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 Retirement
The 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 protest
About 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.
The only meetings currently scheduled for Thursday likely to have a possible impact on K-12 education are for the House Appropriations Committee at 9 a.m. and the Senate Ways and Means Committee after the morning session of the Senate.