Billinger criticizes program delays and cuts in special education

State Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, 40th Dist.

Dear Kansas voters and residents,

With the next election fast approaching, I wanted to take the time to reach out with some quick answers to what I see to be the most common questions and topics I get asked about. The purpose of this correspondence is by no means to be definitive answers or complete explanations of these complex issues; however, I hope this can provide clarity and add to the conversation around these topics.

Why is it taking so long to remove the sales tax on food?

The legislature had sent the governor two bills that would have eliminated the food sales tax during his first three years in office. Both of these bills would eliminate the sales tax on food in several reductions over several years, not all at once. If the governor hadn’t vetoed the elimination of the sales tax every time, by January the sales tax on food would have been eliminated completely. Additionally, had the bill not been vetoed by the governor, the sales tax reductions would have already been offset and paid for with Internet sales tax offsets at this point.

Now that it’s an election year, I’m not surprised the governor finally signed legislation to eliminate the sales tax on food. As of January 2023, the sales tax collected will be adjusted by 2.5%; However, it will be several years before it is completely removed, as we are only starting now due to the Governor’s actions.

When are we going to get sanity back in western Kansas for our young people?

More than three years ago, the governor closed the facility and available beds for youth mental health treatment in Hays. The governor claimed at the time that the facility violated CMS rules. These are the rules and regulations of such a facility, one of these regulations refers to the concept of mixed beds. At a high level this means that one section must be dedicated to acute treatment and another to residential treatment and there cannot be acute treatment in residential treatment and vice versa.

This property had combination beds from the day the property opened and operated for all these years with combination beds. When we requested a copy of the order from CMS to shut down this facility, it was never produced. Closing this facility was a choice, not an order from CMS. The Legislature moved quickly after the facility closed to open a new facility. Funds were budgeted three years ago to reopen this facility. Currently, children in need of mental health treatment in western Kansas and their families must travel to Wichita or Kansas City, which is often an unimaginable burden.

Fortunately, the new youth mental health facility in Hays is due to open in early 2023. What has happened here over the past few years is clear; The current administration has not acted quickly or even reacted to the swift action taken by the legislature to ensure and clarify that the facility should never have been closed and we even passed funding for this new facility years ago. years.

Does the legislature fully fund K-12 education?

The Legislature and Governor fund K-12 education in accordance with the K-12 Trial Settlement. However, funding for special education has not been, and continues to be, not funded at appropriate levels, both at the state and federal levels. Even though there is a court-ordered formula that adds millions more each year, state funding percentages for special education have continued to fall behind.

Since Governor Kelly took office, the percentage of funding for special education has continued to decline. Governor Kelly has had four years to add funds to her budget for special education and has chosen not to add additional money above the formula. It was not important to her. When COVID hit the Governor closed our schools and test scores dropped and on top of that some students did not return to school. For example, due to declining enrollment, more than nineteen schools have had their funding reduced so far.

How bad was unemployment fraud in Kansas?

During the pandemic, when unemployment soared, the Kansas Department of Labor was a failure. Rather than take responsibility for this problem, Governor Kelly blamed the fraud and fraudulent payments on the computer system used by the state to administer the program as well as on the previous administration. However, the computer system Kansas has is also the same as other states that have not had the same problems as Kansas.

Since the start of the pandemic, Kansas has lost money ranging from $450 million to $750 million to unemployment fraud. The state was quick to pay the fraudulent claims even after lawmakers pointed out the ongoing fraud in their communities. It is ironic that the state paid for all these fraudulent claims when it was unable to process the legitimate claims of unemployed Kansas taxpayers. It was beyond sad to hear story after story of good people in Kansas becoming destitute. Some Kansans unable to obtain services were evicted from their homes, living in tents, cars and sheds… others were unable to feed their families.

Adding insult to injury, the State of Kansas is now asking the State of Kansas to pay taxes on the money that was sent to someone who stole their identity!

There are many other issues, which I will address in a later editorial.

Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, is a state senator from the 40th district.

Ryan H. Bowman