Friday, March 22, 2013

Bills Ready for House, Senate Debate Next Week

The last scheduled day for most committees to act on bills was today (Friday).  The House and Senate will spend Monday through Wednesday debating bills on the floor.  There are now only two weeks left in the regular session.  This Capital Update reports on bills scheduled or available for debate this week, so you can contact your Legislators before they vote.  A report on other action this week will be sent later this weekend.

Two bills are scheduled for debate Monday, March 24, on House General Orders.

SB 22 – Corporate Tax Credits for Scholarships to Private Schools.  This is a substitute bill introduced and recommended by the House Education Committee this week, based on HB 2400.  It creates a state income tax credit for contributions made to organizations that provide scholarship for certain low income or special education students to attend private schools.  The committee attached a two year sunset to bill, which means the program will expire on June 30, 2015, unless Legislature votes again to reauthorize this program.  Here is a brief description of the bill.
  • Scholarships are available to low income (185% of poverty) and special education students.
  • To first qualify, students must reside in Kansas and have been enrolled in public school in the prior year unless under age six.  Students currently attending private schools are not eligible.
  • Corporations (not individuals) receive a tax credit equal to 70% of contributions.  If the tax credit exceeds their tax liability, the unused portion of the credit could carry over.
  • The state total of tax credits authorized could not exceed $10 million per year.
  • Contributions go to “scholarship granting organizations” which must be 501(c)(3) charitable organizations.  They must distribute at least 90% of contributions (Up to 10% could be used for administrative expenses of the organization.)
  • The maximum scholarship that would be awarded is $8,000, which means the state would subsidize 1,250 students at the maximum award if all $10 million is awarded in a year.
  • The SGO could not make scholarships funded by a student’s relative, or accept contribution directed to specific student. (No other apparent limits.)
  • Qualified school: any nonpublic school providing education to elementary and secondary students. (No accreditation, testing or other accountability requirements.)
  • The committee added a declining enrollment provision to cushion the budget reduction for school districts losing students under the program.
KASB is strongly opposed to this bill, and urges school leaders to contact their House members immediately about this proposal, which is scheduled for action Monday.  Here are some concerns:
  • The bill would indirectly fund private schools by diverting state tax dollars through a tax credit.  The effect is no different from directly writing a check to the private school.  Taxpayers should not fund schools that do not have to serve all children or follow public accountability.
  • There are no standards for eligible schools, such as accreditation by the state or independent accrediting organizations; students are not required to be tested so there is no measure of results; schools are not required to report outcomes such as graduation rates or college preparation.
  • Home schools would apparently be eligible, meaning schools could receive scholarship support even if they do not charge tuition or have expenses similar to public or other private schools.
  • SGO’s are apparently free to set other additional restrictions on students receiving scholarships, so funds could be limited to gifted students, athletes, specific ethnic or religious groups.

HB 2391 – Ancillary weighting.  Extends the weighting phase out from three to nine years.  Ancillary weighting is a special weighting for rapidly growing districts that must approved by the state court of tax appeals, and is financed entirely by local property tax.  KASB is neutral.

There are seven additional bills concerns school districts that are available for debate this week, but are not scheduled for general orders on Monday.

SB 64 – School Board Elections.  Recommended Friday as a House substitute bill based on HB 2227.  It moves local municipal elections, including those for school board members, from April to November of odd-numbered years.  Elections would remain non-partisan.  Possible amendments could move the local election date to even-numbered years and require partisan ballots.  KASB opposes all of these changes, and urges school leaders contact their Representatives about this issue.  Key points:
  • KASB adopted a resolution in December that reaffirms a long-standing position supporting the current system of electing board members in April of odd-numbered years.
  • Currently, board members take office with the new budget and school year.  This bill would have board members take office the second Monday in January, in the middle of school year and budget year; and when superintendent evaluations and teacher negotiations are beginning.
  • School governance should not be a partisan issue.
  • Partisan ballots would prohibit many federal employees, including military personnel, from running in local elections.
  • Moving the election to November of even-numbered years with other elections would over-crowd the general election ballot and reduce attention to school board candidates and issues.
  • Moving the election to even-numbered Novembers could also eliminate the option of board representation by election districts.

SB 23 – Statewide Mill Levy and Mandatory LOB.  As passed the Senate, renews the 20 mill statewide school district levy for the maximum two years.  KASB strongly supports: if the statewide levy is not renewed, $575 million will be cut from district general fund budgets.  However, the House Education Budget Committee amended to include a mandatory 10 percent local option budget as provided in HB 2003, also on H General Orders, which KASB opposes.  The mandatory LOB does not change any funding levels; but is designed to help in school finance court case by inflating the base budget per pupil.  KASB believes attempting to count 10 percent of LOB as state funding when LOB aid is not fully equalized probably weakened the court case.  It also makes the school finance system even more complex.

HB 2285 – Definition of machinery and equipment for taxation.  Changes to definition of taxable property to reduce taxes on certain “fixed” equipment.  The bill would reclassify this property as machinery and equipment, rather than real property, and be taxed at a lower rate.  New machinery and equipment is exempt from property tax.  KASB opposes for the following reasons:
  • It reduced total valuation for ad valorum taxation; resulting in less revenue or higher mill levies on other property, with a disproportionate impact on certain areas of the state.
  • Estimated to result $8 million reduction in revenue from the 20 mill levy, or $17 base state aid if not made up by the state.
  • Because the change will cause some districts to have much lower wealth per pupil, it will re-allocate local option budget state aid among districts.  Many districts may have to reduce their local option budgets or raise the LOB mill levy to offset the loss.
  • It will also reduce revenues to district capital outlay funds in certain districts, with no compensating state aid.

SB 171 – Budget reporting.  Requires reporting additional budget information on the district website.  KASB opposed the original bill, but the Senate Education Committee removed requirements for new reporting of student activities information.  KASB is neutral on the bill.

SB 104 – Children's Internet Protection Act.  Requires schools and libraries to adopt a process or use technology to block access to inappropriate material.  KASB believe this already essentially required by the federal e-rate program, and does not object to the bill.

HB 2003 – Mandatory 10 percent local option budget.  KASB opposes (see above, SB 23).

HB 2197 – High School Activities Association Governing Boards.  Recommended Friday by the Federal and State Affairs with amendments not yet available.  KASB was neutral on the original bill.  We will report on the amended version when available.

Three bills are scheduled for debate Monday, March 24, on Senate General Orders.

HB 2158 – School Finance.  Would repeal an obsolete statute regarding the area vocational school fund in the unified school district budget document.  KASB is neutral on this non-controversial bill, but it could be used for various school finance amendments.  School leaders are encouraged to review your school finance formula concerns with Senators and urge them contact you if new amendments are offered.

HB 2261 – Use of Cash Reserves and Contingency Fund.  Makes permanent a district’s authority to transfer certain unexpended balances in restricted funds, and removes the current 10 percent limit on the contingency fund.  KASB supports.

HB 2221 – Equal access for teacher organizations.  Requires districts to provide access to teacher mailboxes and programs for professional organizations other than the exclusive bargain unit, such as Kansas National Education Association.  KASB is neutral.

Here are the other bills available for Senate debate but not scheduled for Monday, March 24:

HB 2140 Read to Succeed.  Substitute bill recommended by the Senate Education Committee after the Governor’s original proposal failed.  KASB opposes in part; believing a new state requirement should not be imposed unless schools are not demonstrating improvement.  Here are the key provisions as we understand them, although the final language of the bill is not available:
  • Applies only to districts with a percentage of students scoring at the lowest reading level that is greater than the state average.
  • Beginning 2017, certain students may not be promoted from third to fourth grade if scoring at lowest level on state reading test or alternative test.
  • Exceptions are provided for ELL and special education students; and a child may be retained for one year only.
  • A student is allowed to take a second test.  If that test is failed, the student may still promoted at the request of the parents following a conference.
  • Schools must provide early screening, interventions.
  • Grants for reading assistance programs will be made through Children’s Cabinet to non-profits organizations that “may” collaborate with school districts.
  • Creates a task force composed of teachers and reading specialists to study and make recommendations on interventions and strategies to improve reading in grades K-3; and report to the Kansas Legislature by January 13, 2014.
KASB believes that if the reading retention is part of the bill, it should only apply to districts which fail to demonstrate improvement on state reading tests, rather than those districts above the state average.  School leaders are encouraged to contact your Senators about the impact of this bill on your district.

HB 2141 – School Board Advocacy.  Require public entities, including school boards, to report to the state money spent to employ or contract for the services of a lobbyist, for an association that employs a lobbyist; or for an association that has an affiliated organization that lobbies.  The bill was recommended this week by the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee as an alternative to legislation prohibiting lobbying by public entities.  KASB supports efforts to develop an alternative that allows public bodies to continue to communicate legislative positions and concerns, but is concerned about some aspects of this bill.  It places the reporting requirement on local units of government that may not know if organizations or their affiliates engage in lobbying.  Under current ethics laws, it is the responsibility of the lobbyists to make reports.

HB 2052 – Concealed carry in public buildings.  This substitute bill was recommended by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee on Friday.  Although the new language is not yet available, it appears to be based on SB 186:
  • Requires most public building to allow concealed carry of handguns unless the building has specific security measures; DOES apply to school districts.  It allows a four-year exception for all building, including schools, if the governing body files a security plan with state and local officials.
  • Authorizes any local school to permit any employee, who is licensed to carry a concealed handgun, to carry a concealed gun in any school building if the employee meets such institution's own policy requirements regardless of whether the building is posted to prohibit concealed handguns.
KASB testified against SB 186 because we prefer the version of this bill passed by House in HB 2055.  The House version exempted schools entirely from the public building security requirements.  KASB believes the provisions concerning school district employees, which are in both the Senate and House version of these bills, does not substantially change current law.  Superintendents now have authority to allow anyone to have a weapon in a school, and may do at the direction of school board policy.

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