Topeka Federal officials Monday told Kansas school administrators they need to get more education funding from the state and try new ways to reach students in order to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.
"You have to give things a chance to work," said Mary Davidson Cohen, regional representative of the U.S. Education Department.
She and Karen Quarles, deputy assistant secretary, took questions on the federal education law during a meeting with about 100 school administrators in a forum set up by U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun.
Ryun, a Republican whose district includes western Lawrence, said the meeting would help federal officials determine what changes were needed to make the law more efficient and useful.
"No Child Left Behind is now the law of the land, and it's important that we make the best we can out of it," said Ryun, who voted against the bill when it was before Congress. The law, adopted in 2001, requires that students reach proficient levels in math and reading by 2013.
But he and the federal education officials received an earful of complaints from the administrators, who said the act was inadequately funded and established unrealistic goals.
"We do need more money," said Mike Mathes, superintendent of the Seaman district in Shawnee County. Federal funding to his district was cut 15 percent at the same time federal officials were demanding improved student performance.
Several administrators complained that schools were getting hit twice because the federal government was failing to provide promised funding for special education while shaving funds designed to help students from low-income families.
But Cohen, who lives in Johnson County, said state legislatures needed to address the funding gap because federal funds were being used in areas that should be state-funded.
"I'm not sure you want the federal government to be more and more involved," she said. "State legislatures do have a responsibility."
The Kansas Legislature has failed to adopt a school-funding plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock has declared the Kansas system unconstitutional because it underfunds all students, especially minorities.
Cohen urged administrators to be more innovative in raising student test scores.
But some administrators said it was the federal government throwing up roadblocks, and they pointed to a February incident when House Republicans issued a statement that Kansas was sitting on millions in unspent federal education funds. The Kansas Department of Education has said that statement was false.
"Have they retracted that yet?" asked Dale Rawson, superintendent of the Burlington school district. Several superintendents said the news release and statements by U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, had damaged efforts to increase state funding for education.
Boehner said according to the U.S. Department of Education, Kansas had $16.4 million in federal education funds that remained unspent.
"In reality, the federal government has been increasing education spending so rapidly that states can't spend it fast enough," he said.
Ryun said he would investigate whether Boehner and the committee needed to offer a correction. He also appeared to be unfamiliar with the issue.
But the day after the House committee issued the statement, Ryun issued his own news release that read: "It is my hope that this report will put an end to the complaints by those who say that Kansas does not have adequate federal education funding. These statements are hard to believe when Kansas has accumulated over $16 million in unused education funding in just the past two years. I encourage our state elected officials to make wise use of already appropriated federal funds."
Cohen, the regional representative of the federal education agency, said the Kansas Department of Education was the third most efficient in the country when it comes to drawing down federal dollars.