Newsletter - Week Three

Another week has gone by in Topeka and things are continuing to heat up in the legislature. As Kansas celebrated our 152nd birthday, we were working in both committee and on the floor at a faster pace than most in the Capitol can remember.

Most legislation, including taxation and budget issues, are still working their way through the committee process, but will begin to show itself in the form of floor votes throughout the month of February. However, this week did mark the passage of two important pieces of legislation:

Judicial Reform – SCR 1601
In last week’s newsletter, you might recall I discussed the issue of judicial reform and our need to change the current system in Kansas, which is the only one in the country of its kind. I also discussed the most prominent proposal to reform it, which is a system based on the federal model, where the Governor would select a nominee and that person would be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

This week, that measure, in bill SCR 1601, was passed by the Senate by a vote of 28-12. We also adopted companion legislation, SB 8, which would create an independent review board to help the Senate evaluate nominees prior to confirmation, by a vote of 28-11.

Both these measures now head to the House. SCR 1601 would require a 2/3 majority and then a vote of the people, which would occur in August of 2014.

Paycheck Protection
Over in the House, HB 2023, otherwise known as the Paycheck Protection Act, was adopted by a vote of 68-56. The bill does not keep union members from writing checks and or setting up automatic bank drafts to support their PAC. The bill does not restrict the free speech rights of the union or its members. Additionally, it does not prevent any fundraising or union political activities. Furthermore, dues for membership in an employee organization (union) will still be able to be processed through payroll deduction. It’s important to remember the distinction between dues and PAC money used for political purposes.

This legislation now comes over to the Senate, where I am looking forward to hearing it debated.

More on Education
Education is the most critical issue we deal with in terms of our budget, and is the most important issue for many Kansans. I plan to focus a great deal of time on methods to improve student achievement.

In last week’s legislative report, I posted a link to the Final Recommendations of the Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force, which you can view here. Included on Page 12 of the report are comments from the public that I wanted to draw attention to. These don’t necessarily reflect my opinion, but I thought they were particularly interesting. Here is a sample of the public comments:

No study of our school system’s inefficiencies can be complete without a top-to-bottom analysis of how sports programs have come to dominate our curriculum and spending priorities. Sports are the curriculum and school work is the extra-curricular activity. Last week in our school involved about 30 hours devoted to traveling or attending sporting events. In small schools, this effectively shuts down the school for up to half of the day on any day involving away games. This needs to be addressed at the state level so as to mandate limits on the number of games per week, per year, etc. A cost-benefit analysis should be completed regarding what is being spent on sports versus what our “payoff” is toward educating students.

Contrary to state law, our district does not seek competitive bids for capital projects. They have a standing agreement with professional firms that design facilities (such as libraries and schools). The district contends that these services do not require competitive bidding since the work is not part of a “capital project” but is instead a “professional service.” The district has on multiple occasions entered into lease-purchase agreements with a private developer absent competitive bidding. These contracts include construction of new buildings and a multi-school contract for expansions.

We have too many school districts with overlapping functions. This is partly due to having so many jurisdictions. Especially where school districts are close to each other, services and administration can be consolidated. This does not have to mean closing the schools—just sharing things like specialists, principles, and other administrative staff.

We now have two teacher leaders and one assessment manager. This used to be one job! Our district is very administrative-heavy, with little teacher support. Teachers have too many administrators that require extra reporting, email-answering, and additional duties! Cut these positions before cutting any classroom teachers. Some administrators leave at 3:30 or before every day. Most teachers have so much to do that they have to come in early and stay late just to stay afloat. Even the principal rarely works an 8-hour day! This lack of leadership (do as I say, but not as I do) hurts our school and causes a hostile environment for all. Our district is way too top-heavy. For example, we have an administrative employee of the district who stops in at our school to check in on his son, sit in with teachers, and offer advice. There are so many hardworking employees, but our principal (and teacher leader) do not lead by example, which is sad.

I encourage you to read the entire report and contact me with any recommendations you have. Finally, I also want to point to this chart depicting the relation between education spending and student achievement. The blue and red lines are spending per pupil, the other lines are various achievement scores:

This data should continue to be part of our decisions as we move forward.

Thank you for reading this week’s newsletter.

Senator Jeff Melcher

Paid for by Melcher for Senate; Daniel Kjergaard, Treasurer