School Board Shares 2020-2021 Legislative Priorities
The Kansas City Public Schools Board of Directors (School Board) shared the district’s legislative priorities for the upcoming year during a virtual event on Friday morning, Dec. 4.
About 50 people attended the Legislative Breakfast, an annual event that is an opportunity for KCPS to share their main focus points with community leaders and local and state elected officials. The breakfast featured remarks by School Board members, Superintendent Mark Bedell and members of Dr. Bedell’s leadership team.
School Board member Jennifer Wolfie and KCPS Chief Financial and Operations Officer Linda Quinley walked the attendees through the four priorities that the district will be discussing with state legislators in Jefferson City during their upcoming session.
The first priority calls for lawmakers to support legislation that provides adequate funding for the social and emotional needs of underserved communities, particularly those most impacted by increasing rates of COVID-19, violent crime and the digital divide.
“We see a particular need to be able to add more behavioral interventionists and more social workers at schools,” said Ms. Wolfsie, who chairs the School Board’s Government Relations Committee and led the creation of this year’s legislative priorities. “Telehealth is another area we’d like to see expansion.”
Teacher compensation is the subject of the district’s second legislative priority. Ms. Quinley explained why KCPS is calling for state legislation and funding designed to provide for compensation for Missouri public school teachers that is competitive, livable and differentiated.
“The fact of the matter is that only Oklahoma has a lower average starting pay for teachers than Missouri,” Quinley said. “Salary increases can really only happen in our schools through additional state funding.”
Quinley did point out that the $40,500 salary for starting teachers in KCPS is higher than state averages in order to compete with the pay rates for teachers in neighboring Kansas City, KS.
“Those few thousand dollars, that’s a big deal for a new teacher who is just out of college,” Quinley said.
In response to a question later in the program, Dr. Bedell explained that “differentiated” pay refers to the urgent need to provide additional compensation for teachers who work in schools with more challenges. Issues like student mobility and trauma make teaching in those schools more demanding. Differentiated salaries are also needed to recruit teachers in high-demand disciplines like science and math.
The district’s legislative priorities also include a focus on equitable treatment of public education providers in counties where charter schools are authorized. In Missouri, that effectively includes just Jackson County and the St. Louis region.
KCPS supports legislation and the enforcement of statutes to provide full equitable treatment in public education accountability, flexibility and resource-distribution. This includes giving charter schools the same type of state ratings that are issued annually for traditional public schools, Wolfsie explained. This is currently not the case in Missouri. KCPS also wants charter schools to be held to the same standards and practices for local governance, financial management, open meetings and public records.
“These are public tax dollars that go dark. The tax-paying public should be able to get access to that information fairly easily,” Wolfsie said. “Equal funding on the revenue side should come with the same sort of rules and obligations that we as a public school district have to abide by, the same rules for the road.”
The final legislative priority this year for KCPS involves “Hancock Amendment” protections for property owners and public schools. Alone in Missouri, KCPS is subject to a property tax rate that was frozen decades ago by a federal judge during a desegregation case. KCPS is seeking legislation that moves the system under the Hancock Amendment to assure protections for property owners and public schools from sudden and significant changes in assessed valuation.
The last portion of the Legislative Breakfast was devoted to reviewing the district’s ongoing push for significant reform to the city’s development incentives.
In 2020, about $38 million in property tax revenue was diverted from KCPS as result of development incentives. That’s an increase from $30 million in 2019. The percentage of property tax abatements in KCPS ranks 17th among 5,600 public school districts in the U.S.
KCPS affirms the value of property tax incentives for development, Director of Planning and Real Estate Shannon Jaax said. The districts wants those abatements decreased to a more reasonable level, wants more voice in how these abatements are set and wants to drive more of those abatements for the development of underserved neighborhoods.
“Schools are foregoing revenue unnecessarily,” Ms. Jaax said. “We’re really focusing on ensuring that we’re not over incentivizing development projects.”
Learn more about the issue of tax incentives and how it impacts KCPS by visiting www.KCPublicSchools/TaxIncentives.
School Board member Rita Cortes encouraged other taxing entities and organizations to share their legislative priorities with KCPS and to work together on each other’s behalf when meeting with lawmakers.
“Sharing that legislative agenda, that would be very helpful,” Ms. Cortes said. “We want to be part of a larger effort.”
School Board Chair Pattie Mansur affirmed Cortes’ sentiment about collaboration.
“You’ve all been amazing partners on many, many issues over the years. You’ve often shown up and stepped up with us in conversations in city hall and Jeff City,” Ms. Mansur said. “We want to work collaboratively with you on your issues. We welcome that. We collectively have a lot of power right here.”
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