Capitol Chatter
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Capitol Chatter

Tom Krebs

Monday, March 13, 2017

 “Admission is free and characters abound”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Life! Life, do you hear me?! Give my creation LIIIFEEE!!!!!!
April 6, 2014, just shy of three years ago, the House of Representatives, under the total domination of the Brownback administration, did just that.  After days of contentious debate, the House passed, late at night, albeit without peels of thunder or streaking lightening, the conference committee report on HB 2506. The report garnered the minimum 63 votes necessary to pass.
It was a potpourri of bills meshed together at the last minute. There were K-12 appropriations, higher ed appropriations, the infamous removal of due process from K-12 teachers, and the establishment of the corporate scholarship tax credit program, among other elements.
Conference committees are traditionally the sites for House and Senate negotiators to hammer out differences between language passed in each chamber. The original intent was to create a compromise that could pass each chamber after each had perhaps made some minor revisions.
HB 2506, however, was perhaps the ultimate Frankenstein of a conference committee report. Not only did it include both appropriations and policy pieces, which were contested by KNEA in court but was later upheld, but it also contained language from a bill, Hs Sub for SB 22, that had failed in the House in 2013, only to be passed in the Senate as an amendment, and as such, never was vetted in a Senate hearing.
The scholarship tax credit language embedded in HB 2506 allows a corporation to receive a 70 percent tax credit for money it donates to a scholarship granting organization (SGO). The SGO then gives it to private schools, almost exclusively religious, that give the money to eligible students as scholarships.  There are two bad outcomes from this practice. The statute allows up to $10 million to be given as credits. That’s $10 million of revenue the state is passing up; not a sound practice when the state budget is terribly underwater. The other is the state has absolutely no way of monitoring the effectiveness of its investment. Many of the schools getting the money are accredited by the state, but others are not.  Is the state getting its money worth? It has no way of telling. Again, an unsound practice.
Some would say a third bad outcome is religious schools are receiving taxpayer dollars, which is prohibited by the state’s constitution. That’s why this process is often referred to as a neo-voucher, as it was specifically designed to be an end run around voucher prohibitions. Proponents of the policy knew this approach had been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in a case involving Arizona, a state with a constitutional prohibition similar to the one in Kansas.
So what lies ahead for the program?  One possibility is a stake could be driven through it, which is the intent of HB 2252. That bill, which is the House Education Committee, would kill the program as of July 1 by disallowing any more SGO contributions. After that it would die, as the money spigot was turned off, new applicants refused, and current recipients aged out of the program. The bill was never heard in the committee, so it never got a chance to be debated on the House floor.
Another path is 180 degrees different and contained in HB 2374. It would expand the program.  The $10 million limit would remain, but the donation would be a 90 percent credit compared to the current 70 percent. At 100 percent, the donor has almost absolutely no reason to not give money away, as it becomes an even wash for his or her pocketbook. The amended bill would also raise the value of a scholarship and expand the definition of eligibility.
At one point this bill was to have a hearing last Friday, but on Thursday it was announced it will be held the day after tomorrow, tentatively.
Given the Governor’s stated desire to have more school choice in a new funding formula and the intent of the federal government, under a Betsy DeVos-led Department of Education, to bring vouchers to the states through federal tax credits, it is clear a struggle of some proportion lies ahead.
Either choice could be accomplished by being included in a new funding formula bill, starting with the one that could come out of the House K-12 Budget Committee in the next several weeks.
Watching it play out won’t be as entertaining as Young Frankenstein’s version of Puttin’ on the Ritz, but the route ultimately taken will be another strong barometer of the strength, or lack thereof, of the Mod/D coalition.
And, hopefully not a surprise, if a hearing is held, yours truly will be testifying as an opponent…
Tom Krebs is a recently retired KASB staff member who survived nine legislative sessions.  He is a former teacher, administrator, and school board member. For more news from the statehouse and around the education world in general, follow him, if you dare, on Twitter at TomKrebs1. Again, admission is free, characters abound, and views are his and his alone!

Tom Krebs is a recently retired KASB staff member who survived nine legislative sessions.  He is a former teacher, administrator and school board member. For more news from the statehouse and around the education world in general, follow him, if you dare, on Twitter at TomKrebs1. Again, admission is free, characters abound and views are his and his alone!
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