Category Archives: Education

AFP explanation as disingenuous as mailer

clayton,stephanieIt shouldn’t be surprising that the group behind a disingenuous political mailer is also disingenuous about its purpose. Americans for Prosperity-Kansas sent out mailers blasting Rep. Stephanie Clayton (in photo), R-Overland Park, for voting “against our kid’s future.” The vote in question is the school finance bill that passed late at night this past session. It included the highly controversial (but AFP-backed) provisions to strip teachers of their state-mandated due-process rights and to give tax breaks to corporations for donating to private school scholarship funds. When contacted by The Eagle, AFP-Kansas director Jeff Glendening denied that the mailer had anything to do with helping Clayton’s conservative challenger in the upcoming GOP primary. Yeah, right. He also said – repeatedly – that the mailer didn’t say to “vote for or against” anyone. Why did he emphasize that so much? Because not saying those magic words means that AFP doesn’t have to disclose its funding sources.

Davis backers include area school board members

davis,paulThe 104 current and former Republican officials who are endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis (in photo) include several area school board members, reflecting the strained relationship between school districts and Gov. Sam Brownback. “As a 13-year local board of education member, I know four more years of the current governor will not be good for kids or Kansas,” Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers said. Other area GOP school board members include Gail Jamison, Sara McDonald and Kevin McWhorter of Goddard; Roger Elliott of Andover; and Janet Sprecker of Derby. Carol Rupe Linnens, former member of both the Wichita school board and the Kansas State Board of Education, spoke at the announcement event in Topeka Tuesday. “We need a governor who values our schools and makes them a top priority,” she said.

Key lawmakers lack college degrees

mortarboardKansas is consistent with the nation in that 1 in 4 of its state legislators lacks a college degree, noted Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose. Among the non-degreed chairmen of legislative committees, Rose wrote, are Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance Chairman Rob Olson, R-Olathe. House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, and House Minority Whip Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, don’t hold college degrees either. Nor does Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan. “One can be plenty smart without a college degree,” Rose wrote, but “with the inevitable budget cuts coming down the road, as our deficits explode from massive tax cuts, legislators will once again be looking to higher education to cut. That’s when I hope that our legislative leaders without four-year degrees will not deprioritize higher education, which is one of the state’s most important economic development tools.”

Wagle made good picks to education commission

school-fundingGood for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, for appointing Ken Thiessen, principal of Wichita’s East High School, to the new K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission. Thiessen has worked for the Wichita school district since 1981 and will bring a wealth of practical experience to the commission, which will be studying ways to use state dollars to maximize student outcomes. Wagle also appointed Sam Williams, former chairman of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce – another good choice. Wagle’s picks are in sharp contrast to those of her counterpart in the Kansas House, Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, who appointed two lobbyists who are critics of public education and have pushed for private alternatives.

Judicial panel’s satisfaction with law was a relief

gavelSo there will be no constitutional crisis over state funding of K-12 schools, at least for now. That’s a relief. This week three judges signed off on the new state law meant to remedy inequities in school funding by July 1, which means the Legislature’s $129 million response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon decision will stand and school districts will get their scheduled state aid. There was plenty to dislike about the bill and its passage, without sufficient scrutiny of its unwarranted policy provisions. But some districts will see benefits, as will some property tax payers. The big test of the Gannon lawsuit lies ahead, though, as the three-judge panel takes another look at whether state funding is unconstitutionally low overall.

Free-market foxes in education chicken coop?

schoolboy1House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, raised eyebrows – and a lot of cynicism – by appointing two lobbyists to a new K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission. Merrick tapped Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, and Mike O’Neal, president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Both men are critics of public education and have pushed for private alternatives. “Merrick’s appointments suggest the commission will be agenda-driven, not an objective panel,” wrote Barbara Shelly of the Kansas City Star. “Instead of hearing testimony from lobbyists, the panel will consist of lobbyists. It’s hard to think of a better fox-in-the-chicken-coop scenario.”

Makes sense to increase capital outlay authority

school-fundingIt made sense for the Wichita school board to vote Monday to increase its capital outlay property tax authority from 7 mills to 8 mills. Most of the additional school funding approved by the Legislature this past session will go to local property tax reductions and won’t help the district pay its bills. If the school board decides to increase the capital outlay mill levy, which currently is set at 4.25 mills, that would provide the district with additional funds it could use on capital projects, facility maintenance and technology.

Brownbacks are encouraging kids to read for fun

schoolreadingGood for Gov. Sam Brownback and first lady Mary Brownback for supporting Read Kansas Read. The annual reading program, which is a collaborative effort by the Kansas State Library system and Kansas State Department of Education, encourages children to read for fun throughout the summer. The top readers in each age division from the seven library regions in the state will be recognized by the first lady at the Kansas Book Festival in September. Jo Budler, the state librarian, said that Kansas libraries had more than 97,000 children and teens participate in summer reading programs last year. “I hope that we have even more visit their library and make reading a priority this year,” Budler said.

Board of Regents made Kansas look anti-free speech

twitterAs troubling as the Kansas Board of Regents’ insistence on making tweeting a firing offense was the regents’ failure last week to understand the threat their actions posed to academic freedom, not to mention the state’s reputation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Will Creeley told National Public Radio that Kansas universities now have one of the most restrictive social media policies in the nation. Kansas State University English professor Philip Nel said: “We already have a reputation of being anti-science; now we have a reputation of being anti-free speech.” Yet regents board chairman Fred Logan said: “I think this is good public policy,” emphasizing that the regents had added language to the policy emphasizing the importance of academic freedom. “What they don’t say, of course,” Nel later wrote on his blog, “is that they’re merely stapling language affirming academic freedom onto a policy that revokes academic freedom.”

State funding of universities falls short

collegetuitionStudents and legislators had to be unhappy to see all six state universities request higher tuition rates and fees, a Friday Eagle editorial observed. But as students and their parents go looking for more cash, irked lawmakers should look in the mirror. Current state funding of the regents system is far short of its pre-recession levels.

State’s budget problems hurting KU’s bond rating

jayhawkMoody’s Investors Service first downgraded the state’s bond rating because of  budget problems and its sluggish economic recovery. Now the credit agency has downgraded the University of Kansas. Moody’s cited “the state’s budgetary challenges” and KU’s “thin operating performance and limited liquidity” in deciding last week to lower KU’s rating from Aa1 to Aa2. Kansas State University’s bond rating by Moody’s was already Aa2. Wichita State University’s rating is Aa3.

Regents tone-deaf on social media policy

twitterThe Kansas Board of Regents is steamrolling ahead with its widely criticized social media policy. This week its Governance Committee unanimously approved the policy allowing a university leader to fire a faculty or staff member because of an improper tweet or Facebook post, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. The revised policy includes a new statement in support of academic freedom, but it is still overwhelmingly opposed by university faculty and staff. Nearly all of the 172 people who submitted comments were critical of the policy. The revised policy will go to the full Board of Regents for a vote – and likely approval – on May 14.

Colvin students met high expectations

colvinchallengeCongratulations to Brianna Falvey’s fourth-graders at Colvin Elementary School for completing their homework for 100 consecutive days. Falvey promised her students that if they met the goal, she would dye her hair orange and wear a prom dress to school – which she did Monday. Someone also is donating $10 to the school for every day all the students did their homework, and the class plans to use part of the money on a trip to All Star Adventures. But the biggest reward is the pride of accomplishment and the lessons the students learned about persistence, teamwork and personal responsibility. Nearly 98 percent of Colvin students are from low-income families. Falvey and the students proved that if you set high expectations, students can rise to meet them.

Congratulations to top-ranked East High

easthighThanks to U.S. News and World Report’s latest rankings of U.S. public high schools, Wichita East High School now stands out as not only the biggest high school in Kansas but also the best. That is a great new point of pride for USD 259 as well as for East and its 130 full-time teachers and 2,300 students. The evaluation took into account test scores and academic rigor, including that of East’s International Baccalaureate program and Advanced Placement courses, as well as schools’ effectiveness in educating at-risk students. At East, 67 percent of students are minorities and 68 percent are economically disadvantaged. Congratulations to East and its fellow silver-medal winner, second-ranked Liberal High School, as well as to the 30 Kansas public high schools accorded bronze medals, including Andover Central, Belle Plaine, Goddard, Haven, Hesston, Hutchinson and Sedgwick. There was no cause for celebration in the state-by-state rankings, unfortunately: Only the Dakotas, Louisiana and Mississippi ranked below Kansas in how many of its high schools earned gold or silver medals.

Lawmakers focused on what’s best for students, Merrick says

merrick_ray“With the education bill officially signed into law, Kansas children will now reap the benefits of more money in the classroom, broader local control, expanded opportunities for those from low-income families, and millions in property-tax relief,” House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, wrote in a commentary on Wednesday’s Opinion page. Though lawmakers have been strongly criticized for eliminating state due-process protections for public school teachers, he argued that lawmakers were focused on Kansas students. “Too often in debating school finance and policy, the conversation somehow gets twisted into what’s best for the institutions, teachers and administrators,” he wrote.

Suddenly due-process change is about local control?

teacherstenureThere was little discussion about local control when state lawmakers debated revoking due-process rights for public school teachers. But after criticism of the provision began mounting, local control suddenly became a key GOP talking point. If revoking a right that has existed since the 1950s was about local control, what locals asked for that control? The Kansas Association of School Boards didn’t propose the law change. There wasn’t even a hearing to ask locals what they thought of the change. About the only group to endorse the change was Americans for Prosperity. The local-control claim also rings hollow given that lawmakers ignored the pleas of local governments this session and banned local weapons regulations, and they regularly meddle in school curriculum issues.

In Olathe and elsewhere, more taxing authority won’t offset cuts

schoolmoneyKansas City Star columnist Steve Rose praised the school-finance bill because “Johnson County schools finally got more local control,” predicting the Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley districts will take advantage of how the legislation enables them to raise local property taxes. But the Star also reported that extra local taxing authority won’t offset years of cuts. Shawnee Mission gains $3.3 million from the bill but had to cut its spending by $28 million from 2009 to 2012. Blue Valley, where cuts have totaled $11 million, could see $3 million more because of the bill, while Olathe’s $6 million gain compares with $25 million in recent cuts. Olathe superintendent Marlin Berry told the Star the greater taxing authority is “a very small step” toward what’s needed for classrooms and staff.

On social media policy, regents should listen to faculty

mortarboardSurely the Kansas Board of Regents didn’t expect a work group of university professors and other personnel to endorse its sweeping, punitive policy to make faculty’s use of social media a potential firing offense if it is “contrary to the best interests of the university.” The work group, which was asked in January to make recommendations about the controversial new policy, came back with a response that affirmed academic freedom and safeguarded free speech. Eighty distinguished professors from regents universities endorsed the group’s advisory revision and inclusive, scholarly process. Yet at a Wednesday committee meeting, some regents’ initial reaction to the work group’s version was unduly hostile – and also tone-deaf to the national uproar the board’s overreaching policy had created. “Someplace this train got off the tracks,” regent Tim Emert said of the group’s work. “If any professor gave an assignment and the student came back with something completely different, the grade would not be very good.” Are the regents so intent on ensuring that universities can discipline and dump professors for tweets and Facebook posts that they are now willing to dismiss the concerns and work of dozens of university faculty members and the criticism of the American Association of University Professors, as well as chill academic speech and inquiry? Adding language saying the board “strongly supports principles of academic freedom,” as the regents have proposed, doesn’t help if the rest of the policy says otherwise.

Brownback: Get off the fence on due-process rights

bbackwinWhy won’t Gov. Sam Brownback say whether he supports eliminating due-process rights for public school teachers? He’s been riding the fence since the Legislature passed a school-finance bill that strips teachers of these rights. If he supports that, he should say so. If he doesn’t, he should also say so – and then take action, by either vetoing the bill or demanding that legislators repeal the provision when they return to Topeka on April 30.

DeBacker’s expertise, enthusiasm will be missed

Gratitude and best wishes are due Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker upon her resignation to become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates. In her five years in the state’s top job in K-12 public education, DeBacker demonstrated a keen understanding of the complexities of education policy and policymaking as well as an enthusiasm for taking Kansas to the challenging next level on academic standards and student achievement.

Shame on Legislature for undermining teachers’ rights

teacherShame on the GOP leaders of the Kansas Legislature for using a Kansas Supreme Court order on school-funding inequities as an excuse to undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking. As our Tuesday editorial asked: Where was the love for schools as the Legislature voted to strip teachers of their due-process rights, subsidize private education with a corporate income-tax credit, and pass unproven ideological reforms while trampling on the policymaking responsibilities of the Kansas State Board of Education?

Butler Co. lawmakers backed effort to burn teachers

candidateIn a commentary headlined “Teachers get burned while Masterson gets a tan,” Kent Bush, publisher of the Butler County Times-Gazette, blasted area lawmakers for revoking due-process rights of public schoolteachers and for being puppets of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. He particularly called out Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who led the Senate negotiations before leaving for a family vacation. Bush described Masterson as a nice guy away from the state Senate. “But if you want someone to determine education policy, I can’t think of many people who would be worse,” Bush wrote. “Masterson has never made it a secret that he holds public schools in low regard – seeing them as ineffective and inefficient.”

Rhoades blames House education bill on ‘election year’

candidateRep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, is saying a bit more about his resignation last week as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He wrote in a blog post that he could only support adding significant funding to equalize school aid, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, if it was tied to reforms aimed at improving education outcomes. But House leadership rejected several reforms in his initial bill, and he said “it was clear there was little appetite for allowing changes to the bill in committee.” Why didn’t the House bill include measurable education outcomes? “Because it’s an election year,” Rhoades wrote. Another possibility is that schools already are overloaded with educational measurements. The bill was supposed to fix an unconstitutional funding problem, not be a tool for ideological mandates.

Urgency appropriate on school fixes

Just before deadline - time, stress or rush concept.Multiple bills now have been offered to answer the Kansas Supreme Court’s March 7 order to resolve inequities in school funding by July 1, but Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, sounded like he didn’t appreciate being rushed last week. “The (Supreme) Court had years, and even seven months for final deliberation (on the school-finance lawsuit), and now we’re being asked to conclude something in a matter of days,” Masterson said, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. But school districts would suggest that some urgency is overdue. After all, it’s been five years since the Legislature began cutting K-12 schools after several years of court-ordered steep increases, and it’s been four years since Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, told Wichita superintendent John Allison: “The common goal is restoring that money and we will restore that money. It’s just going to take time.”

Lawmakers like part of school study that called for cut

budgetcutKansas House and Senate GOP school-finance plans propose reducing state transportation funding to school districts. The change, which would cost USD 259 more than $1.2 million, is based on a 2006 Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit study that found a “mathematical error” in the formula for calculating transportation funding. Jeff Zehnder, communications director at the Seaman school district in Topeka, noted the contradiction of lawmakers latching onto this cut while still ignoring the primary finding of that study – that schools are significantly underfunded. “Legislators have said for years that their own studies were wrong when results showed schools received less than it takes to educate a child,” Zehnder told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “How can it now be that an exhaustive study calling for an overall increase in funding for kids is still wrong, but the one line item in that study calling for a small cut is correct?”