Education legislation at Turnaround

Education legislation at Turnaround

The 2020 Kansas Legislature has reached it first major deadline, called “Turnaround,” when most bills are supposed to have been passed by the chamber where they were introduced. 

In three weeks, by March 20, bills are supposed to be out of committees in the second house; and passed by the second house by March 25, leaving just over a week for conference committees to iron out differences and the Legislature to take final action on bills before the end of the regular session on April 3. 

However, their are numerous exempt bills, exempt committees and ways legislation can be introduced or resurrected after these deadlines, and often some of the most important issues are left to the final “veto” session, scheduled to begin Monday, April 27. 

Here is the progress so far on KASB’s priorities and other key education issues. 

Attract and retain qualified, effective educators and support staff 

Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget provides funding for the base state aid per pupil amounts passed by the Legislature and approved by the Kansas Supreme Court in the Gannon case. Those levels are expected to exceed inflation and help most districts restore competitive salaries and benefits. Both the Senate Ways and Means Committee and House K-12 Education Budget Committee have endorsed those amounts. The House Appropriations Committee will take up the Department of Education budget Wed. March 4. 

Those recommendations will be eventually rolled into the supplemental and regular appropriations bills for all state agencies, which will go to the House and Senate floor for debate later in March. 

The House passed a bill to make an early payoff of $286 million in deferred contributions to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, mostly for school employees, as proposed by the governor. That will reduce annual costs by about $25 million, as well as interest payments, while continuing to pay down the unfunded liability of the retirement system. The House rejected the governor’s plan to “reamortize” the KPERS system’s liability over 25 years, which would have reduced annual costs but increased the long-term cost to the state. 

The governor did not approve a request from the State Board of Education to add funding for a dyslexia coordinator to the Kansas Department of Education budget. The Senate Ways and Means Committee added $96,000 for that position. The House committee recommends reviewing this request at the end of the session. 

The House passed a bill to make it faster and easier for military personnel and families and individuals planning to live and work in Kansas to receive professional licenses. One change would direct professional licensing agencies to grant at least temporary licenses to professionals, including teachers, who have “substantially equivalent” licenses from other states. The State Board was neutral on the bill, which was amended to allow additional time for background checks. The Senate Commerce Committee recommended a similar bill, but the Senate did not take up before turnaround. 

Give all students the opportunity to succeed 

Both the House and Senate budget committees have agreed with Kelly’s recommendation to maintain the same level of funding for early childhood education programs 

Under current law, approximately $50 million in “high density” at-risk student weighting will expire this year unless renewed by the Legislature, affecting districts with the highest percentages of low-income students. Also, the Legislative Division of Post Audit released a report saying the State Board of Education was not doing enough to ensure districts were spending at-risk funds on evidence-based programs approved by the Board, as required by current law. The State Board disagreed with that finding, saying it evaluates and approves programs as part of local accountability plans. 

The Senate passed a bill that extends the “sunset” for two years, until 2022, but made no other changes in the at-risk weighting system. The House passed a bill that continues the weighting for five years. It also requires that districts spend at-risk funds only on programs and practices identified in advance by the State Board on a list. It does allow districts to spend funds on “provisional” programs for one year, giving the State Board time to determine whether to place those programs on the approved list. It also adds some additional reporting requirements for districts and requires a new audit in 2023. 

The House K-12 Education Budget also recommended a bill that would allow students scoring below grade level on state assessments in grades three or four to transfer an amount equal to base state aid to be spent on costs of attending an accredited private school in Kansas, or an amount equal to the at-risk weighting be used to provide an evidence-based reading program as requested by the parents. That bill was not considered by the full House before turnaround, but was referred by leadership to the House Appropriations Committee, making it exempt from deadlines. 

The Senate passed a bill requiring the State Department of Education and Department of Children and Families to begin preparing an annual report on educational outcomes of children in foster care. 

Because the school finance formula in the current year (Fiscal Year 2020) and next year (FY 2021) is now estimated to cost less the expected due to lower enrollment, the State Board of Education has recommended the savings, about $39 million, be added to special education funding. The governor did not recommend that change, and the House and Senate budget committees have recommended that funding be considered at the end of the session. 

The House did pass a bill changing the term “emotionally disturbed” to “emotionally disabled.” The Senate passed a bill allowing school districts, interlocals and cooperatives, and higher education institutions to receive disability placards for school vehicles when transporting students with disabilities. 

The House also passed a bill to establish a state grant programs to encourage expansion of broadband services. 

Increase support for student health and safety 

Kelly proposed several changes in the two-year-old pilot program for school-based mental health services currently funded in several districts. The changes would increase funding by $5 million, make the pilot program a competitive grant program and allow participation by providers other than community mental health centers. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has agreed to that recommendation. 

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee is considering an alternative bill that would convert the pilot program into a weighting in the school finance formula, lower the percentage of program costs paid by the state and continue to limit the program to CMHCs. Some legislators are concerned about making the program part of the regular school finance formula; others support more flexibility to partner with other health care providers; and some are concerned that lowering the state match will discourage participation by school districts. A subcommittee has been appointed to develop a recommendation. 

Neither house has passed legislation dealing with concerns over youth vaping. One bill banning electronic cigarettes from schools and other public places under the Indoor Clean Air Act was stricken from the House calendar. A second bill addressing vaping and raising the age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21 to comply with federal law remains on House General Orders and is exempt from deadline. 

Bills dealing with parental consent for certain survey and tests, authorizing schools to maintain emergency medications, requiring legislative approval for childhood immunizations, and to allow placement of cameras on school buses to identify illegal passing all failed to make it out of committee or were stricken from the House calendar after deadline. The Senate Education Committee tabled a bill that would have required school districts to report incidents of bullying. That bill had not been recommended by the State Board’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Bullying. 

Prepare students for postsecondary education and career success 

The Senate passed a bill allowing school districts to pay all or a portion of tuition, fees and transportation costs for students in concurrent or dual enrollment courses with postsecondary education. 

The House passed a bill to create a new state-funded scholarship program for students in technical education or associate degree programs. A similar bill was recommended by the Senate Education Committee. The House also passed a bill limiting liability for employers participating in work-based learning programs with students and requiring school districts to cover such students under student accident insurance. 

Support effective school operations 

The Senate passed a bill that would make significant changes in capital improvement state aid for bond issues. Currently, the percentage of annual bond and interest payments covered by the state is based on the district with the lowest assessed valuation per pupil, which happens to be USD 207 Fort Leavenworth, on a military installation with almost no valuation. The aid percentage decreases for each $1,000 in AVPP increase. Because most districts increase in valuation and AVPP over time – but Fort Leavenworth does not the aid rate for most districts is decreasing and more districts receive no state aid at all. That results in greater disparity in local property taxes required to make up with state aid does not cover. 

The Senate bill simply pegs state aid to the second lowest districts in AVPP. The result is that most districts currently eligible for state aid would receive a higher rate, and more districts would be eligible. However, the bill adjusts the AVPP calculation to remove virtual students, under the theory they do not have the same facilities needs a “brick and mortar” students. As a result, districts with large numbers of virtual students will receive less aid under the bill. 

The bill would apply to future bond issue and those passed after July 1, 2015, which would increase the cost of state aid by an estimated $16 to $20 million. However, a new official fiscal note is not yet available. 

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee passed a similar bill, but it applied only to future bonds and did not adjust for virtual students. It was stricken from the House calendar before floor debate. 

The Senate passed legislature that would impose new public notice requirements for local units wishing to increase property tax revenues above the previous year, and also repeal the tax lid on cites and counties. The bill originally applied to school districts but the committee removed schools after testimony indicating that districts are already subject to state-imposed limits and/or public protest or voting requirements on almost every local funding source. 

The House Judiciary Committee has not taken action on a bill requested by the Kansas Attorney General that would limit the ability of local government to make contingency fee-based contracts for legal service, based on concerns over local lawsuits in areas such as opioids and vaping. After strong opposition from local governments and discussion with various organizations, a less restrictive version was proposed as an amendment, but no action has been taken. A bill similar to the new version was introduced in the Senate, but no hearing has been held. 

Other Issues – Private Education 

In addition to the House bill allowing use of base state aid for private school costs if students score below grade level on state assessments, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee also recommended a bill that would change the current program allowing state income tax credits for contributions used for private school scholarships. The second bill would expand eligibility from free lunch students to those qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, and allow students currently attending, or first-time student eligible to attend, any public school in Kansas. 

Currently, only free lunch-eligible students attending of the 100 public elementary schools ranked as lowest performing by the State Board of Education can quality. This bill would significantly increase the number of students eligible for scholarships but does not change the cap on total funds authorized for the program. Like the reading bill, this bill was not considered by the full House, but was referred to the House Appropriations Committee, making it exempt from deadlines. 

The Senate passed a bill that will allow students in accredited private schools to take the ACT, ACT workkeys test and pre-ACT test at no charge, as currently provide to public school students. Under the state’s contract with ACT, there is no additional cost to the state. 

A complete list of education bills is here.