Kansas legislators heard the opening gavel of the 2014 session Jan. 13. Whether the 2014 assembly will be contentious or fun will partially depend on what Gov. Sam Brownback says during the state of the state address on Jan. 15, Rep. Bill Sutton, R-Gardner, said.
During the address, which occurred after press time, Brownback outlined his goals for the 2014 session. Several issues appear primed for consideration during the 90-day gathering of the Kansas Legislature.
• Public school funding
Sen. Julia Lynn said school funding is the elephant in the room this session.
Legislators await a Kansas Supreme Court decision to determine whether lawmakers are adequately funding public schools. Attorneys argued the case before Supreme Court justices in October, but have yet to reach a decision.
Lawyers for several school districts, including Gardner Edgerton USD 231, said courts must step in, because K-12 education isn’t funded suitably as required by the Kansas Constitution. The decision could require lawmakers to add more than $450 million in state funding to school districts.
“Not wanting to necessarily guess at what (the Supreme Court) decision might include, I can unequivocally say that this is really a legislative decision on how we fund our schools, and it really needs to fall back on the school districts themselves as to what they’re doing with the money that they have,” Lynn said. “We are proceeding business as usual regardless of whatever kind of ruling comes down and we’ll take that up when it comes.”
Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, represents northern parts of Gardner, including Gardner Lake.
“We don’t know if we’re going to be able to do anything with education,” Dove said. “There are so many moving parts to it.”
• All-day kindergarten
Gov. Brownback announced in December that he would seek more than $80 million to fund all-day kindergarten programs throughout the state. Currently, all but 15 of the state’s 286 districts offer some form of all-day kindergarten. However, local jurisdictions pick up part of the tab. Under Brownback’s proposal, the state would fund it.
Sutton said he likes the idea of state-funded all-day kindergarten, however he would have to see where the state will find the money to fund it before supporting the measure.
“I’m a little curious about the price tag and where that money is going to come from,” Sutton said. “I’ve heard some rumors that it might be pulled from social services. I want to see the impact on that.”
Dove said he would like to see more money go into classrooms.
“However, we have to wait and see how we can make that work,” Dove said.
• Common Core Curriculum
Lynn said she anticipates that Common Core legislation will be considered at some point.
“I haven’t seen anything in bill form or in resolution form, but I know that there are groups on both sides that have been in touch and have had forums and discussion groups,” Lynn said. “I expect that (Common Core) will be re-visited.
Legislators introduced a flurry of legislation at the end of the 2013 session aimed at slowing or ceasing implementation of the Common Core curriculum in Kansas schools. Attempts to thwart the curriculum, set to fully replace No Child Left Behind, were unsuccessful last year. Sutton anticipates there may be another effort to this session.
“Common Core is largely a board of education issue, but there are a couple of things legislatively that we are looking at,” he said.
Specifically, Sutton said he has concerns about the federal department of education collecting individual student data.
“Aggregate data, I have no problem with,” he said. “Student level data, I’m not comfortable with.”
Dove anticipates that KanCare will be a big topic this year.
“One of the things I know is going to be a big issue is KanCare and how that’s working,” Dove said.
Legislators are awaiting the results of a trial program that funded disability services through the KanCare program. Disability advocates were hopeful last year that state officials would provide a carve out for long-term support services for the developmentally disabled. Disability advocates wanted those services funded and implemented separately from KanCare, Kansas’ privatized version of Medicaid.
Carve-out efforts were unsuccessful, but services aren’t scheduled to be fully rolled into KanCare until Feb. 1. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment collected data about disability services through KanCare during the trial program. Officials will likely hear the results early in the session.
• Voter registration
Democrats are likely to introduce legislation challenging a 2011 law that requires voters show proof of citizenship at the polls.
Because federal voter registration requirements do not match state requirements, opponents of the voter identification law say the state could end up with a two-tiered voting system.
Democrats Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Rep. Jim Ward attempted to introduce a voter protection act during a special legislative session last year. They will likely re-introduce the bill this session. The legislation would allow voters to register to vote if they swear they are U.S. citizens.
Officials anticipate school funding to be top issue