To the editor:
The informal timeline that follows is only a glimpse at the performance played out in our legislature last weekend. It does not tell the background story of the intense lobbying, arm twisting for votes, and promises or threats made to legislators by well-funded organizations.
Nor does it express the profound realization of many that public education has suffered a tremendous blow to put it alongside Kansans' judicial and health systems.
Thursday, April 3:
Deliberations begin on education funding plans to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Take note the Supreme Court published this ruling nearly four weeks prior, letting 19 days of committee meetings pass before leadership prioritized the debate and leaving just two days to make critical decisions regarding half of the state's general funds. The drama had been building from Monday of the week when the House Appropriations chair, Marc Rhoades, steps down after pushing a plan with game-changing education reforms and large cuts that immediately draws outrage from districts across the state. Debate continues overnight as the full Senate, at 1:30 a.m., not only pushes but also shoves a bill loaded with policy privatizing public education, allowing public tax dollars to pay for private education, de-funding education standards and eliminating due process for teachers. The Senate vote passes, 23-17.
Friday, April 4:
The House passes their bipartisan plan, 91-31. This plan, supported by the governor, limits education policy changes and provides full equity funding. With each chamber having passed an education plan, both bills move to a conference committee.
The conference committee meets around 9 p.m. and details of the Senate and House plans are explained. Senator Ty Masterson, chair, asks for time to allow each major party to caucus — Republicans and Democrats — and to present a “global offer” at 9:30 Saturday morning.
Saturday morning, April 5:
The first round of negotiations occur and then a second, dragging on through mid-afternoon when a consolidated bill emerges, looking more like the extreme Senate bill than the good faith compromise of the House. At this time, hundreds of teachers who were in Topeka for a workshop begin to pour into the statehouse after it becomes clear that public education and teachers remain under attack.
Afternoon turns into late evening as delay after delay, presumably due to leadership counting possible votes and the hope that the teachers will go home. The House finally begins debating the consolidated bill after 10 p.m. Once again, the debate ends and a final vote occurs around 1 a.m. with the House rejecting the plan, 67-55. About an hour later, the negotiators met briefly and agree to run a slightly altered plan and to recess until 5 a.m. Sunday morning.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, April 6:
According to the Lawrence Journal World, after the statehouse has cleared out, Republican leadership schedules another meeting with little notice, raising doubts as to its legality.
At 9:30 a.m., the conference committee meets and a new plan emerges. This time, the Senate is set to run the bill first and debate is to begin at 10:30 a.m. Teachers, parents, community members and public education supporters once again fill the statehouse for the second day, this time prepared to stay the night if needed.
After several delays, leadership calls for another conference committee meeting and debate finally begins around 4 p.m. in the Senate, over five hours behind schedule. The opening discussion centers on the possible open meeting and rules violations regarding the hastily called 4 a.m. meeting. The attorney general advises that the last minute meeting change is at worst a misdemeanor but, according to Senator King, does not negate proceedings. Proceedings resume on the consolidated education bill, while proponents of the bill are still trying to sway legislators to pass it. Suddenly, Senator Pat Apple makes a motion to end debate. Leadership apparently got the votes needed to pass the bill, angering exhausted Senate Republicans and Democrats who appear played and manipulated through an unnecessarily grueling process. A vote is taken and the consolidated bill passes in the Senate, 22-16. The bill now moves to the House for debate sometime after 9 p.m.
The Republicans caucus on the bill before entering their chamber. Many announce that the vote will be very close. Debate is short and the bill passes, 63-57, in front of a gallery and statehouse full of Kansans standing their ground in history. It garners just the minimum 63 votes needed to pass.
The final education bill, which allows for public monies to flow to private school students, ends due process for teachers, reduces at-risk funding, and allows an increase in local funding, is now in the hands of the governor for his signature or veto.
An unflagging audience of teachers, parents, and community members filled the galleries of both chambers, while hundreds listened online and followed social media. Kansas constituents and education advocates across the country exposed the ruse to bundle destructive education policy with the constitutional obligation to restore equalization funding to Kansas school districts.
This political theater awakened many Kansans across the state. To pass legislation that has never had a public hearing is undemocratic and bad government.
Letter: What exactly happened last weekend in Topeka with legislature?
To the editor: