Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday Report: Budgets, Public Lobbying, School Choice, Other Action Monday

                The Kansas House will debate the state budget today, with the Senate following Wednesday.  The Senate has already passed a tax bill that continues the state sales tax at its current rate permanently, as proposed by the Governor.  The House has not yet voted on an alternative plan passed by the House Taxation Committee that lets part of the sales tax expire as scheduled in June, but delays a shift in tax revenue to the state highway fund.  Without additional revenue, reductions in state funding for K-12 education become much more likely.

                Yesterday, the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee proposed new language that would restrict lobbying by public entities, including school districts.  House and Senate Elections Committees may also take up changes in local government elections this week.  The House and Senate Education Committees will continue to debate separate bills to provide state funding to private, religious or charter schools independent of local school boards.

                The pace of committee work is intensifying as the 2013 Legislature approaches a Friday deadline for most bills to be out of committee.  The House and Senate will spend next Monday through Wednesday debating bills on the floor and preparing for conference committee meetings to resolve differences. 

Public Funds for Lobbying

                School boards and other local units of government could face restrictions on how to communicate with legislators under a new bill proposed Monday in the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee.  The committee voted to add an amended version of the SB 109 (prohibiting the use of public funds for lobbying) into HB 2141, but did not take final action on the bill, which means the new language is still subject to change.

                The new language attempts to make a distinction between “lobbying” and employing or contracting for the services of a “lobbyist.”  The new language prohibits any “public entity” from employing or contracting for the services of a lobbyist; paying membership dues or providing other financial support to an association that employs a lobbyist or to an association that has an affiliated organization that employs a lobbyist.  Public entity is defined as a “municipality” which is in turn defined to mean any “county, township, city, school district or other political or taxing subdivision of the state, or any agency, authority, institution or other instrumentality thereof.”

                However, the bill also says that “Nothing in this section shall prevent officers or employees of the state or a municipality or an association representing certain municipalities from directly communicating with the legislature in their official or unofficial capacity.”  This appears to mean that public entities and their associations may “communicate” with Legislators, but may not hire someone who is “required to register as a lobbyist.”  A lobbyists is defined under the state ethics law as “(1) Any person employed in considerable degree for lobbying; (2) any person formally appointed as the primary representative of an organization or other person to lobby in person on state-owned or leased property; or (3) any person who makes expenditures in an aggregate amount of $100 or more, exclusive of personal travel and subsistence expenses, in any calendar year for lobbying.”

                However, there are various exceptions, including “Any state officer or employee engaged in carrying out the duties of their office.”  Lobbying is defined under the ethics law as “(1) Promoting or opposing in any manner action or nonaction by the legislature on any legislative matter or the adoption or nonadoption of any rule and regulation by any state agency; or (2) entertaining any state officer or employee or giving any gift, honorarium or payment to a state officer or employee in an aggregate value of $40 or more within any calendar year, if at any time during such year the person supplying the entertainment, gifts, honoraria or payments has a financial interest in any contract with, or action, proceeding or other matter before the state agency in which such state officer or employee serves, or if such person is the representative of a person having such a financial interest.”

                The new version of the bill removes any criminal sanctions for violations of the proposed law; however, individuals could be liable for violating existing state ethics laws.

                The new proposal does not make clear exactly what actions would be permitted for local units of government in communicating with Legislators.  Limiting the role of lobbyists could place additional duties on school district employees or unpaid local board members to testify and work with Legislators.

                School leaders are strongly urged to communicate concerns about this issue to members of the committee, as well as your local Senators and Representatives.  (Committee members are Senators Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, Chair; Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, Vice Chair, Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth; Garrett Love, R-Montezuma; Greg Smith, R-Overland Park; Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village; Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita; and David Haley, D-Kansas City.)  If a bill comes out of committee, it will go first to the Senate.  Because the new language has been added to a House bill, if passed it could either go directly to the House for a vote to simply concur in Senate amendments, or be sent to a conference committee.

School Board Elections

                In addition to the public lobbying issues, the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee also may take up proposals this week to change how local municipal elections, which include school boards, are conducted.  Both the Senate committee and House Elections Committee are considering some combination of the following:

·         Moving local elections from April of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years (when federal, state and county elections are held);
·         Moving local elections from April of odd-numbered years to November of odd-numbered years (so a general election would each November);
·         Making local election partisan (which would bar federal employees and military personnel from running for local office); and
·         Requiring all local candidates to run for at-large positions within the city or school district, rather allowing local election districts (a change the Secretary of State says would be required if local elections are held with other general election races).
·         Requiring school board members elected in November to take office the second Monday in January following the election, rather than July 1.

                KASB supports the current election system.  If a bill changing the election process is approved by either committee, it will likely be consider by the House and/or Senate early next week, so it is critical school leaders share their concerns about local election issues as soon as possible.

Charter Schools; Private School Tax Credits

                The Senate Education Committee Monday began consideration of SB 196, which would allow the State Board of Education, the State Board of Regents, public or private postsecondary institutions, cities and counties, as well as local school boards, to “authorize” public charter school “operators” to operate schools that would be exempt from most state school laws.  Students enrolled in those schools would generate state funding equal to the base state aid per pupil plus the average per pupil amount of local option budget state aid of the district where the student resides.

                KASB opposes this bill, and stated in testimony it violates the intent of the Kansas constitution, which requires that public schools be “maintained, developed and operated by locally elected boards.”  A similar bill, HB 2320, was defeated by a 9-10 vote in the House Education Committee.  It is possible efforts will be made to add this language as an amendment to a bill on the House floor, or place the Senate bill into a House bill and ask the House to simply concern in the Senate version.

                As a result, school leaders are encouraged to contact both House and Senate members about this bill.  KASB has two overriding concerns:

·         The bill usurps the role of local school boards by authorizing entities that may have no connection or accountability to the community to set up schools that the locally elected board believes would be detrimental to the community as a whole.
·         Existing private schools that do not currently receive state funding could convert to charter schools, which would either require additional funding or reduce funding available for all school districts; or new charter schools could enroll students currently in public school districts, reducing their enrollment and therefore funding.

In addition to this bill, the House Education Committee held a hearing today on HB 2400, which would establish a tax credit for organizations making contributions for scholarships to low income or special education students attending private schools.  KASB opposes the reduction in revenue this bill would authorize at a time when the school finance system is significantly underfunded compared to state law, legislative studies and court orders.

                The House Education Committee is scheduled to begin meeting at Tuesday at 7 a.m. in addition to the regular 1:30 p.m. meeting to consider this bill, and will hold a session at 5 p.m. Wednesday evening to continue committee discussion of common core academic standards.

Budget Push Back

                As noted last week, the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee both approve budget bills that avoid reducing K-12 state aid to school districts.  The Senate has already passed a tax bill, HB 2059, to finance that budget and has scheduled debate on its budget bill (HB 2143)for Wednesday.  The House is scheduled to debate its budget its budget bill (HB 2231) today (Tuesday).

                Because both the House and Senate tax bills raise less revenue than proposed by Governor Brownback to finance his budget recommendations, both budget committees reduced spending in areas outside of K-12 education; including across-the-board cuts to higher education (the state universities , Washburn University and the state’s community and technical colleges).  On Monday, higher education leaders voiced major concerns about these reductions in the House Education Budget Committee.  However, under the “pay-go” rules, adding funding to one part of the budget requires reducing spending in another area.  The largest other area of the budget that has not been reduced is K-12 education.

                The House tax bill, SB 84, would delay for two years transferring 0.4 percent of the state sales tax from the state general fund to the state highway fund.  This plan was offered to allow 0.6 percent of the sales tax to expire as scheduled on June 30 of this year.  The Governor recommended and the Senate tax bill includes keeping the 0.6 percent in place permanently to “stabilize” the budget after major income tax cuts were approved last year.  Today, the Secretary of Transportation warned that the delay in state sales tax transfer to the highway fund will delay major transportation projects.

                It should be noted that the Governor’s budget for K-12 education transfers over $100 million per year from the state highway fund to help pay for school district transportation weighting and special education transportation aid.  The House and Senate budget bills approved that transfer.  The delay in sales tax transfer would further reduce funds available for transportation projects.

                If the House fails to approve either an extension of the sales tax or a delay in the shift to the highway fund, a further round of budget cuts may be required, which could include school district aid.  School leaders should be prepared to communicate with Legislature on both sides the impact budget reductions since 2009 have had on district programs as well as the potential impact of further reductions.

Other Legislative Action Today

                The House sent to final action SB 128, which extends the state postsecondary technical education authority until 2017 and provides additional time for students to complete approved technical certification programs that trigger $1,000 incentive payments to school districts.

                The House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on HB 2373, which requires that children in the custody of Native American tribes must be awarded high school diplomas upon completion of minimum State Board of Education requirements even if they do not complete additional requirements of a local Board of Education.  This legislation amends an existing state law providing a similar requirement for students in foster care.  The committee then amended that provision into SB 111, which establishes a Native American Day at the statehouse, and recommended the bill favorably for passage.

                The Federal and State Affairs committee also completed a hearing on HB 2197, which would make changes in the governance structure of the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

                The Senate Education Committee recommended HB 2109, which extends the second count date for military students until 2017.

                The Senate Education Committee recommended HB 2221, which requires that local boards provide equal access to employees’ physical and electronic mailboxes and staff meetings for professional organizations other than the exclusive bargaining agent for teachers.

                The Senate Education Committee recommended HB 2349, which provides for three annual school district efficiency audits conducted by the Legislative Division of Post Audit.  The committee adopted two amendments.  The first would place a four year “sunset” on the bill, as requested by the Post Audit Division.  The second, proposed by KASB, clarified that a school district would not be required to have an LPA audit if it had undergone a similar audit in the past five years.  (The bill also specifies that districts are to be selected first on the basis of volunteers.)  KASB supports the bill.

                The House Pensions Committee received a briefing on a new “plan design” that would shift new public employees to a pure “defined contribution” retirement plan, rather than the “cash balance” plan approved last session.  The committee also held a hearing on HB 2403, a new proposal for issuing state bonds to finance some of the unfunded liability in the system.

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