Thursday, March 28, 2013

Legislature Heads to Conference Committee Week

The House and Senate worked late into Tuesday night to finish floor debate on a long list of bills.  The House took emergency final action on its bills last night and adjourned until next Monday.  

The next major step in the process for most bills will be conference committee meetings between House and Senate committee leaders to resolve differences between the versions of the bills passed by the two chambers.  When and if agreements are reached, the conference committee report goes to the House and Senate for up or down votes without amendment.  Adjournment for the regular session is expected one week from Friday, on April 5.  The final wrap-up session will begin May 8.

Bills Passed by the Senate 

HB 2140 – Read to Succeed Program.  The Senate heavily amended the Governor’s reading proposal and passed on final action Wednesday.  KASB believes the amendments substantially improve the bill.  The full text of the amended version of the bill is not yet available, but here is our understanding of the key provisions:

Mandatory Retention in Low-Performing School Districts; Exceptions.  The bill continues to require certain school boards to adopt mandatory retention policies for certain students, effective beginning in school year 2016-2017.  However the bill was amended on a motion by Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, to deal with first grade students, rather than third grade students.  Because the state does not currently provide a state reading assessment in third grade, the “trigger” for possible mandatory retention would be an alternative standardized assessment.  At this point, the bill does not specific how this assessment would be determined.
This requirement continues to be applicable only to school districts that have a higher-than-statewide average percentage of pupils scoring at the lowest achievement standard on the most recent reading state assessment.  These districts must adopt policies to prohibit the promotion of a pupil from grade one to grade two if the pupil scores at the lowest achievement standard on the most recent reading state assessment or an alternative standardized reading assessment.  The policy must provide for a second alternative standardized reading assessment approved by the local school board prior to retaining the pupil.

The board policy may make exceptions to mandatory retention if the district provides additional instruction until the pupil has achieved appropriate grade-level reading skills.  The original exceptions were limited to (1) bilingual students with less than two years’ instruction in the district; (2) special education students whose individualized education plan (IEP) indicates participation in the assessment program is not appropriate; (3) a pupil previously retained for at least one year, and (4) a pupil whose parent requested a meeting to review the decision to retain the pupil and, after the review, the parent determines the pupil should be promoted to fourth grade.

The bill now includes two additional exceptions proposed by Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka: (1) a pupil who has demonstrated through a teacher-developed portfolio that such pupil has achieved the appropriate reading skills for the pupil's grade level, and (2) a pupil who is recommended to be promoted by a teacher and such recommendation is approved by both the principal and the superintendent when a parents fails to request a meeting.

Kansas Reads to Succeed Grant Program.  The bill was also successfully amended by Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, to include school districts, as well as a nonprofit organizations alone or working in collaboration with a school district, to apply for a grant to develop research-based interventions and strategies to assist with acquiring reading skills at the named grade levels and to prevent grade retention; provide training and education on the interventions and strategies to teachers in rural communities; and provide after-school, summer school, and parent education programs using these interventions and strategies.

Kansas Reads to Succeed Task Force.  The amended bill would establish the Kansas Reads to Succeed Task Force to study and recommend interventions and strategies to assist pupils in kindergarten and grades one through three with acquiring reading skills; conduct hearings, receive information and consider recommendations regarding interventions and strategies; and report its work to the Legislature by January 13, 2014.

Kansas Reads to Succeed Incentive Program.  The bill continues to require the Kansas Children’s Cabinet to make a monetary award of $10,000 each to those districts which have at least one elementary school identified as being among the top 100 public elementary schools, based on the demonstration of improvement in reading proficiency.

Because the Reads to Succeed program was placed in a House bill, it will likely be sent to a conference committee next week, although the House had not had any hearings or debate on the issue.  The House could also vote to simply concur in the Senate version of the bill.

HB 2052 – Weapons in Public Building.  The Senate gave final action approval to its version of legislation on concealed carry in public buildings, including schools.  It requires most public building to allow concealed carry of handguns unless the building has specific security measures, such as metal detectors, at all public entrances.  However, also allows a four-year exception for all building, including schools, if the governing body files a security plan with state and local law enforcement.

The Senate rejected an amendment that would have exempted school districts from the public buildings requirement.  That exception is contained the version passed by House in HB 2055.  KASB prefers the House version.  The difference will likely be resolved in a conference committee.

Both House bill and the Senate bill authorize any local school to permit any employee, who is licensed to carry a concealed handgun, to carry a concealed handgun in any school building if the employee meets such institution's own policy requirements regardless of whether such building is conspicuously posted to prohibit concealed handguns.

Other Bills Passed by the Senate.  The Senate passed three bills on final action Tuesday: HB 2156, which repeals an obsolete school finance statute (KASB is neutral), HB 2261, which makes permanent the ability of school districts to transfer certain funds from restricted funds to general educational uses (KASB supports), and HB 2221, which requires “equal access” for different teacher organizations (KASB is neutral).

Bills Passed by the House

HB 2391 – Ancillary Weighting.  The House approved a bill to lengthen the phase-out of funding certain rapidly growing districts are entitled to receive from ancillary weighting, which is financed from a special local property tax.  The current phase-out period is three years.  The original bill provided for a nine-year phase-out; an amendment by Rep. Steve Hubert, R-Valley Center, reduced the length to six years.  KASB was neutral.  This bill has not yet passed the Senate, which has not had hearings on this issue, but it could be added to another bill in a conference committee report.

SB 23 – Statewide levy; Mandatory LOB; Capital Outlay.  The House also approved this bill, which now contains three parts.  The first part, which passed the Senate, extends the statewide 20 mill levy for the maximum two years (KASB supports).  The second part, added in the House Education Budget Committee, amends the state school finance law to require that districts adopt a minimum 10 percent local option budget, which is calculated to finance a higher base budget per pupil.  The mandatory LOB provision does not change any funding levels for districts, but is designed to help the state defend itself in the school finance court case by attempting to count the first 10 percent of the LOB as state funding for a higher base budget per pupil.  KASB opposes this provision, and testified that counting 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.

The House approved a third provision by adopting an amendment by Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Leawood, to broaden the allowable uses of school district capital outlay funds.  However, the new authority would not take effect until the state is funding the capital outlay state aid equalization program that was suspended in 2010.  It is estimated that restoring the capital outlay aid program would require over $25 million.  KASB supports with this provision with the state aid “trigger” included.  The Senate Education Committee considered, but did not pass, a bill to broaden the capital outlay definition without the state aid trigger.  KASB opposed that measure.

SB 171 – School Budget Reporting.  The House approved on emergency final action a bill requiring districts to report additional school budget information on district website.  KASB opposed the original bill, but Senate committee amendments removed requirements for new reporting of student activities information.  KASB is now neutral.

HB 2197 – School Activities Association.  Finally, the House approved this bill making changes to the Kansas State High School Activities Association Governing Boards.  It would establish a board of directors for each league that is a part of the association.  Each school in the league would have two directors appointed by the local board; one district employee, one non-employee.  It also adds four members of the executive board of the KSHSAA appointed by the Governor, one from each of the state’s Congressional districts.  KASB is neutral.  This change is in a House and the Senate has not held hearings or voted on this issue.

What Did NOT Pass Tuesday

HB 2141 – Local Advocacy Reporting.  The Senate adjourned before debating a bill requiring public entities, including school boards, to report money spent to employ or contract for the services of a lobbyist, for an association that employs a lobbyist; or an association that has an affiliated organization that employees a lobbyist.  KASB supports an alternative to legislation prohibiting lobbying by public entities, but is concerned about the reporting requirements.  The current language of the bill makes local units of government (not the lobbyists) responsible for filing reports when they may not know if associations or affiliates engage in lobbying.

SB 22 – Corporate tax credits for private school scholarships.  After failing to be advanced to final action Monday, this bill was not brought up for debate Tuesday and was sent back to the House Education Committee.

In addition, after a day for rumors regarding possible attempts to amend the prohibition on Common Core academic standards, contained in HB 2289, into a bill on the floor, no effort was made.

The House also did not bring up SB 64, concerning changes in school board and other local elections, for floor debate, although it remains on House general orders.

Bills in Conference

At this point, the only measure bills concerning school districts actually in conference committee are the House and Senate budget plans and the competing revenue bills.  Although both budgets contain the Governor’s recommendations for school funding, the House tax bill is projected to result in a very low state general fund ending balance in Fiscal Year 2015.  The Senate tax plan results in a healthier ending balance in FY 2015 because it continues the state sales tax at the current rate.  However, it also includes deeper cuts in state income tax rates in the future.

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