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Legislative Report -January 18th, 2019

Dave Heinemann


            A short, but festive week at the state capitol, with the inauguration of Laura Kelly as the 48th Governor of the State of Kansas.  The swearing in of Governor Kelly and her running mate, Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, together with the other statewide elected officials including our new state school board members and appellate judges took place Monday at 11:00 a.m., followed later that evening with the holding of the Inaugural Ball of Kansas at the Kansas Expocentre. 

            The legislature convened the 2019 session at 2:00 p.m. with 125 House members taking the oath of office, 29 for the first time.  The Senate had four (4) new members, all chosen by their respective party precinct committees, to fill vacancies created when three of the senators moved to higher officer:  Vic Miller (Governor Laura Kelly); Mary Ware (Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers) and Eric Rucker (Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt).  The fourth new senator, Kevin Braun, replaced Sen. Steve Fitzgerald who resigned last fall after losing his bid for congress.

            Governor Kelly gave her State of the State speech Wednesday evening to a joint session of the Kansas legislature with the supreme court and new cabinet appointees in attendance where she outlined her legislative blueprint for the years ahead.  It goes without saying that her strong support of education was evident and in stark contrast to what we often heard in recent years.  The following is a key excerpt of what Governor Kelly said after recognizing Braxton Moral, a student at Ulysses High School, who will not only graduate from high school this year, but also graduate from Harvard University:

“Students like Braxton exemplify the transformative power of our public schools.  A place where all Kansas children who strive can reach their potential and overcome any obstacle, no matter where they come from.

But only if we, as elected leaders hold up our end of the bargain.

Unfortunately, throughout Kansas’ decades-long debate over school funding, we’ve fallen into a troubling pattern.  It begins with a promise from elected leaders to fund our schools.  Then a failure to follow through on that promise.

This is going to change this year.  This year, we will end this cycle of litigation and meet the needs of our students and teachers once and for all.

The days of going the bare minimum to fund our schools are over,  It stops now.

Remember, just a few short years ago, schools closed early because they literally could not afford to stay open.  Test scores dropped for the first time in a decade.  Class sizes grew – some with more than 30 kids in a single classroom.

Superintendents and principals struggled to hold their districts together often taking on multiple roles like counselor or bus driver.  Sometimes they even refused to be paid, just to keep their budgets above water.

Teachers fled the state.  And those who stayed received an average salary that ranked 42nd in the nation.

The consequences were tangible and the scars are lasting.  Never again.

We’re going to properly fund our schools this year.  And next year and the year after that.  Every year, every month, every day that I’m governor.

And we’re going to make sure our schools prepare our children for a changing economy.  Modern classrooms with modern technologies.

Because at the end of the day, we need our children to graduate high school or college or technical school so that they can find jobs right here in Kansas.  So they can stay here and raise their families close to home.

When I began work on the state’s budget last month, this was the very first decision I made. 

Budgets reflect our priorities, and my number one priority will always be our public schools.”

            Thursday at a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees the Director of Budget, Larry Campbell, outlined the Governor’s priorities.  The education community was pleased to hear that the Governor’s recommendations did indeed prioritize our schools. The following are several of her key proposals:

  1. Incrementally raise the State Foundation Aid BASE from the current $4,165 for FY 19 to $4,846 for FY 23 with a CPI component for following years.
  2. Add $521.0 million from FY 20 through FY 23 for State Foundation Aid.
  3. End all KDOT transfers beginning in FY 20.
  4. Fully fund the LOB.
  5. Respectfully ask the legislature to enact the plan by February 28th to satisfy the Gannon VI ruling.

The Governor also recommended continued funding for the Mental Health Intervention Team ($8.0 million) and the Juvenile Transition Crisis Center ($300,000) that was initiated last year by the Beloit school district.  $950,000 was added for the Education Super Highway in order to capture $9.5 million in matching federal funds for rural internet broadband initiatives.  The legislature will be looking at how to make broadband quality and access more available throughout the state.

The Governor also called out and thanked Speaker Ryckman and Representative Hineman for the creation of the new House Rural Revitalization Committee that will focus on the challenges facing rural areas, whether it’s roads, broadband, housing or agriculture.  She indicated that Lt. Gov. Rogers and Commerce Secretary Toland are heading up an effort to build an interconnected, strategic plan for rural economic development and that they would help partner with the committee.  Many SQE members already know that our schools, often the major community employer, play a key collaborative role in local economic development.  We intend to follow the work of the Rural Revitalization Committee and report on those issues of mutual interest and possible benefit.

The balance of the week was spent with the usual informational hearings on School Finance 101, KPERS 101, budgeting 101, etc.  While this may seem like needless regurgitation for those who have been around the process for several years, it does serve as a good refresher, but more importantly, it gives new legislators some history and, hopefully, some understanding of the critical issues they will soon vote on.  The staff’s summarization of the Gannon school finance case from Gannon I through Gannon VI was a feat most could not accomplish.  While we again have had legislation introduced to put term limits on our legislators, the truth is that very few have held office for any extended period of time.  Twenty-nine (29) of the 125 House members are new this session.  Two years ago, when the Senate was also up for election with the House, over one-third of the 165 legislators were replaced.  The Gannon case was filed in 2010.  Only 17 of the 125 House members served at that time and ironically they are also the only House members who have had to work with a Governor of the opposite party.  This is a significant dynamic that few of those legislators yet understand but will have to become accustomed to when the second floor poses a veto threat to what the legislature has under consideration.  There is a big difference from the 63 votes required to pass a bill in the House as to the 84 needed to override a Governor’s veto.

The slow, but constant, turnover is why we always stress the importance of getting to know your legislator on a personal basis so that you can provide them factual information about your schools and what effect any proposed legislation will have on your operations.  Never presume that they have all the information, particularly if they do not serve on the key committee that deal with the legislation.  Kudos go to all of the board members and superintendents attending organizational meetings in Topeka this week who took the time to seek out their legislators.  Never miss an opportunity to do this at home.

We also need to take note of at the start of this new biennium of the change in the legislative committees.  The House Speaker is powerful because he has sole control over the appointment of the committee chairs and committee members.  In recent years chairs and members who appeared not to toe the line of the Speaker were unceremoniously removed from their posts.  This was most apparent when Speaker Merrick removed several members from the House Education Committee who would not vote as he liked and several members from the House Health and Human Services Committee who supported Medicaid expansion which he opposed.  Speakers can avoid this by making sure that their first pick to serve is one who is more aligned with their thinking.  Committee chairs also determine what bills emerge from their committee for consideration by the full House.  For example, the Medicaid expansion bill that passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses in 2017 was never debated in 2018 because leadership did not want it to pass.  The chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee kept it from coming to the floor and no bills were allowed to reach the floor that would be subject to a Medicaid floor amendment.

            Two key committees we follow have changed significantly.  The House Education Committee, a seventeen (17) member committee has only five (5) returning members.  For decades the Education committee dealt with virtually all education issues and put together the major school finance legislation.  The 1992 enactment is but one prime example.  We saw a big change in this when several years ago the block grant legislation emanated from the House Appropriations Committee in a matter of days before its speedy enactment.  Two years ago Speaker Ryckman created the K-12 Education Budget Committee to formulate the school finance plan to meet the Gannon mandates.  During its first year under the chairmanship of Larry Campbell, the current budget director, legislation was crafted that provided much of what have in our new formula.  Last year Representative Fred Patton chaired the committee and helped to put together the legislature’s proposal to address the Gannon V concerns which passed all of the equity and adequacy tests, except for the sole remaining COLA issue.  The K-12 Education Budget Committee has also changed.  Only six (6) of its original thirteen (13) members remain and its new chair Kristy Williams is serving her first year on the committee.  

            The schedule for next week is very light with no session on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Then the process should then begin to pick up.  The legislative calendar calls for turnaround (when each house stops hearing its bills and starts to hear bills from the other chamber) to occur on February 28th.  The following are the posted agendas for selected education issues we follow.   Again, I look forward to working with you as we navigate what will no doubt be an historic session.  Please call or e-mail me at any time if I can assist or provide you with any information.  My cell phone is 785-213-9895.


Schedule for the Week of January 22nd - January 25th

(Changes often without advance notice)

Tuesday, January 22nd

            K-12 Education Budget Committee –

                        Informational Briefing:

                                    Education Finance Formula: John Hess, Legislative Research

            Senate Education Committee –

                        Update on: Education by the Numbers


Wednesday, January 23rd

            K-12 Education Budget Committee -

                        Informational Briefing:

Accreditation Process & District Report Cards: Randy Watson, Commissioner of Education     

            House Education Committee –

                        Presentation on:

                                    Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC)

                                    Post Audit Report on Cost of Special Education, Principal Auditor,

                                    Legislative Division of Post Audit, Heidi Zimmerman

            Senate Education Committee –

                        Presentation on: Cost of Special Education Funding – LPA


Thursday, January 24th

            House Education Committee –

                        Presentation on: School Mental Health

            Senate Education Committee –

                        Presentation on:

Mental Health Awareness: KS School Counselor Association, KS School Psychologist Association, KS School Social Worker Association


Friday, January 25th

            No hearings of specific education interest scheduled at this time.