The 2016 legislative session is under way in Topeka, and throughout the session we’ll be bringing you a weekly update from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials — Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf — about what they’re working on in Topeka.
Because the House Education Committee had such an active week, we’re splitting Rep. Ousley’s scheduled column into two parts. Below is his recap of this week’s proceedings in the Education Committee. He’s filing a separate report on other capitol issues for publication Monday:
Every day this week in the House Education Committee, the majority of the committee has ignored the desires of Kansans across the state, and implemented bills supporting the ideologies of the far right. To understand how the committee process is supposed to work (hat tip to my high school government teacher), committees are supposed to be where testimony on bills is heard, with proponents and opponents given an opportunity to speak, so that when the committee members vote, they can make an informed decision. After hearing testimony, the committee can work the bill – that is, they can add amendments to correct deficiencies or to strike a common ground. In order to give informed or concerned parties enough time to prepare for a hearing on a bill, the committee chair will post an agenda for each meeting, and establish rules on how and when to submit testimony, so that they may be given an opportunity to be heard.
On Monday, House Education heard testimony on HB 2207, a bill supporting ethnic studies, equipping students with an understanding of the history of our multicultural country, the progress our nation has made, and how to continue on our path with respect for one another’s history. Ethnic studies is a broad term, to include Native American, African American, Latin American, and Asian American (among others) narratives. As my fellow Democratic Representative John Alcala introduced the bill, I swapped committee assignments with him on Monday, so that he could provide information on the bill during committee. While the bill passed out of committee, it was amended so as to censure discussion on social justice. How can we censure discussion on social justice? Does this mean prohibiting lessons on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Shall our children not learn of George Takai’s experience in a Japanese internment camp? Will they not receive lessons on Diane Humetewa, the first Native American woman appointed to U.S. District Court? Will parents in Kansans speak up like the mother in Texas who opposed a textbook that taught that slavery was a form of immigration – instead of the horror accurate historians have recorded it to be?
On Tuesday, after hearing testimony on a proposed education funding formula that was drafted without the input of education stakeholders and was opposed by Kansas PTA and Game On for Kansas Schools, in the last five minutes of the meeting, with no announcement, and without any note on the agenda indicating it would be discussed, a HB 2199, a bill requiring parents to opt their children in to sex education was brought up for a vote. The procedural term for requiring a vote immediately, ending whatever debate or testimony is occurring (in this instance, none, as no one had forewarning), is called “Calling the Question.” Rep. Macheers called the question, and before debate had begun, the bill was voted on and passed out of committee. Prior to this bill’s passage, parents were allowed to opt their children out. Opt out provisions allow parents to request that their children be provided an alternate lesson, while permitting the rest of the class to get necessary and vital information regarding their health and development. Opting in frequently means that children who most need information, who have parents ill equipped to give them the knowledge, or too busy or perhaps unaware, will now be left out of the lesson, as it is unlikely that these parents will provide the necessary permission for their child to be included in the discussion.
Wednesday, however, was worse. The committee’s agenda provided that the committee would be hearing information on the history of education in Kansas. Instead, committee members were provided with vehement opposition to curriculum in Kansas. In the end, the committee voted to ban “common core” (in Kansas the college and career readiness curriculum). They “gutted and go’ed” a bill from last year, and inserted a ban on anything aligned in anyway with the common core. Unfortunately, AP classes, IB classes, the SAT, the ACT, are all aligned with common core. If this bill were to pass and become law, it would be illegal to teach such things. I believe, and I hope, that this bill will not pass the house floor. However, this session has been so frantic and fast paced, it is not possible for me to say with any certainty exactly how the majority of my fellow representatives will vote.
Had the agenda accurately reflected the planned testimony, opponents of such a drastic bill would have had adequate time to prepare opposition to the bill. But it did not, and education advocates were caught unaware.
Finally, today, Thursday, the committee heard testimony on HB 2531 stripping due process rights of community college professors. 38 out of the 40 emails I received on the bill were in opposition to it. Lee Cross, a JCCC trustee, has said that the trustees received no communication on the bill, and that he did not support it. Six of us opposed the bill, but due to the overwhelming numbers of conservatives on the committee (now that the moderates have been removed), it passed.
Because almost every communication committee members receive from Kansans on these bills indicate that they do not support the policies that the conservative Republican members on the committee support. Be it email or voice mail messages, Kansans are reaching out to ask that the committee not pass this legislation. Kansans support their children having access to AP and IB classes, as well as classes that provide the requisite information for the ACT and SAT. Kansans support their children being taught an accurate history of the civil rights movement. Kansans support children receiving necessary information on their growth and development. Kansans support college professors’ rights to be terminated with cause and not for arbitrary reasons (perhaps such as disagreeing with the legislature?).
Our hope now must be pinned on the votes by the house as a whole. Contact your legislators. Your voice deserves to be heard. And come this next election, it is my fervent hope that they will rue the day they ignored the will of the people of our state.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve the 24th District. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook.