Monthly Archives: January 2005
SCHOOL FINANCE UPDATE
The House of Representatives has set up a select committee on school finance to study the school finance formula in response to the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision. This week the committee discussed several important issues, including bi-lingual weighting. The legislative and state board of education research shows that the 73 districts in Kansas that receive weighting for bi-lingual students spend about $10 million more than the present weighting provides. The districts presently receive over $9 million in a formula which provides weighting of 0.2% based upon contact time that the bi-lingual student has with a ESOL (English as a second language) teacher. Districts, however, spend over $19 million providing services to the ever increasing number of bi-lingual students.
Dodge City, Emporia, and Garden City have high percentages of bi-lingual students, from 40% to over 60%. Many of these students are in families where the parents work in the meat packing industry. Some districts have many languages and dialects among their students. We heard testimony last summer that it takes 5 to 7 years for a student to reach proficiency so that they can learn in the second language, and that is if the student stays consistently in the program. Many of these students move from place to place.
In many cases, the bi-lingual students are also considered “at-risk” students, which in Kansas means that their family income is low enough to qualify for free lunch under the federal school lunch program. The committee discussed whether the bi-lingual weight and at-risk weight could be combined. There was also discussion of changing the bi-lingual funding to a grant program that districts would apply for, based upon their services and programs.
Chairman Kathe Decker pointed out that, based upon what school districts are actually spending on bi-lingual, the weight should be more than doubled, perhaps to 0.42%. Other members of the committee seemed concerned that some school districts are spending only what they receive in state bi-lingual funding and other districts are spending many times what the state is providing. This happens because districts have more discretionary money because they levy a sales tax or a full 25% Local Option Budget. There may be grant money for bi-lingual programs. Districts that are cutting programs and positions due to restricted state funding for several years may be limiting their services to bi-lingual students because they have no spare general fund money and they don’t want to cut educational services to rank and file students. The staff assured committee members that at-risk funds cannot be used for bi-lingual services, which usually are to provide services from a teacher who is highly qualified to teach non-English speaking students.
This week there will also be discussions on at-risk weighting, transportation weighting and vocational education weighting, and suitability. In the past, there has been a discussion about changing the legislative definition of suitable education, which is presently found in many statutes, including the graduation requirements, the regents’ admission requirements, accreditation requirements and other directives given by the legislature to the state board of education which require Kansas public schools to provide curriculum and other educational services. Last session and during the interim, some legislators wanted to limit the definition of suitability and then the state would fund only the requirements in that narrowed definition and the rest of the education costs would be borne by local taxpayers. The school finance issue is a complicated yet vitally important issue to our state. Today’s knowledge-based economy requires that Kansas students are given the best education possible. It is the legislature’s duty to provide students a first-class education and provide Kansas businesses with the talented workforce they need to succeed. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this very important issue!
SECOND ENROLLMENT COUNT DATE FOR SCHOOLS
The House passed a bill this week that allows school districts a second date to count students if there is an increase of 25 students or 1% of total enrollment. This allows for an increase in funds to accommodate new students. The increase must be the result of increases in enrollments of dependents of full-time active military personnel or military reserve who are engaged in mobilizing for war, international peacekeeping, national emergency, or homeland defense activities. Both Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley are expecting a large deployment of troops into their area of the state. It is expected to begin in late summer and fall and continue for two years. These deployments will cause a rapid increase in students. An amendment was offered on this bill to make it apply to all Kansas school districts that experienced an enrollment growth for any reason. The amendment failed during debate.
HOUSE AND SENATE COMMITTEE ACTIVITIES
In the House…
• Government Organizations and Elections—The committee held hearings this week on HB 2041 regarding the use of unexpended campaign funds and HB 2083 regarding the consolidation of Topeka and Shawnee County government.
• Higher Education—The committee is holding hearings on HB 2072 which provides tuition waivers to the dependents of active duty military personnel killed in the line of duty.
• Federal and State Affairs — The committee held hearings this week on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1601, which defines marriage as only occurring between a man and a woman. The resolution’s second part also stipulates that “no relationship, other than marriage, shall be recognized by the state as entitling the parties to the rights or incidents of marriage.” The committee favorably passed the resolution out of committee without amendments.
• Taxation— The committee is holding hearings on several bills to fix the bill passed last year that charges sales tax on used cars based on the blue book value of the car, rather than the purchase price. Many people are concerned that this bill has no consideration for cars sold in bad condition.
In the Senate…
• The Senate Judiciary Committee debated changes to the death penalty in response to a December Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.
• A bill has been introduced that would limit sales of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine. These medicines are common ingredients in the production of methamphetamine. By limiting access to ingredients, this bill is aimed at halting production of the drug.
• The Senate is currently considering a bill that would double the traffic ticket fine for speeding in school zones. Tickets would be a minimum of $60, with additional fees depending on how far over the speed limit the driver would reach. This bill would also create a new fine of $60 to anyone speeding pass a stop sign held by a school crossing guard.
• The Senate Elections and Local Government Committee is reviewing a bill that would require same day notice for campaign contributions made the last 11 days of the campaign. Candidates for state and local office receiving any contribution of $300 or more would report these contributions prior to the end of the business day to election officials.
• The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee is reviewing an extension of a current law that allows children in schools to carry emergency medication, like inhalers for asthmatics. The current law is set to expire in June, but the Senate may extend the law to 2006 and allow students in all grades to be covered by this provision.
Methamphetamine Rears Its Ugly Head Yet Again
Last week’s slaying of Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels served as yet another grim reminder of the need for the Kansas Legislature to take swift action on eliminating methamphetamine production in Kansas. Sheriff Samuels was shot on January 19 while attempting to serve search and arrest warrants at a home where meth production was suspected.
Methamphetamine is referred by several street names including “meth”, “speed”, and “crank” and is sold as pills, capsules, powder, and chunks. It is an extremely powerful stimulant to a person’s nervous system and works directly on the brain and spinal cord. The drug mainly interferes with the neurostransmitter dopamine, which makes us feel good about ourselves and gives us a sense of contentment. The drug is produced both locally as well as imported into the U.S. in an already processed form. Commonly used ingredients include over-the-counter medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, antifreeze, lantern fuel, battery acid, and drain cleaner.
The Midwest’s methamphetamine crisis is a result of two problems: 1) organized trafficking groups have steadily increased importation, and 2) an explosion in the growth of local meth lab operations. Kansas meth labs have been found in rural, suburban, and urban homes as well as barns and garages, motel rooms and motor vehicles. Some meth labs are even small enough to fit into a suitcase! The KBI reports that approximately 550 meth labs were seized in 2004.
To help combat this problem, a bill has been introduced (SB 27) which would restrict consumer’s access to various medications that are used in the production of methamphetamine. The bill is patterned after an 2004 Oklahoma law which has put a significant dent in meth lab operations in that state. This bill is currently working its way through the Kansas Senate and should easily pass through both the Senate and House. Let’s hope that this bill will quickly become law and is effective in dealing with this insidious drug.
This Monday, the Kansas Legislature convened the 2005 legislative session. Given that the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the current school finance formula is unconstitutional, education funding will be at the forefront of this year’s legislative agenda. The next few weeks should be particularly interesting as bills are introduced and committees begin their work. Complete daily calendars are available at www.kslegislature.org along with other information on the legislature.
GOVERNOR SEBELIUS PRESENTS STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS
At the end of the first day of the 2005 legislative session, Governor Kathleen Sebelius delivered her State of the State address. I was pleased with her vision for Kansas’ future and share in the belief that we must continue to bring Kansas “back to health”. Here is a summary of the Governor’s comments:
• Together we have driven down the cost of government, using each tax dollar efficiently.
• We have cut costs by turning off lights, renegotiating office supply contracts, and other common sense measures.
• We have sold unused, unnecessary cars from the state motor pool, raising millions and lowering maintenance costs.
• The Healthy Kansas initiative aims to lower costs and make health care affordable again.
• The plan will extend health insurance to 70,000 uninsured children and working parents.
• Small businesses provide affordable health insurance for their employees.
• The I-Save Rx program to will import safe, low-cost prescriptions from carefully screened pharmacies in Canada, saving Kansans money on much-needed prescription drugs.
• A long-term solution to school funding must be found, not a quick fix based on accounting measures.
• Maintaining high standards in our schools and ensuring accountability are an important aspect of any school finance plan.
• By initiating school audits, we can ensure that Kansas children receive the best value for their dollar and that the most money gets to the classroom.
• Strengthening schools in our knowledge based economy attracts new businesses and families to Kansas.
• We will continue to promote investment in new fields, such as biosciences.
• The implementation of last year’s Economic Growth Act will create jobs by supporting small businesses.
THE STATE OF EDUCATION IN KANSAS
On January 3, before the start of the 2005 legislative session, the Kansas Supreme Court issued its long awaited ruling on school finance. In its ruling, the higher court stated that the Legislature must fix the school funding problem by April 12, or the court will take control. The ruling does not prescribe a specific course of action for the legislature to take, but says that there are “literally hundreds of ways” the financing formula can be changed in order to be constitutional.
The decision upholds the district court ruling that “the legislature has failed to meet its burden as imposed by Art. 6, § 6 of the Kansas Constitution to ‘make suitable provision for finance’ of the public schools.” According to the ruling, the current system does not meet suitability requirements based on the legislature’s own standards as set out in the Augenblick & Myers study commissioned by the legislature.
The Court states that additional revenue is needed for our schools; however, increased funding alone would not make our school finance formula constitutional. Additionally, the Court calls for a cost analysis to be factored into finance decisions. The legislature must also examine “the equity with which funds are distributed and the actual costs of education, including appropriate levels of administrative costs.”
In this ruling, the Court has interpreted Art. 6, § 1 of the State Constitution to mean that educational improvement must be an ongoing process. This is a point that has not been prevalent in previous finance rulings. The commitment to our children cannot be static or regressive. The ruling affirms that inaction by the legislature only increases the burden on local property tax payers.
Because the legislature has failed to maintain suitable provision for our schools, local school boards have been forced to rely on increases in local option budgets to meet basic general education costs. Financing of Kansas K-12 public schools will take center stage in the 2005 session.
HEALTHY KANSAS INITIATIVE
Last month, the governor introduced her plan to decrease the costs of healthcare for Kansans. The Healthy Kansas Plan will be an important issue up for discussion in the 2005 legislative session. Over 300,000 Kansans are without health insurance. Over 80 percent of these are working Kansans who simply cannot afford health insurance. It is important to remember that when a person cannot pay a hospital bill, the cost does not go away. It is either reflected in higher charges for medical procedures or higher property taxes. In addition, patients without health insurance typically wait to seek treatment until the situation is more acute and more expensive to treat. Therefore, it is an advantage to everyone, not just patients, if more people can afford health insurance coverage.
The state is involved in several programs which purchase health care goods and services. These include Medicaid (which is 40 percent state, 60 percent federal), Medikan, the state employees’ health insurance program, the Veterans Commission, the Department of Corrections and the Juvenile Justice Authority. Some estimate that the state spends over $2 billion per year on health care services. The governor is looking to put these programs together to achieve economies of scale in bidding contracts and making purchases.
Another part of the proposal would pool purchases of prescriptions for some senior citizens. Other states have tried this and secured lower prescription drug costs. Many small businesses have dropped health insurance in recent years. Therefore, the governor’s program would initiate assistance for certain small businesses to start up or resume health coverage. This is where a critical difference can be made. Again, the program would work through the private sector marketplace rather than the regulatory front.
Expanded coverage for children and parents in working families is also proposed through the HealthWave program. These are families where parents are working but make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to afford health insurance. Premiums are charged on a scale which is based on the income of the parents. The HealthWave program is already in place and would not be new. The funding for the governor’s proposal, an increase in the cigarette tax, will be controversial. Please let me know what you think about the governor’s proposal and how you think it should be funded.
LEGISLATURE TO REVIEW DEATH PENALTY
On December 18, 2004 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that state’s death penalty is unconstitutional and held that all inmates currently sentenced to death have their sentences reduced to the next most severe sentencing level. Specifically, the court ruled that the current death penalty law forces juries to weigh evidence unfairly when applying the death penalty. As the legislature begins its busy session, it will review the Supreme Court’s decision.
Several legislators are looking into passing a bill that would allow the use of the death penalty to remain constitutional. Advocates of the death penalty claim that the Supreme Court’s decision is so narrow that any appropriate change to the language of the law will keep the state’s use of the death penalty constitutional. Those opposing the death penalty claim that the Supreme Court’s decision is a triumph for the state because the death penalty is not a successful deterrent against crime and that it costs taxpayers too much money.
USED CAR SALES TAX UP FOR DEBATE
During the 2004 session, a bill to change the way in which sales tax is figured on used automobiles purchased from individuals was approved. The bill came about as a result of concern that some Kansans are intentionally under-reporting the value of used cars in order to avoid paying their fair share of our state’s sales tax. Under the bill, which became law on July 1st, sales tax for a vehicle purchased from someone who is not a licensed auto dealer is determined by the higher value between the stated selling price, or the property tax value of the vehicle, as classified by the state.
The change in the used car sales tax law has created more uproar than any other piece of legislation passed last session. The new law disregards good-faith price negotiations between buyer and seller based upon the actual condition of the vehicle. Three members of the Kansas House have announced the introduction of a bill to repeal this new sales tax law for used automobiles. If the bill passes during the 2005 session, sales tax would be determined by the actual price paid by the car buyer as has been past law. I am hopeful that the legislature will take action quickly in the 2005 session to undo this bad public policy.
If this bill can be passed quickly, the House tax committee can work on legislation to refund those who have already been affected by the tax change and can work on a new remedy to deal with people who intentionally under-report the cost of their used car purchases without punishing Kansans who negotiate a fair price on their used cars.