Sen. Steve Fitzgerald
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

Contact: steve.fitzgerald@senate.ks.gov

Education costs stay down for illegal aliens

The government of Kansas should protect and serve the citizens of the state. Taxing those citizens to pay for reduced tuition for illegal aliens is morally wrong. It is using coercive powers of the state to take from those who have obeyed the law and give to those who have flouted the law. It encourages more disrespect for the law and more illegal aliens.

Illegal aliens impose an enormous burden on the taxpayers of Kansas because of the cost of welfare, education, and often their incarceration. Too many Kansans and too many illegal aliens have been victimized by those who are here in violation of our laws. The illegal aliens and their families are exploited, and, afraid of going to the police, they are easy prey. And yet, we continue to provide benefits that attract more and exacerbate the situation.

Law-abiding citizens of other countries apply for visas, go through background checks and health screenings before coming here. Illegal aliens do not. Yet, Kansas law provides incentives for those who violate our laws. This is an injustice to those in other countries who follow the rules and obey the law as well as to the Kansans who foot the bill.

This is a disservice to Kansans and it must be stopped. Unfortunately, a bill (HB 2139) to end the insanity of encouraging more illegal immigration (no background check, no health screen, often no actual identification) has been tabled in the House Committee on Education. Those members tabling this bill are responsible for the continuation of this misuse of tax dollars and the continuation of the serious problems associated with a rapidly growing illegal alien population that come here or stay here in violation of the law, something that cannot be done in their home countries.

The United States accepts more legal immigrants than any other country in the world. It also has the highest number of illegal immigrants. Legal immigrants are always welcomed and their desire to live here legally is appreciated. The gate crashing, however, needs to stop. Providing inducements for such illegal activity is a betrayal of the trust that Kansans place in their elected representatives.

During the debate in committee there were charges of “racism, sexism, and fear mongering.” No, this is not about race; it is about the law. It is about the right and ability of the American people to have a country with borders and laws against invasion by those who ignore our borders, disregard our laws, take our benefits, and demand more. The charge of racism is a clear sign that those in favor of this ruinous policy that is increasing our tax burden, overloading our education system, clogging our emergency rooms, filling our courts and prisons are simply bankrupt when it comes to defending it. They have no excuse and so they charge “racism” in an attempt to bully representatives – and it worked.

Most shameful of all is the support for this illegality comes from members of the business community who want cheap, compliant labor, labor that is unlikely to join a union or make a fuss because it is here illegally. Representatives fearful of losing the support of those businesses and sensitive to being called a racist simply abandoned their duty and turned their backs on the Kansas worker who must compete in this environment where his wages are held down by competition from those who have no right to be here and who are taking his tax dollars to support themselves.

Religious freedom for college students

SB 175 enacts law prohibiting post secondary educational institutions from taking any action that would deny a religious student association any benefit available to any other student association. The bill creates a cause of action for a student or religious student association wronged by a violation of this provision and in doing so the afflicted party could assert such violation as a defense or seek appropriate relief, including monetary damages.

I introduced the bill and carried it on the floor. Ridiculous charges were made to the effect that the bill would allow otherwise illegal racial discrimination, etc. The bill will simply allow student religious organizations to continue as they have done. No instances of any problems were cited by the opposition; but, they had imaginary scenarios of terrible things happening. The Senate approved the bill on a final action vote of 30-8.

Transparency bills

SB 86 is intended to increase government transparency among the public in the legislative process by establishing the Kansas Transparency Act. Currently the daily proceedings in the Senate and House chambers are broadcast in real time over internet audio but starting Jan. 1, 2016, the Act would require legislative committee meetings that are held in four designated rooms in the Statehouse be broadcast as well. Additionally, archives of all broadcasts in those designated rooms would be required to be publicly available on the internet to be accessed at a later date. The bill passed unanimously.

SB 193 is an innovative approach to the challenging decision for many students and their parents with regard to investing in higher education. The bill requires post secondary institutions in Kansas to publish a single-page degree “prospectus” for each degree offered. By making a more informed decision early in the process, students will be able to save more in the long-run, and have more to show for the degrees they ultimately earn. The bill passed on a vote of 27-11. I voted for this bill.

SB 98 updates the Kansas Open Records Act by requiring that minutes be taken at all meetings that fall under the Kansas Open Meetings Act. The presiding officer would determine the format but minutes of all meetings would be required. It also updates how much public agencies can charge for black and white copies of public records. Each copy could not exceed 25 cents a page. The measure has been the result of over two years of compromise and negotiations among a number of stakeholders on both sides of the issue. Proponents of the measure believe that the average citizen should have the ability to easily access public documents without facing an unreasonable financial cost. The bill passed unanimously.

SB 86 creates the Kansas Transparency Act which expands the Kansas Open Records Act. The bill requires legislative committees to have an audio feed streamed live over the internet. Four designated committee rooms will be equipped to allow for broadcasts by Jan. 1, 2016, with the rest of the statehouse’s committee rooms following by 2019. Those first four rooms would be designated by the Legislative Coordinating Council. Archives of the broadcasts would also be available to the public on the Kansas Legislative website. Proponents of SB 86 believe the measure would allow more people to become more informed about the legislative process. The measure was approved unanimously.

SB 42 requires that every registered lobbyist submit a report disclosing the amount of money they receive from public entities. The reports will be open to the public and must be filed by Jan. 10 for the previous year. All reports will be available on the Secretary of State’s website. There were two amendments added on the floor that would ask governmental agencies to disclose all public funds that are used to lobby and publish that information the same way they publish their annual budget either online or in newsprint. Taxpayers deserve to know the amount of public money being spent to lobby for more tax dollars. The bill passed unanimously.

Bills from the House

HB 2096. On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee passed HB 2096, which contains the contents of what were originally SB 179 and SB 212. The bill stops automatic paycheck deductions for union dues for state, municipal and school district employees.

This does not prevent any employee from making a contribution by other means. It also limits collective bargaining between state agencies and their workers to salary issues and moves dispute resolutions to the secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, instead of the board, which is abolished under this bill. The bill is expected to be on the Senate calendar this week.

Job growth and low unemployment in Kansas

According to figures from the Department of Labor, there is a steady increase in the number of private sector jobs in Kansas – which are now at a record high. However, we need even more private sector growth.

Unemployment continues to stay at a low 4.2 percent, according to the Department of Labor. This helps to keep our expenses under control and is an indicator that wages should be rising. We need to bring our taxes and expenses down so that there are more resources in the economy for private employment.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is holding an informational public open house to present and discuss intersection improvement strategies along a portion of K-7 from Gilman Road in Leavenworth County south to Parallel Parkway in Wyandotte County.

The public is invited to attend the open house style meeting between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at the Lansing Community Center, City Hall basement, Lansing, Kan.

The Kansas Department of Transportation, the cities of Basehor, Lansing and Leavenworth, Leavenworth County, and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., are working together to develop intersection improvement strategies for the K-7 corridor from Gilman Road (Leavenworth County) south to Parallel Parkway (Wyandotte County). The intent of this corridor study effort is to improve traveler safety and traffic flow along the K-7 corridor, a KDOT spokesman said.

At the open house, KDOT and the consulting team will provide background information on this study effort as well as discuss the strategies that are being analyzed. Intersection improvement strategies will be on display and KDOT and consultant staff members will be on hand to discuss and answer questions. There will be no formal presentations.

Persons with questions or who will require special assistance at the open house, may contact Kimberly Qualls, KDOT public affairs manager, at 785-296-0192 at least five days in advance of the public open house.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth, a Republican, represents the 5th District, which includes the Piper area of Kansas City, Kan.

Fighting over school dollars
Since its inception in 1992 the Kansas school finance formula has been a matter of contention in the courts. It has fueled both an ever increasing amount of money going to the school districts and constant lawsuits for even more money. And, why not? The lawyers suing the taxpayers are paid with tax dollars that are allocated for education.

At 49.2 percent Kansas is now third in the nation (up from fourth) for the percentage of budget that is allocated to K-12 education, far ahead of Massachusetts at 19.4 percent. Number two in the nation is Alabama at 51.3 percent. Continuing with the old formula would soon have us at number one in the nation – which could actually happen even with the new funding grants that are being adopted.

Educational achievement is another story. In virtually every category there has been little or no improvement in overall scores while every measure of spending is up or way up. There are many factors at play and money is only one.

Last year the legislature put $130 million into the school formula for equalization of school funding (helping poor districts) and two notable things happened. The amount became $200 million almost immediately but the legislature was not informed until months later – just the way the formula works. The formula also gave Johnson County schools $55 million of the money because of their poverty.

Meanwhile, other districts are struggling with funding shortfalls. Just because more money goes into the top does not mean that it gets to the districts that need it or to the classrooms and teachers that deserve it.
Money allocated for education has been going into the bank. Cash reserves of the school districts overall have been growing to embarrassing levels. There are many reasons for keeping reserves, but in many cases the increase has been significant. In the last four years the amount of money going to the school has been going up, the amount of money going into the district banks has been going up and the amount going to the lawyers suing for even more has been going up. The taxpayers are paying, excellent and good teachers are not getting the monetary recognition they deserve, and student achievement is stagnant. Something had to change.

Historically, Kansas schools have produced excellent students, good students, and other students. Teachers have a great effect on students; we commend them constantly and it is well deserved.

Poor teachers should be seeking other employment and it should not be difficult to help them on their way. Last year the legislature ended state mandated “tenure” for teachers and gave school districts more latitude in releasing under-performers. A bill in the legislature would help reward top performing teachers with significant monetary awards. But, it is not the role of the legislature to determine teacher pay – that belongs to the local school boards.

School boards like the old formula; they want more money. Teacher unions want more money. Well, to be fair, everyone wants more money. Not everyone can claim to have death grip on the future of the children – so the demands of the school-union group get a lot of attention and respect. Everyone wants the kids to have a good education and the best shot possible – everyone.

But, those questioning the costs are vilified as children haters, etc. The messages get pretty intense. Nonetheless, the legislature is passing a bill to stop using the old formula and go to block grants for the next few years while the funding issue is re-examined.

The absolute need for a change is convincing enough that legislators in both houses recognize that a complete overhaul is needed and “just give them more money” is not the answer that the teachers, the children, the parents, or the taxpayers deserve. A new look that will better allocate funds to actually result in better recognition of teaching excellence and increased student achievement is needed.