After a long day of meetings, House and Senate leaders have negotiated a series of agreements on education bills that will go to the House and Senate for up or down votes without amendment. If either chamber rejects a proposal, a new conference committee can be appointed to continue negotiations. On several bills, it will take a procedural vote called “agree to disagree” because at least one of the three Senators and three House members refuse to sign the report. Subsequent committee reports take only four of the six members to sign an agreement.
Each of these measures could be voted upon by the House and Senate Thursday or Friday at the latest, so contact your Legislators immediately to express any concerns.
Here are the agreements reached Wednesday evening by Senators Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, Tom Arpke, R-Salina and Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka; and Representatives Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, Amanda Grosserode, R-Lenexa, and Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City:
SB 2140 – Read to Succeed Act. The conference committee agreed to several additional amendments to this bill, which now contains the following major provisions:
First, most provisions of the bill apply only to districts with a percentage of students scoring at the lowest reading level on state assessments that is greater than the state average.
Second, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, students in those districts may not be promoted from first to second grade if they score below a certain standard on a reading assessment selected by the district to identify reading comprehension. The State Board of Education will determine acceptable assessments and minimum scoring levels.
Third, there are number of exceptions to this policy, including certain special education and bilingual students. The district must also allow students to take a second test to quality for promotion to second grade; allow promotion based on proficiency demonstrated through teacher-developed portfolios; allow parents to require the student be promoted after a conference, or upon recommendation of teacher, principal and superintendent if parent fails to respond.
Fourth, schools in these districts must provide early screening and interventions.
Fifth, a grant program is established to provide funding to school districts or non-profit organizations through the Kansas Children’s Cabinet for reading assistance programs.
Sixth, the bill creates a task force to study interventions to improve reading.
Seventh, the bill would establish the Kansas Reads to Succeed Incentive Program to make a monetary award of $10,000 each to those districts that have at least one elementary school identified as being among the top 100 public elementary schools, based on the demonstration of improvement in grade four reading proficiency.
SB 23 – Various School Finance Provisions. The conference committee report bundles four previous bills into one. The new bill would do the following:
· It extends the statewide 20 mill levy for two years, which was the original content of SB 23. (KASB supports.)
· It allows expanded use of capital outlay funds going forward, but only if the state certifies that the state aid program for capital outlay is funded at the statutory level. (This funding is not currently contained in either the House or Senate budget proposals.) If the state aid level is certified, capital outlay funds could be used for school district property maintenance, various equipment for academic uses, computer software, and performance uniforms. (KASB supports.)
· It contains the provisions passed by the Senate in SB 171 which would require each school district and the Kansas Department of Education 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 opposed the original bill, which included extensive new reporting requirements, but does not oppose this amended proposal.)
· It 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, as passed in HB 2109. The authorization is set currently to expire at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
· It allows a local school board that has qualified to levy an ad valorem tax for ancillary school facilities weighting for two years to continue to levy the tax for up to six years. The amount of the levy would be reduced to 90.0 percent in the first year of the six-year period; 75.0 percent in the second year; 60.0 percent in the third year; 45.0 percent in the fourth year; 30.0 percent in the fifth year; and 15.0 percent in the sixth year. Current law allows local school boards that have levied an ad valorem tax for ancillary school facilities for two years to continue to levy the tax for up to an additional three years. (KASB is neutral.)
The most controversial aspect of the bill is the ancillary weighting change, which passed the House narrowly as an amendment to SB 23, because it applies only to a small number of districts and provides additional funding through a special property tax. At least one conferee, Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he will not sign the bill because the ancillary weighting is included, which will require an “agree to disagree” to pass both Houses before the conference committee report can be considered. If the report is defeated in either House because of the ancillary weighting provision, conferees could consider removing that portion.
SB 171 – Mandatory10 Percent Local Option Budget. Another controversial proposal was placed in SB 171, after the original contents concerning school budget reporting were removed. The concept was recommended by the House Education Budget Committee in HB 2003, and then amended by the House into SB 23. Senate conferees are cool to the concept, but agreed to put the issue into a stand-alone bill for an up or down vote.
This proposal is mechanically much simpler than earlier versions, but the intent is the same. It would require each district have a local option budget of at least 10 percent, and transfer an amount equal to the 10 percent into the school district general fund as “local effort” to finance a base budget per pupil of $4,264, rather than the current $3,838. Although this will result in a higher base budget, it will not provide any change in the amount of funding any district actually receives. The purpose to provide a higher base amount to help defend the state in the school finance case, and to claim a portion of current “local funding” as “state funding.”
KASB testified as neutral on the original bill, which as introduced appeared to actually provide addition revenue to districts. It was clarified that is not the intent. KASB does not support this version because it simply shifts funding and attempts to claim as state funding local option budget funds when LOB state aid is $90 million underfunded. This report will also require an “agree to disagree.”
HB 2109 – Children’s Internet Protection Act. This subject material was passed by the Senate in SB 104 and would require technology protection measures be implemented and enforced in public school districts and public libraries. The bill would define “technology protection measure” as any computer technology or other process that blocks or filters online access to certain visual depictions. (KASB is neutral.)
The following bills were agreed to earlier in the day by the conference committee composed of Senators Abrams, Arpke and Hensley and Representatives Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City; Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, and Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield:
HB 2349 – School District Efficiency Audits. The bill directs Legislative Post Audit to conduct three efficiency audits per year. The House will move to concur in Senate amendments that added a sunset provision and exempted school districts from having required audits if they have had a similar audit in the past five years. KASB supported the original bill and believes the amendments improved it.
HB 2261 – School District Balances, Bullying Policies and Celebrate Freedom Week. The conference committee report contains provisions from three previous bills.
· As in the original bill, it provides permanent authority for districts to transfer certain unexpended restricted fund balances for general education purposes and removes the 10 percent limit on the contingency fund. KASB supports.
· It requires school districts to include in their bullying policies staff and parents, as passed by the House in HB 2222. KASB supported the original bill but is concerned about the ability of school policies to address parents.
· It establishes Celebrate Freedom Week in Kansas schools annually in September and directs the Kansas State Board of Education to provide for teaching certain topics of American history and government through academic standards during that week as passed by the House in HB 2280. The committee agreed to limit the requirements of the bill to grades K-8, so it does not interfere with the regular schedule of teaching history and government in high school. KASB is neutral.
HB 2319 – Innovative School Districts. The bill allows up to 10 percent of districts in the state to become “innovative school districts” exempted from most state laws in exchange for higher outcomes standards. The conference committee added language specifying districts remain subject to the state open meetings and open records requirements. KASB supports the bill.
The Senate has already concurred on House amendments to SB 128, which expands time students have to complete certification in career technical education program that result in school district incentive payments. As amended by the House, it also extends the expiration date of the Kansas postsecondary technical education authority from 2014 to 2017. The action sends the bill to the Governor.
Gun Bill Appears to Exempt Schools
As reported earlier, the conference committee on HB 2052 reached a tentative agreement Tuesday night on language that would exempt school districts from new requirements for public building security, the position passed by the House of Representatives and supported by KASB.
The agreement would include provisions passed by both the House and Senate allowing school boards to permit employees licensed for concealed carry of handguns to bring such weapons into schools, even if the building is posted to prohibit concealed carry by the general public. KASB believes schools already have similar authority, and was neutral on this provision.
On Wednesday, the Senate adopted a conference committee report for HB 2033, concerning the regulation of knives. This agreement includes a Senate provision specifically allowing school districts, juvenile detention centers and jails to regulate the carrying of knives. The Senate agreed to drop another provision that would have removed a prohibition on “throwing stars.” Senate concerns were based on a reported incident where a student was expelled for bringing an artifact with sharpened edges to school, which caused some Legislators to believe the school district had overreacted. The conference committee directed that a letter of concern be sent to the State Board of Education to be communicated to local boards. The House will likely vote on this report on Thursday.
Tax Talks Stall
Despite progress in reaching agreement on other issues, the Senate and House appear increasingly deadlocked on a tax plan. The Senate and Governor Brownback want to continue the state sales tax rate at its current level to finance the state budget and allow for future income tax rate cuts. The House voted to allow the rate to drop by 0.6 percent as scheduled on June 30, creating a projected budget crunch by Fiscal Year 2015. Leaders of the two tax committees said today they do not expect an agreement by Friday, when the Legislature scheduled to end the regular and not return until May 8 for the final wrap-up session.
Many legislators are concerned about an unexpected drop in state general fund revenues in March, and want to wait on a new official state revenue projection due in April before finalizing tax and budget policies.