K-12 issues on the agenda of upcoming legislative meetings

School district issues will be on the agenda of several legislative interim committees meeting in the next two weeks. 

Interim committees are charged with studying issues and making recommendations to the full Legislature between legislative sessions and have members from both the Senate and House of Representatives. “Special committees are appointed by legislative leaders to study issues for a single year; “Joint” committee are created in state law and study certain topics every year. The Legislature also creates various other commissions, task forces and other bodies which may have non-legislators as member. 

Next week begins with a three-day meeting the Special Committee on Kansas Emergency Management Act, Aug. 24-26. KEMA is the state law that among other things gives the governor special powers during a disaster emergency. 

Gov. Laura Kelly’s use of those powers during the COVID-19 pandemic beginning last March led to controversy and amendments to KEMA on the last day of the regular legislative session. The governor vetoed that bill and called a special session that resulted in changes to KEMA, some temporary, that she signed. One change was requiring the State Board of Education to approve any executive order to close schools, resulting in a Board vote that blocked an order to delay all schools from starting until after Labor Day. 

Kelly has also issued an order requiring schools to mandate face masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing and temperature checks. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has issued an opinion that both county commissions and school boards can modify that order under the amended KEMA law; the governor disagrees. 

Education Commissioner Randy Watson is scheduled to speak to the committee at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 25), following a presentation by House K-12 Education Budget Committee Chair Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, at 11 a.m. Other presenters Tuesday and Wednesday include the Attorney General, Adjutant General, Secretary of Health and Environment, State Fire Marshal and representatives of local government, business and medical groups. 

Here is the full agenda, and committee information. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 25-26, the Special Committee on Foster Care Oversight begins a look at that troubled system. It will review the foster cares system and its contractors; the Family First Prevention Services Act; services for foster children with developmental and mental health needs; legal issues and previous studies and recommendations. 

Tuesday afternoon will include a briefing on a new report card on foster care educational outcomes established by Kelly from the Department of Children and Families and Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis. Dennis will also update the committee on school-based mental health pilot services for foster care children. 

Wednesday will include presentations by entities serving individuals involved in or at risk of entering the child welfare system; technology in child welfare system, data collection, and barriers to sharing information; legal representation in foster care and committee discussion. 

Here is the full agenda and committee information. 

Also, the Special Committee on Kansas Mental Health Modernization and Reform meets Thursday and Friday, Aug. 27-28. A full agenda has not been posted, but the summary agenda includes a review of mental health topics and recommendations from previous task forces and special groups; updates from state agencies on new policies related to those recommendations; and round table discussions on mental health. 

For the past two years, the Legislature has funded a school-based mental health pilot program in selected school districts. In the 2020 Legislature, there were competing proposals for the future of that program, but no changes were made before the session ended early. School leaders have cited rising student mental health issues as a major challenge in public education. Here is a link to information about that committee. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 2, the Legislative Post Audit Committee is scheduled to receive a report on an audit of lobbying by public entity and professional association dues, including lobbying by school districts and membership in KASB and other organizations. The committee will also receive an audit on school district bilingual funding and expenditures as part of a series of audits on aspects of school finance. 

Finally, on Thursday, Sept. 3, the Legislative Budget Committee is scheduled to meet to review various state budget matters. 

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