- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Iola Register, April 7

Teachers are sacrificial lambs in school finance:

It took less than an hour Sunday night for state representatives to agree to meet the minimum requirement to fund schools and in the process strip the rights of those who work there.

Kansas has eliminated tenure - the system that protects teachers, school counselors and librarians from being fired without a hearing - in order to agree to fund K-12 schools.

What do the two have in common?

Absolutely nothing.

So how did that help the Senate and House bridge their differences?

Because the ultra-conservative majority is pressing on the jugular of moderate Republicans and Democrats that unless teachers unions are emasculated, they will not come to the table to discuss a budget package.

Unions are in the bull’s eye of ultra-conservatives and especially those beholden to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity, whose goals are to privatize education. That’s right. Private companies would run our schools. Think of it as pay-go for education. You pay, you can go to school.

Ultra-conservatives defend the elimination of tenure, saying other employees don’t enjoy such privileges.

With tenure, teachers with three years under their belts facing dismissal can challenge the decision and have their cases officially reviewed. It’s not a guarantee they’ll keep their jobs, but when faced by people with agendas, the school “has their back.”

The system was set forth in 1957 by way of a Supreme Court decision. Today, almost 40,000 school employees rely on tenure to ensure they cannot be dismissed without just cause.

The defense of tenure is at its best when you consider a teacher is accountable to hundreds of “bosses” - parents and school boards as well as administrators.

Eric Magette teaches biology at Eudora High School.

What if a board of education is strongly opposed in the instruction of evolution, he asked in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Could his job be in jeopardy?

Without him having due process, absolutely.

Though it failed, legislation was proposed to give property tax breaks to parents of children who attend private schools. The measure would have allowed a $1,000 deduction for each child enrolled in private schools, with a $2,500 cap.

If allowed, the vast majority of taxpayers could expect an increase in their property taxes to make up for the deductions.

What’s truly alarming about the school finance legislation is how discussion was halted mid-stream.

In his capacity as rules chairman of the Senate, Jeff King, R-Independence, backed a motion to cut the debate short, to which Sen. David Haley of Kansas City retorted, “What kind of democracy do you live in?”

As never before, Kansas schools have become the petri dish as to where and how we are headed as a state.

Will we crush the unions and trample employees’ rights? Will we favor private schools over public? Will we favor the wealthy over poor?

The tea leaves have been cast. Dare we read them?


Lawrence Journal-World, April 6

Election uncertainty:

With less than two months to go before the June 2 filing deadline for Kansas candidates seeking statewide or national office, questions about the upcoming election cycle abound.

A U.S. District Court in Wichita ruled last month that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission must act immediately to modify federal voter registration forms to accommodate proof-of-citizenship laws in Kansas and Arizona. That decision has been appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by more than a dozen voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of the United States, Common Cause, Project Vote and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. Those appealing the decision also asked the Wichita judge to stay his own order while their appeal is being considered.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach indicated that such a stay is unlikely, but, if the request is granted, he will move forward on a plan to hold a two-tiered election in Kansas: one for people who have proved their citizenship and can vote in all the state and federal races and one for the relatively few people who registered with the federal form and would be allowed only to vote in federal races, which this year would be races for U.S. Congress.

In the meantime, the registrations of about 15,900 people who have not presented proof of citizenship are being held “in suspense” at the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. Those names have been forwarded to county election officers but it’s unclear how much progress is being made to obtain proof-of-citizenship on those registrations.

Another major wrinkle for the upcoming election is a new law that will bar voters from changing their party affiliations between the June 1 filing deadline and the Aug. 5 primary. This year, however, voters will be able to change affiliations until July 1, when the law goes into effect. New voters can register with either party until July 15 to vote in the Aug. 5 primary. Or if voters have moved, they can change both their address and their party affiliation until July 15. Or if they just really want to vote in the other party’s primary, they can cancel their registration and re-register with a different affiliation until July 15. Got it?

All of the complexity being added to the state’s election system likely won’t register with many Kansas voters until they arrive at the polls. Local election officials say that even people who are receiving postcards saying their registrations aren’t complete until they present proof of citizenship think they can provide that proof at the polls - but that is too late.

The result likely will be confusion at polling places and many provisional ballots being cast. That, in turn, will lead to plenty of controversy - and perhaps some lawsuits - about which votes should be counted.

Partisan political races have become increasingly contentious in recent years, and the unsettled state of Kansas election laws may make this fall’s elections some of the most contentious the state has seen in many years.


The Kansas City Star, April 7

Theatrics can’t obscure state’s fiscal crisis:

Conservatives in the Kansas Legislature this weekend took advantage of a serious problem - inequities in public school funding - to attack teachers and create new problems.

In a deplorable sneak attack, Senate leadership and allies in the House tied the elimination of due process for teachers to crucial elements of school funding. That issue hadn’t been dealt with in the normal committee process. Conservatives rammed it through without caring whether lawmakers were fully informed of the consequences.

Due process hearings - used about 10 times a year in Kansas - protect teachers from arbitrary firings if, say, they run into a conflict with a parent or administrator. It is a condition of teachers’ contracts throughout the state. To deny it represents a major change for the worse in teacher-school relations.

But even before a weekend of late nights and frayed nerves, Kansas lawmakers were in the throes of agony.

They needed to find $129 million to correct unconstitutional school funding inequities. But thanks to a self-inflicted budget crisis with no end in sight, the road to $129 million was paved only with brutal choices.

Lawmakers discussed taking the money out of the state’s reserve fund, but those dollars are needed just to keep the lights on in state government. They talked about taking from some educational funds to give to others. They considered shaking out pockets looking for spare change. At one point, senators were reduced to eying the $2 million in the problem gambling fund.

It’s that bad.

The struggle to meet a court mandate highlights the precarious shape of Kansas’ finances.

Right now, the budget is balanced only by dipping into reserve funds. If current revenue and spending trends continue, it will go underwater in 2016. After that, a state that is shortchanging its universities and disabled citizens will have to start cutting more deeply; forecasters estimate $962 million in cuts by the 2019 fiscal year.

Kansas already is raiding its highway fund to pay for transportation of school students and even a chunk of the debt service for the recently completed statehouse reconstruction. Part of the teachers’ pension funds are coming from gambling revenues, in apparent violation of state statute.

This barren landscape is not what Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies in the Legislature promised when they enacted deep income tax cuts over the last two years. The mantra then was “growth.” The cuts, which primarily benefit certain types of businesses and upper-income individuals, were supposed to bring jobs and prosperity to all of Kansas.

Based on a recent report by Brownback’s own Council of Economic Advisors, it’s not happening.

The report showed that, over the last five years, Kansas has lagged behind a neighboring six-state region, which includes Missouri, in key indicators. Those include growth in private sector employment, per capita personal income, private industry wages and population. The state continued to underperform the region over the past year, when the tax cuts were in effect.

Kansas is in a hole without a ladder. Other states are using rising revenues to restore money cut from schools and universities and to care for their citizens and brick-and-mortar assets. They are making investments known to boost economic development and quality of life.

Kansas can’t do that. It ended 2013 with less revenue than the year before. Barring a dramatic change in fortune, the state is looking at a bleak future.

Incredibly, some lawmakers in Missouri want to imitate Kansas’ mistake. A bill sponsored by GOP Sen. Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit and passed by the Senate would eventually cost the state more than $620 million a year, according to legislative researchers.

To what end? So that Missouri lawmakers can also reach below the sofa cushions in hopes of finding a few extra coins to put into school funding?

Kansas lawmakers should stop creating distractions and deal with the reality of their state’s fiscal crisis.

And proponents of drastic tax cuts in Missouri should shake off the right-wing think tank nonsense and take a clearheaded look at the debacle taking place across the state line.


The Hutchinson News, April 7

Selling education:

The Kansas Legislature narrowly passed a plan Sunday night to equalize education spending across school districts after a weekend of debate over the plan’s contents and a heroic stand by the state’s moderate Republican lawmakers.

The debate could have been simpler, however, if the Kansas Senate - backed and seated by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012 - had stuck to the point. As The News pointed out last week, the Senate used the Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling as an opportunity to impose anti-education elements.

While the House overwhelmingly passed a relatively clean bill that satisfied the court’s order, the Senate version eliminated teacher due process protections that have been in place since 1957 and created a $10 million-a-year corporate tax credit to funnel public money to private schools. The original Senate bill, which couldn’t gain approval in the House, contained a host of others items lifted directly from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity legislative agendas.

Had it not been for that stalwart coalition of moderate House Republicans and Democrats, and the hundreds of teachers and education supporters who filled the Statehouse over the weekend, Kansas public education would look much different going forward. Those moderates, who are almost certain to be attacked with primary opponents in August, showed the courage and commitment to stand up to the Kansas Chamber, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute and their desire to dismantle public education.

Nevertheless, under intense pressure from those special interests and legislative leadership, several members changed their votes late Sunday night, and the bill passed the House by a vote of 63-57. It now awaits the governor’s signature.

Two elements of the bill are particularly troubling. One creates a $10 million-a-year corporate welfare program in support of private education. It allows large companies to enjoy a 70-percent credit against their state tax liability if they offer scholarships to at-risk students who move to private schools. This has nothing at all to do with public education equity; rather it creates a mechanism to damage the finance structure for public schools.

The second concerning component redefines “teacher” as a way to eliminate due process protections. And the concept of teacher tenure is a myth. The current due process for teachers simply ensures a written termination notice and the right to challenge the decision through review by a hearing officer. In fact the Kansas Association of School Boards reported that the state sees about 10 due process claims each year - hardly a number that indicates a systemic problem that requires legislative action. The measure is little more than a way to break the teachers’ union and silence those teachers who honestly educate and advocate for their students.

Naturally, the lawmakers and their proxies who pushed this legislation will talk about how it increases educational choice, fully funds schools, offers property tax relief and gets rid of all those bad teachers that only conservative lawmakers can seem to find.

When Kansans hear that, however, they should remember their teachers’ lessons and ask a few questions.

Why, if those things are so grand and necessary and widely supported by the electorate, were they not presented on their own, in a separate piece of legislation? And why, instead of vetting the proposals in the chambers’ respective education committees, were they inserted in the 11th hour in a school finance bill?

The answer is simple: Those proposals didn’t stand a chance alone, and their only hope was to piggyback on a required education bill. In that way, the state’s business lobby was able both to push through its agenda and set the stage to attack lawmakers who refused to vote for bad education policy wrapped inside education spending.

Yet voters would do well this summer to remember the moderates who showed true Kansas courage by refusing to kneel before the Kansas Kingmakers who have grown accustomed to weak-willed lawmakers eager to do their bidding.



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