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Recent Kansas Editorials

Posted September 20

Hutchinson News, Sept. 14

The Kansas National Education Association has asked the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn a 2014 law that eliminated due process rights for teachers with more than three years of employment.

And while the law was a suspect piece of legislation that attacked educators and eroded a protection that would've been best left to local boards of education, the legal argument against the statute ought to interest all Kansans.

The KNEA is arguing that the law is invalid because it violates a clause in the Kansas Constitution that requires lawmakers to consider only one issue in a bill to prevent the practice of grouping unrelated pieces of legislation under one, and likely more politically palatable, bill. The piece eliminating due process was included in a broader funding bill passed by the Legislature.

There's merit in requiring lawmakers to focus on one subject per bill. It makes legislation easier to understand and follow, but more importantly it helps curb the habit of attaching unpopular items to more popular items — something that also has become commonplace in Washington, D.C. Such prevention also keeps lawmakers from passing bad legislation that they then can disguise as something wholesome and good.

There are a number of questionable practices in the way legislation is handled in the Statehouse - chiefly the commonly used practice of "gut and go," whereby the contents of one bill are gutted and replaced with language from another piece of legislation as a way to keep it alive. It doesn't make much sense to allow lawmakers the flexibility to create additional mechanisms to push through their favored bills in a way that isn't completely transparent or in line with the constitution.

While the court considers the case, there's hope that majority lawmakers' appetite for bundling unpopular or controversial legislation in with essential or more popular legislation once again will be limited to the requirements outlined in the Kansas Constitution.

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Lawrence Journal-World, Sept. 19

Give the Kansas Association of School Boards points for creativity.

Last week, the KASB called a news conference to encourage Kansans to take Gov. Sam Brownback up on his recent call for input on the state's school funding formula. The Legislature is expected to write a new school funding formula during the 2017 session.

The KASB was careful to say it wasn't proposing a plan itself, but it did outline what the group felt had to be key components of any plan that gets adopted. But by laying out the components, the KASB narrowed the scope of any plan it would support.

Primarily the KASB advocated for three things in any new plan: overall adequacy of school funding; equitable distribution of funding across the state's 286 school districts; and, the critical one, flexibility for local districts to raise additional money through local taxes to provide programs and services that go beyond the minimum state requirements.

The KASB guidelines are in contrast to a plan laid out last month by a group of former Kansas school administrators and school board members. Their outline did not include "local option budgets," the mechanism used by districts to implement local property taxes that could be used to provide extra educational programs.

And therein lies the central debate for any new school funding formula: whether it's fair for wealthier districts to levy taxes to provide educational extras that students in poorer districts don't have access to.

Prior to 2015, the state formula gave each school district uniform funding based on the total number of students in the district. Additional weight was given for low-income and non-English-speaking students. But districts were allowed to implement local taxes under their local option budgets to pay for enhanced programs and services.

In a 2015 school funding budget crunch, lawmakers repealed the school funding formula and replaced it for two years with a system of block grants that effectively froze every district's funding in place.

Earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the block grant system was inequitable. To comply with the court's ruling, the Legislature reverted to the old formula and added $38 million in Local Option Budget equalization aid.

While that move satisfied the court in the short term that school funding was equitable, it didn't answer the larger question of whether state funding was adequate. This week the court will hear arguments on that question. The plaintiffs are seeking an additional $500 million per year. The ruling in the case, expected before the start of the 2017 legislative session, could make lawmakers' efforts to rewrite the school finance formula a whole lot more difficult.

There are no easy fixes for school funding in Kansas or anywhere. The governor was right to call for public input, but new ideas that haven't already been debated for years might be too much to hope for.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 18

The concept of resisting change because "we've always done it that way" is fortunately becoming an old-fashioned idea.

The world is changing; humans need to adapt.

That's why it is encouraging that the Topeka Police Department is looking into new ways of interacting with citizens.

Last week, two Dallas police officers were in Topeka to meet with law enforcement officials and the public to talk about new ways of law enforcement. Specifically, they offered ideas to reduce crime rates without the traditional approach of catching criminals and putting them in jail.

The Dallas officers — Cpl. Dane White and Det. Paul Park — were joined on stage at Washburn University by Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones and Topeka police Maj. Bill Cochran at a public forum sponsored by WU's criminal justice department and the School of Applied Studies.

White said 30 Dallas officers participate in the Police Athletic League, coaching and teaching youths in areas ranging from boxing to hip-hop dancing to playing guitar.

The department also holds Coffee with Cops events, in which officers serve coffee at McDonalds and talk with residents.

Cochran said Topeka police have started down the same road. The department has 14 dedicated community police officers working on community relations projects.

White and Park explained that Dallas has created a community advisory committee that reviews all police actions. Some decisions by the committee have resulted in the termination of officers, White said. If an officer gets in trouble, the department may post the circumstances and even the officer's name on social media.

"I think we investigate our own very well," Park said.

White estimated that 0.3 percent of officers could be considered bad apples.

"We believe that to be true of the Topeka Police Department, too. It would be very unlikely any work force of 300 people — the number of officers in the TPD — would be 100 percent good apples."

Doing the math, 0.3 percent of 300 means there is a danger that there might be one bad apple in the Topeka Police Department. We hope not, but it's a possibility the department must guard against.

Departments across the country have also been learning to use modern technology, such as social media, to obtain tips about crimes.

Police have to make tough decisions every shift they work — sometimes life or death decisions.

The significance of the visit to Topeka by the Dallas officers is that police departments across the country are communicating with each other about ideas that seem to be working.

We don't have to keep doing things the way we have always done them, and our community is fortunate that the Topeka Police Department recognizes this.

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Wichita Eagle, Sept. 18

Is it coincidence that Gov. Sam Brownback's Council of Economic Advisors stopped producing its quarterly economic report during the run-up to the November election?

Or that the council stopped posting the reports on its website the same time Brownback was facing a difficult 2014 re-election campaign?

Brownback, who complains about the media not reporting all the great economic news in the state, wouldn't be trying to bury this information, would he?

Brownback and his economic advisors decided in 2012 that a report on the "Indicators of the Kansas Economy" would be issued quarterly and serve "as the leading document" to evaluate the state's economy.

"These economic metrics will allow us to determine the state's relative economic position as it relates to the six-state region and the nation, and to monitor in a timely manner if our policies and initiatives are having the desired economic effect," Brownback said at the time.

But as the reports kept showing Kansas trailing the region and nation on most economic measures — despite Brownback's boast that his tax policies would act "like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy" — it became more and more difficult to read or hear about these reports.

After publishing nine consecutive IKE reports online, the council stopped posting them on its website after the March 2014 report. Those interested in seeing the reports had to contact the Kansas Department of Commerce to get a copy.

But now the council stopped producing the report. The Department of Commerce said that, for the time being, it would be using a report that the U.S. Federal Reserve puts together that provides similar statistics.

The last IKE report was in May. As with earlier reports, it showed mixed results.

Kansas trailed the nation in nearly all measures, and it trailed the region in more than half of them - including population growth, personal income and private establishment growth.

Kansas led the region and nation in building permits (up 22.9 percent as of March) and unemployment rate (4.0 percent in March). It was slightly better than the region in gross state product (1.5 percent growth in Kansas in 2015; 1.4 percent in region) but far short of the national average (3.0 percent).

Kansas performed badly in non-farm job growth (-0.1 percent in March). The regional average was 1.5 percent, and national average was 2.0 percent.

Private sector employment growth (a measure that Brownback emphasizes) was even worse: -0.2 percent in Kansas, 1.7 percent for the region, and 2.3 percent for the nation.

Since March, the state's job numbers have worsened. Kansas had 8,300 fewer jobs in August than the previous year, for a -0.6 percent growth rate.

Maybe that's why the council nixed its report.

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