Author Archive for Ann Mah

School and legislative update


The 2018 Legislative session is off and running. Not much action yet, but I will send a few notes on that and the State Board of Education meeting as well.


Governor Brownback gave his last state of the state address this week. After many years of shorting education funding, the Governor outlined a proposal to increase school funding by $600 million over five years in order to comply with the Kansas Supreme Court ruling. He specified five goals:

  • Higher average teacher pay than any of the surrounding states
  • Increase the number of school counselors and psychologists by 150 positions each year
  • Have at least 50 schools participating in the Kansans Can school redesign project
  • Offer at least 15 hours of dual-credit coursework to every high school student at no additional cost to parents
  • Provide either the ACT or the WorkKeys Assessment at no additional cost to parents

The Governor’s recommendations reflect the State Board’s current goals, so we were pleased. Republican leadership was not pleased. They don’t believe there is money to make this happen in the long run as the Governor’s budget doesn’t balance in future years.


You don’t have to venture out in the cold to follow the Legislature this year Most of the committee hearings are being live-streamed and some have video. To see what hearings are coming up, visit If you click on “Calendars”, you will find out what is on the agenda that week and what committees are meeting. Usually, by Thursday you can see what is up the following week. If you click on “Committees”, you can go to any committee and connect if they are meeting.

If you want to listen to the House or Senate as they meet, you can click on Audio/Video on the home page. The House usually meets at 11 am each day and the Senate at 2:30. They are back in session this Tuesday, January 16.


Kansas submitted its long-range education plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act to the federal government. This is the plan that outlines our long-range goals and allows Kansas to get federal funding for important programs We submitted the plan in late August and made some changes recommended by the feds. The plan sets out aggressive goals for academic achievement, but leaves lots of flexibility for the State Board of Education to pursue its KansansCan vision around the whole child. We received approval for our plan last week.


The Shawnee Heights school board voted to open up all-day classes for 4-year olds starting with the 2018-19 school year. Like most districts, they have provided classes for 4-year olds who were designated “at-risk” for some time. Now, any four-year old may attend. Those on free and reduced-price lunches can attend free. Other students can attend for a fee of $200 per month. Transportation is provided as well. Classes will run from August through June. This was paid for in part from the increased funding provided this year by the state. Great use of at-risk funding!

Quality pre-school pays huge dividends down the road in student success, reduced poverty, reduced incarceration, better quality of life and more. My thanks to area districts like Shawnee Heights, Seaman, and Santa Fe Trail for their leadership in helping all students be kindergarten ready.


One area of concern in our schools is the increasing range and number of mental health issues our students are dealing with. If you have been out of school for a while, you might not recognize the student population today. It has changed, because what students deal with in their lives has changed. Students are dealing with more traumatic and adverse events in their lives than ever before.

The result is that 20% of children have an identified need for mental health services, but only one-third of those children get the help they need. Over 70% of children who do get services, get them from their school. The good news this year is that with the increased funding for schools, more counselors and psychologists were hired statewide. We need even more.

The Legislature has tried to deal with these issues in a piecemeal fashion over the years, resulting in separate laws and requirements for suicide, bullying, emergency safety interventions and a number of topics. Last year the State Board asked to be allowed to do its job and address mental health issues on a comprehensive basis. The Legislature agreed.

The State Board of Ed formed the School Mental Health Advisory Council, bringing together key stakeholders to develop a comprehensive framework to develop policies and align resources to better address student mental health needs.

One of the first topics the Council is undertaking is child sexual abuse. I am really pleased the way the Council is making progress to develop training to reduce and prevent instances of child sexual abuse. Our community partners with experience in the field have been invaluable. We believe this model will help us take on future issues as they arise. And they will arise. More to follow!


I had the pleasure to visit with officers from Career and Technical Student Organizations across Kansas this week. What a treat! Organizations like DECA, BPA, FFA, FBLA, HOSA, FCCLA, Skills USA, and Kansas TSA are giving students real-world work and life experiences in high school. These students are going to be great leaders for our state and nation. Together, they have more than 23,000 members statewide.

CTSO students not only learn technical skills, they develop the soft skills and resiliency we know are so important to future success. They contribute to their local communities through service, and compete nationally in their chosen fields. They are entering fields ranging from agriculture, to health care, to marketing, to robotics, to bio-engineering and more. A new CTSO, called Educators Rising, is helping grow our own future teachers. I wish all of you could have met these amazing students. They make us proud!

Education update


The State Board of Education met last week, so here is an update on that and other education issues.


Kansas continues to experience a shortage of teachers, especially in southwest Kansas and the Wichita and Kansas City areas. This year we started school short 90 elementary and 82 special education teachers alone. We have also seen a big drop off in students majoring in education in our universities. So what are we doing about it?

The State Board of Education commissioned a Blue Ribbon Task Force last year to study the issue and make recommendations. The task force came up with more than 60 recommendations of actions that the State Board, State Legislature, and local boards could take. We know that we lose many new teachers, so the State Board asked for more money for mentoring new teachers (which we got) and also designed a mentoring program for schools to use. We are also looking for ways to get people into the profession who did not originally get education degrees, but are interested in teaching. You can see all the paths to teaching at  .

One idea that we learned about this week was a program to help school paraprofessionals earn their teaching degree while they continue to work. Wichita State has more than 100 paras in their program. Fort Hays and Washburn University also have para programs. We are also looking at a way to help people who want to teach elementary school to go to graduate school and learn teaching pedagogy while they start their new career.

The bottom line, though, is we have to restore respect for the profession and pay better salaries. In 2015 we were 42nd in the nation in average salary. And after the Legislature took away due process for teachers, there was a huge drop in education majors. We can do better! The good news is that this year, with the increase in funding, teacher salaries were increased by over 4% on average statewide. That’s a start!


The Khan Academy is an online support system for student tutoring. If your student needs extra help, check it out at . It’s a free tool for kindergarten to high school and beyond. They teach students worldwide and have a reputation for success. You can sign up as a learner, teacher, or parent. Nearly every subject! If you just enjoy learning, this is for you, too!


The Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) agreed to get started on revising the school finance formula prior to the start of the 2018 session. They appointed an interim committee to that end. Eleven legislators from a broad range of legislative committees will meet three days in December. It will be chaired by area State Representative Blaine Finch. Senator Anthony Hensley is also on that committee. The legislature has to have a revised, constitutional formula to the Kansas Supreme Court in time for comments in April 2018.

The LCC also authorized up to $200,000 for a new school finance study. I’m not sure who could do such a study as quickly as it will be needed, but we will see.


Earlier this year, the State Board of Education approved updated standards for K-12 in math. This week we also adopted updated standards in English Language Arts. These updates will help keep Kansas standards relevant and rigorous, ensuring our graduates will be college or career ready. Coupled with a focus on the whole child and requiring an individual plan of study for every student should show positive results in student success.

This week we also heard from the group getting ready to update our PE and Health standards. They plan to include hands-only CPR in the standards they present to us next year. This revised method is saving more lives, so it might be a good idea. More to follow!

New order in the Gannon Case


The Kansas Supreme Court issued its fifth ruling in the Gannon case on October 2. This time the court was ruling on whether or not SB 19 (The Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act), the school funding bill passed by the Legislature in the 2017 session, met constitutional muster. The Court was looking at two key things: 1) does the law provide adequate funding – is there enough money so all Kansas public school students can meet or exceed the Rose standards; and 2) is it equitable, which means do all school districts have reasonably equal access to similar educational opportunity with similar tax effort. In other words, we can’t have some districts with a 15 mil LOB and others with 100.

The Court ruled funding was not adequate. The $292 million increase over two years plus inflation was not enough to make sure every child meets the Rose Standards. The Court rejected the state’s “successful schools” model because the state couldn’t support the methodology they used. The state also failed to show that the total funding was keeping up with inflation from previous rulings. The Court discussed that changes made to some of the factors like at-risk could help, but said it wasn’t enough. In fact, there was an argument that we need to go beyond just keeping up with inflation, as that only preserves the status quo.

The Court found that the law was also inequitable and actually increased wealth-based disparities. The Court didn’t like the use of capital outlay funds for utilities, insurance and such because not all districts could raise money that way. For example, the superintendent in Elk Valley told me they only get about $11,000 per mil. In Blue Valley it’s closer to $500,000 per mil. The Court said the new rules on LOB were inequitable because not all districts would not be able to get to the highest LOB levels. The Court also said that giving two districts money for at-risk kids they didn’t have was not justified.

The Court didn’t set out a particular dollar amount required, but said the state had to have a constitutional law out in time for comments due on April 30, 2018. The Court encouraged the state to “show its work” (i.e. prove its case) this time. The interesting thing is that the Court said this needed to come to a conclusion. The Court said that funding had only been constitutional for a few years in the last twenty years and if they let it go on longer, they would be complicit in the problem. No more kicking the can down the road.

From the State Board standpoint, we put out our estimate last year. We said just based on inflation and meeting the Rose standards and our vision, over $800 million would be needed by 2020. We appreciate working as closely as we did this year with the Legislature and look forward to helping them get this right. Education is our state’s top priority and I think we all want every child to succeed. More to follow!

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.