Brownback signs controversial school finance law

Measure includes bonding authority for new KU med school building

by KHI News Service

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback stopped in Kansas City, Kan., today to announce bonding authority to help fund the construction of a new University of Kansas Medical Center education building.
The bond approval was part of the controversial school finance bill the governor signed later in the day in Topeka at a Statehouse ceremony, flanked by House and Senate GOP leaders.
Lawmakers had approved the measure April 6.
KU officials said the bonds would help them raise $25 million of the $75 million needed to construct the new building intended to replace outdated facilities and adapt the KU medical school to newer teaching methods.
At a morning press conference at the KU Medical Center’s Kansas City, Kan., campus, Brownback said the new building, once completed, would allow the school to create 50 new slots for medical students between its campuses in Kansas City and Wichita.
Besides the bonding authority, KU officials had sought the Legislature’s approval to use about $24 million returned by the federal government for FICA overpayments made on behalf of KU medical residents. But lawmakers instead chose to direct that money to other programs.
Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s budget writing committee, said the law was written so that the bonds could be repaid by the university or with state general fund dollars. She said that “or” provision should make university officials nervous.
“I’m not sure they’re going to be able to issue these bonds,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable with no guarantee of state general fund payback. I think it’s mighty risky unless they do a heck of a fundraising drive.”
Early in the legislative session, a Senate committee endorsed giving KU $1.4 million a year for 15 years to help retire the bonds. But the first installment of that money wasn’t included in the final version of the 2015 budget bill.
“The way that it’s being spun right now is that we’re giving them (KU) $25 million in bonding authority to make up for the $24 million in FICA money that we stole from them, but the reality is we could just dump this right back on KU,” Kelly said.
At the Statehouse signing ceremony, Brownback praised GOP legislative leaders for getting the school funding bill passed as quickly as they did following a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s public school funding formula was unconstitutional because it created unequal opportunities for K-12 education.
The court gave lawmakers until July 1 to add money to the formula.
The bill Brownback signed into law narrowly passed and included provisions that essentially repeal a state law guaranteeing tenured teacher’s due process hearings before they can be removed from their jobs.
Brownback said local school districts could continue to offer due process hearings but it would now be their option.
“This bill returns control to the local school districts and communities,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “These reforms will benefit Kansas students. We have good schools in Kansas and this will make them even stronger.”
But Democrats and teacher representatives blasted House Bill 2506.
“Gov. Brownback would have Kansans believe that signing this bill is a great accomplishment,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who works as a schoolteacher. “That’s not true. The reality is this bill barely passed both houses with no bipartisan support and strong opposition from our state’s education community. This was due to the bill’s radical changes in education policy. Historically, significant school finance bills have passed with bipartisan support and large majority votes.”
As the signing ceremony began Aaron Estabrook of Manhattan, founder of the Moderate Party of Kansas, quietly handed the governor a petition with signatures of more than 2,500 people opposed to the bill’s signing. Brownback thanked him and continued with the ceremony.
-KCUR reporter Alex Smith contributed to this story from Kansas City.

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AT&T to provide ultra-high-speed Internet here

AT&T is giving Google some competition for high-speed Internet in Kansas City.

AT&T announced today it would expand its U-verse GigaPower network to deliver data speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second to customers in 21 cities, including Kansas City, Kan.  Google introduced Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit last year in Kansas City.

Kansas City, Kan., Leawood, Overland Park, Shawnee, and Independence, Mo., are included in the metropolitan area cities to be served here by AT&T’s ultra-high-speed fiber network.

AT&T also is taking its new ultra-high-speed service into the city where Google is headquartered, Mountain View, Calif.  It is one of the 21 metro areas nationwide that will receive AT&T’s new GigaPower network.

AT&T already offers the service in Austin. Besides Kansas City, AT&T will offer this ultra-high-speed service in Atlanta, August, Charlotte, Chicago, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Greensboro, Houston, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Miami, Oakland, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis, San Francisco and San Jose. Previously announced were Dallas, Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem.

“We’re delivering advanced services that offer consumers and small businesses the ability to do more, faster, help communities create a new wave of innovation, and encourage economic development,” said Lori Lee, senior executive vice president, AT&T Home Solutions. “We’re interested in working with communities that appreciate the value of the most advanced technologies and are willing to encourage investment by offering solid investment cases and policies.”

AT&T U-verse uses advanced IP technology and a network that includes fiber-optic technology.

The planned expanded availability of U-verse with GigaPower is part of AT&T’s Project Velocity IP investment plan to expand and enhance its wireless and wireline IP broadband networks to support growing customer demand for high-speed Internet access, advanced TV services, and new mobile and cloud services, a spokesman said. This expanded fiber build is not expected to affect AT&T’s capital investment plans for 2014. And AT&T continues to expect that its wired IP broadband network will reach 57 million customer locations in its 22-state wireline footprint by the end of 2015. If you are looking for reliable, ultra-fast broadband, you might want to check out something like Click Broadband for more information.

Besides ultra-high-speed Internet, the system will include TV services with the capability to record and watch multiple shows simultaneously; ability to scheduled DVR recordings and watch TV shows on 30 or more varieties of smart phones and tablets, along with personal computers; small business features such as sharing large data files and images quickly, backing up data remotely; and videoconferencing for business with partners and customers.