Archive for Monday, February 5, 2001

School funding debate includes accountability

February 5, 2001


— School readiness. A suitable education. Accountability. Three hot political phrases with many definitions.

Legislators were greeted this session with no fewer than four major proposals for financing, reforming or otherwise improving public education.

After wading through the details, the House Education Committee plans to meet this week to outline its vision.

That vision is likely to be heavy on accountability and to focus on kindergarten through third grade. What is likely to be missing is a tax increase to boost money for existing or expanded programs.

What isn't certain is what defines a suitable education for more than 460,000 Kansans.

"If you don't have a vision or a focus, it doesn't matter how much money you put in the formula," said House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan.

Glasscock formed Education subcommittees to collect more information, get more players involved and create more enthusiasm for reform.

"If we can accomplish the first part, even assessing a vision and coming to any conclusion together what that vision contains, then we merely have to figure out how we're going to fund it," said Rep. Bob Tomlinson, R-Roeland Park, chairman of the finance subcommittee.

A bill drafted by the accountability subcommittee calls for all state agencies with an interest in early childhood education to define school readiness and help create a test to determine a child's abilities upon entering kindergarten.

The same bill would have the Department of Education set a goal that 95 percent of all third-graders be proficient in basic reading, writing and math skills. Local districts would test students and intervene when children aren't performing well enough, including by holding students back.

"When we wait until high school to try to remediate these children it's too late," said Rep. Kathe Lloyd, R-Clay Center, the subcommittee's chairwoman.

The plan proposes a $5,000 bonus to teachers whose students reach the 95 percent skills goal.

In the Senate, 37 members have sponsored a bill putting more money into programs for children considered eventual dropout risks. All districts would use the money to help children master basic reading skills by third grade.

Solving the finance side of the equation is more difficult.

The Senate Education Committee plans hearings Tuesday and Wednesday on the school finance formula, including local option budgets and special education. Under local option, school districts can exceed budgets set by the state by increasing property taxes.

The likelihood of a tax increase isn't strong. Legislators have said little support for raising taxes exists.

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