Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tuesday action on education bills; today's agenda

Gun Bill Appears to Exempt Schools

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.

Also Tuesday, the conference committee also agreed on language 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.

Final agreement on weapons legislation, which includes a number of other provisions, will have to be approved by both the House and Senate.

Education Conference Committees Begins

A conference committee made up leaders from the Senate Education Committee and House Education Committee met twice Tuesday, but spent relatively little time on the bills actually passed by both chambers, with relatively technical differences to be resolved in conference.  Instead, the committee spent more time discussing two bill passed by the House that did not receive action in the Senate.  (Under legislative rules, a conference committee can include provisions from other bills that have passed at least one house.)

House Education Committee Chair Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, asked Senators to considering including HB 2222, which would require school districts to add staff and parents to school bullying policies; and HB 2280, which would establish an annual “Celebrate Freedom Week” in September for providing instruction in topics of U.S. government and history.

Although no hearings were held in the Senate Education Committee, KASB supported the original HB 2222, but is concerned that adding parents to bullying policies would be extremely difficult to enforce, because school districts have almost no authority over parents.  KASB was neutral on HB 2280, because the areas of instruction are already contained in state history and government standards and the bill allows local boards to determine a different time for instruction.

Discussion on these bills will continue today.  Also today, a second conference committee on education bills, this one composed of leaders from the Senate Education Committee and House Education Budget Committee, will meet to address a different set of bills:

SB 23 – Extends 20 mill statewide school levy. (KASB supports.)  However, the House committee added an amendment requiring a mandatory 10 percent local option budget to finance higher base state aid per pupil for school finance lawsuit defense, which KASB opposes.  New information from the Kansas State Department of Education indicates the bill as amended would actually reduce funding for schools by about $50 million, which was not the intended effect.

In addition, a House floor amendment broadens allowable uses for capital outlay revenues, but does not take effect until state capital outlay aid is restored.  KASB supports this provision
SB 171 – Requires reporting additional school budget information on district website.  KASB opposed in committee; amendments removed requirements for new reporting of student activities information.

HB 2140 – Substitute bill by Senate Education, containing an amended version of the Governor’s Read to Succeed program; now including first grade retention in some cases and literacy assistance programs.  KASB opposes requirements for mandatory retention if schools are demonstrating improvement; believes amendments have substantially improved the bill.  Here are additional details on the bill, which was not considered by the House.
  • Beginning 2017, certain students may not be promoted from first to second grade if scoring at lowest level on state reading test or alternative test; exceptions for ELL, special education; one year only.
  • Applies only to districts with a percentage of students scoring at the lowest reading level greater than the state average; allows student to take a second test; allows promotion based on proficiency demonstrated through teacher-developed portfolio; parents can require the student be promoted after conference, or upon recommendation of teacher, principal and superintendent if parent fails to respond.
  • Schools must provide early screening, interventions.
  • Grants to school districts or non-profits for reading assistance programs through Children’s Cabinet – “may” collaborate with school districts.
  • Creates a task force to study interventions to improve reading.

Offer on Tax Policy Expected
House members of a conference committee say they will make an offer on a major tax bill today.  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.  Reaching an agreement on tax policy is seen as a prerequisite to an agreement on a two-year budget deal.

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.

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