All about schools

NEIGHBORS:

Good news on the school funding bill. Details below. I also wanted to share some good news stories from Kansas public schools. Hope you find them interesting!

SCHOOLS STAY OPEN

The Kansas Supreme Court extended the July 1 deadline for closing schools, and that’s good!  The Court said the new school funding law could stay in place until it determines if it meets the constitutional tests of equity and adequacy. On Monday the Court ordered that briefs by the parties be filed by June 30 and reply briefs by July 7. This gives the parties a chance to say what they like or don’t like about SB 19. There will be oral arguments on July 18, and then the Court will likely make a ruling.

The State will argue that the bill meets the constitutionality test. In injects about $190 million in the 2018 fiscal year, another $100 million in 2019, and about $50 million (cost of living factor) each year after that. There are requirements designed to support the bottom 25% or so of children not meeting proficiency.  The state believes SB 19 will satisfy the equity and adequacy requirements.

Plaintiffs will likely say there are too many dis-equalizing factors in the plan and not enough money.  By 2020 the base state aid will not be up to what it was in 2009.

Chief Justice Nuss said that the parties should not assume that the Court thinks the law is constitutional just because they let it go into effect. Nuss also said that the plaintiff school districts and the state have agreed that they must address “what remedial action-if any-should be ordered, and upon what date it should take effect, if the court were to conclude constitutional compliance had not been achieved. In this context, the parties should be prepared to discuss the school districts’ current financial obligations.”

School districts can breaths a sigh of relief and move forward to the 2017-18 school year.

GOOD NEWS STORIES

At our State Board of Education meeting last week, we had the privilege to hear from the Kansas superintendent and principals of the year. Each told us why their students are succeeding. It was interesting that each administrator had the same message: when you give students hope and have a positive environment, they succeed. It brings into focus the Board’s new focus on social and emotional growth in addition to academic growth.

Here are some of their stories:

Superintendent Sue Givens, from ElDorado, said that every class in the district had been adopted by a business, whose employees visited every week.  That meant that over 200 citizens were in their schools every day. These mentors had a positive impact on student performance. Next year will be the first year a graduating class has had mentors from kindergarten.

Emporia High principal Dr. Britton Hart, said that moving to a trimester schedule was a positive move for them. Their focus on individual students taking responsibility for their own career goals and talking about those goals at parent-teacher conferences raised parent participation from 30% to 80%.

We talk a great deal about the difficulties of students achieving proficiency at low-income schools.  At Wichita Truesdell Middle School, where they have 90% free and reduced lunch students, scores in every area improved, along with behavior. Teachers “draft” students into their Individual Learning Plan teams. The focus is on student excellence.

We also talked about increasing student “choice” within the public school system and that was a goal of all these administrators.

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

When the State Board of Education created its new Kansans Can vision for public education, one of the measurements it set out for success was for schools to add social/emotional growth. That growth is to be measured locally. I am amazed at how districts across the state are tackling this issue.

We know that schools are dealing with mental health issues with students they have never seen before. Too many students are having adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) like divorce, death of a family member, incarceration of a parent, etc., that impact their brain development and subsequent school success. In Kansas, a survey showed that over 50% of students reported at least one ACE in grade school. 21% reported having three or more. The numbers are even higher in some low-income schools.

What they found is that helping students find hope and build resiliency makes the difference between success and failure. There are any number of programs that deal with these issues. I’m glad to see more and more districts taking this on.

One report from the Seaman school district, that had both student and faculty suicides in a short time, was that they were tackling suicide prevention head on. Using their Yellow Ribbon training, all school personnel from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria workers were being trained to recognize the signs and assist students before it is too late.

Very excited how our public schools are taking on the tough issues and improving student performance. My thanks to the administrators, teachers, and staff for all you do!