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Under the Dome - January 16, 2013


House Pensions Committee gets initial briefing

 House Pensions met today for an initial KPERS background briefing from KPERS Executive Director Alan Conroy. This briefing and future feedback from our KNEA members will be important for our work with this committee. The committee has doubled in size from last year and the committee membership has many freshmen. Many committee members have little or no background understanding of KPERS.

 Important facts for the committee include that over the last 20 years 76% of the Revenues of KPERS come from Investments (57%) and Member Contributions (18%). The state has contributed 24% into KPERS during that time. If the state had funded KPERS as per recommendations from their actuary the system would be pretty much self-funded at this time.

 There are 218,000 KPERS members currently with 155,084 being active members. 84,183 of those active members belong to the school group which makes the school group the largest single group of active KPERS members.

 Our friends and consultants have also been reviewing the Governors’ budget recommendations which were released on line a short time ago. Within the proposal the Governor is proposing moving KPERS to a defined contribution (DC) or 401K-type plan. We know that moving to a DC plan for new members would significantly impair the system’s ability to pay future benefits to current active and retired members. The Governor signed HB 2333 last year which over time will fix the system from the previous underfunding by the Legislature.

 Governor’s budget recommendations for K-12 education

 The Governor’s budget makes recommendations for the current school year as well as school years 2013-14 and 2014-15.

 In all three years, the Governor recommends the following:

 ·         Maintain special education at the current level.

·         Maintain supplemental general state aid at the current level.

·         Fund KPERS at the statutory rate.

·         Fund Parents-as-Teachers and the pre-K pilot at the current level.

·         Fund juvenile detention centers at the statutory amount.

 For this year and next, the Governor recommends:

 ·         Fund base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) at $3,838.

·         Provide a state match of $1,500,000 to assist with schools on Fort Riley.

 The Governor would also:

 ·         Increase technical education transportation by $100,000 in 2012-13 and by $50,000 in 2013-14.

·         Fund BSAPP at $3,852 (a $14/pupil increase) in 2014-15.

 Under these proposals, funding for schools is essentially flat next year with a very small increase in 2014-15. These provisions would likely lead to more cuts to personnel and programs as schools struggle to simply address inflation.

 New Kansas-based economic think tank forms, releases reaction to Governor’s budget

 A new think tank has emerged in Kansas with an eye to analyzing the impact of the tax and budget proposals on the state.

 The Kansas Center for Economic Growth released a statement on the Governor’s budget proposals entitled, "Governor’s Budget Gambles with Kansas’ Future." Here’s what they had to say:

 TOPEKA, KS — Annie McKay, executive director of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, made the following statement in reaction to Governor Sam Brownback’s budget proposal:

 "The Governor's plan for funding our state's essential services continues to place Kansas' economic future in harm's way.  It puts a priority on tax breaks for the wealthiest in our state, eliminates essential tax credits, and includes damaging cuts to things that provide a foundation for our state's economy, including our schools.

 "Unless we make a commitment to begin investing again in education after years of destructive funding cuts, Kansas will not have the workforce it needs to compete in the global economy."

 Background

After adjusting for enrollment increases and inflation:

·         Kansas has cut state education aid by 13.2 percent since the start of the recession in 2008.  This is one of the deepest cuts to education funding of any state over that time period.

 ·         The governor’s budget proposal would cut education funding by an additional 4 percent — $216 per student — over the next two years. 

 ·         Education funding in Kansas will be 17 percent below pre-recession levels by 2015, under the governor’s budget proposal.  That’s a decrease of $961 per student.

 For more information, check out our fact sheet on how the state has failed to invest in education in recent years.

 KNEA releases statement reacting to the Governor’s State-of-the-State address

 Here’s what KNEA had to say about last night’s speech by Governor Brownback:

 KNEA President Karen Godfrey finds serious concerns for public education in Governor’s speech

 KNEA President Karen Godfrey was among the many interested Kansans who gathered in the Statehouse last night to listen to Governor Brownback’s State-of-the-State Address. She listened with the ear of a classroom teacher as the Governor addressed a number of issues that impact public education and the work educators do every day in our public schools.

 Front and center in this year’s legislative session will be the Legislature’s response to the District Court decision in the Gannon school finance lawsuit. The Court found that the Legislature has failed in its constitutional obligation to provide for suitable finance of the educational interests of the state and directed the Legislature to fund schools at the level required in statute.

 Almost immediately following the decision, those who disagreed launched an attack on the judicial system and the Governor fed that attack last night by calling for putting the appointment of justices under his control and further weakening the constitutional requirement to fund the educational interests of the state.

 Both suggestions are troubling. The first, because it undermines the long held and cherished belief in the independence of the three branches of government and the second, because it would be turning our back on the proud heritage of excellent public schools in Kansas.

 The Governor rightly controls the Administrative branch of government in Kansas. His political allies now control the Legislative branch. Passage of a constitutional amendment changing judicial selection will ensure that the Governor controls the Judicial branch as well. There will no longer be any checks and balances within the Kansas government. This is wrong, whether the government is controlled by conservatives, moderates, or liberals. There must always be a system of checks and balances that welcomes new ideas and independent thought. The similar interest in stripping the Governmental Ethics Commission of its enforcement would have the same effect—no check on the potential unethical behavior of policymakers.

 A second proposed constitutional amendment would essentially strip the state of responsibility for ensuring and funding a well-rounded education for all Kansas children. Defining "a suitable education" more narrowly would undoubtedly limit opportunity. Our schools today produce outstanding graduates of whom we are rightfully proud. These young men and women have excelled academically as well as athletically, in the arts, and in service activities. It is no wonder that Kansas students go on to succeed in so many fields.

 It is imperative that we maintain and honor that excellence by providing what we all know to be right for our children. KNEA President Karen Godfrey advises Legislators, "When we are asked to consider what a suitable education is, we should simply look into the eyes of our own children and grandchildren. We will find the answer there."

 The Governor also reiterated his call for reading proficiency by the fourth grade. We applaud this idea and we stand ready to help make that a reality.

 But there are two ways to ensure that all fourth graders are reading on grade level. One is to retain all third graders who are not. That is the favored approach of many legislators and the Governor endorsed this idea in his address. They cite Florida as an example of success. Yes, Florida found that when third graders who were less than proficient in reading were not advanced to fourth grade, fourth grade proficiency scores rose. But that is obviously a false success.

 When the Governor spoke on this issue last December, we let him know that we wanted to help. We sent the Governor a letter outlining a number of initiatives that really would increase the reading proficiency of fourth graders. We urged the Governor to consider the following:

 ·         fully fund all day kindergarten programs,

·         target class size reduction efforts in the early grades,

·         provide for extended learning opportunities for children who are falling behind,

·         provide comprehensive vision and hearing screenings for all students in the early grades,

·         rebuild a corps of reading specialists,

·         advocate for the alignment of learning standards,

·         provide for the professional development of teachers, and

·         provide for mentoring and induction programs for new teachers.

 Retaining a child to give him or her more of the same is no solution to the problems facing a struggling reader. We know that investment in early learning, student support, and teacher professional development are the keys to success. We call upon the Governor and Legislature to resist the urge to institute failed policies because they are cheap or expedient. If we are serious about student achievement, then we need to fund the programs that really make a difference.

 We applaud the Governor’s announcement that he would provide funds to support children reading below grade level. But in light of the Governor’s announced intention to further reduce the Kansas tax base, we wonder where the funding will be found. If the intent is to simply shift resources from one vital education program to another, will we not simply create another problem elsewhere? The Legislature and the Governor would be wiser to start by funding the school finance formula as outlined in statute and respecting the District Court order.

 In his final remarks, the Governor also told the assembled Legislators, "of all those you could learn from, may I suggest paying particular attention to a teacher." He was referencing Senator Anthony Hensley, an active KNEA member and the longest-serving member of the Kansas Legislature. We could not agree more with the Governor on this advice. But we would broaden the suggestion. We are now witnessing an unprecedented effort to silence the voices of Kansas teachers.

 Teachers were ignored by the Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force — even denied the opportunity to present when they asked for one. And at this very moment bills are being drafted to deny teachers fundamental rights — to limit or repeal their voice in negotiations, to deny them the right to have their association dues collected via payroll deduction, to strip them of a voice in evaluation procedures, and to enact dismissal policies that will stop teachers from speaking up on issues in their schools that harm children academically or physically. The anti-teacher agenda adopted by the Wisconsin Legislature is being imported to Kansas by the Governor’s Legislative allies. Said Godfrey, "If the Governor really believes in ‘paying particular attention to a teacher,’ he should respect those teachers and defend their right to have a voice through their professional association."


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