SMAC PTA Legislative Update – Feb 21, 2016

The Kansas legislature is approaching its first deadline for putting bills into play for the 2016 session – Turnaround Day, February 23.  The bulk of education and children related bills to date are of concern to the Kansas PTA (see Legislative Priorities).

Dismantling Public Education. The approaching Turnaround deadline resulted in the advance of a particularly destructive piece education policy, without the opportunity for input from the public (including the Kansas PTA).  Thirty Kansas legislators sponsored a bill that functionally bans of all K-12 education activities related to our state’s current education standards. The estimated financial cost of this ban is $9 million, along with the substantial disruption to learning and post-secondary preparation of Kansas youth (Wichita Eagle, 2016; Kansas PTA Issue Brief, 2013).

Several other bills have advanced through committees and chambers in opposition to numerous concerns raised the public education community (read KS PTA testimony here).  Among these most alarming bills is the expansion of the private school voucher-type program referred to as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program of 2014. The proposed expansion increases the subsidy for religious, private school tuition, which is the equivalent of public funding for schools that may legally refuse to admit any student and refuse to comply with accountability measures.  The proposed expansion also weakens the program preference for youth living in poverty and removes the state budget cap (Lawrence Journal World, 2016).  

Other proposed education mandates that could be imposed without the authority of the State Board of Education or local schools boards and without additional funding from the state, include:

·         an opt-in mandate for human sexuality education;

·         an unfunded ethnic studies mandate restricting content to 4 ethnic groups and prohibiting content related to social justice or reparation;

·         juvenile justice reform that could increase the population of youth with behavioral  and learning challenges into the public schools, without additional resources to meet those needs;

·         mandated financial literacy course for graduation, without additional state resources to implement the program;  

·         mandated annual one-hour suicide prevention inservice of all school personnel, without additional resources to implement the program;

·         authorizing the possession of air gun weapons on school property, regardless of the policy position of local school boards;  and

·         carrying of concealed handguns by public employees while engaged in employment; requires municipalities (local governments) to allow employees to carry “concealed handgun while engaged in the duties of such employee's employment outside of such employer's place of business, including while in a means of conveyance.” As amended, does not appear to apply to school districts for now; and

·         reducing job-to-work assistance for women and children living in poverty, at a time when poverty has risen by 20% (Kansas Action for Children/Topeka Capital Journal, 2016).

A detailed outline by the Kansas Association of School Boards provide more information on each of these proposed bills (KASB Update, Feb 2016).

Another round of mid-year cuts expected. Kansas legislature sent an adjusted budget bill to the Governor this past week. However, the prospect of sustaining a balanced budget throughout this fiscal year remains tenuous.  Last year’s promise to protect Block grant funding for K-12 public education has been revoked. The Governor has been given allotment authority to make targeted cuts to programs and services of his choice (Kansas City Star, 2016).  The legislature is also expected to consider additional cost reduction actions, as recommended by Alvarez & Marsal (Final Report, 2016).  

New school finance formula needed by June 30. The Kansas Supreme Court found that the current school finance method actually widened the funding inequity between school districts, thus ruling the K-12 Block Grants as unconstitutional. The Kansas legislature has been given until June 30 to resolve the issue, yet again.  If the legislature fails to adopt an equitable means of distributing state funding for K-12 public education, school districts will not be allowed to open in the fall.  Multiple efforts are underway to develop a new school finance formula, but with different stakeholders and towards different ends. A School Finance Framework developed by the Kansas school administrators and school boards has identified six key principles for a new formula, including the cornerstone: “Every student in Kansas’ public schools will have an equal opportunity to be college and career ready” (USA, KSSA, KASBO, 2016).  


Mary Sinclair, PhD, Legislative CoChair,

Devin Wilson, Legislative CoChair,   

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2015 Kansas PTA Legislative Priorities for Education

In alignment with the 2015 Kansas PTA Legislative Platform, adopted by the 2015 convention delegates, the Kansas PTA Legislative Priorities for the 2015-2016 Kansas legislative session are the following:
EDUCATION PLATFORM—CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION. The Kansas PTA will recommend, initiate and support legislation and appropriation for public schools that will ensure all children and youth in Kansas a high quality, adequately funded education. 
1. Kansas PTA will support efforts to strengthen and improve the Kansas public school finance system, which includes legislation and policies that: a. uphold Kansas Constitutional obligations to make suitable provision for the finance of the Kansas public schools that is equitable for every child. b. restore state cuts to base state aid per pupil, back to levels comparable to those deemed suitable by the legislature - actual costs identified in research studies requested and authorized by the Kansas legislature (e.g., Legislative Post Audit 2006 Cost Study). c. pursue solutions to fully fund state and federal educational mandates, including the new uniform financial accounting and reporting act, without disproportionately shifting the burden to local communities.
2. Kansas PTA will support efforts to restore an equitable and balanced tax policy to maintain a reliable revenue stream for public education. A policy which draws upon a combination of income, property and sales taxes has been proven by history to be a secure and sustainable approach. Kansas PTA opposes provisions limiting the growth of government before public education is fully funded to the statutory levels. 
3. Kansas PTA will support efforts to preserve the Kansas Constitutional infrastructure for education, including nonpartisan elections of Kansas school board members and their appointment of our Education Commissioner, as well as, retaining the primary responsibility of defining the phrase intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement with the education governance structure (Kansas School Board, Kansas Department of Education, education scholars and practitioners). 
4. Kansas PTA supports the State Board of Education’s adoption of new education standards including the College and Career Ready Standards (derived from the Common Core States Standards Initiative) and the Next Generation Science Standards. Kansas PTA opposes legislation that would defund efforts to implement curriculum related to Common Core and/or the Next Generation Science Standards. 
5. Kansas PTA opposes the use of vouchers, scholarships or tax credits toward the tuition of non-public schools that can discriminate in admissions, provide sectarian religious instruction or “compete” under different rules than public schools; we affirm Governor Brownback’s position that vouchers would not be effective in the state of Kansas. 
6. Kansas PTA will advocate for evidence-based prevention and early intervention programs, including early childhood programs (e.g., Parent as Teachers and Pre-K Pilot), allocating state funds for all-day kindergarten, Head Start, and student engagement programs that reduce dropout rates and increase school completion. 
 7. While Kansas PTA supports the current state charter legislation, passed in 1994, that allows for the creation of charter schools under the supervision of local boards of education, Kansas PTA opposes any charter related legislation that: allows for non-licensed teachers or allows for authorizing entities that are for-profit, private or non-education. 
 EDUCATION PLATFORM—TEACHER SUPPORT. Recognizing that quality education for children is directly related to the effectiveness and efficiency of school personnel, the Kansas PTA will recommend, initiate and support legislation and appropriations to encourage, recognize and provide incentives for school personnel that will improve and benefit the education of children and youth in Kansas. 
8. Kansas PTA supports restoration and allocation of state funding for teacher mentoring, staff development and other evidenced-based programs that promote a professional teaching community, teacher retention and recruitment of quality teachers. EDUCATION PLATFORM—PARENT ENGAGEMENT. The Kansas PTA recognizes no educational system can be of the highest quality without the support, involvement and cooperation of parents, legislators, and the community. 
9. Kansas PTA will encourage the adoption of PTA parent engagement standards into relevant legislation and policy. EDUCATION PLATFORM—CHILD SAFETY AND PROTECTION. The Kansas PTA advocates for the safety of children and youth, advocating on issues related to personal safety, violence prevention, and a fair juvenile justice system. 
10. Kansas PTA supports programming and policies related to safe routes to school, bully prevention, and the protection of children from gun violence. 
Publication of the Kansas PTA Advocacy Leadership (2014). 
Mary Sinclair, PhD 
Brian Hogsett, 
Debbie Lawson, VP of Advocacy, 
Adopted by the 2015 Kansas PTA Convention delegates 4/25/15

Request a presentation with SMAC Legislative Chairs; Devin Wilson and/or Mary Sinclair.  Invite them to be a guest speaker at your local PTA meeting, Site council, or staff meeting

Devin Wilson and Mary Sinclair are SMAC Legislative Co-Chairs for 2014-2016.  They were asked to share their personal insights and stories of what led them to their charge and involvement in PTA Legislative Advocacy.  They've met at the same crossroads of - PTA, public policy and education –  but their routes are very different from each other. 

– Devin Wilson, SMAC Legislative Co-Chair - 

As a new parent, I started out avoiding my local Mill Creek Elementary PTA. I didn’t want to be volunteered to help with bake sales or what I thought of at the time as 'other nonsense' that could take an hour or two out of my already hectic school year. Then I started noticing some of the issues facing our schools and began to learn about the role PTA plays in our schools. 

I started by emailing my principal and he explained that there was only so much he could do. He told me that a great deal of the authority is held by our state legislature. They set the budget and they make the rules. It began to dawn on me that school districts are expected to help every single child achieve academic success regardless of whether the principal and teachers have sufficient resources and time to do so. I couldn't understand how people ran for office, claiming to be “pro-education” and yet not support votes for public schools. 

This is how my journey started. I finally understood the need. I started asking questions. These problems simply would not fix themselves. Teachers and parents needed to know what was going on in Topeka. Our elected officials needed to spend some time in our public schools. 

I was curious how things really work in Topeka. I decided to find out. Last legislative session, 2014, I watched as several bills dealing with education were introduced, and sent to committee. People testifying in committee were parents, teachers, but more alarmingly, lobbyists from groups that don’t represent the best interests of Kansas public schools. Some of these lobbyists are well funded, and given direct access to legislators for weeks on end promoting bills that would have been detrimental to Kansas schools, and our school kids. In many cases, the committee seemed to have its mind made up, at the direction of the chair of the committee. A local representative told me that transparency and swift, loud public outcry appeared to be one of the few ways of helping true propublic education legislators stop destructive bills -- routinely disguised by misleading names. 

I was there the weekend of April 5th and 6th, in the Statehouse galleries, with hundreds of teachers and other concerned citizens, to watch democracy in action. Democracy quickly turned to political strategies, as the bipartisan bill to address the recent Gannon Supreme Court decision to adequately fund Kansas Schools was thrown out by leadership. A last minute education funding plan (not even a bill) was completely rewritten, behind closed doors, by only a couple of hand-picked legislators. The facade of discussion bouncing from house to senate, and back, was maintained until leadership secured enough votes to force their agenda on Kansans. The resulting plan was passed at 9:15 pm, Sunday April 6th, while our senators and house representatives were operating on three hours sleep the night before. No bill was available to read until a week after the vote. 

One solution to this gap between Kansans' values and those of the legislators elected by less than 15% of eligible voters, can be resolved simply by going to the polls. We also encourage you to find your senator or house representative, and start the lines of communication. You must be a voice for your kids or students. You must speak up to be heard.Silence is consent for what goes on, behind the curtain. And, the Wizards of Oz are supported by corporations and organizations who seek to privatize K-12 education.

– Mary Sinclair, SMAC Legislative Co-Chair

I am a Shawnee Mission School District alumnus – Thunderbird, Scout, Mustang, and Lancer.   My mother was active in the PTA throughout our grade school years. She impressed upon me, at an early age, the value of parents working together with teachers to create opportunities for every student to have a positive educational experience. I just assumed PTA participation was a part of being a K12 public school parent.  

I am also somewhat of a political junkie. Growing up, politics was a common topic of conversation around the dinner table, over morning coffee, or during family gatherings – and when we aren’t talking politics – it doesn’t take long for the conversation to roll back round.   While I find today’s ideological gridlock beyond frustrating, along with the push for national corporate profit over the common good, I am always re-inspired by those elected officials who contribute their time and energy to actually govern with a curious mind, a long-term view, and the well-being of all Kansas citizens in mind.

Professionally, I was drawn to the field education.  I have a background in special education research with a focus on school dropout prevention. Through the University of Minnesota, I spent 20 plus years working with schools districts to evaluate the effectives of strategies to keep youth with learning and behavioral challenges engaged in school and on track to graduate.  

This question, this concern still motivates me today.  If we know that evidence-based educational opportunities, such as comprehensive early childhood, can influence whether or not a child goes on to complete high school, why are we not providing our public schools with the resources to do so?  Why would our elected officials choose not to make that investment, with a known return on investment to the child and to society?  Why would our elected officials mandate that students attend school through age 16 or 17, and yet set so many up for failure by withholding the tools needed for a successful educational experience --- and then blame those same teachers and students for not getting the job done?

When my family and I moved back to Kansas in 2002 and enrolled our son at Highlands Elementary, we joined the PTA and I signed up to be on the PTA Legislative Committee.  Parents and teachers play a significant role in helping to support students’ educational achievements. Our elected officials determine the amount of resources that teachers and schools have to employ in the classroom.  Registered Kansas voters choose the elected officials with the sole authority to properly equip our public schools with the tools to ensure that every child has equitable opportunity to achieve college and career readiness.  

What can WE do?


Advocacy begins at the polls. Why a PTA priority? Consider the primary responsibility of state government… 
  • Non-partisanplatform policy-based advocacy 
  • Register - go to JoCoElection for the Voter Lookup and confirm your registration 
  • Be a voter, be an informed voter


            Equity issue has been decided (HB2506)
            Adequacy issue pending -  Rose Standards 
  • Education bill HB2506 passed last legislative session  
  • K12 Student Performance & Efficiency Commission – KSLegislature