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Under the Dome - March 21, 2013

KPERS DC bill tabled

Over the past few days we have been reporting on the sudden appearance of a KPERS defined contribution bill that popped up after the Governor took a few folks down to Texas to meet with an investment company. That company - Dimensional Fund Advisors - even came up to Kansas to push the idea. As a result, SB 117 came into being.


But it quickly became clear that the pensions committee did not think this was the time to make such a sweeping change. Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene) made a motion to table the bill. Barker and others argued that the legislative process was compromised when such radical ideas pop up at the last minute and have the appearance of being railroaded through committee. 


Other members of the committee argued that a long and comprehensive process last year resulted in a significant change to KPERS including higher contribution rates. They urged the committee to stop messing with KPERS and let the changes already adopted take effect before making additional and even more radical changes. 


The Barker motion prevailed and the issue is put to rest for now.


Both the House Pensions Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee have finished working on KPERS issues and we do not anticipate any more proposals at this time. 


Collective Bargaining issue sent to study

In a positive move today, Rep. Marvin Kleeb, Chair of the House Commerce Committee, met with KNEA, KASB, and KSSA and let them know that both HB 2085 and Sub for HB 2027 are dead. He will not be moving these bills.


Instead Kleeb is asking for a series of meetings to be held over the summer and fall during which some members of the legislature will work with the three organizations to develop recommendations on collective bargaining to be brought to the 2014 legislature. 


KNEA Vice President Mark Farr and General Counsel David Schauner represented KNEA at today's meeting. 


Senate Education Committee ends charter school discussion


After days of discussion and debate, a motion to put the contents of Senate Bill 196, the charter school bill, into a House bill and pass it out of committee failed. 


This bill, like its House twin, would have allowed any private school to become a state charter school. One of the most dangerous effects of the bill was that all students currently in private schools would become public school students if their school took advantage of charter status. So if a private school of 300 students became a charter, those 300 students that the state is not funding today would now generate state funding. This would require the legislature to either dramatically increase state aid to schools just to keep even or cut BSAPP for all schools and spread existing resources more thinly. 


The same bill was killed in the House Education Committee earlier this session.


Vouchers still out there

As of this moment, the special education voucher bill has been killed and the charter school bill has been killed in the House Committee and voted down in the Senate Committee, leaving only the tuition tax credit/voucher bill to be dealt with.


This House bill was put in a Senate bill last night and sent on to the full House for consideration. By putting the bill in a Senate bill - Sub for Senate Bill 22 - the House effectively skirts the legislative process over in the Senate increase the chances that the bill will ultimately pass. 


If the full House passes Sub for SB 22, then when it goes to the Senate it will not be referred to a committee for hearings and debate. Instead, the full Senate will vote to either concur or non-concur to the House changes to SB 22. If they concur the bill goes to the Governor; if they non-concur a conference committee is formed. 


Since the bill must be considered by the full House, this is the time to contact your representative. Here are the points that need to be made:


Most of the time the legislature is demanding more and more accountability from our public schools. But this bill sends some children - at-risk children and special needs children - to schools that meet no accountability standards whatsoever.


This bill does involve state money. The tax credit means that 70% of each child's scholarship or voucher comes from the state in the form of lost tax revenue. As much as $10 million will be lost to the state each and every year this program is in place. This is money that could be used to restore cuts that have been made to our public schools.


These tax dollars would be spent sending children to schools that don't hire licensed teachers. The legislature insists that my barber or the local tattoo artist hold a license but would subject our children to teachers who have no training. That is just plain wrong.


These tax dollars would be spent sending children to schools that refuse to participate in the state assessment system and are not required to monitor or report student performance or progress at all. There will be no way to determine if this program is working for children. 


At a time when you are demanding more and more accountability from our schools and teachers, why would you spend our tax dollars on schools that refuse to be accountable for student performance? This bill is just plain wrong.


Click here for a roster of Representatives with office phone numbers and emails.


Click here to use the KNEA "contact your legislator" web portal.


Senate Ed Committee reconsiders, amends, and passes retention bill

The Senate Education Committee, after rejecting the charter schools bill, went back to SB 169, the mandatory retention of third graders bill they voted down earlier. 


This time, they amended the bill such that the retention policy applies only to schools where the percentage of pupils scoring at the lowest standard on the reading state assessment is greater than the average percentage of pupils scoring at the lowest standard on the reading state assessment for all school districts. The policy therefore does not apply to schools above that average. 


It was also amended to give the parent of the student decision making power. The school would have no authority to mandatorily retain the student over the parent's objection. If the parent won't or can't make a decision, then the decision to retain or promote is given to the child's teacher. 


The bill also creates a "Kansas reads to succeed" task force composed of teachers appointed by certain legislators. This task force will 1) "study and make recommendations on the implementation of interventions and strategies designed to assist kindergarten and grades one through three with acquiring reading skills," 2) "conduct hearings, receive information and consider recommendations on implementation of such interventions for teachers, specialists, parents, the department of education, the state board of education, and any other interested parties," and 3) prepare and submit a report on their work to the education committees. The task force sunsets on June 30, 2014.


The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.


House Ed in marathon common core debate

The House Education Committee has spent hours today listening to testimony for and against the common core standards. It's been a packed committee room as anti-common core legislators brought out their friends to blast the standards as some kind of federal takeover of Kansas schools. 


Proponents will include many representatives of school districts, the state department and the state board of education.

As we write the hearing is still going on. We'll just have to report on this tomorrow!

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