Response to School Finance Ruling Should Focus on What is Best for Students
Op/Ed Jan 2, 2015
As children return to school after the Christmas break, they probably don't realize the fate of their public school education career will be based on decisions by the Legislature, Gov. Sam Brownback and members of the judiciary.
The recent school finance decision by a three-judge panel in Shawnee County will no doubt increase debate over money, taxes and formulas. The underlying focus, however, of the decision should be on our Kansas students and the long term future of our state.
The court again found Kansas is failing to provide constitutionally suitable school funding. That is not because schools are failing. Based on national test scores, high school completion, preparation for college and adult education attainment, Kansas ranks among the top states in the nation - number 10 as measured across 18 different indicators. At the same time, Kansas ranks near the average in spending per pupil and in student poverty, a critical factor in student success, indicating school districts are efficiently delivering high results for a reasonable cost. By every historical measure, Kansas educational outcomes are high.
Why, then, did the court rule Kansas schools are underfunded?
First, the court noted that after several years of improvement on state reading and math tests, scores began to drop as the impact of funding cuts were felt. Likewise, Kansas scores on national tests have leveled off. Other factors, like graduation rates and college readiness and completion, are “lagging indicators” that may decline as students move through an under-funded system. This year, Kansas students will take new, tougher tests designed to measure higher skills, setting a new baseline.
Second, like all states, there are significant performance gaps among Kansas students. Low income students, who are also disproportionately represented among minority groups, lag behind their more advantaged peers on tests of basic skills, graduation and college preparation. This alone is evidence the state is not providing “suitable” funding for all students. This also represents a growing problem for the future of the state, since the number of low income students has increased significantly, whether measured by participation in free meals or by childhood poverty rates.
Third, demands for educational attainment are growing as fast - or faster - than actual achievement. By the end of this decade, nearly 70 percent of Kansas jobs are expected to require some type of postsecondary education. Currently, only 58.1 percent of Kansans ages 18-24 have some postsecondary education.
Getting more students prepared for success after high school is critical and costs more than simply attaining high school diploma. Jobs requiring higher skills and educational levels pay significantly more and pave the way for economic prosperity and personal advancement.
Kansas has recognized this fact by adopting the seven Rose factors, which include providing each and every child certain skills to advance in either academic or vocational fields.
States with the highest educational attainment spend more per pupil than low achieving states. Because their educational levels are higher, their income levels are higher and they have fewer students in poverty, which makes it easier to continue raising achievement. These states are preparing for long-term economic growth and security, just like individuals and families who make it a priority to save and invest for the long term as their incomes grow.
Unfortunately, Kansas has been doing the opposite. As the total income of Kansans has grown since the Great Recession, the state has been investing less of that income for public education. Total Kansas personal income is projected to have increased by over 25 percent since 2010, while total school funding has increased just 10 percent in the same period, and much of the funding increase has come from local districts where voters have approved building projects to improve their schools.
Total K-12 school funding is projected to be just 4.42 percent of total personal income in 2015 - the lowest level since 1985. In fact, the state could increase educational funding by $550 million and still be spending a lower share of income than the ten-year average between 2001 and 2010. That is the approximate cost of providing additional base-level funding at what the court suggested was “the bottom level of reasonableness.”
The court did not order the Governor and Legislature spend a particular amount of money. It simply found the current level of funding cannot achieve the Rose standards adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court and by the Legislature as educational goals for all students. It is up to the Governor and Legislature to respond.
The people of Kansas approved an education article of the state constitution that says the public school system exists for “intellectual, educational, scientific and vocational improvement.” The status quo is never good enough. The court found overwhelming evidence money matters to educational quality, and noted funding for current educational programs (as opposed to buildings and pensions) had fallen far below previous levels found to be constitutional.
The ruling should be seen as an opportunity by the Legislature and governor to invest in higher levels of achievement and success for Kansas students, a state economy based on high skills and wages, and stronger families and communities.
Welcome back! Come to a Fall Summit
I hope that your school year has gotten off to a great start! The beginning of school is always an exciting time, whether you are entering your first year of school or your last, your first days on the job, or your first year in the leadership chair of the board of education. We’re all involved in something very important – public education!
In my role as president of KASB, I have the opportunity to attend many workshops and meetings, some on the national level, and some closer to home. Do you know what I see everywhere I go? I see hard-working, dedicated individuals wanting to do what’s best for kids. I also see some groups who seem to want to discredit public education and weaken our system. What we are doing is too important to let them succeed.
A few weeks ago, KASB hosted a meeting of about 80 individuals representing many organizations and groups, including legislators, state board members, KNEA, state administrator groups and PTA. We spent the day discussing how our education goals based on the Rose capacities align with initiatives at the post-secondary, K-12 and early childhood levels, and what policies or decisions need to be made to move our schools forward. It was an exciting, energizing day, and I couldn’t help but wish every school board in every community across our state could have a similar conversation.
In fact, I believe everyone should have this conversation. Public schools and school funding will be on the agenda once the 2015 Legislative Session roles around in January. Before the state can decide how much money is needed to reach the Rose capacities – which is the new test for school funding decided by the Supreme Court last March – we have to find agreement on what the standards mean and how to assess whether or not students are meeting them. The education community should be ready to tell our legislators what needs to change and what resources are needed. This will only happen if we start talking now.
A great first step is to come to the KASB Fall Summits coming up the end of September and first part of October. You’ll get to hear similar information to what I heard this summer, and you’ll get to discuss what that means for your local community. I encourage every school district to bring a team of board members, staff and community members. There are a number of education-related agencies and organizations working to help our state and school districts understand and connect the new standards to the current public education system in Kansas. But this is a conversation for every community and every school board in Kansas. To see a detailed agenda and location information for the Fall Summits click here now
If you have any questions or comments, I hope you will reach out and let me know!
Where will you be August 5?
In less than four weeks, Kansans will have the opportunity to substantially shape the future of our state for several years to come. If this seems like an overstatement, think about the policies and laws passed in the last few years by both our elected state board of education and our Kansas legislators. Their actions have a direct impact on our local communities and our local public schools.
The primary election August 5 has a number of key races, both for state board and for the state legislature. Election season has always been marked by an increase in mail, phone calls and advertising. You add in social media, and it becomes even more tempting to just tune it all out. KASB created an election tracker
to provide information that can help clarify who is running for what seat.
But it is important to listen to what candidates are saying (or not saying!) during this election cycle, and it is even more important to do your own research and find out if they are “walking their talk.” Find out if their voting records and actions align with the direction you believe we must head.
The reality is that many races are already decided or will be decided on August 5. If candidates are running with no general election opponent, their election to the office is essentially decided. If two candidates from the same party are the only candidates, then whoever wins on August 5 has won the election. Independent candidates have until noon on August 4 to file, but this kind of challenger is almost never successful.
Whatever your political affiliation, whether or not you are happy or troubled by the direction our state is going, your vote matters. And it matters that you model the importance of voting and going to the polls on Election Day for your children, grandchildren, friends and colleagues.
Washington County USD 108 board member starts term as President of KASB
Rod Stewart, Washington County USD 108 board of education vice president, took over as president of the Kansas Association of School Boards July 1. Stewart has served as president-elect this past year.
"It is truly an honor to begin my term as president of KASB. I believe KASB is in a position to take the lead on a number of critical issues facing our state, and I ask my fellow board members to remain informed and involved,” he said.
KASB provides service and support to governing boards for unified school districts, community colleges, area vocational-technical schools and cooperatives, interlocals and regional service centers. The association serves a diverse membership base of close to 5,000 board members and educational leaders.
“KASB members have unique challenges and opportunities, but we are united in a common cause,” Stewart said. “We all want our students to be prepared for success, to accomplish their dreams and to become responsible citizens.”
Stewart has held numerous leadership positions at the local level. He served on the USD 222 board of education, president of the consolidation transition board, and is now in his second term on the Washington County USD 108 board, serving terms as president and vice president. He has been involved in the district’s negotiation committee, the superintendent selection committee, the curriculum committee and a several facilities planning and construction committees.
In addition to local leadership, Stewart served two terms on the KASB board of directors as regional vice-president. His involvement with KASB has included numerous committees for the association, including the convention credentials committee and the executive director interview committee. Stewart has been an active participant in both the KASB Governmental Relations and the Federal Relations networks.
Stewart holds a bachelor of science in agriculture education and a master of science in adult and occupational education, both from Kansas State University. He is a member of the Washington County Schools Booster Club and the school’s agriculture science department’s advisory committee. He is a member of the National Corn Growers Association, Kansas Soybean Association, National FFA Alumni Association, K-State Alumni Life Member and both the First United Methodist Church and the Washington County Historical Society.
Stewart begins his leadership of KASB at a time of renewed emphasis on local control brought about by recent legislative decisions.
“We must remain focused on and committed to what’s really important, and always ask ourselves ‘what is in the best interest of the students?' If we, both on our local boards and as KASB, will keep that as a guide, we can provide the kind of leadership our communities and state require.”