Friday, May 10, 2013

Balances, Bullying, Freedom Week Bill Passes on another Slow Day

On a vote of 119-3, the Kansas House adopted a conference committee report Thursday on HB 2261, extending local board authority to transfer money among certain district funds, adding to school district bullying requirements and designating “Celebrate Freedom Week” each September in Kansas schools.  KASB supported the first issue and was essentially neutral on the other two topics.
The bill had passed the Senate 36-3 on the final day of the regular session in early April, and now goes to Governor Brownback for expected signature.  The only other education conference committee to have passed one chamber is HB 2140, the heavily amended version of the Governor's reading bill. Sources indicate that the conference committee report may not be presented to the House this session.  Although the Senate amended the reading program into an unrelated House bill, the House never held hearings on the proposal and did not debate the bill on the floor.  If no action is taken, the issue will carry over to next session.
Otherwise, the second day of the 2013 “veto” session was uneventful.  The House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees put final touches on budget proposals reflecting amendments recommended by the Governor, but the conference committee on tax policy did not meet.  Until the tax issue is resolved, the budget negotiations between the House and Senate are on hold.  No major meetings have been announced for Friday, and the Legislature is expected to take the weekend off for graduations and Mother's Day.
Here are the details of HB 2261 from the Legislature Research Department:
Celebrate Freedom Week: The week containing September 17 (or any other full school week as determined by the local school board) will be designated "Celebrate Freedom Week." 

1.  Public schools are required to teach to grades kindergarten through eight the history of our country’s founding, with particular emphasis on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 

2.  The bill prohibits censorship of religious references in the writings of the Founding Fathers when presented as part of the instruction.

3. On or before December 31, 2013, the State Board of Education must adopt rules and regulations to require history and government for the designated grade levels. The instruction must include the meaning and context of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the documents' relationship to the nation’s diversity by way of immigration, major wars and social movements in American history. 
4. The State Board of Education would be required to promote “Celebrate Freedom Week," and others would be encouraged to also promote the special observance. 
Fund Flexibility: The bill makes permanent school districts' authority to transfer unencumbered cash balances for general operating expenses.

1. Finds authorized in current law remain unchanged and include at-risk education, bilingual education, contingency reserve, professional development, summer program, one-third of textbook and student materials, one-third of special education, virtual school and vocational education. 

2. Maximum amount allowed to be transferred from the unencumbered funds cannot exceed $250 multiplied by the adjusted enrollment of the district. 

3. Sets a public policy goal for the State of Kansas that at least 65 percent of the aggregate of all unencumbered balances authorized for expenditure will be spent in the classroom or for instruction as defined in KSA 72-64c01. This essentially means classroom teachers, aides and instructional materials.  However, the bill does not require specific expenditures by district.

4. Removes any cap on the amount of monies that could be maintained in the contingency reserve fund. (Current law allows a district to keep up to 10 percent of the district’s general fund budget in a contingency reserve fund.)

5. Requires the superintendent of a school district to report the unencumbered balances in each of the funds named in the bill to the local board of education at the board’s July meeting, and to the State Board of Education by July 15 of each year.
Policies Regarding Bullying: The bill amends current law related to school district policies on bullying, defined as an intentional gesture or threat creating an intimidating environment for a student or staff member. The bill does the fallowing:

1. Clarifies the definition of bullying to mean any threat by a student, staff member or parent toward a student or by any student, staff member, or parent toward a staff member. 

2. "Parent" is defined to include a guardian, custodian, or other person with authority to act on behalf of a child. 

3. “Staff member” is defined to mean any person employed by the school district. 

4. The bill requires these changes to be reflected in the school districts’ policies and plans to address bullying.

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