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Under the Dome - March 20, 2013

House Ed supports no accountability for certain schools


Q: What do you call a $10 million corporate tax break with no accountability? 


A: Sub for Senate Bill 22.


Yes, after days of debate, the House Education Committee took the contents of House Bill 2400, tweaked it, and stuffed it into a Senate Bill they gutted.


There was some hope that HB 2400 would go down to defeat along with the special education voucher bill and the massive expansion of charter schools, each of which was defeated on a vote of 9 to 10. For some time it appeared this voucher via tuition tax credits bill would meet the same fate until Rep. Ward Cassidy (R-St. Francis) changed his mind and approved the bill.


So what does Sub for SB 22 (aka HB 2400) do?


It creates a tax credit program for corporations that will cost the state up to $10 million per year.

Corporations get this credit by donating to a "Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO). For every $100 donation the corporation gives, they get a $70 cut in their income tax liability. 

The funds given to the SGO are then used to grant "scholarships" to some students. To get a scholarship the student must be either a low income student or a student with an IEP but not gifted (unless, of course, the student has a speech difficulty to overcome and also happens to be gifted).

Scholarships can be for up to $8,000 per student. 

The student may use the scholarship to attend any private school of his/her choice. It could be a religious school or a secular school; it could be an accredited school or unaccredited; it could be racially segregated or housed in a double-wide. You see, there are no requirements on these schools except that they have insurance. 


The bill was supported by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce (they'll go for anything that will reduce corporate taxes), the Kansas Policy Institute (they'll go for anything that will lead to the privatization of public education), and the Oklahoma Council for Public Policy (they are the KPI of Oklahoma), and the Kansas Catholic Conference who seek to bolster their enrollment.


Before sending the bill out of committee, there was a long debate on the sanity of passing such a bill with no accountability measures. There is no provision in the bill for ever looking to see if this has a negative effect on public schools or a positive effect on the student using the scholarships - even though the scholarships are 70% state paid.


Rep. Cassidy talked about this and then offered an amendment that passed to sunset the bill in two years. His amendment did nothing for accountability. "People will tell us if it's not working," was his assertion.  


Cassidy's amendment passed on a vote of 10 to 9. A motion to put the bill into Senate Bill 22 and pass it out of committee also passed on a vote of 10 to 9.


Why put the bill in a Senate Bill? To avoid further discussion. Discussion leads to alternative viewpoints. Alternative viewpoints sometimes dissuade legislators from adopting bad ideas. If the House passes a House Bill, then it must go through the committee process on the Senate side - hearings, debate, and discussion before going to the full Senate. If the House Bill is put in a Senate Bill, then the bill goes directly to the Senate floor where it simply gets a vote to concur in the changes or non-concur and form a conference committee. 


In this case, the supporters know they've got a good deal. If the Senate concurs, the bill passes; if the Senate non-concurs, the bill goes to a conference committee made up of Republicans Kasha Kelley, Ward Cassidy, Steve Abrams, and Tom Arpke (all supporters of the bill) and Democrats Ed Trimmer and Anthony Hensley (opponents who will be overridden in the conference committee.


Voting NO on the bill were Democrats Ed Trimmer, Valdenia Winn, Roderick Houston, Nancy Lusk, and Carolyn Bridges and Republicans Diana Dierks, John Ewy, Sue Boldra, and Melissa Rooker. 


Contact your House member. Tell him/her to vote NO on Sub for HB 22. Maintain education accountability. Don't let tax dollars be used directly or indirectly in support of unaccountable schools. Click here for the House roster with office phones and emails. Click here to use the KNEA "contact your legislator" web portal.


Senate Education still battling charters


The Senate Education Committee spent the afternoon in heated discussion of SB 196, the charter school bill (the House version was defeated in the House Education Committee with the help of Ward Cassidy who made an about face today). 


Senator Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) held the floor most of the day today bringing up objection after objection but it was an exchange between Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and Committee Chairman Steve Abrams that was the most intense.


Hensley, in noting that the bill would essentially allow any currently operating private school to become a public charter school, asked Abrams how the legislature would pay for all the new students coming into the public system as a result. For example, let's say St. Mark Catholic School with 250 students becomes a public charter. That's 250 students the state does not pay for now coming into the system. The state, Hensley pointed out, would have to either a) increase state spending on public schools to cover the increased enrollment or b) spread current resources out over more students by cutting base state aid per pupil. 


Abrams asserted that there would be no cut to current schools. Hensley asked then if Abrams would be supporting a revenue increase to cover the additional cost. Abrams hedged. Hensley pressed him and Abrams told Hensley that he had his (Abrams') assurance there would be no cuts. Hensley then pointed out that Abrams was one of 165 legislators and therefore unable to make such an assurance.


The committee ran out of time and will continue the discussion tomorrow. 

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