This past Monday, the Kansas Legislature convened the 2006 legislative session. Education funding will be at the forefront of this year’s legislative agenda. However, health care, health insurance, and prescription drug costs remain the number one issues. The next few weeks will be particularly interesting as bills are introduced and committees begin their work. I have already prefiled a eminent domain bill and will be following up with others, addressing such topics as 1) affordability of health care insurance for small business employees and 2) property tax relief for seniors on limited incomes.
Complete daily calendars are available at www.kslegislature.org along with other information on the legislature. As always, I appreciate your input on the many issues facing our state. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need assistance!!
GOVERNOR’S STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS
Governor Sebelius rolled out several proposals during the State of the State speech, and talked at length of Kansas’ financial turnaround. She called for doubling prison time for child sex offenders and introduced former Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder to head a new program to mentor children. The Governor also spoke of giving parents access to tools to block inappropriate web sites, guides showing which TV shows and movies are family-friendly, and limits on access to violent video games.
The Governor spent some time in her speech talking about where the state has moved during her first term as Governor. She said her administration helped stabilize state government finances through cuts and efficiencies and without a tax increase. She did not mention that she proposed a tax increase in 2004 for schools that was rejected by the Legislature.
Although her State of the State was somewhat upstaged earlier in the day with a legislative study that said the state should increase school funding, the Governor pledged to work in a bipartisan manner with legislators to meet the challenge. Sebelius’ proposals at a glance:
Taxes – Elimination of the property tax on new business machinery and equipment purchased after Jan. 1, 2007.
Education – A multi-year funding plan with audits of schools to ensure accountability.
Role models – Launching “Kansas Mentors” to be headed by former Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder who will recruit volunteer mentors for children.
Health coverage – Spending $3.5 million to provide health coverage for children from birth to 5-years-old who currently are uninsured. This will cover an estimated 15,000 children.
Sex offenders – Double prison sentences for child sex offenders and require them to wear electronic tracking devices once released from prison for the rest of their lives. This will place roughly 225 sex offenders under lifetime surveillance.
Military – Add a new tax check-off that will allow Kansans make a donation on their tax form for support services for Kansas military families.
The Governor did not offer any specific recommendations for K-12 education funding as the Legislative Post Audit education cost study was released earlier that day.
POST AUDIT COST STUDY PRESENTED
On the first day of the session, the Legislative Department of Post Audit presented the two cost studies ordered by the Legislature during the last session. The Post Audit report found that the state needs to provide between $400 million and $470 million in additional funding for public schools. The “inputs” audit called for spending at least $316 million more on public schools. That audit assessed the costs of providing the required courses and other ingredients of a Kansas public education as prescribed by the laws passed by the legislature and the state board of education regulations. This audit costed out the inputs considering three levels of class size, since the cost is dependent on how many teachers a district provides to deliver the inputs. For instance, it would cost $624 million to reduce class sizes to a maximum of 20 students per class across the state. The audit also assessed the cost with class sizes of 18 for K-3, and 23 for grades 4-12.
The “outcomes” audit called for at least $399 million. The higher price tag for the second study, which was added during the special session in response the Supreme Court’s finding that school districts are required to meet performance standards which set standards and assess the success of students. The audit found that it would cost $399 million to provide the tools to reach the minimum performance standards this year. Those performance standards will increase each year into the future as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, so the costs will increase over time. The study also found that the weighting for “at-risk” children needs to be higher than the current weight (0.193). The recommended weight is 0.484. At-risk is computed by counting the number of kids in a district that qualify for free lunches using the federal poverty guidelines. The report found a strong correlation between poverty and school failure. The at-risk money is utilized by school districts to provide at-risk programs, which must be approved by the state department of education.
The audit recommended that a new weight be added to the funding formula, an urban poverty weight. They estimated that there are significantly higher costs incurred by high poverty inner city districts. They identify Kansas City, Turner, Topeka & Wichita as qualifying for the weight. In response to questions raised, legislative staff upped the study results, saying the $316 million increase was really $400 million when taking into account additional pension and local budget requirements, while the $399 million was really $470 million.
GOVERNOR PROPOSES HEALTH CARE ASSISTANCE
Governor Sebelius recently unveiled two initiatives to help Kansans save money on medicine. One is geared for Kansans without drug coverage, while the other is designed to help Kansans enroll in the Medicare prescription drug plan.
“Community Rx Kansas” – Low-Cost Medicines for Kansans
Community Rx Kansas will allow Kansans without drug coverage who meet certain income guidelines to get significant discounts on medicine at 286 participating pharmacies statewide. The 150,000 Kansans who are eligible for the plan could see savings of between 15 and 80%. For example, a 90-day supply of Glyburide, which helps treat diabetes, is available for $14.50.
Consumers would normally pay up to $38.
A household can enroll in Community Rx Kansas for $10 a year and buy discounted medicine through local pharmacies that participate in either the Prescription Network of Kansas or the Right Choice Pharmacy network, both of which are home-grown Kansas companies. For enrollment applications postmarked by January 31, 2006, the first $10 annual fee will be waived. For more information or to enroll, visit http://ww.healthykansas.org or call Prescription Network of Kansas at (800) 279-3022 or Right Choice Pharmacy at (866) 424-6423. Pass this information on to your neighbors, friends, employees, and family members.
Helping Seniors and the Disabled Enroll in a Medicare Drug Plan
Governor Sebelius also announced she is devoting $500,000 to provide help for seniors and the disabled to deal with the confusing Medicare prescription drug plan passed by Congress. To help Kansans get help with the Medicare prescription drug plan, Sebelius is devoting resources to increase the number of phone lines and volunteers at SHICK (Senior Health Insurance Counseling of Kansas), an organization seniors know and trust. Seniors have until May 15 to enroll in a plan. Additionally, 40,000 Kansans are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. They were automatically enrolled in a plan as of January 1, but have the option of re-enrolling in a different plan monthly if they choose. To get help enrolling in a plan, you can call SHICK at (800) 860-5260 and talk to a trained volunteer in your area who can help you find out which option is best for you or your loved one. Pass this information on to your neighbors, friends, employees, and family members.
ADDITIONAL FUNDING TO KEEP KANSANS WARM
Another budget piece that has been announced is “WARM Kansas,” which aims to help Kansas families better insulate their homes and save on energy costs. As part of WARM Kansas homes would be fitted with insulation, and would have doors and windows caulked and sealed to reduce drafts. Furnaces would also receive maintenance to ensure both safety and fuel efficiency. Governor Sebelius said the improvements covered under WARM Kansas could reduce home heating costs by up to 20%.
The initiative would provide both grants and loans to Kansas families. Two million dollars would be made available through local lenders via a revolving loan program for families with incomes at or below 80% of the area median income. Another $2 million in grants averaging $2,800 per home would be available to families with incomes at or below 60 percent of the area median income.
The initiative would be funded by using a portion of higher than expected oil and gas severance tax receipts from producers – receipts that have increased as a result of the same higher fuel prices that are driving up heating bills. The Governor’s budget also proposes devoting $1 million of these taxes to help more Kansas families through the federal government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.