Category Archives: Education

School-funding plans could cost Wichita

schoolbusNot only might the Wichita school district receive little budgetary help if the state equalizes school funding, proposals in the Kansas House and Senate to help pay for that equalization by reducing transportation aid would cost USD 259 more than $1.2 million. Because local option budgets are capped, Wichita won’t be able to keep any of the additional $11.9 million it would receive if the state equalized supplemental school aid, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court. Unless the rules are changed – a GOP Senate plan proposes raising the cap, subject to local voters’ approval – USD 259 would have to reduce its local property taxes by $11.9 million to offset the state money. All total, of the $134 million in state aid to schools in the Senate plan, about $56 million of it would be paid for by cuts to current funding.

Equitably funding schools is such a chore

school-fundingWho knew that equitably funding public education was so distasteful to some lawmakers? House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said it would be a “real chore” to get a majority of Republicans to agree to spend tens of millions more in new money on schools. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said he might need to link more funding to other reforms, such as changing teacher-licensing requirements, in order to get support from some conservatives. “It’s kind of like value shopping,” he said. “If I’m going to spend this much money, I want to know what I’m going to get for my dollars.”

USD 259 might not get much help from funding fix

schoolmoneyUnless the Legislature changes the rules somehow, many school districts, including Wichita, won’t get much budget help even if the state complies with the Kansas Supreme Court order to equalize school funding. That’s because most of the increased state funding would go to supplement local option budgets. And because the LOB total is capped, all that would change is how this total is divided between the state and districts. So, for example, if the state fully funded its share of Wichita’s LOB next fiscal year, it would pay an additional $11.9 million, according to Kansas State Department of Education estimates. But because Wichita’s LOB is at the cap and can’t increase, Wichita would have to reduce its local property taxes by $11.9 million to offset the state money. That’s good for homeowners but doesn’t help USD 259 pay its bills. Wichita would received $3.5 million in capital outlay aid if the state equalized that funding, and it has the potential to increase that budget. But that is a relatively small funding increase for a district Wichita’s size, and the money could be used only on capital projects, not for teacher salaries.

Was court’s school ruling good news for other states?

schoolhaAn Investor’s Business Daily editorial greeted the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent ruling on school finance with a “Hallelujah!” because it said the touchstone for determining adequacy of funding wasn’t total spending but when students “meet or exceed the standards set out” under state law. “What a concept: School performance shouldn’t be based on the inputs – i.e., money – but the actual academic results,” the editorial argued. “This is, of course, how most every other industry measures progress. In private industry the goal is to do more with less. But in education we have been operating under the opposite mind-set: Do less with more money. Maybe that’s why schools are failing. They’re looking at the wrong metrics. Hopefully the courts in other states will take the logic of this latest Kansas decision to heart.”

More school meddling: Teach how to shake hands

handshakeRep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, said he was being “somewhat facetious” when he proposed that public schools teach students how to shake hands properly. But the House overwhelmingly passed his amendment this week. “It seems like every time there’s an ill that’s in society we’re going to find some way to make schools do a better job,” said Cassidy, a former school principal. “I sort of have frustration with that on occasion.” What’s next – mandating that boys learn how to tie a tie?

KPI advises Legislature to act swiftly on school equity

schoolc4The Kansas Policy Institute, a free-market think tank, is advising state lawmakers to pay what’s required to equalize state education funding, per the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent ruling. “The equity issues should be swiftly and cleanly resolved,” KPI president Dave Trabert wrote in a commentary. “We encourage legislators to avoid temptation to ‘tinker’ with the current formula to find the equity money, even though the Supreme Court says that that is one option available.” Whether the state is adequately funding public education is still unresolved, as the Supreme Court ordered a three-judge panel to evaluate funding based on educational outcomes. On that issue, Trabert is urging the Legislature to take its time and determine adequate funding “in a thoughtful, deliberative process.”

On KU’s needs, Masterson thinks he knows best

candidateNo one disputes the need for more physicians in Kansas, which ranks 39th among states for doctors per capita. And University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and others repeatedly have told lawmakers that a new $75 million health education building is necessary to train more physicians and maintain accreditation. Yet on Tuesday the Senate Ways and Means Committee declined to give KU what it needs to get the building under construction and open in 2017 – access to a $25 million FICA refund and $1.4 million annually from the state to help retire $15 million in bonds. (The rest of the money would be raised privately.) Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, seems to think he knows better than KU what KU needs. “I don’t feel the accreditation is in jeopardy,” he told the Lawrence Journal-World. He also said: “It’s just prioritization. If they want to prioritize the accreditation as a project, they have the resources to do that.”

State must increase school funding

school-fundingThe state must significantly increase school funding to meet its constitutional obligations, but exactly how much and when is still uncertain. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled today that a three-judge panel needed to look at more than just cost studies to determine the adequacy of funding. The timing of that is unclear. But the court did rule that funding is not equitable and gave the Legislature until July 1 to fix that. How will lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback respond?

Brace yourself: School-finance ruling coming Friday

schoolmoneyAt 9:30 a.m. Friday the Kansas Supreme Court will release its ruling in the school-finance case. A three-judge panel ruled last year that state funding for K-12 public schools was unconstitutionally low and needed to be increased by more than $400 million per year. If the Supreme Court agrees, how will lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback respond? Will they defy the court and trigger a constitutional crisis? Could that lead to school closings next fall?

More oddities in strange case of Rhoades’ earmark

candidateRep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, raised eyebrows last year when he earmarked $12 million over two years to a company in his district that sells reading software for schools. There was no request for proposal or evaluation by state education leaders. Shortly after the earmark became public, the company, Educational Design Solutions, changed its registered address from Newton to Walton, just outside of Rhoades’ district, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Then the next month, it changed registration again, to Basehor, a suburb of Kansas City. A company leader told the Capital-Journal that the moves were already planned and unrelated to the scrutiny over the earmark. Another concern about the earmark was that the money came from the Children’s Initiatives Fund, without any input from its cabinet. In November, the cabinet voted against the second year of funding, but it will be up to lawmakers to listen.

Wall Street Journal eager for state showdown

schoolmoneyThe Wall Street Journal editorial board apparently would welcome a constitutional crisis in Kansas. Declaring Kansas school funding to be “more than adequate,” a Friday editorial headlined “Kansas Democracy Lesson” claimed that “activists are trying to get the state Supreme Court to overrule the legislature and spend at least $500 million more a year on schools.” What’s more, the editorial counseled that “if the justices impose an undemocratic tax increase, the GOP should move swiftly to reform judicial selection.”

Opera big names becoming big men on WSU campus

rameyWichita State University long ago proved its uncommon ability to launch singers into opera careers, but will add to its stature in a big way when Samuel Ramey (in photo) and Alan Held join the faculty in the fall. Both are proud products of WSU who’ve sung all over the world. Ramey, a Colby native who has taught a few weeks a semester at WSU for the past two years, has been one of the most famous names in opera for decades, and is known as the most recorded bass in history. Congratulations to WSU for adding these accomplished figures to its teaching line-up. As the Wichita Symphony Orchestra tweeted last week: “VanVleet and Baker, Ramey and Held. @WichitaState has it pretty darn good right now.”

Shared commitment to NCAT is welcome

101910workforceIt’s good to see the city of Wichita and the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce both advocating for restoration of state funding for the National Center for Aviation Training, a priority that also received a lot of stated support at Thursday’s legislative forum. The Legislature docked NCAT’s $5 million funding for the current fiscal year by $2 million, and carried forward that funding level for fiscal 2015. That move, which forced NCAT to pull back on equipment and training, was at the inexplicable urging of some area lawmakers – and at an especially poor time for the state to be undermining its commitment to high-level aviation and other technical training.

School-finance ruling could have national impact

schoolmoneyThe Kansas Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on a school-funding lawsuit, and the Legislature’s response to that ruling, could have a far-reaching effect, according to David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, and Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “A court-stripping constitutional amendment, and defiance of a state Supreme Court order, would shred the very fabric of Kansas’ government and send shock waves through state capitals across the nation,” they wrote in a New York Times commentary headlined “What’s the Matter With Kansas’ Schools?” They also said: “It would allow elected branches to avoid any responsibility to adhere to the language and interpretation of their state constitutions by the courts. It would gravely undermine judicial independence and shut the courthouse door to vulnerable children who, as a last resort, seek legal redress to vindicate their fundamental right to an education.”

Elected officials aren’t the highest-paid employees

moneyfallingGovernors and other elected officials make a good living, but they aren’t the highest-paid public employees. In 41 states, including Kansas, the highest-paid public employees are college football or basketball coaches, the website Deadspin.com reported. In the remaining states, college presidents and college medical school or law school deans or professors are paid the most. Though college coaches make much more than elected officials, most of their salaries are paid with outside revenues, not directly with state funds.

Good for regents for revisiting social-media policy

twitterGood for Kansas Board of Regents chairman Fred Logan for calling for the creation of a work group of representatives from each state university to review the regents’ new social-media policy. The policy, which gives the chief executive at each university the authority to suspend or fire any faculty or staff member who improperly uses social media, has been roundly criticized by campus faculty and administrators and by national education groups. It’s both too vague and too severe. Logan wants the work group to present any proposed changes to the policy by April. It would have been better and easier if the regents had formed this group before passing the misguided policy.

All-day kindergarten funding not such an easy sell

school-fundingGov. Sam Brownback thought that having the state fund all-day kindergarten instead of only half-day was something nearly everyone could support. But the GOP education committee leaders aren’t yet convinced that it’s a good idea, and Democrats question where the money will come from. “I don’t know if I’m sold on all-day kindergarten,” Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, told the Arkansas City Traveler. Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, is also unsure about the proposal and the benefits of all-day kindergarten. Brownback proposed phasing in the full funding over five years, paying for a $16.3 million increase next fiscal year out of the state’s ending balance. But Democrats note that the cumulative cost of the funding increases over five years would be $244.5 million, and the state’s ending balance was already projected to be exhausted within five years – even without considering the likelihood that the state will lose its school-funding lawsuit.

Regents’ social-media policy too vague, severe

computerdeleteThe Kansas Board of Regents’ new social-media policy for the state’s public universities is getting hammered – and for good reason. The new policy is too vague and severe, allowing the university chief executive to fire or suspend faculty or staff members for the “improper use” of social media. This includes communication considered “contrary to the best interests of the university” or that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.” Columnist Rebecca Schuman argued in Slate this week that “it is these two phrases’ ominously wide reach – and overt insistence on lockstep fealty – that are legitimately terrifying.”

New WSU dorm tops state for room-and-board cost

collegetuitionWichita State University’s new dormitory, which opens next fall, will have the highest room-and-board rate of any dorm at the state’s public universities – by far. But it also should be a lot nicer. The rate for two shared bedrooms and one bath with a 15-meals-a-week plan and $300 in “Shocker Dollars” will be $10,164 per year. The room-and-board rates next year for the other state schools, which the Kansas Board of Regents also approved last week, are $7,910 at Kansas State University, $7,896 at the University of Kansas, $7,280 at Fort Hays State University, $7,034 at Emporia State University and $6,936 at Pittsburg State University. The average room-and-board charge for public universities in the Midwest is $8,737. WSU president John Bardo has said that the rate for the new dorm is comparable to what other universities charge for new facilities.

Kansas going in wrong direction on teacher pay

schoolteacherKansas ranked 42nd in the nation in teacher pay last year, according to estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics. The average pay for Kansas teachers was $47,464 during the 2012-13 school year. Kansas understandably pays less than states with higher costs of living, but it also trails many other Midwestern states – and is moving in the wrong direction. Kansas ranked 41st in teacher pay in the 2011-12 school year and was 39th in the 2009-10 school year, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

Few districts interested in GOP education bill

schoolbusOnly eight Kansas school districts (none from Sedgwick County) applied to exempt themselves from certain regulations governing K-12 education, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. A new law approved this past session allowed up to 29 districts to apply for the exemption. Several of the districts that applied want to exempt themselves from teacher-licensing requirements. The law was dreamed up by GOP lawmakers with little input from state education officials, who also are excluded in its implementation (and are challenging the law’s constitutionality). According to the law, the first two waivers will be decided by Gov. Sam Brownback and the chairs of the House and Senate Education committees, and later applications will be reviewed by a board made up of representatives of the districts that have already received waivers, the Journal-World reported.

Pope also concerned about unfair economic policies

popefrancisPope Francis is not only calling on Catholics to focus less on social issues and more on caring for the poor, he is critical of economic policies that hold the poor down. “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” the pope wrote in a new treatise. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted how these views are in sharp contrast with those of some U.S. politicians who “are determined to keep the poor from receiving health care, food assistance, housing subsidies and a host of other benefits” and who consider income inequality a virtue.

Nice progress on graduation rates

mortarboardThere is still room for improvement in USD 259’s graduation rate of 76.5 percent, which lags the state average of 86 percent. But the district is moving in the right direction, having brought up the rate from 63.1 percent four years ago. With the help of special programs that engage and support students, the Wichita district has been able to help more Hispanic males (up 30 percent) and African-American males (up 24 percent) reach the finish line since 2009 during a time when state per-pupil funding has been cut. Well done.

Kansas not only state that cut taxes, funds for schools

school-funding“Five of the seven states that have cut general school aid per student by more than 15 percent since 2008 also cut personal or corporate income tax rates during this period,” wrote Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Kansas cut spending per pupil, adjusted for inflation, by 16.5 percent while passing tax cuts that are expected to cost $3.8 billion over the next five years, Leachman noted. The other four states are Oklahoma (22.8 percent cut in school funding), Arizona (17.2 percent), Idaho (15.9 percent) and Wisconsin (15.3 percent). The problem for Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature is that the Kansas Constitution requires the state to suitably finance education And as a three judge panel ruled – and the Kansas Supreme Court likely will affirm – it doesn’t fly to claim the state can’t afford to spend more on schools when it dramatically cut taxes.

School test results are disappointing

It is discouraging but not too surprising that scores on statewide reading and math tests went down this year. The state is transitioning to new academic standards that are no longer specifically aligned with the old tests. Also, school funding has been cut sharply in recent years. Still, after years of increased achievement, the drop is disappointing. Another report released this month showed mostly flat results on 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, though Kansas students continued to score above the national averages in math and reading.