Archive for Friday, January 16, 2004

School finance plans win praise, scrutiny

Parents, teachers welcome proposals

January 16, 2004

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Kristine Vital, Bria Klotz and Michael Hess are fully behind Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' $304 million plan to increase teacher salaries, pay for all-day kindergarten and expand programs for at-risk preschool children.

Vital looks no further than her own son, Keenan, for evidence state-funded programs designed to help at-risk preschool children are worthwhile.

Keenan was enrolled in a program for 4-year-old, at-risk children at Centennial School. He's now in second grade at Sunflower School and doing well in class.

"It's very good to give children in the community a jump-start on their education," Kristine Vital said.

Keenan's sister, 4-year-old Makenzie, is in the same program at East Heights School. That's where the district consolidated its preschool programs in 2003.

Vital's husband, Paul, said the children were exposed to valuable experiences they might not otherwise have received. The East Heights preschool is a blessing for families that may not be able to afford quality care, he said.

"This is an important program," Paul Vital said. "I would like more people to be able to be part of something like this."

Sebelius said she would like to improve preschool education by investing $10 million in Smart Start programs across the state. Another $1.5 million would be added throughout a three-year period to the Parents as Teachers program, she said.

All-day kindergarten

Earl Rose and his fiancee, Heidi Champagne, pick up Heidi's
daughter , India Champagne, 6, at Pinckney School. Gov. Kathleen
Sebelius' $304 million education plan has found favor among
teachers and parents. Rose and the Champagnes were walking
Thursday.

Earl Rose and his fiancee, Heidi Champagne, pick up Heidi's daughter , India Champagne, 6, at Pinckney School. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' $304 million education plan has found favor among teachers and parents. Rose and the Champagnes were walking Thursday.

Mariah Hess sprinted across the sidewalk at Sunset Hill School toward her father, Michael Hess. Another half-day of kindergarten ended with a hug from daddy.

"She loves school," Michael Hess said. "It's only a half day. She'd love to go all day."

Sebelius has urged the Legislature to adopt a state-funded program giving parents the option of enrolling their children in all-day kindergarten. It would be available at schools that have 60 percent or more students in the federal free- and reduced-lunch program.

Michael Hess said he was convinced Mariah could benefit academically and socially from all-day kindergarten. It was unfortunate the Lawrence school board eliminated full-day kindergarten in the district a couple of years ago due to budget problems, he said.

Albert Blackmon couldn't agree more. He was at Sunset Hill to pick up his granddaughter, kindergartner Ashleigh Yancy.

When Blackmon was a boy, he spent much of his time working fields around Cotton Plant, Ark. He said Ashleigh should spend each weekday in a school classroom -- not standing in a cotton field or sitting in front of a television.








"I think that with the advancement of kids, compared to my day, it's better for the kids to go all day," Blackmon said. "They should be at school learning."

Paying teachers

"Higher teacher salaries? I think it's a necessity," said Klotz, a fifth-grade teacher at Prairie Park School. "I'm in my third year. It is hard to survive on the salary we are given. I'm still here because I love my job."

Klotz, who was honored by the state for showing great promise as a first-year teacher, said she was distressed by a friend's recent decision to leave teaching because of low salaries.

"What gets me is we're professionals, but we're not paid like professionals," she said.

Klotz said she earned less than $30,000 a year.

And it's not just younger teachers concerned about salaries.

Jim Rome, a first-grade teacher at New York School, has been an educator 28 years. Many people, he said, get into teaching because they feel a "calling" to the classroom. But it's hard to follow that passion on wages paid public school teachers, he said.

"It would be a help to have more money," Rome said.

Sebelius said this week that funding should be allocated to local districts to improve teacher wages and benefits, including health insurance. In the past decade, she said, real salaries for Kansas teachers declined by 8 percent, and rank 41st in the nation.

Such commitment is winning the governor praise from education administrators.

Sebelius met privately Wednesday in Topeka with members of the Council of Superintendents, a group of about 50 superintendents from across the state, to talk about her education proposal.

Geary County Supt. Mary Devin was one of those present and said Sebelius made a persuasive argument for her plan.

"She is very courageous to bring these issues to the forefront," Devin said, adding the governor's plan "has many reasonable and doable parts."

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