Author Archive for Ann Mah

Kansas school moon shot


The State Board of Education met this week. What an exciting time for education in Kansas! Details follow.


 “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

President John F. Kennedy, 1962


Using the inspiration of the moon shot challenge, the Kansas State Board of Education launched its own Mercury 7 Kansans Can School Redesign project this week. The goal is to build an education system that provides choice for students within the existing Kansas public education system, using existing resources, buildings, and educators.

29 districts applied to be in the project. In order to apply, the districts had to agree to redesign one elementary and one secondary high school. They had to have approval of the local school board, 80 percent of the teaching staff, support of the local KNEA or other professional organization, and commit to serve as demonstration district for other Kansas schools to study.  The first year will be spent studying school design and deciding what will work in that district. Then the redesign model will begin in the 2018-19 school year.

Seven districts were chosen to be Mercury schools – each project named for one of the Mercury 7 astronauts. They will focus on the whole child and the success of every student. These districts will over the next year explore what “redesign” will be for their districts and implement their plans in the 2018-19 school year. Most have a high instance of at-risk students, and we are hopeful there will be many “best practices” come out of the project to share statewide.

The seven Mercury schools are:

  • Coffeyville – John Glenn Project
  • Liberal – Alan Shepard Project
  • McPherson – Wally Schirra Project
  • Olathe – Gordon Cooper Project
  • Stockton – Deke Slayton Project
  • Twin Valley – Gus Grissom Project
  • Wellington – Scott Carpenter Project

Also present were representatives of 4-H, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts, ready to work closely with these schools to develop the whole child. Business leaders as well are ready to partner for success.

It is no surprise that these districts are already working outside the box to ensure the success of every child. The other 22 districts that applied are eligible to be in the Gemini project, with virtual support from the Department of Education staff.

Very exciting time to be in public education in Kansas! I am blessed to get to serve with a Board and school districts that believe Kansas can lead the world in student success.


The State Board got a report on a 30-day school bus passing survey taken across the state. Very disturbing results. During the 30 days, there were 9967 passing violations where drivers illegally passed stopped school buses with their signs out. 222 of those violations were vehicles passing on the right side of the bus where students are loading. OMG!  I can’t believe we haven’t had more student injuries and fatalities.

Not sure what the answer is here, but we simply have to get a handle on this potential tragedy. The good news for us locally is that northeast Kansas counties had a lower number of violations than other areas of the state. But our 12 surrounding counties still had 671 violations during that 30-day period.


Kansas has a real teacher shortage. We are having too many instances where licensed teachers cannot be found to fill vacancies and substitute teachers without credentials are used to fill the void. This is not fair to our students.

One interesting factor is the impact of the Legislature removing due process for teachers. The year after the Legislature ended due process, student enrollment in teacher education in Kansas dropped from 7919 to 5870. The next year it dropped again to 5389. Students do not go into work where they are not valued. Compounding that with the fact that Kansas is one of the worst states for teacher salaries, it is no wonder we have a problem. We can and must fix this!


This week the State Board met the eight school districts and organizations recognized for excellence in child nutrition and wellness. It is a fact that students can’t learn when they are hungry. It is also a fact that too many students come to school hungry. Here is what some districts are doing to help in that effort:

  • Kansas City USD 500 uses a mobile meal bus to reach over 100 children per day in underserved areas of Wyandotte County.
  • Seaman school district started a “Second Chance Breakfast”. Students who come to school hungry can grab a breakfast to go between first and second hours at school. Breakfasts increased from 12514 in the 2015-16 school year to 22,086 in the 2016-17 school year.
  • Iola School District transformed an old school bus into a summer meal bus with seating for 24 students at eight dinette tables. They provided 1700 more meals this year with the bus.
  • The Rose Hill school district implemented the Kansas School Food Purchasing Association Cooperative where they could buy food items at a discount. They save tens of thousands of dollars a year with their purchasing power.
  • In Labette county, Labette Health (local hospital) took over the summer meal program for the Parsons community and served 14,000 kids over the last three years.

My genuine thanks to those districts and communities that care enough to make sure children are fed.

School issues update


It’s been a busy month for me with State Board activities. I enjoyed visiting the Jeff West and Wabaunsee district school boards. Also had a good discussion with the Santa Fe Trail administrators. Everyone is working hard to help students succeed and trying new ideas that work. Here is an update on recent State Board of Ed activities.


The Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Gannon school funding lawsuit on July 18. No big surprises. Both sides seem to have concluded that money matters in school funding. The question is how much and from what source. The Court is considering both equity (do taxpayers have a level burden across the state) and adequacy (is there enough money for students to meet standards).

The plaintiffs contend that SB 19, the legislature’s new school funding plan, is unconstitutional. They pointed to several areas of inequality, like an over-dependence on property taxes to fund schools. They said that puts low-property-value districts at a disadvantage. In a school budget training session, I learned that the average property value in Kansas school districts varies from a low of about $33,000 to a high of just under $400,000. Requiring districts to fund more of the cost of education by property taxes is inherently dis-equalizing. The plaintiffs also said that the amount of funding increase proposed by the state was insufficient and didn’t even replace what had been lost to inflation the last few years.

The State contends that the new funding formula is constitutional and should be tried for a few years to see if children are successful on that amount of money. The State said that they had developed a Successful Schools Model to determine how much money should be spent. Legislators took some measures like state test scores, graduation rates, and poverty rates and calculated there were 41 schools exceeding expectations (i.e., Successful Schools). State Attorney Jeff King said that the formula had been developed with the help of the Ks. Department of Education. That was not correct. KSDE was not consulted on the calculation. The State also contended that the State Board’s budget request of over $800 million included things not necessary to meet basic standards. The Board said that was not true, and that everything in its budget request was foundational to meeting the Rose Standards and federal requirements.

Timing is critical here. While no one knows for sure when the Court will issue a ruling, school budgets are due to the county clerks in August. Without knowing how much they will have it will be hard to set a budget or hire new people to help low-performing schools this year. More to follow!


At our July State Board of Education meeting we got an update on several of the new measures the Board is taking to focus on the success of each student.

  • We purchased a tool to assess the academic and social/emotional level of incoming kindergartners. This tool largely uses the input of parents and will help kindergarten teachers know more about the areas of strength and weakness of these youngsters. This tool is not about keeping kids out of kindergarten, but about helping teachers reach each student at their level Districts will be provided this tool at no cost.
  • We got an update on our measurement of post-secondary success. We know that we need about 71% of our workforce to have some kind of post-secondary training – either a certificate or two- or four-year degree. We can now tell with fairly good accuracy, how many of our high school graduates are getting training after high school and completing that training (i.e., “succeeding” in post-secondary endeavors). We also know that not every district can meet a 71% success rate because of factors like poverty, absenteeism, mobility, percent of non-English speaking students, and percent of disabled students. Soon this data will be available on the KSDE website for every district.
  • You might be interested to know that students speaking English as a second language is an issue for many districts. Over 68,000 Kansas students have a first language other than English. Most are Spanish-speaking, but we have students speaking dozens of languages from Khmer to French to Russian to Dinka.
  • The Board is asked from time to time to develop training requirements for any number of issues students deal with. Suicide and childhood sexual abuse are two that have recently been raised. To that end, the Board is forming a Mental Health Advisory Council to address the unmet needs in this area.


Most Kansas colleges require students to pass College Algebra to graduate. It is a tough course, using math above what many students achieve in high school. It can be a roadblock for students not adept at math. And, frankly, I’m not sure many graduates outside of technical fields use it.

But it is a requirement. The State Board implemented a trial program called Transition to College Algebra last year to help high school seniors assess and address the gaps in their math knowledge. The trial has been a huge success. The class uses methods that are engaging and successful. We are watching to see if students taking the course are successful in College Algebra as well.

We are also talking to the Board of Regents about the College Algebra requirement. In Missouri, they are now going to require a math course more relevant to a college student’s major: College Algebra for students in technical fields and courses like statistics or math reasoning for others. Makes sense to me!

All about schools


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!


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.


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.


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!

Budget to the Governor


The Legislature wrapped up its business on the 113th day of the session. The last item of business – the 2018-19 budget – is on its way to the Governor’s desk. Details below.

2018-19 Budget info

House and Senate conferees agreed to a budget of $6.38 billion from our state general fund for fiscal year 2018. (FYI, $6.3 billion was the approved amount for fiscal year 2017 as well.) Here are just a few of the budget items you may find interesting:

  • Delays some KPERS employer contribution payments for 2019, with a provision to repay them over time. 2018 KPERS payments are made.
  • Provides a 2.5 percent adjustment for all State employees with less than five years of Service – Except: Highway Patrol Law Enforcement Personnel, Legislators, Teachers and Licensed Personnel and Employees at the Schools for the Deaf and Blind, employees at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who are part of the Recruitment and Retention Plan; and other Statewide Elected Officials. A 5.0 percent adjustment for State Employees who have not had a pay adjustment in
    five years. A 2.5 percent adjustment for Judges and Non-Judicial Staff in FY 2018.
  • Opens at least 20 additional beds for patients at Osawatomie State Hospital. If the facility cannot open the beds at Osawatomie State Hospital, the funding is to be used to enter into a contract to provide patient beds through third-party facilities for FY 2018.
  • Add $1.0 million in both 2018 and 2019 for domestic violence
    prevention grant matching funds above the Governor’s recommendation.
  • Eliminate the securitization of tobacco proceeds the Governor recommended in his budget, and delete $34.5 million in State
    General Fund expenditures and $7.2 million from Temporary Assistance for Kansas Legislative Research Department 3 June 10, 2017
    Needy Families (TANF) to restore expenditures from the Children’s Initiatives Fund. Bottom line is this takes the Children’s Fund money back out of the general fund into the special account where it can be better secured. Good news for kids!
  • Declined to require all K12 schools to use the same health insurance plan and declined to require all school districts to do their procurement through the state agency, as proposed by the Governor.
  • Provides a 3.0 percent rate increase for providers of Home and
    Community Based Services under each of the waivers for FY 2018.
  • Adds $1.0 million for safety net clinics for FY 2018 over the Governor’s recommendation; adds $11.0 million for Community Mental Health Centers in 2018 and $2 million more in 2019 over the Governor’s recommendation; and adds $1.5 million, for the Senior Care Act over the Governor’s recommendation. This will go a long way to restore the holes torn in our safety net services the last few years.
  • Restores the 4% funding that was taken from KU and K-State budgets last year.
  • Didn’t support the combining of the Board of Cosmetology and the Board of Barbering, as proposed by the Governor.
  • KDOT can issue up to $400 million in bonds in the next two years to be used exclusively for highway maintenance and repair.
  • Appropriates $1.2 million for funding of the state water plan.
  • Authorizes up to $7 million for Medicaid care of children in out-of-state hospitals that contract with KanCare managed care organizations.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

Child Welfare Task Force

While waiting for the budget to finalize, other bills were also sent to the Governor for his consideration. One of the most interesting was House Substitute for SB 126. It requires the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families to set up a Child Welfare System Task Force. The Task Force would be required to study the child welfare system in Kansas by convening working groups addressing DCF’s general administration of child welfare, protective services, family preservation, reintegration, foster care, and permanency placement. The required topics would include, but not be limited to, the following:

● The level of oversight and supervision by the DCF over each entity that contracts with DCF to provide reintegration, foster care, and adoption  services;
● The duties, responsibilities, and contributions of state agencies, nongovernmental entities, and service providers that provide child welfare
services in the State of Kansas;
● The level of access to child welfare services, including health and mental health services and community-based services, in the State of Kansas;
● The increasing number of children in the child welfare system and contributing factors;
● The licensing standards for case managers working in the child welfare system; and
● Any other topic the Task Force or working group deems necessary or appropriate.

The Task Force would be required to report progress to the Legislature in January 2018 and produce a final report by January 2019. They must report on:

● Recommended improvements regarding the safety and well-being of children in the child welfare system in the State of Kansas;
● Recommended changes to current law, rules and regulations, and child welfare system processes;and
● Whether an ongoing task force or similar advisory or oversight entity consisting of legislators, attorneys in the area of family law, judges, foster parents, parents with reintegrated children, and other interested parties would aid in addressing child welfare concerns and any other topics the Task Force deems appropriate.

For those of you who have dealt with the foster care system in our state, you may agree this is long overdue.