Category Archives: Education

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.

Common Core meetings should include tinfoil hats

Americans for Properity-Kansas has joined forces with conspiracy theorists in opposing the new Common Core education standards. The anti-tax group held meetings this week, including one Tuesday in Wichita, in which an “expert education panel” discussed the new standards, which Kansas adopted in 2010. One panelist claimed that the federal government wants to hook up children to machines that measure data about their mindsets, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The leader of AFP’s Shawnee County chapter compared Common Core to the 1973 film “Soylent Green,” in which an authoritarian government secretly processes dead people into food. “That’s where we’re headed, folks,” he said. There’s a good debate to be had about our education system’s emphasis on standardized testing and whether the arts and creativity are being squeezed out. But those thoughtful concerns aren’t as motivating as claiming President Obama wants to take over schools and turn our kids into worker bees.

GOP tries to turn higher education against K-12

State Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, warned University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little last week that KU and other state universities should prepare for significant decreases in funding if the Kansas Supreme Court orders legislators to increase funding to public schools, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “You really do have a horse in this race,” Lunn told Gray-Little, even suggesting that she “talk to your friendly Supreme Court justices.” But Democratic lawmakers counter that any budget problems the state may face are due to the GOP’s massive income-tax cuts, not the court or K-12 education. “Where we are now is because of the actions that the Legislature and governor took,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.

Brownback spinning numbers on school funding

Gov. Sam Brownback wrote in a commentary (Oct. 26 Opinion) that his administration has increased state funding on education by $200 million. But that “is just one particular way of spinning the numbers,” wrote Lawrence Journal-World education reporter Peter Hancock. Of that total, nearly $143 million was increased contributions to the state’s pension plan – money that schools can’t use for operating costs. Another $29.5 million of the increase was approved by the Legislature more than six months before Brownback was elected. Hancock noted that Brownback compared fiscal year 2010, the budget year that ended six months before he came into office, with fiscal year 2015, which doesn’t begin until next July. “If we compare the budget that was in place when Brownback was sworn into office, fiscal year 2011, to the current fiscal year, total state spending has actually been cut by nearly $24 million,” Hancock wrote.

School spending percentage headed for record low

Gov. Sam Brownback boasted in a commentary in Sunday’s Eagle that state spending on K-12 education has increased more than $200 million since he was elected. He omitted the fact that the increased funding went to the state pension plan and that base per-pupil funding has dropped dramatically during his tenure. School finance as a percentage of Kansas personal income also has dropped and is expected to hit its lowest level in history next year, according to John Heim, executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards. “We are spending less than our parents spent on educating us and our grandparents spent on educating them,” Heim said.

Lots of online Tigers in Sedgwick County

“We are by far the distance-learning leader in Kansas,” Fort Hays State University president Ed Hammond said during a recent visit to The Eagle. The university’s strong enrollment in China continues, though Hammond pointed to the country’s one-child policy to help explain a 150-student drop each of the past two years. Of the fall enrollment figure of 13,441 students, 3,318 are online students and 475 of those live in Sedgwick County. Hammond said his biggest challenge is building fast enough to accommodate enrollment growth. Asked about the tours of Fort Hays (Oct. 28) and other state university campuses by legislative leaders, Hammond said notebooks were going out containing the answers to all 81 questions the lawmakers had posed. “I’ll be real interested who reads it,” he said.

New York Times takes Kansas school districts’ side

“The underfunding of Kansas public schools has been a long-running problem made worse by both parties in budget pinches over the years,” a New York Times editorial observed. “But the schools’ fiscal agony took a precipitous turn last year when statehouse Republicans decided that an encouraging postrecession increase in revenues was the perfect moment for a huge tax cut, rather than for the overdue restoration of school aid to levels mandated under the state constitution.” Noting the school districts’ lawsuit that was the subject of a state Supreme Court hearing last week, the editorial advised the high court to uphold a lower court’s order that funding be increased by at least $440 million “while making it clear that the Legislature does not have the power to unilaterally shortchange schoolchildren.”

Common Core debate not really about math, language arts

“During a nearly two-hour discussion of the Common Core educational standards in math and language arts Tuesday night in Salina, guess which words or phrases were most used,” began a Salina Journal article about an event sponsored by the Saline County Democratic Party. The choices were “verb,” “Koch brothers,” “algebra” and “Bill Gates.” The most-mentioned Koch brothers were credited with targeting Common Core, with one speaker claiming they “don’t want children to grow up with critical thinking skills.” In second place was Gates, who was criticized by speaker Walt Chappell of Wichita (a former Kansas State Board of Education member) for donating to pro-Common Core groups so Microsoft could benefit. “If a test requires a touch-screen, where do you get the software to do that? Windows 8,” Chappell said. Next came “algebra.” And “verb” wasn’t mentioned once, the Journal reported.

Kansas still struggling in U.S. News’ university rankings

When then-Gov. Mark Parkinson challenged the Kansas Board of Regents in 2009 to improve the state universities’ standings nationally, U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Kansas as 96th among 260 national universities and put Kansas State University in its third tier (between 134th and 196th) and Wichita State University in its fourth (between 197th and 260th). Parkinson proposed a 10-year goal of vaulting KU into the top 50 and K-State into the top 100 and having no Kansas institution in the bottom tier. Since then, the institutions’ leaders and the regents have sought to increase graduation rates and enrollments as well as court research and other funding. But in the U.S. News rankings released last month, KU was 101st, K-State was 135th, and WSU’s unpublished ranking was in the bottom one-fourth. The regents recently voted to ask Gov. Sam Brownback to restore tens of millions of dollars of higher-education funding cut last spring. On our Opinion pages Sunday, WSU president John Bardo writes about his strategy for significantly boosting enrollment and enhancing quality.

Charter schools falling out of favor in Kansas

The number of charter schools in Kansas is rapidly declining, dropping from 33 in 2010 to only 11 this year, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. Supporters of charter schools say the problem is that charter schools in Kansas must be approved and overseen by their local school districts. In other states, charter schools operate more independently. But critics argue that charter schools divert funding from public schools and haven’t proved to be more successful.

KU prof should stop shooting off his mouth

Good for University of Kansas administrators for strongly condemning a Twitter post by a KU journalism professor after the mass shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. David W. Guth tweeted: “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be your sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” Timothy Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs at KU, called Guth’s comment “repugnant,” the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “Like all Americans, he has the right under the First Amendment to express his personal views and is protected in that regard,” Caboni said in a statement. “But it is truly disgraceful that these views were expressed in such a callous and uncaring way.”

Common Core not a federal takeover of education

The Kansas Republican Party officially endorsed a talk-radio conspiracy theory about how Common Core education standards are a federal takeover of education. Members of the state GOP’s central committee approved a resolution last weekend condemning Common Core and insisting that the state withdraw from the standards. The resolution claims that Common Core “obliterates Kansas’ control over English language arts and mathematics standards in our schools” and that it represents “an unconstitutional and illegal transfer of power to the federal government and unaccountable private interests.” In reality, the standards were the idea of state governors. Kansas has been actively involved in creating the standards and retains control of its curriculum.

Kansas above average on transparency of school spending

The good news is that Kansas ranked 13th nationally in terms of the transparency of its public education spending, according to a report by the Cato Institute (a libertarian-leaning think tank that advocates for school choice). The not-so-good news is that it received only a C-plus grade. Cato said that the Kansas State Department of Education website was easy to navigate and provided 10 years of expenditure data, but that some of the information lacked detail, including data on total salary expenditures and pensions.

Lawmakers to tour WSU on Oct. 23

Members of the Kansas House and Senate budget committees will visit Wichita State University on Oct. 23 as part of their tour of the state’s public universities, a community college and a technology school. The tour is an attempt to educate lawmakers on the operations of the schools and to help improve relations between the schools and the Legislature. Last session, House lawmakers insisted – over Gov. Sam Brownback’s objections and appeals to common sense – on cutting higher-education funding by 3 percent.

New abuse-reporting policy is common sense

Good for the Wichita school board for unanimously underscoring in district policy Monday something that seems like common sense – that employees should call 911 immediately if they witness “a situation involving suspected physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect that may constitute criminal activity.” With USD 259 having logged 1,982 reports of suspected abuse or neglect last school year, employees need to have no doubt about their first responsibility, which is to safeguard the endangered student by calling the cops.

Cutting state spending more would be costly

State income tax cuts are projected to result in large budget shortfalls in coming years. Cutting state spending to cover this gap wouldn’t be easy – especially when costs of major budget items, such as education and Medicaid, are expected to increase. K-12 education (49.8 percent of the state general fund budget), post-secondary education (12.6 percent), Medicaid (19.8 percent) and other human services (6.9 percent) represent 89.1 percent of state spending, noted Duane Goossen, a former state budget director and vice president for fiscal and health policy at the Kansas Health Institute. “Clearly, education and human services represent such a large part of the SGF that it’s impossible to make significant budget changes without affecting these areas,” Goossen said.

Head Start taking a big hit from sequester

Many of the funding cuts triggered by the federal sequester have been out of sight, out of mind. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t having significant impacts, including on Kansas families. For example, Head Start programs will serve at least 440 fewer Kansas children this year and shed dozens of jobs as a result of the sequester, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. And because a single spot often serves more than one child per year, the total number of kids impacted will likely be more than 550, the National Head Start Association estimates. Nationally, the association estimates that more than 57,200 fewer children will be part of the program. The sequester matters to these kids and their families.

Technical-ed initiative a big hit

State legislation passed last year to encourage career and technical education is a big hit, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Under the initiative championed by Gov. Sam Brownback, the state pays the tuition cost of high school students who take classes at local community and technical colleges during their junior and senior years. Last school year, the number of high school students in such classes increased 50 percent, from 3,870 students to 5,800. It is expected to keep growing this year. The initiative comes with a cost, however: $12 million last year.