Posts tagged with Education
Lawrence wasn't the only school district in Kansas to pass a bond issue Tuesday night, and the 72 percent margin by which it passed wasn't the widest by any means. In fact, school bond elections appear to have been popular with voters in the last several months.
According to a story posted by the Salina Journal, bond proposals also passed this week in the McPherson and Goessel school districts by wider margins than the one seen in Lawrence.
In the McPherson district, which has about 2,300 full-time-equivalent students, voters approved $13.25 million in new bonds by a margin of 81 percent to 19 percent.
And in the tiny Goessel district, with about 257 FTE students, a $3.3 million bond proposal passed with 92 percent of the vote (337 to 29).
But at least one bond proposal did fail narrowly Tuesday night. In the Ellsworth school district, voters rejected a $4.8 million proposal, 47 percent to 53 percent.
A few theories immediately pop to mind that might explain this. One is that spring municipal elections produce extremely low turnout, so the returns only show the sentiments of the most ardent, committed voters. It may be easier to get people to turn out in droves to vote for something rather than against it.
Another is that school boards include some politically savvy people who only put a bond proposal on the ballot when they are fairly confident it has public support.
But another theory — and one that seemed to be popular among the Yes for Lawrence crowd Tuesday night — is that Kansas voters are much more willing than their elected representatives in Topeka are to invest tax dollars in public schools.
"Sandy and I have had so much fun being involved in this," Davis said, referring to the committee's other co-chair, Republican Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger of Lawrence. "We are dealing with that realm of politics over in Topeka, which is not always uplifting."
In Blue Valley — a rapidly growing district where the school board likes to keep bonding authority in the bank, on the assumption they're going to need it within the next 10 years or so for another new building — voters passed a $271 million bond issue with 62 percent of the vote.
And in Gardner Edgerton, a much smaller district with about 5,000 students, voters OK'd a $72.8 million bond issue with 54 percent of the vote.
Those are noteworthy because those districts also are home to some of the most conservative lawmakers in the Kansas Legislature.
Schwab is a sponsor of a bill mandating certain social studies lessons during Celebrate Freedom Week. Kleeb is the House Commerce Committee chairman who recently agreed to hold off on a bill limiting collective bargaining rights for teachers.
So far, Kansas lawmakers are not talking about making any further cuts to K-12 funding. But neither are they talking much about complying with a district court order in Gannon vs. Kansas to restore funding back to levels agreed to in the Kansas Supreme Court's 2006 Montoy school finance decision, at least not while the Gannon case is still on appeal before the Court.
Still, according to the Salina Journal, concern about the possibility of future cuts in state funding for education generally was a motivation for districts in north-central Kansas to seek bonds that would put more money into their own local schools.
All of which may reinforce the theory that the voters who turn out for off-cycle school bond elections are a different crowd of people from the ones who turn out for legislative elections in November.
Or it could point to another truism about American politics. Like the voters who say they distrust Congress but keep re-electing their own congressman, maybe the lesson here is that Kansas voters strongly support their own school districts, but distrust everyone else's.
Lawrence schools are on spring break this week, a fact that sparked some fear in the newsroom that there wouldn't be much education news for a few days. But Kansas lawmakers appear to be picking up the slack.
Specifically, the Kansas Senate Education Committee worked through a pile of bills Monday, including one that would create new opportunities for establishing charter schools in Kansas.
Senate Bill 196, the Kansas Public Charter School Act, is nearly identical to a bill that the House Education Committee rejected last week. It's based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
ALEC is a conservative, free-market-oriented organization made up of legislators, corporations and foundations. It produces model legislation usually geared toward lowering taxes and reducing government regulation that has been introduced in statehouses around the country.
For those who aren't familiar with charter schools, they are a special type of school, usually set up within a public school district but operated independently, either by a private company, nonprofit organization or some other public entity. Most are exempt from some laws or regulations that govern traditional public schools.
Charter schools have been a favorite topic of conservatives for several years, for several reasons. Advocates tend to like the idea of injecting free-market competition into the public school system, breaking up what they see as a government monopoly on education funding. Charter schools also provide a testing ground for a fundamental free-market principle: the idea that removing the shackles of government regulations - including things like collective bargaining for teachers - will unleash innovative thinking and creative ideas that will improve education overall.
Critics, on the other hand, view charter schools skeptically. They say there is little evidence to suggest the schools perform any better than traditional schools when they deal with comparable student populations. And they fear that the charter school movement is really aimed at busting teachers' unions and channeling public education dollars to what are essentially private schools.
To date, Kansas has had a fairly limited charter school law. Public school districts are the only entities that can authorize a charter school. Many districts, including the ones in Lawrence and Topeka, have authorized their own. But outside organizations have to petition their local district and get permission to open one. And even then, the State Board of Education has the final say on approving the charters.
SB 196 would open up the process by giving the Kansas Board of Regents, cities and counties and the governing board of any public or private post-secondary institution the power to authorize a public charter school.
The State Board of Education would still have the final word in granting a charter, but the bill would greatly limit the board's discretion in making that decision.
The nugget of the bill, though, lies in two other key provisions.
One would provide a 100 percent tax credit for private contributions to a public charter school. That means that for every dollar donated to a charter school, the state general fund would have one less dollar with which to fund education and other state services.
The other is an almost blanket exemption from any state laws or regulations governing public schools, except those related to public health and safety, civil rights and nondiscrimination and handicapped accessibility. There would be no requirement for the charter schools to recognize teachers' unions.
Last week, an almost identical bill failed to win passage in the House Education Committee. But the Senate Education Committee is now working on its own version. The Senate panel was expected to vote on the bill Monday, but that vote has been delayed until Tuesday.
More Education News
Logan Brown, a junior at Free State High School, is one of two students in Kansas selected to receive a $5,000 scholarship and serve as a delegate to the annual United States Senate Youth Program, scheduled for March 9-16 in Washington.
The program, established in 1962, brings together two students from each state, Washington, D.C., and the Department of Defense school system for a weeklong intensive study of the federal government and its leaders. Delegates are chosen by the chief education officer of each state from nominations submitted by teachers and principals.
Brown, 17, is the daughter of M.T. and Deanna Brown. She is active in the Kansas Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. She is also active in debate and forensics, the National Honor Society, and DECA, an international business and marketing education association. She says she hopes to pursue a law degree and enter politics.
While in Washington, Brown and other other delegates delegates will meet the president, a Supreme Court justice, senators and congressional staff, leaders of cabinet agencies, foreign diplomats and members of the national news media.
The scholarships, as well as the cost of the trip, are funded entirely by the Hearst Foundations. Students who receive the scholarships are encouraged to continue coursework in government, history and public affairs.
Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker designated Brown, along with Ami Purohit of Lenexa as this year's delegates. Their selections were announced by U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.
Concerns about the possibility of drastic budget cuts in the not-too-distant future are weighing heavily on the Lawrence Board of Education, but board president Vanessa Sanburn says she is still committed to seeking voter approval of a large bond issue in the spring.
"I believe that we owe it to the students and staff in Lawrence Public schools to improve our facilities and bring them up to 21st century standards to enhance learning, regardless of the state budget forecast," Sanburn said in an email Tuesday. "These facilities will bring enhancements to the schools that last for future generations."
Strictly speaking, there is no connection between the "general fund" aid that Lawrence gets from the state and the district's ability to repay bonds. Local districts in Kansas have authority to levy separate taxes for bond and interest payments, and that money flows into a completely different pot from the one that pays for day-to-day operations.
Nevertheless, a few board members expressed concern Monday night about what you might call the "optics" of a situation that could occur, where the district is spending millions of dollars to upgrade and expand school facilities while, at the same time, making deep cuts in school programs.
The cause of much of that concern traces back to the multibillion-dollar tax cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature approved this year. Official projections show those will cost the state about a billion dollars over the next year and a half. And since K-12 education makes up roughly half the state general fund budget, many people are anticipating deep and possibly permanent cuts in school funding.
For his part, Brownback remains confident the tax cuts will spur job creation and economic growth that, in turn, will result in tax revenues flowing back to the state, at least partially offsetting the cost of the tax cuts. In the meantime, he has vowed to "protect" education funding, which some people point out is not exactly the same as vowing "not to cut" education funding.
Meanwhile, the clouds looming on the fiscal horizon are coloring all kinds of discussions at the school board in addition to plans for the upcoming bond issue.
Also during Monday night's meeting, the board approved a contract with Gallup, a human resources consulting firm, to use its online tool TeacherInsight that's intended to improve the district's recruitment, interviewing and hiring of new teachers.
But district staff recommended only a one-year contract, instead of the original idea of three years. Superintendent Rick Doll said that was mainly because of concerns the district may soon have to go into budget-cutting mode again, and he would rather not get into a long-term contract that may ultimately have to be cut anyway.
Another indication of the board's concerns came during a discussion about the role of the district's Financial Advisory Council. That's a group the board formed last year, in the wake of the last round of budget slashing, to help advise the board about financial options and best management practices.
The point of the discussion was to get a clearer idea of what the board wants from that council and how the council is supposed to communicate its ideas with the board. But the overall tone was mainly about the looming fiscal challenges — or at least the board's perception of one.
As a few board members said, though, it would be preferable to have some kind of plan in place before any financial storm comes than to wait and be forced into making hasty decisions.
The public may get a clearer idea of how far districts will have to cut in the next year, if they have to cut at all, when Brownback delivers his next budget message to the Legislature in January.
Peter Hancock can be reached at 832-7259, or by email: email@example.com.