Here’s an overview of events in the Kansas House over the week ending March 24:

Education Funding Research Study

Earlier in March, WestEd, the consulting firm hired to research Kansas’ educational spending, released its long-anticipated study entitled, “Estimating the Costs Associated with Reaching Student Achievement Expectations for Kansas Public Education Students.”

It was immediately discovered there were significant errors in the study. As a result, the report had to undergo corrections. After which, a review was presented by legislative attorneys to a joint committee, and later WestEd consultants Dr. Lori Taylor and Jason Willis were on hand to answer questions.

For many legislators, the report spawned more questions than it answered. Critics of the report say the focus is almost exclusively on dollars, and too little on policy, outcomes, and classroom performance. Those critics expressed doubt that more money could actually achieve a 95 percent graduation rate, the standard that the report utilized. Others simply wonder if that number was an unrealistic standard for the study.

Legislative committees are feverishly working on a variety of bills in response to both the report and the Supreme Court order of last fall. It’s too early to tell what any of those will look like, in the final form, but one thing appears certain — most options are unattractive.

Option No. 1 would be to increase education funding by cutting other essential state agency budgets.

Option No. 2 would be to increase education funding with major tax increases — up to 20 mils if done with property tax, up to 4 cents per dollar if done by sales tax, and if by income tax, up to a 50 percent rate increase.

Option No. 3 would be to ignore the Supreme Court ruling.

As I stated earlier, none of those options are particularly alluring. I will keep you posted on this as the session moves forward.

House Advances Bill to Strengthen Ties with Israel

On March 23, the Committee of the Whole debated house bill 2778, which would prohibit the state from entering into contracts with a companies engaged in the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against the state of Israel. Specifically, the bill would prevent discrimination against the Middle Eastern nation by ensuring that vendors contracting with the state do not discriminate against Israel.

HB 2778 does not apply to individuals and sole proprietorships, unlike HB 2409, which was signed into law last year and has since been challenged in federal court (Koontz v. Watson). During debate, some members opposed the bill on the grounds that it would violate one’s constitutional freedom of speech. Others contended that this bill strengthens the bond between Kansas and our prominent trading partner, and would remedy the expressed constitutional concerns from HB 2409.

HB 2778 is an attempt to clarify the Legislature’s intent to protect Kansas’ economic ally, rather than limit the exercise of free speech. HB 2778 passed final action on March 26 at 93-30.

Rep. Les Mason is the Kansas House Representative for District 73, which covers much of McPherson County.