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Archive for Sunday, January 6, 2013

New House Education Committee chairwoman sees busy session ahead with finance, collective bargaining issues

January 6, 2013

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State Rep. Kasha Kelley has never served on the House Education Committee before. In her first four terms in the Legislature, the Arkansas City Republican has mainly been known as a leading conservative voice on the tax and budget committees.

So it came as something of a surprise when newly elected House Speaker Ray Merrick named Kelley to serve as chairwoman of the education panel in the upcoming session.

“The speaker asked me if I would chair the committee, and beyond that I think you have to ask him,” Kelley said in a recent interview when asked how the appointment came about.

Despite her lack of experience in managing education bills, Kelley said she’s aware of the hefty load of issues that could come up in the 2013 session. Those include fallout from the pending school finance lawsuit and the possibility of revisiting Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to overhaul school finance, as well as a recommendation from the governor’s School Efficiency Task Force to narrow collective bargaining rights for teachers.

“My modus operandi when I get into a new situation is that I try to be all ears for a little while and just listen and understand where people are and what their interests are,” Kelley said.

School finance

Last year, Brownback introduced a plan to dramatically overhaul the formula used to decide how much state aid each school district gets. Among other things, it would have eliminated most of the weighting factors used to send extra money to districts with high poverty rates and large non-English speaking populations. It also would have eliminated the “equalization” aid that subsidizes bond and interest payments for less wealthy districts.

In place of those items, Brownback’s plan would provide a flat, per-pupil funding mechanism that would roughly equal the amount of money schools get currently, and it would have removed the cap on the amount of money districts can raise on their own through local property taxes.

That plan died last year in the Senate Education Committee, which at the time was dominated by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. In the elections that followed in November, however, conservative Republicans took control of the Senate and increased their control in the House, leading to widespread speculation that Brownback’s school finance plan could be revived in the 2013 session.

“I know that there is an interest in looking at the school finance formula, and I suspect that if nothing else we’ll have some hearings on it,” Kelley said. “I will tell you that I personally believe that’s an area that hasn’t been explored enough. And when I say that, I mean that I don’t know if we’re spending too much or too little, and I don’t personally believe that we’ve ever looked into it at a depth that we would actually know.”

One thing that could complicate the discussion on school finance is a court decision on a pending lawsuit that alleges the current funding levels are unconstitutionally low. Trial in that case was held last summer, and a decision from a three-judge panel that heard the case is expected at any time.

Regardless of how the judges rule, most observers say the case is certain to be appealed. But Kelley said she believes the Legislature will still need to grapple with the fallout from the case this session.

“I suspect if we see a replay of 2005, that’ll become a fairly central issue,” Kelley said, referring to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling in a previous school finance case in which the court ordered the Legislature to increase school funding.

“One thing about my personality, and that I absolutely loathe about government, is the kicking (issues) down the road,” Kelley said. “To me, education has always been a political football. And it’s an issue that makes or breaks some people’s elections. And I frankly think that is, I’d almost go to the point of saying, immoral. And I don’t mean to sound sanctimonious about that. At the end of the day, it doesn’t ever seem like (we address) the true goal, which is the best education for our children.”

Teachers unions

Kelley also said she expects the Education Committee to take up a recommendation from the governor’s School Efficiency Task Force to “revise/narrow the Professional Negotiations Act.”

That’s the state law that sets out the rights of teachers unions to engage in collective bargaining for salaries and other working conditions.

In their draft report, approved in December, the task force said: “The current topics (and) categories that are subject to negotiation limit the basic ability for a district superintendent to efficiently manage district resources.”

“I do think it’ll be coming up,” Kelley said. “At the very least I would like to see teachers have a choice of unions. I’m not anti-union at all. I think there are some purposes that they serve. But perhaps being able to broaden what union they choose to be in might be something worth looking at. The hearings will be very important to me on this. And I think will be very important to the education committee.”

The 2013 legislative session begins Monday, Jan. 14.

Comments

texburgh 1 year, 8 months ago

On School Finance: “I will tell you that I personally believe that’s an area that hasn’t been explored enough. And when I say that, I mean that I don’t know if we’re spending too much or too little, and I don’t personally believe that we’ve ever looked into it at a depth that we would actually know.” Actually, you've studied it a ton - the legislature ordered and paid for two studies by Augenblick and Myers; the legislature ordered a study by the Post Audit (their own auditors); the legislature ordered the state department to do a finance survey - all the studies showed the same thing - schools in Kansas are underfunded. And thanks to the legislature and governor, schools are now funded even lower than they were when the studies were conducted. YOU ARE NOT SPENDING ENOUGH.

On teacher collective bargaining: In their draft report, approved in December, the task force said: “The current topics (and) categories that are subject to negotiation limit the basic ability for a district superintendent to efficiently manage district resources.” This was something that was never brought up by anyone during the task force meetings. Someone put this in for ideological reasons. The two superintendents who spoke to the committee were asked about bargaining and could not come up with any problems - one even spoke to how collective bargaining helped the district solve an issue in teacher evaluation and another issues saving the district thousands of dollars.

On teacher unions: "I’m not anti-union at all. I think there are some purposes that they serve. But perhaps being able to broaden what union they choose to be in might be something worth looking at." This shows remarkable ignorance. Kansas is a right to work state - no employee can be compelled to join any union and every employee has the right to join any union they want. As to her first statement, ask any union if Kelley is anti-union and you'll get a resounding "YES." She has shown her anti-union and anti-worker bias consistently while in the legislature.

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William Weissbeck 1 year, 8 months ago

At the very least I would like to see teachers have a choice of unions. I’m not anti-union at all. I think there are some purposes that they serve. But perhaps being able to broaden what union they choose to be in might be something worth looking at. There are only two major teachers unions, so does she propose creating a "new" union? More likely she's talking about removing the mandatory dues deduction, so that teachers "have a choice." Given that teachers in KS can't strike, they have no leverage and never have. Ever been to a school board meeting? In the pecking order of board, superintendent and teachers, who do you think is at the bottom? I'd dare to ask the new chairman to identify even one inefficiency that doesn't translate to an excuse to cut school funding even further.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

"More likely she's talking about removing the mandatory dues deduction,"

Kansas is a right to work state-- is there mandatory dues deduction in any union in Kansas? I don't believe that it's mandatory in the NEA.

Also, which unions do you think teachers should be able to choose from? The firefighters' union? Carpenters' union? Should the AFP create a teachers' union? This is a red herring. She's just trying to deflect from her real intent, which is to weaken teachers' unions to the point of irrelevancy.

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William Weissbeck 1 year, 8 months ago

That's the confusion with RTW laws. It's one thing to say that an employee cannot be forced to join the union as a condition of employment, and to have dues "involuntarily" withheld from his wages, BUT most of the new RTW laws exempt employers from the obligation to withhold dues even from employees who voluntarily agree to have them withheld. The net result is that the unions then have to spend funds to collect dues, and like any bowling league, chase down those few that are willing, but procrastinate. It's simply another way to bleed unions of their funds to run the union and to make campaign contributions to (god help us) Democrats.

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Tracy Rogers 1 year, 8 months ago

Just curious, how common is it for someone who has never served on a committee before to be appointed chairman of that committee?

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Thomas Bryce 1 year, 8 months ago

This is Kansas Politics.Happens here more often than it should. Just look at some of the previous appointments The Brownback Administration has made and then had to back off from.

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FlintHawk 1 year, 8 months ago

Clearly it's her experience in slash and burn that qualifies her to be the education czarina.

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bad_dog 1 year, 8 months ago

With her experience as "...a leading conservative voice on the tax and budget committees..." she should be an ideal candidate for gutting school budgets.

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