Thursday, February 28, 2013

Friday Webinar: Negotiations Bill (HB 2027) Explained; TurnaroundWrap-Up

The KASB weekly advocacy webinar Friday at 12:30 p.m. will focus on an explanation of the background and impact of the new bill concerning board negotiations with teachers, a subject likely to draw significant controversy both at the Statehouse and in local districts. Originally concerning an unrelated subject, HB 2027 was amended and reintroduced as a substitute bill addressing some of the issues previously contained in HB 2085, by the House Commerce Committee. The new bill was recommended by the committee Tuesday, but has been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee, which makes it exempt from deadlines. It is expected to be sent back to the Commerce Committee for a hearing next week.

The new bill contains provisions based on KASB policies and a survey conducted by the Kansas Association of School Superintendents. KASB is preparing a full analysis of the bill that will be sent to Capital Update subscribers and discussed at Friday’s webinar, where we will also respond to questions.

The webinar will also review the status of education legislation as of Friday’s “turnaround” deadline for non-exempt bills to be passed by the first house. Relatively few education bills are moving through the process at this point. Here is a summary of yesterday’s action and today’s schedule.

On House Final Action today:

HB 2349 – School Efficiency Audits. Advanced to final action on a voice vote yesterday, the bill would require the Legislative Division of Post Audit to conduct three school district efficiency audits each fiscal year.

The school districts would be selected for audit by the Legislative Post Audit Committee, on a voluntary basis, at first. One small, one medium, and one large school district would be audited each fiscal year. The audited school districts would publish a summary of its audit report with recommendations on the district’s website as well as making the audit report available, free of charge, at the district office. KASB testified in favor of the bill.

HB 2221 – Equal Access for Teacher Associations. Also advanced on a voice vote, the bill would establish the Equal Access Act for professional employees' organizations. It would modify the Professional Negotiations Act by requiring all local boards of education to (1) Give equal access for all professional employees' associations to the employees' physical or electronic mailboxes; and (2) Allow equal access for all professional employees' associations to attend new teacher or employee school orientations and other meetings.

Local boards of education would not be allowed to designate any day or breaks in a school year by naming or referring to the name of any professional employees' association. The bill would amend the Professional Negotiations Act by making the Equal Access Act supplemental and part of that law. Changes in the Professional Negotiations Act would include expanding the definition of "professional employees' organizations" to include those existing for the purpose of professional development or liability protection. KASB did not take a position on the bill.

On House General Orders Today:

HB 2109 – Military Student Second Count. The bill would authorize a second count of military students on February 20 to determine the number of students enrolled in a school district to continue through the 2017-2018 school year. The authorization is set to expire at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. The bill has been non-controversial. KASB did not take a position on the bill.

HB 2222 – School District Bullying Policies. The bill would amend current law related to school district policies on bullying. Current law defines “bullying” as an intentional gesture or threat creating an intimidating environment for a student or staff member. The bill would clarify the definition of bullying to mean any threat by a student, staff member, or parent toward a student or by any student, staff member, or parent toward a staff member. The bill would define “parent” to include a guardian, custodian, or other person with authority to act on behalf of a child. The bill would define “staff member” to mean any person employed by the school district. The bill would require these changes be reflected in the school districts’ policies and plans to address bullying. KASB testified in favor of the original bill, which dealt only with staff members. KASB is reviewing the legal issues involving the inclusion of parents.

On Senate Final Action today:

SB 128 – Career Technical Education Incentives. The bill would amend the statute creating the Career Technical Education (CTE) Incentive Program. The bill would specify that a student’s accomplishment of obtaining an industry-recognized credential in one of certain specific occupations (a criterion for a school district or community or technical college to receive an incentive award) must be completed prior to graduation from high school or by December 31 immediately following graduation. Currently, the credential must be completed by graduation. KASB is supportive of the concept but did not testify on the bill.

On Senate General Orders today:

SB 171 – School District Accounting and Reporting. The bill would amend the Kansas Uniform Financial Accounting and Reporting Act. The bill would require each school district and the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) to report on their respective websites the budget summary for the current school year, as well as actual expenditures for the immediately preceding two school years showing total net transfers and amounts spent per pupil by specific function, disaggregated to show the per-pupil revenue amounts from local, state, and federal sources. KASB testified in opposition due to provisions in the original bill that added significant new reporting requirements for student activities. Those provisions were removed in committee.

Bills “Below the Line” today:

Several education bill have been recommended by committee and placed on general orders but are not scheduled for debate. These include:

Innovative School Districts. Two very similar bills, SB 176 and HB 2319, would allow up to 10 school districts to be designed as innovative districts and granted exemptions from most state school laws and regulations, in exchange for adopting higher student completion requirements for college and career readiness. KASB supports both bills, which are exempt from Friday’s deadline.

HB 2059 – State Sales and Income Tax Rates. The bill, on Senate General Orders, contains a modified version of the Governor’s plan to extend the state sales tax at the current rate and eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction in order to avoid deep cuts in the state budget. It also provides further cuts in the state income tax in the future. The bill is exempt from deadline. KASB supports state tax policies to maintain funding for education.

HB 2232 – Teacher Liability Insurance. On House General Orders, the bill would require the State Board of Education, within appropriation limits, to purchase liability insurance for Kansas teachers. The bill would require the State Board of Education to coordinate the purchase of liability insurance with each school district in a cost effective and efficient manner. The bill is not currently exempt, and there are questions about the actual cost and impact of the proposal. KASB did not take a position on the bill.

HB 2280 – Celebrate Freedom Week. The bill would designate the week containing September 17 as “Celebrate Freedom Week,” during which public schools would be required to teach the history of the country’s founding, with particular emphasis on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The bill would require religious references in the writings of the founding fathers could not be censored when presented as part of the instruction. The State Board of Education would be responsible for adopting rules and regulations to require history and government curriculum that includes instruction on the meaning and context of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, major wars, and social movements in American history. The State Board of Education, along with other volunteers, would promote “Celebrate Freedom Week.” The bill is not currently exempt. KASB did not take a position on the bill, as most of the elements are already included in state curriculum standards.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Monday Wrap-Up: Innovative Districts, Vouchers, Reading, More

After two "snow days" and a weekend, the Legislature jumped back into action yesterday.  In meetings stretching from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, committees continued hearings and debated bills with this Friday’s “turnaround” deadline looming.  All meetings scheduled for today have been pushed back two hours as snow continues to fall in Topeka.  Here is a committee-by-committee report.

House Education:

Innovative Districts.  At its 7:00 a.m. session, the committee voted to recommend HB 2319 favorably on a voice vote.  The bill would allow up to 10 districts to become “innovative districts” with approval from the State Board of Education by setting higher student completion standards for college and career-readiness.  These districts could then exempt themselves from most state school laws by action of the local board.  KASB supports the bill.  It is opposed by the Kansas National Education Association because it would allow districts to be exempted from certain laws concerning teachers: continuing contracts, due process and professional negotiations.  The committee rejected amendments from Rep Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, which would have struck the provision allowing exemptions from most school laws, and from Rep Nancy Lusk, D-Overland Park, which would have removed exemptions from the three teacher laws.

Special Needs Scholarships (Vouchers).  After extensive debate, a motion to report HB 2263 failed on an unrecorded, but apparently 8-10, vote.  The bill would have established a state scholarship program for students with special education IEPs that would provide state money from school districts to be spent at private schools.  The bill was amended twice, but the discussion generally raised more questions than the one the committee could answer.  KASB strongly opposed the bill, raising concerns about its constitutionality, compliance with federal special education law, and financial impact on school districts.

Although the vote was not recorded, it appeared the committee members voting for the bill were: John Bradford, R-Lansing; Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs; Amanda Grosserode, R-Lenexa; Kelly Meigs, R-Lenexa; Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park; Ron Highland, R-Wamego; Shanti Gandhi, R-Topeka; and Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita.  Apparently voting against the bill were Diana Dierks, R-Salina; Nancy Lusk, D-Overland Park; John Ewy, R-Jetmore; Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, who was appointed to the committee for the day; Sue Boldra, R-Hays; Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis; Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield; Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City; Roderick Houston, R-Wichita; and Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway.  Remember, these are not official votes.  You would have to contact the representatives to ask how they actually voted and why.

Teacher Liability Insurance.  Late in the day, the committee passed HB 2232, which would direct the State Board to arrange for the purchase of liability insurance for teachers.   It was amended to instruct the State Board to coordinate with each unified school district to provide liability insurance.  KASB took no position. 

Celebrate Freedom Week.  Also Monday, the committee held a hearing on HB 2280, which establishes the week that includes September 17 each year as Celebrate Freedom week, and directs the State Board of Education to include the study of certain historic documents in history/government standards.  After a long discussion and a few minor amendments, it passed out on a voice vote.  There were a number of expressions of turning it into a resolution, but the failed at the end.  KASB took no position on the bill.

Senate Education:

Read to Succeed/Grade Retention.  The committee held a hearing on SB 169, which contains Governor Brownback’s three-part reading initiative.  KASB focused on the first part, which would require all districts to adopt a policy, beginning in 2917, that a student who failed to score at the lowest level on the third grade state reading assessment or an alternative assessment approved by the State Board of Education may not be promoted to fourth grade until demonstrating that level of proficiency.  There are various exceptions to this policy, which makes it difficult to estimate how many students might be affected.  In addition, the State Board will be adopting new assessments and performance levels over the two years under the No Child Left Behind waiver.

KASB stressed there is still not enough evidence to determine the long-term benefits or risks of mandatory grade-level retention, and noted the State of Florida, which has the longest record of such a program, ranks well below Kansas student performance, including for various subgroups.  KASB opposed requiring such a policy for all districts, but suggested it be considered an intervention for schools or districts that fail to make progress under the new accountability system.  KASB supported the parts of the bill that provide funding for reading interventions.  The bill also provides for incentive payments to top achieving schools.  Also opposing the bill were the Kansas National Education Association, Kansas City USD 500 and Topeka USD 501. Wichita USD 259 appeared as neutral.

The committee took no action on the bill, but it may be considered today.

Dyslexia Services.  After reviewing several amendments presented by committee Chair Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, to address concerns raised in testimony, no motion was offered to either amend or recommend SB 44.  KASB opposes the bill as introduced as a potentially expensive new mandate that also exceeds the requirements of federal special education law.  Unless action occurs today, that will likely end discussion on the bill this session.

Career Technical Education. The committee approved SB 128 on a voice vote.  The bill would allow CTE students until December following the year they graduate to complete national certification in certain high demand areas that result in $1,000 incentive payments to school districts (and also help pay the cost of assessments in these areas).  KASB did not testify on the bill, but is supportive.

Capital Outlay.  The committee also reviewed several amendments to SB 131, which would expand the allowable use of capital outlay funds, but after several members expressed concerns about the bill it was passed over.  Some of those concerns reflected KASB’s testimony on the bill.  KASB appeared as neutral, offering support for the concept of broader capital outlay uses, but only if capital outlay state aid equalization aid is restored.  KASB stressed the Gannon district court has ruled the entire capital outlay system is unconstitutional without state aid.

School District Financial Reporting.  The committee took up but did not finish discussion of SB 171, which would add several new requirements to financial data districts must report to the state and post on their websites, particularly in the area of student activities.  KASB opposes the bill for imposing additional costs on districts.

This afternoon, the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing and take possible action on SB 172, which would prohibit the use of Carnegie units for graduation requirements.  KASB will testify in support of the concept of moving away from “seat time” based requirements, but propose delaying the effective date to allow a new system to be developed at the state and local level.  The committee could take action on the bill today.

Other bills available for committee consideration today included: SB 103 – redefining at-risk pupil, and SB 176 – creating the coalition of innovative districts act.

House Education Budget Committee

Local Activities Budget.  The committee held a hearing on HB 2248, which would allow districts spending below the statewide average budget per pupil to adopt a mill levy to finance student activities and other programs not required by the state.  The levy would require a public vote for approval and no state equalization aid would be provided.  KASB testified in opposition based on the lack of equalization, but testified in support of a three-part package of increasing base state aid per pupil, the maximum local option budget and LOB equalization aid.  The committee could take action the bill this afternoon.

Mandatory LOB.  The committee then turned to HB 2003, which would require each district to adopt a 10% local option budget (which all districts already have) that would be used to calculate a high base budget per pupil.  The purpose is to aid the state in defending itself in the current school finance lawsuit.  KASB opposed the bill because it proposes to show more state support of education by LOB funding without addressing the underfunding of LOB equalization.  After reviewing a print-out of the bill’s impact on school districts, the committee took no action.

The committee is expected to continue to discuss HB 2003 when it meets today at 5:30 p.m.  Also available for possible action is HB 2215, which restores the threshold for transporting certain non-resident students from 2.5 miles to 10 miles.  KASB supports the bill.

House Taxation:

Machinery and Equipment Tax.  KASB joined a long list of local government representatives in opposing HB 2285, which would reduce taxes on certain commercial equipment or “trade fixtures” currently taxed as real, rather than personal, property.  The bill would reduce the tax base for both the state and local units of government, resulting in either less revenue or higher taxes on other property, mainly residential.  The committee could take action today.

Other Action in the Statehouse:

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to take up the Governor’s budget for the Department of Education today, including school district state aid.  The education subcommittee essentially adopted the Governor’s proposals to keep most K-12 level, with some increase in general state aid this to keep the base at $3,838 and formula increases for KPERS contributions and capital improvement bond and interest aid.
The House voted 120-0 to passed HB 2261, which makes permanent the ability of districts to make transfers from certain restricted funds for general education purposes, and removes any limit on the district contingency fund.  KASB supports, the bill which was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Today: Suitable Finance Debate, Board Elections, Much More

Suitable Finance Senate Debate Today
The Kansas Senate is scheduled to debate SCR 1608 this afternoon.  It would add the following sentence to Kansas Constitution: “The financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power under article 2 of the constitution of the state of Kansas and as such shall be established solely by the legislature.”  KASB opposes the amendment, and testified that the courts should be able to review action of a Legislative majority on school finance to safeguard minority interests.

School leaders are encouraged to contact members of the Senate today.  Normally, the measure would be debated one day and received final action tomorrow, but the calendar indicates the Senate will take emergency final action today.  The constitutional amendment must receive a two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House, and approval by a majority of voters in a statewide election.  The resolution currently specifies the amendment would be submitted to voters in August of 2014, but a special election could be called earlier.

Hearing Friday on Carnegie Units Ban
The Senate Education Committee has scheduled a hearing Friday morning at 10:30 on SB 172.  The bill would prohibit school districts from using Carnegie units, or any other form of measurement based on the number of hours spent with an instructor, in determining whether a pupil has met the requirements for graduation from high school.”

KASB is preparing testimony on the bill and welcomes comments from school leaders.

School Board Election Change Hearing Today
A packed room is expected in the House Elections Committee today for a hearing on HB 2271, which would change school board and other local elections from April of odd-numbered year to November of even-numbered year, along with other state, federal and county elections.  The bill would also require school board elections to be on a partisan basis, and require all board members to run in at-large seats, which would eliminate the option of local board districts.  KASB opposes the bill.

Two Education Bills on Senate Final Action
The Senate is scheduled to take final action today on two measures debated yesterday.  SB 23 would extend the 20 mill statewide mill levy for two years, the maximum period allowed.  KASB supports the bill.  SB 104 would require schools and libraries to put in place “technology protection measures to ensure that no minor has access to visual depictions that are child pornography, harmful to minors or obscene.”  KASB testified as neutral on the bill, indicating that districts are already required to take these steps to receive federal e-rate support.  The bill was amended in committee to give more flexibility to the measures libraries could take to comply.

House to Debate Fund Balances Bill
The House is scheduled debate on general orders HB 2261 this morning.  The bill would allow school districts to continue to transfer unencumbered cash balances from certain funds for general operating expenses.  The maximum amount allowed to be transferred from these funds would not exceed $250 multiplied by the adjusted enrollment of the district each year.  It states the public policy goal is that at least 65 percent of these funds be expended in the classroom or for instruction.  It also would remove any cap on the amount of moneys that could be maintained in the contingency reserve fund. (Current law allows a district to keep up to 10 percent of the district's general fund budget in the contingency fund.)  Finally, the bill would require the superintendent of a school district to report the unencumbered balances in these funds to the local board in June.  KASB supports the bill.

Other Action This Week
KASB will testify in the Senate Education Committee today in support of SB 176, which allows up to 10 districts to be approved by the State Board of Education as “innovative districts” and be exempted from most state laws and regulations; but would have to adopt higher standards of student completion.  It also creates a formal structure for these districts.  KASB supported a similar bill, HB 2319, yesterday in the Senate Education Committee.  Other proponents were representatives of the McPherson and Kansas City school districts, both of which have received waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act.  The Kansas National Education Association opposed the bill because it would remove the application of statutory teacher rights to these districts if the local boards so decided.  The United School Administrators and Kansas Parent Teacher Association were neutral.

KASB will testify in opposition to HB 2320 in House Education today.  This bill would allow the State Board of Education, the State Board of Regents, any public or private postsecondary institution, the governing board of a city or county, or local school board to “authorize” what are defined as public charter schools, which would be exempt from most state school laws.  KASB’s testimony notes that under the Kansas Constitution, only the State Board of Education is allowed to have “general supervision” of public schools, and only local school boards are allowed to “maintain, develop and operate” public schools.  KASB will oppose a similar bill, SB 196, in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow.

Also in the House Education Committee today, KASB will support HB 2349, which would place in statute a requirement that the Legislative Division of Post Audit conduct efficiency audits of three school districts each year, chosen first on a voluntary basis.  KASB supports the measure as long as the final decision on implementing recommendations is left with the local school board.

Tomorrow, KASB will testify on SB 169, the Governor’s “Read to Succeed” program, which requires that, beginning in 2017, most third-graders who fail to receive a minimum score on the state reading assessment or an alternative assessment approved by the State Board be retained at grade level.  The bill also creates a funding system to provide grants to non-profit organizations providing early literacy services.  KASB will recommend that the provision not be imposed statewide, but considered as a state intervention for districts that fail to make improvement targets under the new state accountability system.

Also tomorrow, the House Education Budget Committee holds a hearing on HB 2248, which would allow certain districts to create an extra-curricular activities budget, funded by a local mill levy.  KASB will oppose the bill because it does not provide state equalization aid, but KASB will support increased local option budget authority for districts if tied to increases in the base budget per pupil and local option budget state aid.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

KASB Testimony on Special Education Vouchers

Here is the full text of KASB's Testimony before the House Education Committee on
HB 2263Enacting the school district special needs scholarship program

Presented by Tom Krebs, Governmental Relations Specialist.
Legal analysis by Sarah Loquist, Attorney
February 18, 2013

KASB appears before you today regarding HB 2263, which would create a special needs scholarship program.  We believe such a program would be unconstitutional under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, would sanction discrimination against disabled students, and would not provide accountability for student achievement.  In addition, it would likely cause the state and local school districts to violate IDEA.  Most importantly, however, HB 2263 is simply not good for all Kansas children.  Accordingly, we must oppose the bill.

I.  HB 2263 Would Be Unconstitutional

HB 2263 defines a “participating school” as either a public school outside of the resident district or “any nonpublic school that: (1) Provides education to elementary and secondary students; (2) has notified the department of their intention to participate in the program; and (3) complies with the requirements of the program.”  This very broad definition of eligible nonpublic schools would allow public education funds to be given to private religious schools that wanted to participate in the program.  The Kansas Constitution does not allow religious schools to receive public education funds.

Specifically, Article 6, Section 6 of the Kansas Constitution states, in relevant part, as follows: “No religious sect or sects shall control any part of the public educational funds.”  This crystal clear constitutional mandate simply would not permit the type of special needs scholarship program as HB 2263 seeks to create.

 II. HB 2263 Would Sanction Discrimination against Disabled Students

Under HB 2263, the participating schools would be required to certify that they will not discriminate in admissions on the basis of “race, color, national origin or religion.”  Notably, disability is missing from this list of certifications.

HB 2263 would be applicable to any “eligible student,” which has been defined as any public school elementary or secondary student who has an IEP.  The definition goes on to include a non-exhaustive list of potential disabilities that would be covered.  However, what this bill fails to recognize is that gifted students also have IEPs.

HB 2263 would also require that any eligible student attending a participating school must comply with the student code of conduct.  Furthermore, the participating school would not be required to follow the student’s IEP.  The net effect of these two items is that participating schools would likely accept only the gifted students or those with the least severe disabilities, such as those with learning disabilities.  Those students who are emotionally disturbed (including those with behavior disorders) and those who are more severely disabled and require more specialized (and more expensive) educational services will remain behind in the resident district, which will now have less money to serve them due to the subtraction of these scholarship funds from the state aid the resident district receives.

Furthermore, HB 2263 would provide disparate services for disabled students in that it applies only to students with an IEP.  It would not provide scholarships for disabled students who are provided additional educational supports and accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

HB 2263 also provides that the Kansas State Department of Education would determine the amount of each scholarship on the basis of its review of the student’s IEP.  Unfortunately, it is unclear what relationship the student’s IEP would have on the amount of the scholarship.  Would the State Department of Education be determining whether the IEP is appropriate for students for whom it only has limited information and has never met?  Would students with more severe disabilities receive larger scholarships or vice versa?  Due to the completely subjective nature of this provision, HB 2263 is fraught with the potential for discrimination among the disabled students seeking to obtain the scholarships.

III. HB 2263 Does Not Provide Accountability for Student Achievement

While HB 2263 has included provisions which attempt to provide accountability for state funds received by the participating schools, it does not require that the participating schools have a proven track record of success with student achievement prior to receiving scholarship funds.  Likewise, participating schools will not be required to follow the student’s IEP, and we see no requirement that the participating school provide any specialized educational services for the special education students.  Will these students be expected to meet the academic requirements of the participating school without additional support?  Or, will the resident district be expected to provide special education services at the participating school?  If it is the latter, how can the resident district ensure that appropriate special education services and accommodations are being provided when the participating school has no obligation to follow the IEP?  Moreover, how would the resident district pay for special education services to be provided in the participating school when its state aid is being reduced to pay for the scholarship?

The only accountability for student achievement in this bill is the provision that would allow parents to remove their child and place him or her in another participating school at any time.  The participating school has no accountability to the state regarding student achievement.

However, it does appear that the resident district may be held accountable for the student’s achievement, or lack thereof, while attending the participating school.  HB 2263 provides that the parents may request that the student take state assessments at the resident district.  Will these scores then be counted against the resident district, even though it is no longer responsible for the student’s education?

IV. HB 2263 Would Violate IDEA Regarding Transportation

HB 2263 provides that the resident district shall provide transportation to and from the participating school “in the same manner as the resident school district is required by law to provide transportation of other resident students to nonpublic schools.”  The portion of the sentence set forth in quotation marks is somewhat problematic as school districts are not currently required to provide transportation for resident students to nonpublic schools unless the students live along or gather along an established bus route, as set forth in K.S.A. 72-8306.

            Assuming that the intent of HB 2263 is to require the resident district to provide transportation for the scholarship students to their respective participating schools, the bill would violate the IDEA.  The federal regulations applicable to the states specifically provide that school districts “are not required to provide transportation from the child’s home to the private school.”  34 C.F.R. §300.139(b) (1) (ii).  Rather, school districts are only required to provide transportation as necessary to another site at which services will be provided.

Furthermore, HB 2263 would provide for the resident district to claim state transportation aid for any scholarship students so transported.  It is possible that this provision would run afoul of the IDEA regulations which prohibit federal special education funds from being used to support a private school or the federal regulations requiring that special education funds provided to a state be used to supplement, not supplant, federal, state and local funds.  See 34 C.F.R. §300.141; 34 C.F.R. §300.162.

V. HB 2263 Would Cause Public Schools Who Are Also Participating Schools
To Violate IDEA

HB 2263 states that public schools in another district can be participating schools and further states that admission to the participating school is considered a nonpublic placement for IDEA purposes.  It would be impossible for a public school district to treat the scholarship students as they would be treated in a nonpublic placement.

Public schools are required to comply with procedural and disciplinary safeguards of the IDEA and Section 504.  In addition, public schools are required to comply with state law regarding the suspension and expulsion of students – private schools are not.  Public schools that accepted the scholarship students would be required to comply with the IEP from the resident district, at least until such time as the participating school’s IEP team met to determine whether the IEP needed to be revised.  These are but a few of the many statutory and regulatory requirements with which public schools must comply and with which private schools are not required to follow.  Given the many requirements that public schools must meet, it is unclear how a public school could possibly treat one small subset of special education students differently than all of its other special education students without violating federal and state laws.

VI. HB 2263 Is Not Good For All Kansas Children

While HB 2263 may have some limited benefit for a small subset of special education students, such as the gifted students, it would be detrimental to other Kansas children.  The scholarship would not be available to Section 504 students, at-risk students, or English language learners.  In fact, HB 2263 would serve to take money away from these students by requiring that funds for scholarship recipients would be deducted from the resident district’s state aid.

Likewise, HB 2263 is silent as to what happens if the parents move out of the resident district in which they lived at the time they obtained the scholarship.  HB 2263 provides that the scholarship will continue in effect until the student returns to a public school, graduates from high school, or turns 21.  Will the resident district continue to have this scholarship amount deducted from its state aid even after the parents move to another district?  Will the new resident district ever have a chance to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) to the scholarship student before having the scholarship amount deducted from its state aid?  Does the “return to public school” include attendance at a public school in another district that is considered a “participating school”?  Will the scholarship amount ever be adjusted?  Is there a mechanism by which the resident district would be able to conduct reevaluations that are required by IDEA?  If so, what if the student is no longer eligible for special education?  Does the scholarship still continue?

Even for those students who receive the scholarship, we believe the fact that the participating schools are not required to follow the IEP will have a detrimental impact on the progress those students will make.  We do not believe it is appropriate to conduct such an experiment with the educational outcomes of the student population most in need of educational services.  We fear that students who take advantage of such a scholarship and no longer receive their IEP services and accommodations across their entire school day will soon fall behind in the participating school and, ultimately, will return to the resident district having regressed in areas on the IEP for which they had previously made progress.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today and share our position on this bill. 

Vouchers, Budget, Innovation, Elections and More - Tuesday Update

Special needs scholarship bill heard in House Education

                The House Education Committee received testimony Monday on HB 2263, which would allow students with Individual Education Plans to be withdrawn from their public school, enroll in other public schools or private schools, and take an undetermined amount of money from their sending school with them.  Although the bill laid out two methods to determine the amount, no conferees or staff members attempted to assign a price tag.  KASB testified an opponent based on the position of the KASB Delegate Assembly that public money should not go to private schools and only schools accountable to locally elected school boards should be classified as a public school. 

                Special education administrators also either testified or submitted written testimony.  They included Deb Meyers, Shawnee Mission USD 512 Special Education Director, and Terry Collins, the Kansas Association of Special Education Administrators Legislative Liaison, among others.  United School Administrators and the Kansas National Education Association also testified against the bill. 

                The major proponent of the bill was Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe.  Much of his testimony was based on the success of the scholarship program that operates in Florida.  Much of the KASB oral testimony centered on the fact the nine states that have such laws, including Florida, have lower education outcomes than Kansas and the other top performing states that don’t have such laws.

Senate Education Hears Capital Outlay, Career Tech Bills; Passed Internet Policy

                The Senate Education Committee received testimony Monday on SB 131, which would make relatively minor changes in the authorized use of capital outlay funds.  It was supported by representatives of Blue Valley USD 229 and Shawnee Mission USD 512 who said the bill would provide flexibility that could free up general fund expenditures.  Wichita USD 259 testified against the bill, saying it would create an unfair advance for higher-wealth districts that can raise more revenue per pupil, especially since the state has stopped funding state equalization aid for capital outlay.

                KASB testified as neutral, indicating the association would support the bill if equalization aid was restored but would oppose the bill without state aid.  KASB noted the three-judge panel is the Gannon school finance case has ruled the capital outlay levy unconstitutional without state aid, which means the capital outlay system is in jeopardy for all districts.

                The committee also received testimony from Wichita and the Governor’s office on SB 128, which would allow students to complete a recognized industry credential in high demand areas by December 31 of the year they graduate and provide the $1,000 incentive payment to the school districts.  Under current, the student must complete the program by the time they graduate.

                Finally, the committee voted to recommend SB 104, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, after amending the bill to remove specific reference to using technology measures to limit Internet access in schools and libraries.  The change would allow libraries to use other methods to block inappropriate content, and was offered as a way to reduce the potential cost of implementation.

Governor’s K-12 Budget Advances

                The House Appropriations Committee approved a budget committee report on the Department of Education that leaves intact Governor Brownback’s major recommendations on school funding for current year and the next two fiscal years, FY 2014 and 2015.  That action would add over $20 million in the current year to keep the base budget per pupil at $3,838, and would remain at that level next year.  In FY 2015, a slight increase is projected due to anticipated growth in the statewide mill levy.  Special education and local option budget state aid remain at current levels over all three years, while state contributions for school district employee retirement and state aid for capital improvement bonds will increase according to law.

                The budget also accepts the Governor’s plan to use over $100 million from the state highway fund to help finance school district transportation weighting and special education transportation costs.  The administration has indicated the State Department of Transportation could also help district find more efficient ways to operate bus systems.

                The Appropriations Committee rejected a recommendation from the House Education Budget Committee to use money from the Kansas Universal Service Fund for a position in the Department of Education to assist districts with e-rate applications.  However, it accepted a recommendation to eliminate an income-test requirement for the Parent Education Program that was proposed by the Governor.

                Also Monday, the Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education approved a report that maintained most aspects of the Governor’s budget.  The Senate subcommittee also removed the parent education provision, but approved funding for the KSDE technology position for e-rate.  The committee also added $100,000 from the state general fund to support the state Communities in Schools program, and $35,000 for Agriculture in the Classroom.  Both programs had been recommended by the State Board of Education, but not approved by the Governor.  KASB specifically endorsed the Communities in Schools program for drop-out prevention.

                The Senate subcommittee also requested a study whether school districts could save money on transportation fuel costs through bulk-purchasing with the Kansas Department of Transportation and regional service centers.

More Issues Scheduled This Week

                Innovative Districts.  The House Education Committee today hears testimony on HB 2319, which would allow up to 10 school districts to exempt themselves from most state laws in exchange for higher student completion standards.  An identical bill, SB 176, has a hearing in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.  KASB supports the bill.

                Bullying Policies.  Senate Education holds a hearing on SB 137, requiring district bullying prevention plans to include input from site councils; and posting the plan on the district website and file with the Department of Education.  KASB supports the bill.

                Activities Reporting.  Late yesterday, the Senate Education Committee also announced a hearing today on SB 171, which makes changes to the school district budget reporting law, most specifically requiring additional reports of spending on student activities and student class time lost to activities be posted on district website.

                School Board Elections.  The House Elections Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on HB 2271, which would move all municipal elections, including school boards, to the November general election in even-numbered years; make all elections on a partisan basis, and require all school board members to have at-large positions, rather than the option to have two, three or six board districts.  KASB opposes each of these changes.

                District Efficiency Audits.  The House Education Committee Wednesday has a hearing on HB 2349, which would put in state law a requirement that the Legislative Post Audit Division conduct three efficiency audits of districts of different sizes each year.  KASB supports the bill as long as the final decisions on implementing the recommendations of the audit are left at the local level.

                Read to Succeed.  The Senate Education Committee on Thursday hears testimony on SB 169, the Governor’s “Read to Succeed” bill which generally prohibits promotion third-graders to fourth grade if they cannot read at a minimum level on the state reading test of an alternative approved by the State Board, beginning in 2017.  It also authorizes grants to non-profit organizations to provide early literacy support.  KASB will oppose the provision of the bill creating a mandatory state policy on reading retention.

                Public Charter Schools.  Senate Education will also hear testimony on SB 196 on Thursday, a bill allowing the state board, board of regents, board of any public or private post-secondary institution, city or county or local board of education to authorize  a public charter school.  KASB will oppose the bill.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Vouchers, Audits, Capital Outlay Hearings Today; Innovative Districts and Board Elections Ahead

Bills to provide publicly funded scholarships to private schools for special education students and to broaden the use of capital outlay funds receive hearings today, with other major bills scheduled for hearings later this week.

The House Education Committee holds a hearing today on HB 2263, which would create a system for dissatisfied parents of special education students to take funds provided to their school district to pay for private school education.  The amount of the special needs scholarship under the bill would be based on the cost of providing the child’s individualized education plan in the public school, but the private school would not be required to provide the IEP.  KASB and the Kansas Association of Special Education Administrators are opposing the bill because it violates provisions of federal special education law, allows public funds to be used in schools that discrimination on the basis of disability, and would violate the Kansas Constitution if public education funds go to religious schools.

The committee also is scheduled to hear HB 2349, which would place in state law an annual requirement for the Legislative Post Audit Division to conduct efficiency audits on three districts.  KASB will support the measure as long as districts are chosen on a voluntary basis and local boards are not required to implement audit recommendations they believe are not in the best interest of the district.

A third bill scheduled for a hearing, HB 2232, would require the state to provide liability insurance for teachers.  Teachers are already protected from liability under state law, but many teachers want to purchase insurance coverage.  KASB has not taken a position on this bill.

The Senate Education Committee holds a hearing on SB 131, which would change the definition of acceptable uses for school district capital outlay funds.  The three-judge panel in the Gannon case has ruled the capital outlay system is unconstitutional unless the capital outlay state aid program, which was suspended from funding in 2010, is restored.  KASB will testify as neutral on the bill, and explain KASB can support the bill if equalization aid included, but would oppose it state aid is not provided.

The committee also holds a hearing on SB 128, which would allow districts to receive career technical education incentives payments for students who complete an approved CTE certification by the December following their graduation.  Finally, the committee may take action on SB 44, which would impose new requirements on school districts to provide services to students identified with dyslexia.  KASB opposes that bill as exceeding federal requirements for students with disabilities.

The Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education is finalizing its recommendations for the Department of Education budget, including K-12 state aid programs, this morning.  Also this morning, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the K-12 budget.  That committee has been looking for budget cuts in light of concerns over passing the Governor’s tax plan.

Tomorrow, KASB is scheduled to testify before the House Education Committee in support of HB 2319, which would allow up to 10 school districts to exempt themselves from most state school laws in exchange for stronger standards for student graduation.  A similar bill, SB 176, has a hearing Wednesday in Senate Education.  Also tomorrow, KASB will support SB 137, which requires districts to include input from site councils in adapting bullying prevention plans, and post such plans on their website and file with the State Department of Education.

On Wednesday, the House Elections Committee holds a hearing on HB 2271, which would move all municipal elections, including school boards, to the November general elections in even-numbered years.  It would also make all elections partisan, and it would require that all school board members be elected on an at-large basis, rather than having the option to runs in two, three or six board member districts, as provided by current law.  KASB will oppose the measure.  Local board members are urged to consider testimony on this bill, or contact members of the House Elections Committee with your comments.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The People are King, but Where Do They Rule?

Two days of hearings on a constitutional amendment regarding suitable school finance concluded today.  I testified in opposition on behalf of KASB.  My testimony is below.

Two basic views on the constitution and the role of the courts emerged.  Several Legislators expressed the view that the Legislature, not the courts, should determine funding levels, because Legislators are directly accountable to the people in regular elections.  Senator Forrest Knox expressed the view that in the American system, the people are king, expressing their views through majority votes in elections.  From that perspective, Kansas Courts have overstepped their authority in ordering specific levels of funding, and the constitution should be changed to give the people more control over school funding through their the legislative representatives.

I tried to represent an alternative view.  I agreed the people are king, but noted that the people have placed in their constitution a higher standard for funding education.  The constitution was adopted by the people, and the people have said they expect their representatives to provide "suitable finance" for the educational interests of the state - a higher standard than the expression of a legislative majority. The current constitutional language allows individuals to challenges whether the Legislature is meeting that standard set by the people.

Committee chairman and Senate Vice President Jeff King noted that the people added the provision regarding suitable funding in 1966, and could vote to amend it once again. That is certainly their right.  The question is whether Kansas SHOULD remove a higher standard for educational funding, or whether education funding should continue to be given a special status.  That is the real question for the Senate and House, and if two-thirds of each chamber agree, ultimately for the people.

Testimony before the Senate Committee on Judiciary on SCR 1608 – Suitable Provision for Finance, Kansas Constitution, by Mark Tallman, Associate Executive Director, Kansas Association of School Boards, February 14, 2013
            Thank you for the opportunity to testify on SCR 1608.  We oppose this proposed constitutional amendment because we believe it would weaken our state’s commitment to education as a fundamental right of the people and a fundamental duty of government.  That commitment was placed in the constitution by the people of Kansas at the beginning of statehood.  It was strengthened when the education article was amended by the people in 1966 to read “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

            Since 1966, the Kansas system has worked extremely well.  Measures of educational attainment have steadily increased.  Kansas ranks among the top states in education not just in our region but nationally.  The cost of providing this system has increased at a slower rate than total personal income in the state, which has risen along with educational attainment.

            This proposed constitutional amendment would modify that direction by adding “The financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power under article 2 of the constitution of the state of Kansas and as such shall be established solely by the legislature.”

            If the people intended school finance to be whatever the legislature deemed appropriate, there would have been no need for language directing the legislature to make suitable provision for finance.  The legislature already had that authority.  The purpose of the current article is to provide a higher standard.  A right or duty defined exclusively by a legislative majority is not a constitution right.

            A constitutional right or duty means that citizens can appeal to the courts for relief from legislative action or inaction.  Although the American system is based on majority rule, our state and federal constitutions include many rights that are intended to be above exclusive legislative control, in order to protect both majority and minority rights.

            This amendment would mean children, districts, communities, regions of the state or any other individual or group not represented by the Legislative majority could lose the right to seek relief through the courts if the Legislature fails to provide funding necessary to provide the educational improvement mandated by the section one of the same constitutional article.

            We believe educational rights and duties should be held to a higher standard than whatever a shifting legislative majority deems appropriate, because no function of the state is more important.  We agree with Governor Brownback, who has observed that as the fundamental duty of the federal government is national defense, the core function of state government is education.

            We believe the state can and should find an appropriate way to deal with current constitutional challenge, as it has done in the past.  Therefore, we oppose the passage of SCR 1608. 

Update at the Statehouse

A quick review of Statehouse news:

KASB will be one of the opponents of SCR 1608, which amends the state constitution regarding suitable education finance, in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings at 10:30 this morning. Yesterday, the proponents were Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, and Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute. The committee also received a briefing from the National Conference of State Legislatures, and a report on efforts to amend the New Hampshire constitution.

The House Education Committee receives a briefing today on common core academic standards. Yesterday, the committee held a hearing on HB 2261, which makes flexibility in transfers from certain school district funds that have been authorized over the past two years permanent. The committee also voted to recommend HB 2221, which requires districts to provide equal access to mailboxes and school activities for competing teachers organizations.

The Senate Education Committee will consider action on bills previously heard. This could include SB 103, changing the calculation of at-risk weighting, SB 104, requiring certain policies for internet access in schools, and SB 44, requiring districts to provide additional services to students with dyslexia.

The House Education Budget Committee yesterday approved the K-12 budget essentially as recommended by the Governor, with two exceptions. It added funding for a position to assist schools with e-rate applications; and voted to remove a provision that would require a "means test" for free participation in the Parents as Teachers program. The budget recommendations will go to the House Appropriations Committee Monday morning. That committee has been sifting through all budgets to find reductions in state spending.

That committee held a hearing yesterday on HB 2215, which would move the threshold for transporting certain non-residents students back to 10 miles, after the Legislature dropped the mark to 2.5 miles last session. Today, the committee holds a hearing on HB 2003, which requires districts to adopt a local option budget of at least 10%, which would then be considered as part of funding base state aid per pupil. This proposal, offered over the past two years, was developed to help the state defend itself in school finance litigation.

The second day of the KASB Governmental Relations Seminar concludes today at noon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Governor’s Tax Plan to Senate; New Bills; Hearings Continue

 The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee on voted to send SB 78 to the full Senate this morning with almost no discussion.  The only amendment was successfully offered by Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, to delete a provision eliminating the state income tax deduction for property taxes paid.  That provision was not part of the Governor’s original budget proposal, but added to help defer the cost of additional income tax reductions.  The action does not significantly affect the budget outlook for FY 2014, but it increases the cost of the long-term impact of additional income tax rate reductions contained in the bill.

KASB supports the immediate revenue generators in the bill to help maintain school funding in FY 2014 and 2015.  However, the additional tax reductions are projected to create a new budget shortfall by 2018 unless the state economy grows significantly more than average over the next four years.

New Bill Introductions

With the deadline for bill introductions by individuals and most committees this week, new proposals continue to pop up.  Here is a quick review of bills introduced Friday and Monday.  Some bills will require deeper study to determine the actual impact.

HB 2271 – appears to move school board and other local elections to November of even-numbered years (the same time as state and federal elections), and make local elections partisan.  Other bills would move the elections to November of odd-numbered years.

HB 2266 – appears to move school board elections under the state, rather than local, campaign finance act, and require more reporting of expenditures to influence question submitted elections such as school district bond issues.

HB 2282 – sets up on incentive program for personal financial literacy instruction in schools.

HB 2285 – amends or clarifies the statutory definition of machinery and equipment; could have a major impact on local property tax base.

HB 2289 – prohibits implementation of the common core academic standards.

HB 2290 – requires school districts to hold an election and gain voter approval before joining in school finance litigation.

SB 169 – the Governor’s “Read to Succeed” program, prohibits a student from being promoted to fourth grade if not reading at proficiency on third grade state assessments or an alternative assessment approved by the State Board of Education; also provides funding for certain literacy assistance programs.

Also today:

Hearing in the House Education Committee on HB 2222, which includes staff members in certain requirements of school district bullying policies.

Hearing in the Senate Education Committee on SB 103, which changes the calculation of at-risk funding.

Hearing on K-12 state aid programs in the House Education Budget Committee.

Hearings tomorrow:

Hearing on K-12 state programs begin in the Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education; continue Thursday.

Hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee for proponents on SCR 1608, amending article six of the state constitution regarding suitable educational finance; with opponents on Thursday.

Hearing in the Senate Education Committee on SB 104, Children’s Internet Protection Act.

Hearing in the House Education Committee on HB 2261, allow permanent flexibility for transfers for certain school district fund balances and removing limits on district contingency funds.

Hearing in the House Education Budget Committee on HB 2215, restoring the threshold for certain non-resident student transportation authority from 2.5 miles to 10 miles.

KASB Statement on Funding for At-Risk Programs

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Committee on Education is scheduled to hear testimony on SB 103 – Definition of At-Risk Pupil.  The bill would change the way school districts receive funding for at-risk student programs.  Currently, funding is based on the number of students in the district eligible for free meals.  The districts use those funds to provide services to students who demonstrate a need for additional help, regardless of whether or not they quality for free lunch.

SB 103 would change the criteria for students in grades four and above to the number of students who score below proficient on state reading and math tests.

The following is KASB's prepared testimony on the bill:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on SB 103.  This past December, the Delegate Assembly of the Kansas Association of School Boards overwhelmingly adopted plan called “First in Education, the Kansas Way,” with the goal of making Kansas the top state the nation for college and career-ready students.  One of the specific priorities in that plan is to maintain the current system of using free lunch as the primary factor in determining the level of funding for services to at-risk students.  We also believe other factors should be used to supplement this factor, which means we support the current non-proficient weighting.  We believe that maintaining the “Kansas Way” of serving at-risk students is one of the keys to moving Kansas from number seven to number one in achievement.  Therefore, we oppose SB 103.  Please consider the following reasons why.

Use of free lunch eligibility is an appropriate indicator of at-risk students

There is overwhelming evidence that economic disadvantage is negatively correlated with academic achievement.  Low income students (usually measured by free and reduced price meal eligibility) have lower test scores and graduation rates than their middle and higher income peers.  This is true on state assessments for public school students; on state assessments for participating private schools in Kansas, on the National Assessment of Education Progress for states and private schools, and other state and nation reports for educational attainment, such as graduation and drop-out rates.

There are numerous reasons for this fact, but perhaps the most important is that education levels are strongly associated with income.  Low income students are more likely to have parents with relatively less education, which means they are less able to provide academic help at home and less able to provide a stable environment that meets basic needs.  There are, of course, many examples of low income students who thrive academically and higher income students who struggle.  The current at-risk weighting system uses the number of free lunch students to determine the amount of money a district receives to provide at-risk services.  The district then determines which actual students will receive services, and at what level.

The current system is working effectively meet the needs of at-risk students.

Because the school system cannot compensate for all of the factors that negatively influence a child’s academic performance, an achievement gap for low income students will probably always exist to some degree.  Fortunately, schools under our current system have made progress in helping these students succeed.  State assessment data shows that Kansas has begun to narrow the gap between low-income students and their peers, despite a significant increase in the percentage of Kansas students qualifying for free lunch.

In additional, Kansas is one of the highest achieving states in the nation, despite a higher percentage of low income students than 29 other states, and spending less per pupil than 26 other states.  Kansas ranks especially high in performance of low income students.  On the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress, only six states had higher average fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores than Kansas, and all six spent more pupil than Kansas and had much higher percentages of low income students to serve with those dollars.

Percent of Low Income Students At Basic or Above (2011)
Percent of Low Income Students at Proficient or Above (2011)
Current Spending Per Pupil, 2010
Percent of Students Eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch
New Hampshire
North Dakota

In fact, as we have previously presented to the committee, Kansas ranks seventh overall on four separate measures of educational attainment.  The highest achieving state with a higher percentage of free lunch students than Kansas is Illinois, which ranks 18th in achievement and spends almost $2,000 more per pupil than Kansas.  No other state with as many lower income students does as well as Kansas, especially for the amount of resources provided.  Quite simply, the Kansas system is working effectively and should not be changed unless there is clearly a better system.

SB 103 would create serious problems for the state, school districts and students.

Because SB 103 would shift the basis of at-risk funding at grade four and above from free lunch eligibility to students who are not proficient on state reading and math tests, those districts which have had the most success with low income students would lose the most money.  Last year, it was estimated that this concept would reduce at-risk funding by over $100 million.

That reduction would not occur generally across the school system, but would be taken from at-risk programs which are required to be targeted to at-risk students, regardless of whether the students are low income or not.  In other words, this bill would reduce funding for all at-risk students.

 Because this bill would significantly reduce funding for programs specifically designed to help students reach proficiency, we believe the most likely outcome would be more students failing to reach proficiency.  In that case, the Governor and Legislature would have to increase at-risk funding, quite possibly back to the same levels as before.  Unless the legislature has set aside the “savings” initially achieved by this bill, new money for at-risk funding would have to come from cuts to other education programs, such as base state aid, other areas of state spending, or tax increases.

 Students are often at-risk because of long-term individual, family or social problems.  These problems cannot be fixed with one-time intervention.  The current system gives districts a relatively stable source of revenue to help at-risk students before they take state assessments, and continue to provide support to maintain proficiency.  Under this bill, districts would not receive funding for most students until after they fail the test, and would lose funding once the student passes the test – at least until they next time they fail, when they would again have qualify for funding.

 Finally, remember it is the students who will bear the real impact of this bill: larger classes, loss of special services and less additional time for learning.  We urge the committee to maintain support for a program that is working.