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A threat to close schools, a search for $1.6 billion in funding, and a host of other issues await lawmakers as they return to Topeka

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TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers return to the Statehouse Monday from a week-long break to start the second phase of the 2017 session. And thanks to a Kansas Supreme Court decision last week, school funding will immediately go to the top of the agenda.

That won’t be the only issue they deal with. Still left on the table after the first half of the session are issues like Medicaid expansion, guns on campuses, balancing the budget for the rest of this fiscal year, and of course taxes, which is now closely related to the school funding issue.

But it’s likely that school funding will suck a lot of oxygen out of the room for the next several weeks, especially given the court’s implicit threat to close public schools on July 1 unless lawmakers come up with a new funding plan that will meet constitutional muster.

“So if by June 30, 2017, the State has not satisfactorily demonstrated to this court that any K-12 public education financing system the legislature enacts is capable of meeting the adequacy requirements of Article 6, then a lifting of the stay of today's mandate will mean that the state's education financing system is constitutionally invalid and therefore void,” the court said in its latest ruling in the case Gannon vs. Kansas.

Translation: The court will not allow the state to operate an unconstitutional school funding system.

Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, who serves on the House K-12 Education Budget Committee — the panel in charge of crafting a new school funding formula — said that group could begin sifting through the Gannon decision.

Tuesday is currently reserved for a joint meeting between the K-12 Budget Committee and the Senate Education Committee. The plan was to hear from Education Commissioner Randy Watson about a program for managing and maintaining student data, but that plan could easily change.

In its budget proposal submitted last fall, the Kansas State Board of Education offered a glimpse of what it could cost to satisfy the Supreme Court.

That budget proposal was built around the state board’s new “vision” for public schools, called “KansasCan,” which it unveiled in 2015. In many ways, that vision mirrors the so-called Rose standards that the Supreme Court said it will use in judging the adequacy of school funding.

The plan is aimed at making sure all students are ready for college or a career by the time they graduate from high school. To do that, it looks beyond the basic reading and math scores that are often used as the basic measure of whether students are succeeding, and calls on schools to emphasize a number of “soft skills” like citizenship, punctuality, social engagement and generally getting along with others.

The price tag: at least $511 million in additional funding for the 2017-2018 school year; and another $330 million on top of that in the second year.

According to current revenue estimates, however, without revenue increases or spending cuts, the state is already projected to be $755 million short of what is needed to keep up with current spending. If one adds that to the state board’s price tag for adequately funding public schools, it comes to nearly $1.6 billion.

Other issues

Besides school finance, here’s a look at where the Legislature stands on some of the other hottest issues of the session.

Medicaid expansion: On the final day before lawmakers went on break, the Kansas House voted by an 81-44 margin to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would extend coverage to an estimated 181,000 people. That bill now goes to the Senate.

That vote, however, represented a strange cross-current between state and national political trends. Until this year, the Legislature was dominated by conservative Republicans who vehemently opposed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That changed after the November elections, when Kansas voters elected a much more moderate Legislature. Nationally, however, that same election produced President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, all of whom have vowed to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, which could well mean the end of expanded Medicaid.

In his address to a joint session of Congress last week, Trump reiterated that pledge, prompting loud applause from the Republican side of the aisle. But there is great division within the GOP ranks over what, if anything, to replace Obamacare with.

That prompted former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to suggest last week that Congress probably won’t repeal the law after all, but only tweak it in places to make it look more conservative.

For his part, Gov. Sam Brownback remains adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid, but the Feb. 23 vote in the House suggests there could be enough support to override a veto — at least in that chamber — if supporters can round up three more yes votes.

Concealed carry laws: If the Legislature does nothing to stop it this session, a law enacted in 2013 will go into effect requiring most publicly-owned buildings, including college and university campus buildings, to allow people to carry concealed handguns inside.

Both the House and Senate Federal and State Affairs committees have rejected bills that would roll back at least part of those requirements. But opponents of concealed carry believe they have enough votes to pass such a bill through the full chambers. All they need is another gun-related bill to come to the floor so they can add an amendment.

Two such bills are pending in the House committee, and it’s unlikely those bills can be blocked.

One, requested by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, would re-enact what’s called a “reciprocity” rule that would say Kansas will recognize concealed-carry permits issued by other states, as long as those states recognize one from Kansas.

That law was repealed in 2014 when Kansas stopped requiring people to have permits, or even any training, before they could carry concealed weapons. Other states, though, still require permits, and Kansans who want to carry weapons when they travel out-of-state still need to obtain one, and they need Kansas to reinstate its reciprocity law.

The other bill is being requested by law enforcement agencies. It would amend the list of people who are not allowed to possess handguns so it would mirror federal law.

Current year’s budget: Even with a positive revenue report for February, the state is projected to be about $281 million short of what is needed to fund the last four months of the current fiscal year’s budget.

The House passed and sent to the Senate a bill that largely mirrored Brownback’s own proposal, which called for borrowing about $317 million from a state idle funds account and delaying scheduled payments to schools and the state pension system.

Republican leaders in the Senate, however, say they don’t want to use one-time sources of funding, and they are pushing for actual spending cuts this year in order to “structurally” balance the budget. So far, though, they haven’t been able to get most of the rest of the Senate — or even most of the GOP caucus — to go along with that.

Tax plan: The final days before the break were marked by dramatic efforts to push through a bill that would have raised more than $1 billion over the next two years by repealing many of the signature income tax cuts that Brownback championed in 2012.

Brownback vetoed the bill. The House voted to override his veto, but the override effort fell a few votes short in the Senate.

Republican leaders in the Senate, however, said their only objection to the bill was that it raised individual income tax rates retroactively to Jan. 1. Bills have already been introduced in both chambers that are identical to the bill Brownback vetoed, minus the retroactive provision.

Those bills are expected to see quick action after lawmakers return Monday.

Comments

Dave Trabert 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The State Board of Education offered a spending plan based on what it would cost to implement KSDE's 'vision'? That's hilarious. The audio recording of that meeting shows that they plucked the numbers out of thin air without a shred of study. https://kansaspolicy.org/proposed-900-million-k-12-funding-increase-displays-state-boards-disconnection-dysfunction/

Amy Varoli Elliott 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Can you please show a research article that proves your point? Right now it only points to some old man's website which has never been able to get a single article published in a peer review journal. Which I am sure you know is the minimums standard to have research verified as accurate.

Zach Davis 1 month, 3 weeks ago

"plucked the numbers out of thin air" So you are saying they did what you are paid to do Dave?

Theodore Calvin 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Where is your buddy Art Hall when you need him to lend KU's name and false credence to your fairytales?

Steve Jacob 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I think at some point Brownback and the Republicans are going to find out if the Court is bluffing on closing the schools. Curious about that myself.

Shelley Bock 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I do not see the Court as bluffing. I do believe that if the Legislature comes up with a reasonable plan that approaches the decision's mandate within a specific timetable, the Court would see that as progress. But, if Brownback vetoes such a plan, school's out and the stain will be Brownback's.

Greg Cooper 1 month, 3 weeks ago

I'm not. The Court is the only branch of the Kansas governmental system that has shown any semblance of honesty in its dealings with the citizens it serves.

Richard Heckler 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Governor Brownback school choice has been around longer than you have been a corrupt politician.

Bankrupting STATE GOVERNMENTS under ALEC guidelines is following guidelines provided by the Anti American Legislative Exchange Council. Which in effect makes this situation premeditated and calculated. Perhaps criminal.

As a parent I want some influence and direct tax dollar interaction with those educating the children in the community.....my bottom line and I want the BOE to be parents from the community.

If anyone has children they know there are many education opportunities available in the USA. For more than 100 years choices have been available.

For example:

Public schools

Private Schools

Parochial Schools

Waldorf Schools

Home Schools

Art Schools

Dance Schools

Tutors are available

The answer is no to these outsiders wandering around the country looking to to make a buck on the back of my tax dollar NO NO NO.

ALEC sees vouchers as a way to radically privatize the public education system yet wanting the taxpayers to cover their expenses = NO WAY JOSE' !!!

Under the guise of “school choice,” ALEC pushes bills with titles like “Parental Choice Scholarship Act” and the “Education Enterprise Act” that establish private school voucher programs.

BTW Medicare Single Payer Medical Insurance would reduce the cost of education dramatically......it's the obvious choice. Get rid of that middleman aka the medical insurance industry which provides zero healthcare.

Richard Heckler 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Repealing OBAMCARE is the same as throwing republican and democratic voters under the bus!

I say repeal Kan Care ASAP. Medicare Single Payer Insurance is the most obvious choice.

Here are 10 great reasons to support Medicare Single Payer Insurance and Reduce Government Spending BIG TIME. The amount of tax dollars spent on health care as we speak will cover the cost of Medicare Single Payer Insurance for ALL.

Here are 10 great reasons to support the U.S. National Health Insurance Act and Reduce Government Spending BIG TIME.

  1. Everybody In, Nobody Out. Universal means access to health care for everyone, period. Plus it is estimated to create 2.6 million new jobs!

  2. Portability. If you are unemployed, or lose or change jobs, your health coverage stays with you.

  3. Uniform Benefits. No Cadillac plans for the wealthy and Pinto plans for everyone else, with high deductibles, limited services, caps on payments for care, and no protection in the event of a catastrophe. One level of comprehensive care for everyone, regardless of the size of your wallet.

  4. Prevention. By removing financial roadblocks, a universal health system encourages preventive care that lowers an individual's ultimate cost and pain and suffering when problems are neglected and societal cost in the over-utilization of emergency rooms or the spread of communicable diseases.

  5. Choice. Most private insurance restricts your choice of providers and hospitals. Under the U.S. National Health Insurance Act, patients have a choice, and the provider is assured a fair payment.

  6. No Interference with Care. Caregivers and patients regain their autonomy to decide what's best for a patient's health, not what's dictated by the billing department. No denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions or cancellation of policies for "unreported" minor health problems.

  7. Reducing Waste. One third of every private health insurance dollar goes for paperwork and profits, compared to about 3% under Medicare, the federal government’s universal system for senior citizen healthcare.

  8. Cost Savings. A guaranteed health care system can produce the cost savings needed to cover everyone, largely by using existing resources without the waste. Taiwan, shifting from a U.S. private health care model, adopted a similar system in 1995, boosting health coverage from 57% to 97% with little increase in overall health care spending.

  9. Common Sense Budgeting. The public system sets fair reimbursements applied equally to all providers, private and public, while assuring that appropriate health care is delivered, and uses its clout to negotiate volume discounts for prescription drugs and medical equipment.

  10. Public Oversight. The public sets the policies and administers the system, not high priced CEOs meeting in private and making decisions based on their company’s stock

Richard Heckler 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The public school tax dollars are OURS TO SPEND and the public schools are OURS TO OWN AND MAINTAIN.

For the past 15 years the GOP has been cutting public education budgets with reckless results. We now know consecutive years of cutting public education budgets DOES NOT improve public education.

Any change in public education funding should be approved by the voting taxpayers aka the largest group of public education stakeholders in any state. In fact we stakeholders out number legislators by quite a comfortable large margin. Elected officals have demonstrated they cannot manage our tax dollars.

Our school funding dollars and the mechanism by which the money is raised should NEVER be left solely to a group of politicians. The tax dollars are OURS TO SPEND and the public schools are OURS TO OWN AND MAINTAIN.

DO WE THE TAXPAYERS WANT TO GIVE UP OUR SCHOOL BUILDINGS TO FOR PROFIT CORPORATIONS AFTER WE TAXPAYERS HAVE INVESTED SO MUCH MONEY IN THE BUILDINGS AND A FINE PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM? NO!

The Kansas LIBERTARIANS pretending to be republicans should have advised the largest body of public school stakeholders of their intent to eventually defund and dismantle public education. Why is it they didn't? They are dishonest.

The Corporate Take Over of Public Education

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diann-woodard/the-corporate-takeover_b_3397091.html

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/07/14/education-next-corporate-frontier

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dennis-van-roekel/exposing-alecs-agenda-to-_b_3223651.html

Theodore Calvin 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Because it is like any investment outside of financial mechanisms that pay interest on a principal. If you buy a property you must maintain it. If you create a school system, you must maintain it. It's not a one-time fixed cost. For being a "fiscal conservative" and supposedly being the party that understands finance, I see a lot of financial mismanagement. One begins to wonder if it is ineptness, or deceptiveness. I believe I know.

Larry Sturm 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Dismantling of the public school system is corruption from the Koch brothers industry.

Richard Heckler 1 month, 3 weeks ago

So how much money is needed?

This is an interesting question. The Court did not suggest an amount, instead using achievement standards (the Rose Standards as coded into Kansas law, see pg 5) to indicate that a quarter of Kansas school children are not able to read and write at the level they should. The Court left it up to the Legislature to determine how much money it would take to rectify this situation. Estimates range from $500 million to almost $1 billion, depending on who you ask.

And who you ask is important. The ruling is being interpreted very differently by all sides. In fact, everyone seems pleased with the ruling, a sure sign that politics is about to rear its head.

The Governor

If you ask Governor Brownback, he will tell you that he agrees with the Court that some schools are failing their students, and he thinks school vouchers are the solution. They are not. Vouchers take public funds and give them to private or parochial schools to enroll a formerly public school student. These schools are not subject to the same accreditation standards of public schools, do not have to provide special education services, and can reject students if they do not measure up to arbitrary academic standards. They are not available to most rural students, and have a history nationwide of failing both financially and academically. Money given over to voucher schools contributes to underfunding public school systems, resulting in poor outcomes for students in both situations.

His allies

If you ask the Governor's allies in the Legislature, some will parrot the Governor's voucher solution. Others have already begun to claim that the Court's ruling only requires that they fund those failing students, and that money could be shifted from other schools (resulting in panicky head-bobbing in some wealthy districts). But this ignores some of the Court's most compelling arguments in their decision. At one point, they note that since 2010, when Gannon was filed, the state has reduced funding of public education by $511 million! They also cited earlier findings that money makes a difference in student achievement. And they cited witnesses' evidence that cutting teaching positions and freezing pay impacts teaching quality, which is the most important factor for student achievement.

Richard Heckler 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Education advocates

Finally, if you ask education advocates in the Legislature, in educational organizations, and in schools, they will all tell you that chronic underfunding has been the problem for years, and that a fully funded system is what is needed, not a hackneyed, piecemeal band-aid. They note that the original school funding formula, derided by extremists conservatives as "unworkable," was never fully funded, and as such, was never allowed to work. Critics complained that formulas are "too complicated," yet provide only simplistic one-size fits all block grants as alternatives. School funding is a complex problem, and children across the state encounter many different hurdles to achievement, among them long bus rides, unfamiliarity with English, poor nutrition or poverty, learning disabilities, little access to early education, etc. A funding solution must be able to address all of those issues, to ensure an equitable opportunity for all Kansas kids. A complex problem requires a complete, compassionate, fully funded solution.

What will happen next?

In the next weeks, the Kansas Legislature will argue about money. They will argue about where to get it, when they were already three votes shy of recognizing that Brownback's irresponsible tax cuts have left, not only education, but infrastructure, health care, investments, our credit rating, and his own party in shambles. There will be votes to return taxes to modest levels, votes that Kansans have shown they support. There will be votes to take one-time funds and borrow money and perhaps delay repayments, all measures required by the depth of the Brownback Hole we find ourselves in. And there will be grandstanding by a select few who cry "all taxes are theft," while voting for sales taxes impacting the lowest income Kansans.

But as time grows short, we predict that the majority of lawmakers, urged on by their constituents, will come around the table and will work out a solution that meets the Court's criteria: that all Kansas students have the opportunity to succeed, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money they have.

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Richard Heckler 1 month, 3 weeks ago

After the many years of illegally cutting public education funds the state should be coughing up ONE BILLION TAX DOLLARS and be glad that we taxpayers might be willing to accept.

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