Under the Dome - February 19, 2013
Lots of bill hearings today
Two bills heard in the House Education Committee today
From 1:30 to 3:30, the committee heard testimony on HB 2319, a bill creating the "coalition of innovative districts." These ten school districts would be permitted to opt out of all laws, rules and regulations except finance laws and federal laws.
Testifying in favor of the bill was the Kansas Association of School Boards. This bill would allow them to do away with collective bargaining, teacher due process and the continuing contract law in ten districts.
KNEA President Karen Godfrey testified in opposition to the bill telling the committee that removing those laws that protect teachers who are risk takers in the name of innovation and creativity was counter to the stated intent of the bill which is to inspire innovative approaches to education.
The school districts that appeared - Kansas City, KS and McPherson - shared their innovative programs with the committee. Both districts told the committee that they did not think it would be right to opt out of teacher rights bills including collective bargaining. McPherson even brought a school counselor to testify who identified himself as a "proud KNEA member" who loved knowing that the Association was taking care of his contract and salary so that he could be free to focus on the innovative programs being offered in the district.
Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker told the committee that the laws most often asked for relief from were federal laws that could not be waived. Additionally, DeBacker pointed out that there was nothing in current law stopping districts from implementing innovative programs. Cheryl Semmell, Executive Director of United School Administrators told the committee essentially the same thing - that Kansas school districts can and do implement remarkably innovative programs under current law.
The same bill will be heard in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow under the number SB 176.
The Committee recessed at 3:30 and reconvened again at 5:15 to hear HB 2232, a bill that would have the state pay for liability insurance for teachers.
KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti was the only conferee, appearing as neutral on the bill but raising a number of questions for the committee's consideration.
During the hour long meeting, more questions were raised than answered. The committee peppered Desetti with questions about liability insurance already offered in school districts, the NEA liability policy for members, primary versus secondary insurance coverage, and a variety of scenarios to be considered.
In the end, it was decided that the committee needed a lot more information before moving on - including even if the bill was meant to provide primary or secondary insurance.
KNEA has assumed that the bill was meant to pay for the liability insurance that districts hold now - this is the insurance typically held by any business to protect the business and its employees in the event of lawsuits. Many teachers hold secondary liability insurance coverage through their membership in KNEA.
More information is being sought by the committee.
Senate Ed hears bills on bullying and district budgeting
The Senate Education Committee held hearings on SB 137, a bill that requires broader participation in the development of bullying policies and dissemination of such policies to all parents. KNEA supported the bill along with several other advocacy organizations. Opposing the bill was the Kansas Family Policy Council who fear that if others are allowed to help craft policies, such policies might protect homosexual students. The KFPC argued that a bill prohibiting bullying against homosexuals might force their members to be silent on their religious beliefs.
The other bill heard was SB 171 that would require more public disclosure and detail in school district budgets. KASB appeared in opposition to the bill.
No action was taken on either bill.
Dyslexia bill soon to be worked
Senate Bill 44, the dyslexia bill, was supposed to be worked today but the committee ran out of time. Senator Abrams did pass out three balloon amendments that will be considered. One contained all the amendments requested by KNEA. One of those amendments removes the ability of either the school district or parent to "hold a gun to the head of the other" in demanding services. Another one dealt with who could make a diagnosis of dyslexia, improving that section. The last amendment would make the law a part of the special education law.
We believe the amendments meet nearly all of the objections to the bill. If adopted they represent compromises by both the proponents and opponents. While the bill has not yet been worked and we do not know what the final form of the bill will be, KNEA recognizes the willingness of Chairman Abrams to listen to concerns and work to craft a compromise bill that we hope will ultimately serve both parents and schools.
Anti-teacher bills still in limbo
House Bill 2023, the payroll deduction/political activities bill that passed the House still awaits action in the Senate Commerce Committee. No word yet on when or if that action will take place.
House Bill 2085, the anti-collective bargaining bill that applies only to teachers and had a hearing in the House Commerce Committee, is still awaiting action. This is the bill that some members of the Kansas School Superintendents Association has responded to by proposing a virtual elimination of a teacher voice in working conditions including benefits, dress codes, and even hours of work.
We do not believe that most superintendents oppose collective bargaining. We have asked our local leaders to ask their superintendent if he/she supports the KSSA position dismantling most of the professional negotiations act. Have you heard from your superintendent?
Some superintendents have been telling us that they don't - Yes, a few superintendents have even called us here at KNEA to express their support for collective bargaining for teachers! We encourage teachers to ask their superintendents and school board members if they support their teachers and respect the professional negotiations act.
Let us know what your superintendent believes.