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Education update

NEIGHBORS:

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

TEACHER VACANCY AND SUPPLY

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 http://www.educatekansas.org  .

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!

FREE TUTORING HELP

The Khan Academy is an online support system for student tutoring. If your student needs extra help, check it out at https://www.khanacademy.org . 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!

SCHOOL FUNDING

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.

STANDARDS UPDATE

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

NEIGHBORS:

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

NEIGHBORS:

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

MERCURY 7 PROJECT

 “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.

SCHOOL BUS REPORT

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.

TEACHER SUPPLY AND RETENTION

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!

BEST PRACTICES IN CHILD NUTRITION AND WELLNESS

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

NEIGHBORS:

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.

SCHOOL FUNDING UPDATE

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!

STATE BOARD UPDATE

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.

TRANSITION TO COLLEGE ALGEBRA PILOT

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!