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Under the Dome - April 4, 2013

Retention bill agreed to in conference
Senate Sub for HB 2140, the bill that began as a mandate to retain any third grader scoring below proficient on the state assessment, has seen a long and tortured history. But last evening, the House Education Budget/Senate Education Conference Committee agreed to a modified version to be put into a conference committee report and sent off to both chambers for consideration.

The changes approved yesterday modify the bill as it came out of the full Senate. The latest amendments clarify language around reading assessments for first graders to remove state assessments and replace them with a "reading assessment selected by the board of education of such school district to be administered to pupils enrolled on [sic] grade one."

By way of explanation, this is the "tortured history:"

HB 2140 was a simple repealer bill dealing with a date for the Midwest Higher Education Compact. It was sent out of the House Education Budget Committee and passed the full House on a vote 122 to 0. From there it was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

In the meantime, the Senate Education Committee had SB 169, the "Read to Succeed Act." This bill mandated that any third grader not scoring proficient on the state reading assessment was to be retained in grade and that non-profit groups would be eligible for grants to provide intervention services.

SB 169 had a hearing in Committee on Feb. 25 and, after a vigorous debate on Feb. 26, the Committee voted the bill down on a vote of six to five.

But have you watched "The Walking Dead?" On March 25, the Committee resurrected SB 169, amended it to ease the mandate by giving parents a voice, and dropped the contents of it into HB 2140, creating Senate Sub for HB 2140. All of the original repealer language was taken out of the bill.

The new bill was debated and amended on the Senate floor on March 26. At that time, it went from being a third grade retention bill to a first grade retention bill. It still contained parent involvement, strengthened the role of the classroom teacher in the decision, allowed for decisions to be made if the parent failed to ask for a meeting with the school, and expanded the grants for intervention programs such that school districts could apply for them. It passed the full Senate on March 27 on a vote of 30 to 10.

The House then non-concurred in the Senate changes to HB 2140 and put the bill in conference. The conference committee debated the merits of the bill and, after amending it further, put it in a report subject to approval by both chambers.

Budget and Tax agreements unlikely by tomorrow
There had once been a plan to have everything handled by Friday, April 5 in order to make the May 8 day a true "veto session." The plan was to have everything done and close it all up with a one day veto session rather than the protracted work sessions that typically take place.

But agreements on both the budget and tax policy have been elusive so far. One of the hang-ups has been the depth of cuts to higher education. Over in tax, there is disagreement on the sales tax and now a recent Senate plan to cut the earned income tax credit for the working poor in order to provide more homestead relief to poor senior citizens. Of course, all of this is being proposed to preserve and expand income tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans.

At this time all indications are that K-12 school funding will remain the same - no increase but no cuts - as was originally proposed in the Governor's budget.

But as the history of the third grade retention bill tells us, nothing is over until it's over!

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