court selection process requires amending the state constitution, which takes a two-thirds vote of both House and Senate and approval by the people in a statewide election. Expect a push to get an amendment on the April school board and local elections ballot, but it is unclear whether there will be a two-third majority for such any change, especially in the House. KASB supports the current merit system and the KASB Board of Directors voted to endorse the "4-5-6" plan as a compromise to address concerns that the current nominating process is too dominated by attorneys.
Taxes. Last session, the Governor signed HB 2117, which reduced state incomes taxes by about 25 percent. In his state of the state address, he called for continuing to reduce the income rate to zero. His budget proposes extending the state sales tax at the current rate and eliminating the mortgage interest deduction to offset some of the lost state revenue and avoid deep cuts in state programs. (Both proposals were part of his tax package last session.) Committees start looking at tax policy issues next week, including "dynamic scoring" of tax cuts (Tues, H. Taxation), the Governor's proposals (Wed, S. W&M), and the definitions of real vs personal property (Thurs, H. Tax). The last issue is critical to a debate over tax treatment of so-called "trade fixtures" that could substantially increase business tax exemptions and reduce local government revenue.
Education. The House and Senate Education Committees held three joint meeting this week to review the Gannon school finance case and the workings of the school finance formula. Joint meetings continue next week with a presentation by the Kansas Teacher of the Year team (Tues), the Board of Regents and Department of Education (Wed) and organizational perspectives from KASB, Kansas National Education Association and Kansas School Superintendents Association (Thur).
Elections. Several committees also look at election issues next week, including agency presentations before Senate Elections and Local Government (Tues, Wed), and hearings in House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development on a bill to prohibit any professional employees' organization which exists in whole or part to negotiate with local school boards to use any dues, fees, assessments or any periodic payments deducted from a member's paycheck for the purpose of engaging in political activities, basically defined as attempting to influence state or local elections. We also expect introduction of a bill to change the election date for local school board members.
Questions About the Governor's Reading and 3rd Grade Retention Plans
We've received questions about Governor Brownback's "Read to Succeed" proposal mentioned in his State of State address Tuesday night. He endorsed a policy to prohibit third grade students who fail to meet a proficiency standard in reading from being promoted to fourth grade, and proposed $14 million in new funding for additional literacy program funding and school incentives over the next two years. Improving fourth grade reading was one of the Governor's "roadmap" goals. Both third grade retention and increased support for struggling K-3 readers was part of a package of education initiatives adopted in Florida a decade ago under Governor Jeb Bush, and a popular idea in many Republican and conservative circles.
We'll consider the evidence and arguments on this concept at a later time The Governor has not yet introduced a bill, so we don't know all the details in his plan. A separate bill, HB 2004, was pre-filed by Rep. Steve Hubert, R-Valley Center. That bill is similar to one considered but not acted on last session - but appears to differ from the Governor's concept in several ways. First, HB 2004 would take effect next school year, 2013-14. The Governor's proposal on fourth grade promotion would not take effect for three years, until the 2016-17 school year. Second, the Governor's staff indicates the State Board could provide an alternative test for students to demonstrate reading proficiency. HB 2004 appears to use only the state reading assessment given once a year to all students. Third, HB 2004 allows parents to waive the requirement and have their child promoted regardless of performance. This would be a significant exception. Finally, HB 2004 limits the number years a child could be held back to a total of two years, while the Governor's bill only requires one year of retention.
It is unclear how many students would be affected by either bill. Last year, approximately 5% of third-graders scored in the bottom "academic warning" category on the state reading assessment, and approximately 10% scored in the "approaches standard" category but still below the "meets standard" level considered "proficient" under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The actual number of students who might be retained would depend on what exceptions, if any, would be allowed; for example, for special education, English Language Learners, parental opt-out or other factors. It would also depend on how successful districts are in continuing to increase the percentage of students at proficient or higher.
A final complication is that the State Board of Education will be adopted a new testing program, based on new college- and career-ready standards already adopted. Depending on how the State Board determines proficiency on the new assessments, the percent of students falling below that line could increase (or decrease). (Mark Tallman - KASB)