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. Rep. Ousley submits this week’s update:
First, thank you to all who joined Game On’s Walk for Public Education to Topeka this year. I was happy to walk again, and was inspired by everyone who participated.
Rep. Helgerson immediately crafted a trio of bills addressing the root issue from which our State’s woes stem, our unfair tax system. The first, HB 2672 ended the L.L.C. tax loophole exempting “pass through income” tax. The second, HB 2675, earmarked any monies saved from the Alvarez and Marshall Efficiency study for public education, and gradually eliminated sales tax on food. The third and final bill was the equitable and adequate school finance formula, HB 2663, funded by the recaptured revenue in the other bills (click here for a history of the education finance formula).
Rep. Helgerson introduced the bills on February 10th, and they were referred to their subject committees: appropriation, taxation, and education. It is within the discretion of the Committee Chair (chairmanships are given to conservatives, who may be stripped of the position if they go against Republican leadership) as to what bills are heard, worked, and voted on. The percentage of Republicans and Democrats on committees is determined by how many members of each party are elected. As the House is lopsidedly unbalanced, with 97 Republicans and 28 Democrats, committees are also lopsided. For example, House Ed has 19 members, with only 4 Dems. So while Rep. Helgerson’s bills addressed our State’s needs, they were never heard or worked in committee.
On February 11, the Supreme Court held in the Gannon case that education funding is unconstitutionally inequitable, and ordered that this be addressed, or schools will close on July 1, 2016.
Last week, several bills affecting education were debated: HB 2292 repealing Kansas College and Career Readiness Standards (voted down in House, I voted no); SB 469 requiring teachers to continually vote on their association leadership (passed out of the Senate); and SB 439 a Judicial impeachment bill to retaliate against the Supreme Court for ruling against the State in the school finance cases (passed out of the Senate).
On Tuesday, in the midst of those debates, the Senate gutted and go’ed a previously passed HB, and inserted the Senate’s newly revealed school finance equity “fix,” and passed it to the House. As a gut and go, the House could only vote to concur or non-concur on the bill, Sen Sub for HB 2655.
During Thursday’s heated debate on the bill in the House, proponents of the bill doubted it would satisfy the Gannon ruling, as it only distributes an additional $2 million dollars, and opponents railed against the bill’s failure to fully address inadequacy.
But, the bill also contained a “hold harmless” provision, to prevent a claw-back of promised block grant funds. SMSD is facing a shortfall between $4 million to $12 million between projected additional expenses from increased enrollment and what it received from block grant funding. As such, SMSD supported this bill’s hold harmless provision.
As a dad with kids in the SMSD, I’ve witnessed the cuts over the last six years. NE Jo Co Rep. Nancy Lusk (D) and I broke with our fellow Democrats, and voted to concur on the bill to protect our schools from additional cuts. I understand how maddening this is for other districts, and I agree that more money MUST be infused into all of our districts.
Republican leadership killed the Democratic bills that would do that in committee.
Many believe as a “rich” district, SMSD can weather cuts. However, SMSD has 11 Title I schools, and Shawnee Mission North, my district’s high school, has had its population of students that are economically disadvantaged grow from 36.7% in 2011 to 45.3% in 2015. These kids are my constituents. Their schools cannot afford more cuts. I voted to prevent them, if possible.
To summarize other recent events, the bill I submitted and carried, HB 2134, allowing a parent to freeze a child’s credit report to prevent fraud passed both chambers and is headed to the Governor to be signed into law.
House sub for HB 2543, the Election Audit Act that I amended in committee to ensure effective audits, was scheduled for a vote, but then was mysteriously passed over, and did not return on general orders. Thank you everyone who emailed, requesting a vote. We will try again next year.
Finally, in response to requests from a constituent, a volunteer with my campaign has created the following chart examining the votes in the districts in JoCo that Paul Davis won, to provide a concise presentation of the data available on the Secretary of State’s webpage.