Archive for Sunday, September 24, 2006

School suit means more stability, but much is unsettled

Funding issue expected to top legislative agenda

September 24, 2006


— Children in this year's kindergarten class in Kansas were the first in many years to start their education out from under the shadow of a school finance lawsuit.

After years of political fighting, the Kansas Supreme Court in June approved the Legislature's $466 million, three-year funding plan. Earlier the court had declared the school funding system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially those in low-income districts.

But when the court dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed in 1999, Chief Justice Kay McFarland stood beside a table weighed down by legal briefs, arguments and decisions from the case.

She proclaimed that the lawsuit wasn't about winners and losers but about the children of Kansas.

"They will be better educated and better prepared to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing society. Kansas will be the ultimate beneficiary," McFarland said.

But saying that and getting there are two different things.

The ceasefire in school funding is already over; challenges must be met in retaining teachers, and the state hopes to coordinate numerous innovative ideas produced by a school system that is becoming more diverse each day.

Pushback coming

When the Legislature meets in January, funding schools, which expends more than half the state budget, is expected to be a top issue again.

State Sen. Jean Kurtis Schodorf, R-Wichita, and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said there had been rumblings to pare back the three-year plan, which she said she would oppose.

"We need to keep the plan intact," Schodorf said. "This plan, while not perfect, is what the Supreme Court made their decision on, and I don't think we can take it back."

The proposal provided $194.5 million during the current school year, $149 million next year and $122.7 million the year after that.

Alan Rupe, the lead attorney for the plaintiff school districts that challenged the school finance system, said lawmakers would be back in the courthouse if they started whittling away at the funding levels.

"Schools for Fair Funding is committed to maintaining the gains that they've achieved," Rupe said.

"As much as the Legislature indicates that they hate litigation, certainly the quickest way to get re-engaged in it is to start taking away from what they said they would do," he said.

But state Sen. Phillip Journey, R-Haysville, said if the economy doesn't improve, lawmakers may have to consider reducing the plan, or cut other areas of the budget.

"If the revenue is not there to spend, we can't deficit spend like the federal government," Journey said. "There will be hard choices, such as oxygen bottles or pay raises."

Great expectations

With the additional funding from the state and increased regulations from the federal government's No Child Left Behind comes an increase in demand for excellence.

Teachers are feeling the pressure, as are colleges that produce teachers.

Phillip Bennett, interim dean of the teachers college at Emporia State University, said many teaching programs had waiting lists because the school was unable to pay enough to attract instructors.

About the series

The Kansas Crossroads series gets past the hot-button issues and focuses on important matters that will require tough decisions to move the state forward. The Journal-World will present these issues to readers and call on the major party gubernatorial candidates - Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, and state Sen. Jim Barnett, a Republican - to address them before the Nov. 7 election. Last week, the Crossroads covered the impasse over paying for repairs and renovations at Kansas University and other institutions of higher education. The week before we featured problems in funding the public employee retirement system. This week we look at the state of education in Kansas now that the long-running school funding lawsuit is over. These and other issues will affect tax rates, personal income and the quality of life in Kansas for generations.

"A large amount of money has gone into public schools, but higher education has been virtually ignored," Bennett said. "We are really struggling on that."

Meanwhile, the demand for teachers has increased. A recent state audit noted that one out of four teachers in Kansas will hit retirement age in the next five years.

Rick Ginsberg, dean of the education college at Kansas University, said there had to be a shift in looking at K through 12 education in order to recruit top qualified people into education.

He said teachers needed to be paid more and society needed to view education as everyone's job.

"We've gone through reform, reform, reform that has been very well-meaning," Ginsberg said. "But if we want to improve our performance, we have to recognize that what happens outside school is as important as inside the school."


At least for now, the three-year funding plan and affirmative court ruling has given schools some stability to plan for the future, Rupe said.

"There is sort of a resolve among them to be able to demonstrate those gains, so that there won't be any questions in the future that additional funding did not improve the chances of the kids of Kansas," he said.

Larry Allen Englebrick, a new deputy state education commissioner hired to head a new division that focuses on innovative approaches at public schools, also has sensed confidence in the schools.

"I think the mood has been upbeat since the ruling by the court this summer," Englebrick said.

"There's going to be an increased emphasis on seeking out the promising and best practices that are occurring across the state and nation," he said.

For example, he said, the Newton school district divides kindergarten classes into morning and afternoon classes for a month to two months before bringing all the students together for full-day kindergarten. It's a simple concept that helps gets students get used to school before going for a full day, he said.

He said those kinds of innovations were happening all over the state. "I had never heard of that before, and as soon as you hear it, you say, 'That makes a lot of sense.'"


johngalt 11 years, 9 months ago

We are not talking about reductions in school funding, of course. And any attempt to assert so is just a diversion.

We are talking about what is proper growth in K12 spending.

Jamesaust 11 years, 9 months ago

When are we going to learn - throwing the taxpayers' money back at them in not an action that teaches Johnny to read or Susie to count.

We are not talking about about the proper growth of K12 spending but rather the level of spending. "Growth" is a derivative of the "before" and the "after" LEVEL of spending. In and of itself, "growth" tells us nothing about what matters: whether the amount spent is appropriate to the ends desired.

ksknowall 11 years, 9 months ago

When are we going to learn - following the teachers union recommendations and throwing money at the schools will not, and has not helped.

The problem is not how much money the government is spending - it how it's being used/spent.

The talk of reform, reform, and reform is just that, talk there has been no meaningful reform in public K -12 education in years.

Now the cry for higher education funding - higher education is a privilege, not a right you want higher Ed pay for it yourself, as you will be the one who will benefit.

The vast majority that get degree's here move out of state so don't start the nonsense that higher Ed helps Kansas because they don't stay here to benefit Kansas.

Centralized education is a failure for our children. It's time to get the government out of the way leaving education in the hands of the parents (where it should have been all along).

kugrad 11 years, 9 months ago

ksnowall, you may be a know it all, but you know nothing about education. You present many assertions, but no facts at all. Among your incorrect statements: - The recommendations to increase school funding do not originate with teachers unions. - There are no examples where decreasing funding has caused a school district to improve, but there are clear examples showing that the level of funding can improve instruction. West St. Louis is such an example. The nation's highest performing school districts are well-funded. No surprise there. - You argue that the way the money is being spent is the problem, not the amount. However, you can't back this up. It is just rhetoric. A slogan. A sophism. There are quite a few restrictions on how money is spent that are imposed by law. - You say there has been no meaningful reform in our schools. That is so wrong that it shows you lack any credibility on the issue of education. Your ignorance of the many reforms in education (or what a 'reform' is for that matter) is clear. A reform is a widespread change enacted to improve the outcomes (achievement) of students. There have been numerous reforms in instruction and so forth. I suspect you (wrongly) think that the vouchers are a reform and that this is the only one you can name without a google search. The voucher movement is not about school reform. There is nothing in cutting funding to public schools that would improve them. -You claim that the vast majority of those who get teaching degrees move out of state. Since the majority may well have come from out of state in the first place, the relevance of your statement isn't clear. I doubt you can prove it anyway. A more telling statistic would be to see how many teachers who do teach in KS in public and private schools were educated in KS. I'm willing to bet it is the vast majority. Your post is just the regurgitation of one canard after another. It is a tired rant that is not based on facts, but only on the opinion of an uniformed person. Nothing you have said helps shed any light on this issue. Ironically, this IS one of the huge problems facing education - those who are qualified to make decsions are often ignored by those who lack any knowledge on the subject.

Bulldog66 11 years, 9 months ago

Secondary education and community colleges are developing a closer working relationship in a variety of ways. Is it time that KU School of Education take a leadership role in formal studies of joint goverance and funding possibilities for secondary education and community colleges in the state of Kansas?

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