A lot left to do when the Legislature returns in late April

By Kansas Association of School Boards
April 06, 2015

What’s past is prologue for the Legislature.

During the regular session that ended last week, legislators passed a two-year school funding plan but paying for it is still up in the air since legislators left approval of a state budget for the wrap-up session.

A conference committee cobbled together a plan to move school board elections from the spring of odd-numbered years to the fall of even-numbered years but that issue was also held back for the April 29 start of the wrap-up session.

Three more issues KASB has been closely involved with will also likely dominate debate in the final days of the session.

Those include bills that would set up rules governing the use of emergency safety interventions with students; legislation dealing with working after retirement; and changes to the Professional Negotiations Act.

School Funding

Earlier this session, the Legislature repealed the school finance formula and approved a two-year, block grant plan that essentially provides flat operating budgets.

But the Legislature has yet to approve an appropriations bill in the face of an approximately $600 million revenue shortfall.

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed bridging the shortfall through a combination of cigarette and liquor tax increases, revenue transfers from the highway department, and numerous other adjustments. He has also stated he would be okay with an increase in the state sales tax.

On April 20, officials will provide an updated estimate of expected revenues for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next two fiscal years, giving legislators the final figures needed to put together a spending plan during the wrap-up session.

With school finance making up half of the state budget, a final plan will have an enormous impact on school funding.

Adding to the uncertainty over school finance is the long-running lawsuit filed by school districts alleging the state has inadequately funded public education. Plaintiff districts have asked a three-judge panel to block implementation of the block grant plan, saying it continues to under-fund schools and cuts equalization assistance to low-wealth districts.

Moving Elections

In addition to moving school board elections to fall of even-numbered years, included in the elections conference committee bill - House Bill 2104 - are two other measures that supporters of moving elections are hoping will help them gain support.

Those include a bill that would eliminate the requirement that Kansas hold a presidential preference primary and a bill that says candidates can only be removed from a general election ballot if they die, suffer a medical hardship or move to another state.

KASB urges advocates for schools to contact their legislators and urge them to vote against any proposal to change the way school board members are elected. KASB expects that any vote on this issue will be close.

Emergency Safety Intervention

Both the House and Senate have approved bills on regulations affecting the use of student seclusion and restraint, called Emergency Safety Intervention.

The House version requires documentation of the use of ESI, a process for parents to file complaints and the collection of data by the Kansas Department of Education.

The Senate version is narrower in scope and establishes a task force made up of members from the Kansas State Board of Education, disability rights organizations and parents, special education administrators and KASB to develop legislation or regulations by next session.

KASB supports the Senate version.

KPERS: Working After Retirement

Legislators continue grappling with the issue of working after retirement under the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

The current law, which sunsets June 30, allows licensed employees to return to work after a break in service to the school district where they were previously employed without any penalty. If the law expires, these individuals would be subject to an "earnings limit," which means their KPERS retirement payments would be suspended if they earn more than $20,000 per year.

House Bill 2253, which has been approved by the House Pensions and Benefits Committee, says that any KPERS employee who returns to work in a KPERS position would not draw retirement benefits, although exceptions could be made for hard-to-fill positions.

Those returning to work would contribute 6 percent of their salary, which would be matched by their employer, into a KPERS Tier 3 cash balance account for future benefits when they retire. The bill does not grandfather in current retirees.

Under Senate Bill 299, which was heard by the Senate Select Committee on KPERS, retired employees returning to work in covered positions would have KPERS benefits suspended and placed in an interest-bearing account. This bill doesn't grandfather in employees in either.

Professional Negotiations Act

The House approved House Bill 2326, which included an amendment to adopt the compromise proposal reached by KASB, the Kansas National Education Association, United School Administrators/Kansas and the Kansas School Superintendents Association.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 136, which was close to the compromise proposal. The Senate Education Committee amended HB 2326 to include SB 136, but then on the Senate floor, the Senate amended HB 2326 on a 20-18 vote to include a proposal that would have greatly limited school board-teacher negotiations.

The next day, however, the Senate killed the amended HB 2326 on a 13-27 vote.

When the wrap up session starts, the House could bring SB 136 out of committee or the issue could be inserted into another bill on a conference committee report.