Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Charter Schools, Tax Credits, Budget and Taxes, Board Advocacy and Elections, Much More

            The Senate Education Committee plans to vote today on significantly broadening authority for operating charter schools in Kansas, and the House Education Committee may vote on a major tax break to fund scholarships for private schools.  The House will take final action on a budget for the next two years, and then debate a tax plan to fund that budget.  The Senate will debate its budget plan, having already passed a tax bill.

             Also today, committees may look at restrictions on lobbying by school districts and other public bodies and changes in local elections.  A hearing is scheduled on repealing the in-state tuition benefits for certain undocumented students.  Several hearings have been scheduled for tomorrow, on common core standards, ancillary weighting changes and new financial reporting requirements.

Charter Schools in Senate Education

                The Senate Education Committee is expected to vote today (Wednesday) on SB 196, which essentially requires the State Board of Education to grant authority to itself, the State Board of Regents, the governing board of any public or private postsecondary institution, the governing body of any city or county, or local boards of education to “authorize” public charter schools.  Such schools would be exempt from most – but not all – state school laws and regulations, and would have their own independent governing boards.  These schools would receive funding equal to the average amount of general state aid per pupil and local option budget state aid per pupil, which would be about $5,700 for each pupil enrolled in these schools.

                Committee Chair Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, offered several amendments to the bill today, and will propose the bill be amended into a House bill in committee, HB 2140.  This action would allow the House bill, if approved by the Senate, to go directly to the House or to a conference committee.  This would by-pass the House Education Committee, which refused to recommend a similar bill, HB 2320.  If the bill is recommended by the Senate Committee its chances of passage are very good.

                The committee will resume discussion on the bill tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.  School leaders are urged to contact the Senate Committee members with concerns, and be prepared to contact all Senators and Representatives if the bill passes out of committee.  Committee members are: Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, Chair; Tom Arpke, R-Salina, Vice Chair; Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain; Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood; Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell; Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha; Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka; Caryn Tyson, R-Parker; Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village; Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka; and Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City.

                KASB’s concerns about the bill focus on these areas:
·         The bill allows entities other than local school boards to operate public charter schools.  Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution states that public schools are to be “maintained, developed and operated by locally elected boards.”  We believe this means the bill is unconstitutional.
·         The bill would potentially allow existing non-public schools to become charter schools and receive state funding.  It is estimated that public schools currently enroll approximately 90% of school-aged children in the state.  If new charter school enrollment was one percent of current public school enrollment, this would equal approximately 4,500 students, times $5,700, which would cost the state an additional $25.6 million.
·         This cost would either require additional state spending or reducing current funding for school district aid to cover the cost of the new program.
·         Charter schools could also enroll students currently attending school districts, which would require additional state funding.  Although these districts would eventually lose funding for students leaving the district, under to the declining enrollment provision in current law, students transferring from public schools to charter schools would also cost the state more money.
·         The bill also provides a tax deduction for contributions to charter schools.  However, as of today there is not an official “fiscal note” on the estimated impact of the bill.

Hearings Thursday: Common Core, Ancillary Weighting and Budget Reports

                The House Education Committee continued it debate on the issue of common core academic standards Tuesday evening.  A hearing has been set for bill prohibiting the implementation of these standards, HB 2289, on Thursday in the committee.

                The House Education Budget Committee will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon on HB 2391, which extends the phase-out of funding for ancillary school facilities weighting, which is funded by local mill levies in a small number of high-growth districts.  A hearing is also scheduled on SB 171, which amends the Kansas uniform financial accounting and reporting act to require districts post certain additional expenditures information on their district website.  KASB is neutral on both of these measures.

Education Scholarship Tax Credit Bill in House Education

                The House Education Committee is expected to vote today on HB 2400, which would allow businesses to receive Kansas income tax credits for contributions to organizations granting scholarships of up to $8,000 for students to attend private schools.  The bill is somewhat unclear whether such students must be either low income or special education, or both.  The maximum credits available are limited to $10 million.  Unlike the charter school bill, these scholarships may only go to students who have been attending public schools, or are beginning school for the first time.  As a result, the lost revenue to the state would be somewhat offset by the eventual reduction in public school enrollment and therefore funding.

                For example, the fiscal note states “if the program has a 50%utilization rate for the tax credit, approximately $5.0 million would be generated for scholarships, with 625 students receiving scholarships ($5.0 million / $8,000 maximum scholarship = 625 students).  If all 625 students were previously attending public schools and would be attending non-public schools with the scholarship program, local school districts would experience a reduction of FTE students to be counted in the school finance formula.  However, this reduction would not occur for approximately three years after the program begins, or the 2015-2016 school year, as school districts are allowed to utilize the higher of the actual FTE student count, or a three-year average, whichever is greater.

                “Using the current base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) funding of $3,838 for the 2012-2013 school year, this would amount to a reduction of state aid totaling at least $2,398,750 ($3,838 BSAPP X 625 students = $2,398,750).  The actual reduction of state funding would likely be higher, as each student who would receive a scholarship under this program would likely qualify for additional weightings under the current school finance formula.”

                As a result, the long-term impact of this program would likely be a modest reduction in student enrollment, and in funding for the districts affected.

                The contents of HB 2400, if approved by a majority of the committee, could be placed in a Senate bill.  Therefore, school leaders are also encouraged to share concerns about this bill with their Senators and Representatives.

House Advances Budget; Tax Debate Today

                The House today advanced to final action HB 2231, its budget bill for the next two years and adjustments for the current year.  School district funding was not amended, which keeps major state aid programs at the levels proposed by Governor Brownback, essentially providing level funding for the current school year through the 2014-15 school year.  Tomorrow, the House debates its budget bill, substitute for SB 84.  Without passage of a revenue bill, the House budget would face a deficit in FY 2015 and require further spending cuts.

                The key difference between the House tax bill and the plan already passed by the Senate in HB 2059 is that the House plan allows 0.6 percent of the state sales tax rate to expire this June 30 as scheduled under current law, but keep 0.4% of the sales tax in the state general fund for two additional years.  The Senate plan keeps the 0.6% in place permanently, but allows the 0.4% to go to the highway fund beginning in on June 30.

                The House is also scheduled to debate HB 2047, which requires local governments units, including school districts, to take a special vote before spending additional property tax revenue received due to higher valuations.  KASB opposes that measure, but would encourage support for amendment that will be proposed on behalf of the Kansas Association of Counties and League of Municipalities.

                The Senate debates its budget bill, substitute HB 2143, this afternoon (Wednesday).

Lobbying, Elections and Guns

                The Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee met Tuesday but had no discussion on either restrictions on public entities employing lobbyists or changes in local election procedures.  The committee is scheduled to meet at 9:30 today and could take up either of these issues, which were reported in detail yesterday.  The House Elections Committee meets today at 1:30, and may also take up local election changes.

                The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee is scheduled to meet at 10:30 for hearings an possible action on bills previously heard, which includes bills concerns weapons in schools and other public building.  A staff briefing on gun legislation is scheduled for Thursday, so action is more likely at that time.  As KASB has previously noted, HB 2055, which was referred to this committee, exempts school districts from new requirements that most public buildings either allowed concealed carry of weapons by licensed individuals or provide specific security measures at all public entrances.  SB 186, which had a hearing in the committee last week, does not exempt school districts, but provide all public building with the option of a four-year exemption of the governing board adopts and files a security plan.  Both bills allow, but do not require, school boards to permit employees who are licensed for concealed carry to bring weapons into schools even if the public is not allowed to carry weapons.

                Between the two bills, KASB supports the House version, which leaves security issues up to the local school board (although the Senate bill allows a four-year exemption for schools).  KASB is neutral on the issue of allowing school employees to carry weapons, which KASB legal staff believe is already allowed under current law.

In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students

                The House Federal and State Affairs Committee holds a hearing today (Wednesday) on HB 2192, which would repeal the in-state tuition benefit for certain undocumented students attending Kansas colleges.  KASB will testify against the bill.  KASB’s position is that the in-state benefit provides an incentive for undocumented students to stay in school and prepare for postsecondary education.  School districts are accountable for graduation and performance levels of these students.

Paycheck Deduction Bill to Governor

                The House voted 68-54 to concur in Senate amendments to HB 2022, which includes the ban on teacher organizations using payroll deductions for political action committees that originally passed the House in HB 2023.  The amended bill also includes provisions allowing employers to withhold a portion of employee salaries in certain circumstances.  The bill now goes to the Governor.

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