School Finance and Education

It’s a Wrap….Sort of ……Maybe.

On Saturday, June 10th, we wrapped up one of the longest, most contentious and most productive sessions of the Legislature in years. The official end of the session will happen on June 26th, when we return for what is called “Sine Die”. Sine Die is the official end of the Legislature for this year. Of course, all of this could change based on actions by the Kansas Supreme Court or Governor Brownback.

I want to provide my constituents with a comprehensive summary of the major topics we addressed this year in Topeka. In order to provide that comprehensive summary I am going to focus a specific topic each day for the next several days. As always, if you have any specific questions or suggestions for me concerning any of these topics, please feel free to get in touch. Today’s topic is:

SCHOOL FINANCE & EDUCATION POLICY:

The school finance bill was far from perfect but it was the best we could do and still get the conservative votes necessary to get it through the House and Senate. The Supreme Court could still rule that the bill is underfunded and does not pass the adequacy requirement of the Kansas Constitution. If that happens we could be called back into special session this summer to deal with this issue, or, the Court could accept the funding amount for the coming year but instruct the Legislature to fully correct the situation in the next official session of the Legislature which will start in January.

Personally, I believe the Court will find that the school finance bill does NOT provide adequate funding for our public schools. Whether we come back this summer for a special session or deal with this issue next session is anyone’s guess. In either case we can thank the Governor and his ultra-conservative, anti-public school loyalists in the Legislature for refusing to do the right thing and support a school finance bill that actually addresses the financial needs of our public schools. There were plenty of opportunities for them to support bills that would have met the adequacy standard and they rejected all of them.

The Governor and his loyalists would not support adequate funding for our public schools but they were certainly anxious to make sure that their “voucher” program, which takes money away from our public schools and redirects it to private schools, made it into the school finance bill.

The school finance bill was passed by both the House and the Senate. Each chamber passed the bill with a majority vote but neither chamber passed it with the two thirds majority necessary to override a veto by the Governor. The Governor, in a fit of spite over his tax bill going down, could still veto the school finance bill. His veto, which would require that we return to Topeka for a veto override vote, or, in a worst case scenario, it would require the House and Senate to return to Topeka where we would have to start from scratch and redo the entire bill. The Governor has the rest of this week to determine if he will veto this bill.

In another blow to teachers, the Legislature failed to pass the Due Process bill. This was a bill that I and Representative Steve Crum introduced early in the session. Due process is a program that had worked for decades in Kansas and it was taken away from teachers in a very unethical manner on the last day of the session in 2014. This was done without a hearing and was meant to be nothing but an insult to Kansas teachers. The House this year voted to reinstate due process by a large margin but the Senate, which remains strongly anti-public schools, let the issue die. Due process is a cost saving program for school districts, a program that protects good teachers from being fired for unjust cause and a program that helps Kansas recruit and retain outstanding teachers. None of this matters to the ultra-conservatives in the Legislature and certainly not to our anti-public education Governor who would be happy to privatize our schools I will most certainly be bringing this bill up again next January.

There were a number of good policy provisions in the school finance bill concerning how money would be distributed to districts throughout the state but, without adequate funding, many of these programs and policies will be unable to be implemented. I will keep you informed on school finance as we get more information from the Court and from the Governor.

School finance and education policy have been areas of real frustration for me during this session. For example, I was on the Education Policy Committee and the Chair would not allow the committee to work the due process bill. The bill would have easily passed out of our committee and been sent to the House for debate and a vote. Instead of going through the committee process like it should have, I had to amend the due process bill into another bill on the floor of the House. After some rigorous debate, the House voted and the bill passed easily. Again, the ultra-conservatives in the Senate ignored the best interests of our teachers and our school districts by letting the bill die.

We had some very strong, innovative and capable pro-public education legislators, both Democrats and moderate Republicans, on the Education Committee who wanted to do the right thing for our schools and our children. Unfortunately, we were stymied at every turn by the Chair of the committee who is part of the conservative leadership and who wanted no pro-public education bills coming out of “his” committee. His eventual solution to keep us from passing out good bills was to simply stop calling for the committee to meet. For the last several weeks of the session the Education Committee simply stopped meeting! This was an egregious misuse of power by the Chair and was a slap in the face of every Kansan who voted for candidates, such as me, to go to Topeka to solve problems.

Even though they are in the minority, the ultra-conservatives still control the leadership in both the House and the Senate and their ultra-conservative followers still chair most of the committees. This makes for bad process and bad government. Unfortunately, it seems like we will have to wait until 2018 to solve this problem.

I hope you will take time to let the Governor know how you feel about our public schools. He certainly does not seem to listen to or care about the people of Kansas, our public schools, our teachers or our students, but we still need to be contacting him and demanding that he does the right thing for education.

Thank you again for your support, your wisdom, and your votes,

Jerry