Ann Mah – March 17 Newsletter

Not a lot of action at the Capitol this week, but at least some movement toward closing out 2017. Details below.

School funding update

The House K12 Education Budget committee continued its work on a school funding bill. It is likely they will have a bill to the House floor before the April 7 recess. The Senate began hearings on school funding this week. They are largely getting up to speed on the issues involved, past formulas, how the court order fits in, etc. The Senate committee chairman indicated the Senate might work from the House bill rather than write its own bill, but members of the committee have introduced bills for consideration.

State Board update

The State Board of Education met this week. Some of the highlights were:

Updating standards for teacher programs for physics, chemistry, and foreign language.

Approved a tool for schools to use to look at kindergarten readiness. It is called Ages and Stages. Several area schools piloted the program this year and it has good promise to help schools prepare for incoming kindergartners. The parents actually do the assessment and help the school understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Board approved a model for mentoring first year teachers. We hope to stem the tide of young teachers leaving the profession by giving them more guidance from experienced teachers.

I got word that Topeka 501, Lawrence, and Seaman school districts had received Challenge Awards. These awards are given to schools that make a notable difference in student achievement despite facing significant challenges in their school population. I will let you know when I present these awards and the specific schools and grades involved.

We got an update on progress with the Education Superhighway project. Its goal is to increase internet capacity at our schools to accommodate the increased need and help schools that are behind in that area.

We heard from a group at Leavenworth schools that is using physical activity to improve student success. It is amazing what we are learning about how the brain works and how physical activity can improve neural connections and student learning. Good stuff!

Closing out 2017, and moving on!

The first item of budget business the Legislature needs to address is closing out the 2017 Fiscal Year that ends June 30. There is about a $281 million gap to close. The House passed a bill to fix the problem by using idle funds in the Pooled Money Investment Board, without cuts to state agencies or education.

The Senate passed its 2017 wrap-up bill yesterday. It uses $163 million from the PMIB, delays payments to K12 schools and also delays $150 million in payments to KPERS. Senate President Wagle moved to amend the bill to include $104 million in cuts to state agencies, K12 schools, and higher ed. She wanted to have a higher ending balance going into Fiscal Year 2018.

The debate centered around whether or not schools could absorb that much of a cut in just a couple of months, and the impact on social services (ie, largely in-home care). President Wagle wanted K12 schools to spend down their reserve funds, but not all schools have reserve funds. Also, many funds are by law for specific services, not general spending. Her amendment failed and the bill came out with few amendments.

Now the House and Senate meet to work out their differences and send a bill to the Governor. Both houses are working on bills for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years. The Senate expects to have a bill out next week for debate. Likely, though, nothing will be finalized until after the April break, when new revenue projections come out. Also, they will need to address a tax plan to fit the budget and fix our structural imbalance. More to follow!

Other work this week

Here are some other bills/issues seeing action this week:

  • SB 78 was heard this week. It requires county election officials to give more advance notice when polling places are moved.
  • SB 146 extends the 20 mill levy that goes to fund schools and had a hearing this week. This has to be renewed every two years and provides over $550 million in funding to K12 education. The bill also continues the policy of not taxing the first $20,000 of a home’s value. There was some discussion regarding ending the ability of local governments to give tax abatements to new construction on that 20 mills, but that is not in the bill.
  • There has been some discussion about a flat tax for Kansas income tax. Something in the 4% range. Doubt it will get serious consideration, as it it regressive in nature, hurting low-income and benefiting wealthy Kansans. But we will see.
  • There seems to be at least a chance that Medicaid expansion will pass this session, in spite of the current bill before Congress.
  • There was a hearing on requiring school district employees to move to the high-deductible state plan. This was a recommendation of the efficiency study the legislature bought last year. This would save money by shifting more of the cost of health care to the employees. Don’t think this one is going anywhere. Neither is the one that requires school districts to buy things like food and fuel through the state procurement office. Doesn’t really work with many rural districts where suppliers don’t want to go for small buys. And some large districts already get better prices than the state.
  • A bill is being introduced to prohibit concealed carry in state mental hospitals. Attempts to ban concealed carry in hospitals and universities have failed so far this session. We’ll see what happens with this.