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Under the Dome - March 15, 2013

House Education settles two bills

The House Education Committee, after multiple meetings and lengthy debate, defeated House Bill 2320, the charter schools act on a vote of 9 to 10. Five Republicans joined the five Democrats in voting no. Legislators asked for their votes to be recorded so committee minutes will show that Democrats Trimmer, Winn, Bridges, Lusk, and Tietz and Repubicans Rooker, Dierks, Ewy, Boldra, and Cassidy voted against the measure.

The bill, if adopted, would have allowed the State Board of Education, any local school board, city and county commissions, and any public or private post-secondary education institution to become a charter school "authorizer" and begin approving charter schools all around the state. Such schools would be exempt from rules, regulations, and laws. Additionally, corporations could make financial gifts to these schools and receive a 50% tax credit for contributions up to $100,000. There would be a cap of $10 million annually on these credits.

The fiscal impact of the bill would be enormous starting with the reduction of state tax revenue by $10 million to pay for the tax credits ($10 million that could go to school funding). In addition, since authorizers could turn existing private schools into public charters, the state would have to begin paying state aid for every student currently enrolled in any of those schools. That would require the legislature to either raise taxes or prorate state aid for all schools to spread the existing resources over the dramatically increased student population.

Representatives Lusk and Rooker focused on the fiscal impact while Boldra, Dierks and Bridges defended fair treatment of teachers, the performance of today's public schools, and teacher licensure - all of which were under attack by the proponents. Representative Trimmer continued to hammer away at a research report from the Kansas Policy Institute (the major proponent of the bill) that concluded that states with multiple charter school authorizers had the poorest performing charter schools in the nation.

Clearly disappointed that the Committee rejected the bill, Chair Kasha Kelley told the press that she hoped the Senate would send out their version of the bill so the full House could weigh in with a floor vote.

The House also heard and approved Senate Bill 104, the internet safety act. This bill, supported by KNEA, would provide that all schools maintain internet filtering software and a policy on internet access. It would also provide schools with liability protection should a student find a way around the filtering software or if that software should fail.

After amending the bill so that it would apply to all accredited K-12 schools, it was passed out of committee on a voice vote. The amendment ensures that accredited private schools must also have such software and policies in place.

Still watching the anti-union bills

Both chambers met pro-forma today meaning no action was taken on the floor and most committees did not meet.

We are watching two anti-union bills that still sit out there.

The first, Sub for HB 2027, is the bill gutting collective bargaining for teachers. This bill still remains in the House Committee on Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development. The Committee is set to work bills on Monday of next week but we have received no indication that Chairman Kleeb plans to take action on this bill at this time. KNEA President Karen Godfrey and General Counsel David Schauner have had some conversations with the Chairman and we hope those conversations will lead to better conclusions. Stay tuned for more reports on this issue and remember that thing may seem quiet right now but it can get loud very quickly.

The second bill, Sub for HB 2022, is the payroll deduction bill for public employees. This bill now contains two pieces - the original 2022 dealing with employers recouping money owed to them via payroll deduction and HB 2023 banning public sector unions from participating in a wide variety of political and legislative activities.

In working the bills, the Senate combined them and made significant amendments to HB 2023. The amendments narrowed the definition of "political activities" from a very broad definition to encouraging people to vote for or against candidates for office. The amendments ensure that unions can still lobby, discuss legislation, urge passage or defeat of an issue, and take positions on legislative or ballot issues. The bill was also amended to permit unions to use dues money to communicate political positions to their own members and to promote contributions to their political action committees. It does prohibit contributions to a public sector union PAC via payroll deduction.

We believe the bill to be an unfair infringement of an employee's right to make his/her own decisions about their own money. We agree with Senator Dan Kerschen who, in his explanation of vote (he voted  NO) told the Senate, "During my 40 years in the dairy business and still even today, we had the benefit to deduct our PAC contribution from our paycheck. I understand the difference between public and private entities. Nonetheless, I cannot vote to deny someone else the same privilege that I enjoy."

This bill must now go back to the House since it was changed in the Senate.

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