Legislators returned to Topeka for the 2013 wrap-up session on Wednesday, but there were no public meetings on the most critical unresolved issue: Governor Brownback’s call to extend the state sales tax.The Senate has agreed to keep the special 1 percent sales tax in place to shore up the state budget over the next few years, and also to adopt a new round of income tax cuts over the next five years. The House has voted to let the tax expire as scheduled, resulting in deeper spending cuts and almost no ending balance. The House also supports a less aggressive plan for future tax cuts.
Negotiations have stopped on the state budget bill until the tax issues are addressed. Legislative leaders and the Governor are reportedly searching for a compromise tax plan, but no meetings of the tax conference committee are scheduled.
Working After RetirementThe House Pensions and Benefits Committee meeting on Wednesday devoted most of its time to hearing from KASB and three of its members about the value of the current working-after-retirement provisions for certain school employees under the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. These provisions are scheduled to expire July 1, 2015. Chairman Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, and the working-after-retirement sub-committee chair Jim Kelly, R-Independence, have expressed interest in tackling this issue next session rather waiting until 2015.
Diane Gjerstad, government relations specialist for Wichita USD 259, indicated this provision helps maintain continuity in policy, administrative and instructional practices given all of the temporary workers they use. According to a report released by KPERS, Wichita USD 259 has the greatest number of employees hired under the plan.
Darin Headrick, superintendent of Kiowa County USD 422, focused on how his district uses the provision to hire the best instructors. He cited a math teacher in the district who is very effective working with at-risk students. The teacher also farms, so having a part-time contract is beneficial to him as well.
Tri- County Special Education Director Kevin Shepard told the committee the ability to bring back retired teachers as either teachers or paras in light of the high attrition rate in the special education field is of particular benefit. He also noted, in the highly litigated world of special education, it is imperative to have highly-qualified teachers to effectively work with parents and to mentor newly-hired teachers.
Conferees suggested the current provisions are beneficial for all concerned. Teachers have the freedom to sign contracts that are in their best interest financially and in other ways. Districts are allowed to make decisions on hiring and teaching assignments, and have the ability to negotiate a salary that reflects how the KPERS assessment is divided between the district and employee. By adding an additional amount to the actuarial rate, KPERS not only collects the money a non-retired member would contribute but also an additional amount that may actually improve KPERS’ efforts to reduce its unfunded actuarial liability.
Common Core protestAbout 40 people attended an event featuring legislators and other speakers criticizing the Common Core academic standards. These have been adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education and incorporated into the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. The standards have become the focus of increasing opposition from groups and individuals who would be considered on both the political left and right, nationally and in Kansas.
Earlier this session, after days of hearings and debate, the House Education Committee narrowly voted against a bill that would have blocked the state and school districts from spending any money to implement Common Core standards in Kansas. KASB testified against that bill, stating the Legislature should not attempt to force a complete halt to the standards, but suggested additional legislative oversight of implementation was appropriate. KASB noted that much of the concern over the standards revolves around the assessment that will be used, which has not yet been determined in Kansas.
It is unclear whether an attempt will be made to block the standards in the final days of the session. Leaders have said the House will not debate bills on “general orders,” which means any new legislation would have to be considered in conference committee proposals and these are not supposed to contain material that has not passed at least one chamber. The Senate has not yet held any hearings or considered any bills on the standards.