Thursday, November 27, 2014

TYSON: Satisfying education funding mandate and more

By CARYN TYSON, Kansas State Senator | 4/9/2014

The last week of the Legislature’s regular session always is grueling, and this one was no exception. One of the main topics of discussion was education funding. After the Kansas Supreme Court ruling this spring, leadership chose to address the ruling by increasing K-12 funding and making changes to the Local Option Budget (LOB).

The first bill presented to the Senate, House Bill 2506, was not the final legislation that was passed. The Senate and House passed education bills and a conference committee was called to work out differences. On Sunday, the Senate passed the final conference committee report, HB 2506 on a 22-16 vote. The House later passed the bill and it was sent to the governor.

The last week of the Legislature’s regular session always is grueling, and this one was no exception. One of the main topics of discussion was education funding. After the Kansas Supreme Court ruling this spring, leadership chose to address the ruling by increasing K-12 funding and making changes to the Local Option Budget (LOB).

The first bill presented to the Senate, House Bill 2506, was not the final legislation that was passed. The Senate and House passed education bills and a conference committee was called to work out differences. On Sunday, the Senate passed the final conference committee report, HB 2506 on a 22-16 vote. The House later passed the bill and it was sent to the governor.

The legislative process can be complicated, especially at the end of session when bills are bundled. This often happens and is something that myself and other legislators do not support but have to deal with until we can get the rules changed.

The final version of HB 2506 was several bills combined into one. The bill increases funding for K-12 and higher education, allows for bonding authority of construction projects at Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas, requires a study commission for K-12 efficiencies, and makes changes to the due process (sometimes referred to as tenure) for teachers.

The bill would allow local residents the option to increase the LOB from the current cap of 31 mills to 33. Any increase has to be voted on by local residents, unless your school district is already at 31. In that case, the LOB automatically increases to 33. No school district in the 12th Senate district is above 30 mills. The only option in our school districts to increase the LOB is by a vote of the residents.

The bill also amends the Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) used in calculating the LOB from $4,433 to $4,490 until school year 2015-2016, reverting back to $4,433 June 30, 2017. As a result, most school districts will have to return the additional funds back to the property taxpayers unless they have a ballot initiative to determine an increase in the LOB allowing the school district to keep the increased funds.

The bill establishes K-12 commission to study more efficient use of taxpayer money. A main focus of the group would be in improving efficiencies in administrative functions. The commission would have 9 voting members required to submit a report to the Legislature by Jan. 9, 2015.

The due process section of the bill would change the definition of “teacher” and make the due process procedures inapplicable to these professional employees. This would eliminate what is commonly referred to as tenure.

The bill also would create the Student Scholarship Program Act — an act providing children with special needs or who come from low-income households — scholarships to pay all or a portion of tuition to attend qualified nonpublic schools in Kansas. The program would be funded by donations from corporations who receive a tax credit for as much as 70 percent of their donation. The total amount of credits allowed would be $10 million each year. A Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) will be created to award scholarships. Scholarships would be capped at $8,000 per student. Qualified schools would be any nonpublic school that has notified the State Board of Education its intent to participate in the scholarship program.

A superintendent from our Senate district came to Topeka to follow the process last week. As a result he wrote, “When the plan was first released, this looked like a disaster ... After having outstanding conversations with Rep. Thompson and Sen. Tyson, they assured me they would do everything in their power to keep this from happening and they did. They listened and held to their word, that means a lot for our school in our community. They were looking out for our students’ best interests and were already aware of the situation before I even communicated with them on the issue, that means a lot. I understand they did not agree with the entire bill in itself, but there was simply too much money on the table for them to take a chance of having this bill go back to its original form ... I have a feeling from following these proceedings very closely they were not far from that. I appreciate the efforts of the legislature, and especially the hard work of Rep. Thompson and Sen. Tyson on the funding piece of this school financing bill. As I said earlier, the other parts are not a huge concern in our school district at this time.”

Legislators will return April 30 for the veto session. When we return, there will be a new senator replacing state Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, as he resigned, accepting an appointment to the Kansas Corporation Commission. It was a pleasure serving with Sen. Apple and I wish him and his family all the best.

Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, represents Franklin County and the 12th District in the Kansas Senate.

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