Capitol Update: Republican leaders’ proposal to cut education funding by millions ‘unworkable and unwise’

Rep. Jarrod Ousley.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley.

Each legislative session, we provide northeast Johnson County’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jarrod Ousley submits this week’s update:

This session is off at a break neck pace, and the federal administration transition has triggered concerned Kansans to become even more engaged and ready to oversee the work of their local elected officials. Their engagement is welcome, and will assist in applying pressure to ensure major policy decisions involving tax and education are handled in as transparent a process as possible.

Kansas People’s Agenda and Women’s March

I was honored to be the legislator sponsoring the two first major rallies at the Capitol so far this session. The Kansas People’s Agenda was held on Jan. 11, the day after the Governor’s agenda presentation at the State of the State. A variety of Kansans from across the state presented agenda items focusing on economic justice, education opportunities, and many other issues:

Capitol_Dome_Jarrod

This last Saturday, the Topeka Women’s March brought an amazing and diverse crowd of women and families to loudly support issues that matter to a variety of Kansans who are concerned with the direction of our state and country, and who fear that the new federal administration opposes them. Rep. Stogsdill (D) and I were honored to be in the audience for the powerful speakers.

NEJC Reps. Jerry Stogsdill (left) and Jarrod Ousley at the Topeka Women's March.
NEJC Reps. Jerry Stogsdill (left) and Jarrod Ousley at the Topeka Women’s March.

Education activists are particularly dismayed by the results of the confirmation hearing for the new Federal Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, which revealed her support for privatization policies that Kansans have been fighting at the state level, such as vouchers and for profit charters, and her apparent lack of knowledge or support for laws protecting students with disabilities access to public schools.  In light of Devos’ support for policies that Kansans oppose, Kansas House and Senate Democrats have come out in opposition to her appointment.

Children and Seniors Committee

Under Governor Brownback’s Administration, multiple cases involving the abuse, and sometimes deaths, of children, have raised significant red flags about the operation of the Department of Children and Family Services.  After serving on Children and Seniors during the last two years, and on the Interim Foster Care Oversight Committee this fall, I have been given enough information to know children in our state are counting on us to act, and act soon, to improve the process of ensuring their safety.  In the last two weeks, Children and Seniors had hearings with Secretary Gilmore, DCF staff, and the private contractors handling children’s cases.  We are working to develop solutions that will bring greater transparency and accountability to correct the problems currently plaguing the Agency.

Election Audit Act

Last session I worked to create and submit election auditing measures, so as to secure our ability to audit elections in an effective manner.  This strengthens voters’ confidence in the outcome of elections, as audits can identify software errors, and helps to eliminate suspicion if irregularity in voting data appears.  In light of concerns regarding the recent revelations of thousands of discarded provisional ballots (nearly 3000 in Johnson County alone) I am renewing my efforts to have election integrity revisions placed in statute.  I look forward to continuing this work with my new colleague sent by the voters of House District 29, Rep. Brett Parker (D) on the Election Committee this session to fight for every Kansan’s vote to be counted as it is cast.

Education

This last week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn (R) said she is drafting a bill to cut education funding from $90 million to $125 million, and local Senator Jim Denning (R) proposed that our schools could “stomach” a $200 million reduction before next summer.  In light of the fact that our schools have sustained substantial underfunding over the last few years, and that the legislature anticipates the Supreme Court ruling requiring additional funds for education to be released soon, additional cuts are unworkable and unwise.  Our primary focus must be on addressing our failing tax policy, so that revenue improves and funds are available to adequately support public education and other vital state services.

KanCare

Finally, this last week, Kansas’ Medicaid program, KanCare, was found to be substantially out of compliance, and a waiver that would allow KanCare to continue to operate without improvement was denied, setting a deadline of Feb. 17 for the State to respond.  As we approach the anniversary of the death of local health care advocate Finn Bullers, I am very aware of the families and individuals affected by the problems identified by the Federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  How this will impact their access to care, how the state will respond to the deadline, and whether the changing of the Federal Administration will have an impact on what happens as we move forward, is not clear yet, but I urge you to keep abreast of this developing situation.  Additionally, Medicaid expansion hearings have been scheduled in February.  February 6th has been designated for “neutral” testimony, February 7th for proponents, and February 8th for those opposed.  Expansion of Medicaid would allow our federal tax dollars to be returned to our State to help meet the needs of Kansans.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the 24th District.  My office in Topeka has moved to 452-S and I can be reached at (785) 296-7366 at jarrod.ousley@house.ks.gov and www.facebook.com/JarrodOusleyforthe24th.  In addition to the updates here in the Post, you can sign up for my newsletter here: https://www.jarrodousley.com/legislative_news and receive bi-weekly updates directly.