Copy
To learn more, visit www.MelissaRooker.com!
View this email in your browser

RESOURCES

Kansas Legislature
Johnson County Election Office
Register to Vote

Communities of the
25th District

Fairway
Mission
Mission Hills
Mission Woods
Prairie Village
Roeland Park
Westwood
Westwood Hills

CONTACT MELISSA

In Topeka: 
State Capitol Room 352-A
Topeka, KS 66612
melissa.rooker@house.ks.gov
785-296-7686

At home in Fairway
4124 Brookridge Drive
Fairway, KS 66205
melissa@melissarooker.com
913-961-1555

Dear Friend:

Before we jump in, I want to express my gratitude to every Kansas teacher – retired, current, and future. Your words of encouragement, and the presence of over 600 of you in the Capitol late into the night on Saturday made the difference for your students. You arrived at just the right time that night to provide much needed moral support. I am honored to have received the KNEA “Friend of Public Education Award” on Sunday morning. It was well worth getting up early after such a late night!

 
Kansas National Education Association's "Friend of Public Education Award"
Thank you to the Kansas Association for Colleges for Teacher Education for their Advocacy Award. 
I’ll soon be sharing a “blogroll” of sorts with all of the news coverage, but this week was also my turn at the Shawnee Mission Post’s Capitol Update, as well as my comments included in their update on the issue: Finally, to hear the play-by-play for what you’ll read below, please join me for a panel discussion, “Kansas Public Schools Update” at the Matt Ross Community Center this Thursday, April 12 at 7pm. 

Constitutional amendment
A coordinated, well-funded effort is underway to convince you that those of us who support our K-12 public schools and seek to provide a responsible remedy to end this lawsuit care nothing for any other area of the state budget. In reality, the budget pressure we currently face stems from the reckless 2012 tax cuts.  
 
HCR 5029, an amendment to change Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, moved out of House Judiciary last week. The proposed amendment retains the clause directing the legislature to make suitable provision for the finance of public education, but adds a sentence that declares:
  • “The power to establish and the jurisdiction to resolve all questions regarding the adequacy of such provision shall be exclusively within the power of the legislature of the state.”
Let that sink in – the power to establish funding amounts AND the power to decide if those amounts are adequate would be solely the power of one branch of government. Our founding fathers are rolling in their graves right now. This new sentence removes an important check on runaway legislative power, that of judicial review. I do not support this.
 
The most common complaint used by those who seek to change the constitution is that we have been locked in an “endless cycle of litigation” therefore the constitution is to blame. The stubborn refusal of the legislature to live up to our obligation to Kansas school children is the real culprit.
 
Had we achieved the Montoy settlement target funding, and then done nothing more than keep up with inflation for the subsequent years, we would not be battling in court today. The legislature has had multiple opportunities to “make suitable provision for the finance of the public education interests of the state,” but instead chose to repeal the funding formula, freeze funding for two years at levels previously found to be unconstitutional, cut taxes and claim insufficient levels of revenues to do any more for schools.
  • Only when we have met our constitutional duty to provide appropriate funding to achieve the goals for which we are holding our schools accountable, can we reasonably expect break the cycle of litigation.
To that end, the legislature worked through the weekend to send a school finance package to the governor’s desk. It’s not perfect, but at long last we have a strong case for the court. As outlined earlier in the week, the plan:
  • Addresses the equity issues cited by the court
  • Adds a schedule of funding increases, bringing the total new money to $823 million between 2018-2023
  • Reworks the transportation weighting to address concerns raised in the December Legislative Post Audit report
  • Increases Special Education funding
  • Creates a pilot partnership between community mental health providers and a select group of schools
  • Adds funding for teacher mentoring
  • Adds funding for the governor’s proposal to ensure every student can take the ACT/Workeys tests
  • Enhances accountability
While most of the attention is typically on how much money we are allocating, the real focus should be on how we are investing our dollars. Last year, our work in SB 19 helped direct funds to at-risk and early childhood programs in order to target the group of students at the heart of the court’s concerns. We invested in all-day kindergarten funding, a decision that helped realign $40 million in resources for targeted at-risk interventions that should help close the achievement gap. We increased the weightings for at-risk and ELL students, and directed those funds to be spent on evidence-based programs. We increased funding for teacher mentoring and professional development to help ensure that we can attract and retain great quality teachers. An overall increase in base funding is already helping districts statewide.
 
We continue to invest in our students in Sub SB 423. One of the most significant choices in this plan is to invest resources in Special Education funding. Increased base, and the other enhancements mentioned above will continue to direct resources to help the most vulnerable students overcome the odds and do better in school.
 
I cannot predict what the court will decide, no one can. Some of my colleagues are convinced we are spending too little, some are convinced we are spending too much, others chose to ignore funding to continue tinkering with policy. Ultimately, it takes 63 representatives and 21 senators to find common ground. Bringing legislation over the finish line requires understanding what it will take to move through both chambers, and a willingness to negotiate and compromise.

The process itself, at least in the House, is worth a mention. Too often, we hear complaints about the process being shortchanged. In this case, I started drafting the bill in early October after the Gannon opinion was handed down.
  • January 5 - the bill was completed and prefiled
  • March 15 – it had a full committee hearing with proper public comment
  • March 26-28 – three full committee days working the bill - all committee members were invited to bring amendments
  • April 2 - the House worked the bill in the committee of the whole, but it failed to pass
  • April 3 - the House worked the bill for a second day, passing it 71-53, I voted yes. In both cases, anyone could bring amendments and many did.
  • April 7 - The Speaker's compromise bill draft which attempted to merge House funding with some Senate policy was amended into Sub SB 423 and passed 63-56, I voted yes.
All of this to say, the opportunity to hear, debate, amend and contribute to the legislation was made fully available to all concerned. There is a significant difference between not being successful at passing your ideas and not having the chance to even try. It was messy and contentious at times, but in the end the work product reflects “the will of the body,” as it should.

High-Stakes Brinksmanship
The brinksmanship on display in the Kansas Senate late last week was conduct unbecoming. Two days were lost to a Senate work stoppage because they were upset with the House education plan. A filibuster was conducted to run the clock out on the session, and a reckless tax package was created that would destroy our fragile recovery before it is even a year old.
 
Due to Senate obstructionism, the House was forced to take action at 11:59pm to save the session with a worst-case scenario deal. We now have a truncated veto session with the official last day on May 4, after which the legislature cannot meet without a special session.
 
The governor has ten days to sign or veto bills, meaning that when we return on April 26, any bill we send him could be held until after May 4 and then vetoed, without the legislature’s ability to override. 
Here are a few articles from the weekend: What’s next
The legislature is on a brief break until April 26. We will return for eight days, adjourning Sine Die on May 4. We still have the state budget to complete. Legal briefs from both sides in the case are due April 30. Response briefs are due May 10, and oral arguments are scheduled May 20. We will know the verdict before the end of June.
Please don't hesitate to contact me with questions or ideas about these or other legislative issues. It is my honor to serve you.

Sincerely,


Rep. Melissa Rooker
Kansas State Representative, District 25
Serving Northeast Johnson County
Copyright © 2018 All rights reserved.
Melissa Rooker,