Author Archive for Ann Mah

State Board of Education April update


The Legislature returned on May 1. They have a boat load of work to do! Taxes, budget, and school funding will be on center stage. I will be updating you as things happen. In the mean time, I’m reporting tonight on state school board issues. Hope you find this interesting!


Meeting with Senator Moran

The State Board met with Senator Jerry Moran last Saturday. It was an amicable and informative meeting. He said the budget was largely set last year and that it would likely not reflect Pres. Trump’s budget proposals. They could either pass a “real” budget (there are about 12 budget bills for different parts of the government) or just kick the can down the road with a continuing resolution. It would be Sen. Moran’s preference to do a real budget.

He felt that most of the education funding would be level or increased. The feds have never fully funded special education (which is a federal mandate), and that is a huge budget item for many school districts. He would like to increase that funding. We told him we didn’t expect increases in all areas but needed to keep the funding we have to move our state Vision forward.

We asked that the Secretary of Education not mess with ESSA (the new education bill that replaced No Child Left Behind) and allow it to work. We also stated our concerns that there were many unfilled positions in the Department of Education and there was “no one home” to talk to about our state plans or to answer questions.

We also asked the Senator where he stood on school vouchers and he said that states should not be mandated to implement vouchers. He said that the President could not on his own authority move money to private school vouchers without Congressional approval, and that was not likely to happen. We were glad to get that perspective!

It was the start of a dialogue we hope to continue.


State Board News

The State Board met April 18 & 19.  We had regular business Tuesday and toured the State Schools for the Deaf and Blind on Wednesday. Here are some items from our meeting:

  1. We delayed the signing of a contract for state assessment testing services until this year’s testing is done. To say we are unhappy with our contractor’s performance this year is an understatement. Once again we had delays for a couple of days. We want 100% performance.
  2. We accepted standards for World Language (previously foreign language) and Dance and Creative movement. These are the standards schools will be expected to meet.
  3. We saw the list of the first group of Kansas Career and Technical Education scholars. Students to take career-tech ed courses and meet certain standards are eligible for the award. These students are making smart decisions about their careers, so “thank you” to the districts that made the effort to recognize these students.
  4. We heard an excellent presentation on social media and digital citizenship in education from Kristin Magette with Eudora schools. She is the author of Embracing Social Media: A Practical Guide to Manage Risk and Leverage Opportunity. Social media is such a huge part of students’ lives, it is smart for schools to learn more about how to help students manage this and actually use it in the classroom.
  5. The State Board of Education is the “local” school board for our state schools for the deaf and the blind. Our tour of the schools was awesome. These schools are doing amazing things with kids with single and multiple issues. The sense of community at the School for the Deaf is something to see. They are making sure our students with disabilities are achieving great things and ready for life.

Challenge Awards

I enjoyed visiting the Topeka 501, Seaman, and Lawrence school districts to present Challenge awards to 11 schools. The Challenge Awards recognize what schools with high numbers of at-risk students are doing to close the achievement gap. These schools scored high on state assessments in math and reading, had good graduation rates and attendance rates, among other achievements. Congratulations!


KanCare -or not?


April 7 is the first adjournment of the 2017 session. Last week saw a flurry of action and this coming week will be even wilder. Don’t expect any “final” action on school funding, the budget, or taxes before the break, because they will be waiting on the new revenue forecast due out in late April.

The big action items this week will likely be an attempt to override a gubernatorial veto and getting some preliminary bills out on critical issues. See details below.


The House and Senate passed an expansion of KanCare last week and the Governor quickly vetoed it. HB 2044 would provide KanCare (Medicaid) to an estimated 150,000 poor working Kansans who fall in the “insurance donut hole”. They make too much money to get KanCare now, and don’t make enough money to qualify for subsidies on the Obamacare/ACA health care exchange. These are folks working for minimum wage or so.

One of the key features of Obamacare was the expansion of Medicaid (known as KanCare in Kansas) for low-income earners. Medicaid costs are usually shared 60%/40% by the federal government and states respectively. Under the KanCare expansion, new recipients would be covered 90% by the federal government and 10% by the states. 31 states have taken the expansion. Supporters of the expansion note that the expansion has helped keep hospitals open, provides better care, and helped the state economy. (You can read more about the issue at By not doing the expansion, Kansas hospitals and clinics doing emergency care for uninsured Kansans have lost over $1.7 billion in support. That is one reason why some are closing. Opponents said the state cannot afford any additional funds at this time and are concerned about what might happen with Obamacare in the future.

Governor Brownback has consistently opposed any expansion of Medicaid in Kansas. While the bill passed by a large margin it was not a “veto-proof” majority. It takes 2/3 of legislators in both the House and Senate to override that veto It will likely be a very close vote.


If you want to get involved in the KanCare expansion issue, here is how our local legislators voted and how to contact them:




The Senate passed out a budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal years. It spends about $800 million more than the state expects to take in over the next two years. This bill does not take into account additional funding for K12 education, KanCare expansion, highway funds, or the state water plan. It does include a pay raise for state employees for the first time in a decade. It also includes a pay raise for those who provide Home and Community Based Services. It also restores funding for higher education and stabilizes the Children’s Initiative Fund for early childhood education. The House is working on its budget, expected to be debated this week.

The House tax committee passed out a tax plan this week that includes a 5% flat income tax and puts LLCs and small businesses back on the tax rolls. It raises the standard deduction that 70% of Kansas tax filers use. It raises about $850 million over the next two years. It also lowers the sales tax on food from 6.5% to 5% in 2019. There isn’t much enthusiasm for a flat tax, as it is regressive, taxing the poor more than the wealthy. This bill is expected to be debated in the House this week. The Senate has no tax bill coming out yet.

Keep in mind that all of these bills are starting points for negotiation. The final work will not be done until the May veto session and the two houses conference on the bills.

Budget bill to conference


Not a lot of action at the Capitol last week, but at least some movement toward closing out 2017. Details below.


The House K12 Education Budget committee continued its work on a school funding bill. It is likely they will have a bill to the House floor before the April 7 recess. The Senate began hearings on school funding this week. They are largely getting up to speed on the issues involved, past formulas, how the court order fits in, etc. The Senate committee chairman indicated the Senate might work from the House bill rather than write its own bill, but members of the committee have introduced bills for consideration.


The State Board of Education met this week. Some of the highlights were:

  • Updating standards for teacher programs for physics, chemistry, and foreign language.
  • Approved a tool for schools to use to look at kindergarten readiness. It is called Ages and Stages. Several area schools piloted the program this year and it has good promise to help schools prepare for incoming kindergartners. The parents actually do the assessment and help the school understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • The Board approved a model for mentoring first year teachers. We hope to stem the tide of young teachers leaving the profession by giving them more guidance from experienced teachers.
  • I got word that Topeka 501, Lawrence, and Seaman school districts had received Challenge Awards. These awards are given to schools that make a notable difference in student achievement despite facing significant challenges in their school population. I will let you know when I present these awards and the specific schools and grades involved.
  • We got an update on progress with the Education Superhighway project. Its goal is to increase internet capacity at our schools to accommodate the increased need and help schools that are behind in that area.
  • We heard from a group at Leavenworth schools that is using physical activity to improve student success. It is amazing what we are learning about how the brain works and how physical activity can improve neural connections and student learning. Good stuff!


The first item of budget business the Legislature needs to address is closing out the 2017 Fiscal Year that ends June 30. There is about a $281 million gap to close. The House passed a bill to fix the problem by using idle funds in the Pooled Money Investment Board, without cuts to state agencies or education.

The Senate passed its 2017 wrap-up bill last week. It uses $163 million from the PMIB, delays payments to K12 schools and also delays $150 million in payments to KPERS. Senate President Wagle moved to amend the bill to include $104 million in cuts to state agencies, K12 schools, and higher ed. She wanted to have a higher ending balance going into Fiscal Year 2018.

The debate centered around whether or not schools could absorb that much of a cut in just a couple of months, and the impact on social services (ie, largely in-home care). President Wagle wanted K12 schools to spend down their reserve funds, but not all schools have reserve funds. Also, many funds are by law for specific services, not general spending. Her amendment failed and the bill came out with few amendments.

Now the House and Senate are meeting to work out their differences and send a bill to the Governor. Both houses are also working on bills for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years. The Senate expects to have a bill out this week for debate. Likely, though, nothing will be finalized until after the April break, when new revenue projections come out. Also, they will need to address a tax plan to fit the budget and fix our structural imbalance. More to follow!


Here are some other bills/issues seeing action last week:

  • SB 78 was heard last week.  It requires county election officials to give more advance notice when polling places are moved.
  • SB 146 extends the 20 mill levy that goes to fund schools and had a hearing. This has to be renewed every two years and provides over $550 million in funding to K12 education. The bill also continues the policy of not taxing the first $20,000 of a home’s value. There was some discussion regarding ending the ability of local governments to give tax abatements to new construction on that 20 mills, but that is not in the bill.
  • There has been some discussion about a flat tax for Kansas income tax. Something in the 4% range. Doubt it will get serious consideration, as it it regressive in nature, hurting low-income and benefiting wealthy Kansans.
  • There seems to be at least a chance that Medicaid expansion will pass this session, in spite of the current bill before Congress.
  • There was a hearing on requiring school district employees to move to the high-deductible state plan. This was a recommendation of the efficiency study the legislature bought last year. This would save money by shifting more of the cost of health care to the employees. Don’t think this one is going anywhere. Neither is the one that requires school districts to buy things like food and fuel through the state procurement office. Doesn’t really work with many rural districts where suppliers don’t want to go for small buys.
  • A bill is being introduced to prohibit concealed carry in state mental hospitals.  Attempts to ban concealed carry in hospitals and universities have failed so far this session. We’ll see what happens with this. There is also a bill to lower the age for concealed carry to age 18, which magnifies the issues around concealed carry on college campuses.

Legislative/Education update


We have only a few weeks to go before the “regular” session ends. There is a break for most of April while new revenue numbers come in, then a wrap-up session in May. Lots of work to do and not much happened last week.


With the Gannon school funding order coming out just before their return, the legislature’s Education Committees got busy in varying degrees this week. The House K12 Education Budget Committee is charged with coming up with the House’s version of a school funding formula. They had hearings about the Gannon order and continued work on the best way to fund “at-risk” students. Chairman Larry Campbell said he expected to have the committee work a bill sometime next week.

While a number of bills have been heard in the House, HB 2270 is getting the most attention. It is very similar to the previous formula, which was found to be constitutional, but adds more transportation funding and more funding for kindergarten and pre-school, among other services.

The Senate is behind the curve on school funding. While Senator Anthony Hensley asked the legislature’s leadership to start working on a formula in 2015, Senate President Susan Wagle just this week finally assigned a special committee to work on a school funding formula. The Select Committee on Education Finance will be chaired by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning. Senator Hensley will be the ranking minority member. President Wagle indicated the committee would start meeting late next week.

The Legislature has until June 30 to demonstrate to the Court that it has a constitutional school funding formula.


One of the things the State Board of Education is working on is making sure students are more ready to go to work or post-secondary training. They are emphasizing many efforts toward that end, like individual plans of study for every student and more emphasis on kindergarten readiness.

One measure of success is looking at what students do when they leave high school. We need about 71% of Kansas workers to have a college degree, certification, or some kind of post-secondary training. We now have access to data on what students do after graduation and we are going to track this for seven years after graduation.

While there are still a few holes (like tracking the 1% who enter the military), we can now look at what students are doing and find ways to help more get the training they need for success.


We reviewed the data we have so far on the Class of 2010. The first year after graduation, 64.5% of students entered some kind of post-secondary training (lime green area). The next year 4.4% more entered training. But 13.5% dropped out (yellow area). Five years later, only 39.3% had completed their training (college or certification, etc.) (magenta area). 23.7% never even entered training (purple area). That is not enough trained workers for our Kansas workforce.

The bad news is that if you look at the charts of graduation years after 2010, they look almost the same. We just have to move that needle. This data will hopefully help us analyze the systemic problems and fix them. We will have this data by high school as well. Very exciting stuff for those of us who like to have hard data on school success and accountability.



With just three weeks left in the regular session, we still have an unbalanced financial structure with not enough money to cover our expenses and no long-term fix in place. Evidently they did find a way to paper over the issue of running out of money this month, so it appears the state will pay its bills.

The House passed its tax bill, HB 2178, and the Senate passed it as well. The Governor vetoed that bill and the Senate upheld the veto. So far, neither the House nor the Senate has passed a new tax bill. The Senate took a largely ceremonial vote to kill the Governor’s tax bill.

On the budget side, it appears there will be a vote in the Senate on a bill to resolve the 2017 budget shortfall. The good news is that February revenues came in on the high side, so there is less of a hole to fill. Lots of work to do in just three weeks. Odds are there will be no resolution to the tax, budget, or school funding issues until May, when new revenue estimates are available.