Entries from blogs tagged with “education”
By now, all registered voters living within the Lawrence school district should have received the materials necessary to participate in the district's mail-ballot election concerning its local option budget.
Voters have until noon Jan. 27 to return their ballots to the Douglas County clerk's office, 1100 Massachusetts St. In the meantime, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew has made it possible for members of the public to keep an eye on the turnout.
Shew created an infographic that tallies how many ballots have been received by his office. It charts the returns by day and compares the total amount with a 2008 election that also concerned the district's local option budget.
Check out the graphic here.
The state's largest teachers union announced this week (sort of) that it plans to launch a legal fight over teacher tenure rights. But it will be doing so in a clouded judicial environment where two recent court rulings have gone in opposite directions.
The Kansas National Education Association on Monday held a news conference, which had been scheduled three days in advance, to announce that it intends to file a suit sometime this month challenging a bill passed by the Kansas Legislature that repeals tenure rights, which KNEA prefers to call "due process rights."
In Kansas, tenure meant that once a teacher passed a probationary period, typically three to five years, he or she was entitled to an administrative due process hearing before an independent hearing officer before being summarily fired or nonrenewed for the following year.
"We believe that the due process-stripping parts of the bill were enacted by an improper procedure and that they improperly deprive teachers of a basic expectation of fairness in termination decisions," KNEA said in its written statement. Officials did not say what procedures they claim were improper.
The announcement came in between two recent state court decisions, California and North Carolina, that took polar opposite views of tenure rights and which, taken together, reveal the nature of the conflict and the reasons why it's being fought so hard in Kansas and elsewhere.
The most recent decision was this week in Los Angeles the second-largest public school district in the nation, which has more students (660,000) than the entire state of Kansas (480,000). There, a superior court judge said the entire concept of teacher tenure was unconstitutional because it deprived students of their constitutional right to an education.
In LA, Judge Rolf M. Treu said the California tenure rules, which are much more generous to teachers than those in Kansas, make it virtually impossible to fire ineffective teachers. And in particular, he said, low-income and minority neighborhoods too often become the dumping ground for the districts' worst teachers.
He also cited a study by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty who testified that, "a single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom."
That decision stands in sharp contrast to one just a few weeks earlier in which a North Carolina judge ruled that legislative action that greatly abridged teacher tenure rights was an unconstitutional "taking" of a property right interest.
That ruling, however, applied only to those teachers who (a) were already vested with tenure rights and (b) stood to lose those rights under the new North Carolina law, which said long-term contracts could be offered only to the top 25 percent of teachers deemed most effective, based on criteria the state hadn't yet determined.
It will be interesting to see which direction Kansas courts choose to take when, or if, the KNEA files its lawsuit.
In a case that is resonating with many teachers in Kansas, a judge in North Carolina last week struck down that state's new law that does away with traditional teacher tenure.
As reported by the Raleigh News & Observer, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the law, enacted last year, "amounts to an unconstitutional taking of plaintiffs’ property rights in their existing contract.”
The North Carolina law is somewhat different than the one passed in Kansas this year, which simply eliminates tenure rights altogether for K-12 teachers. In the Tarheel State, state lawmakers replaced traditional tenure with a new system in which districts could offer four-year contracts to their top-performing teachers, but only one or two year contracts to all the others.
Just exactly how teachers were to be rated as top performers wasn't specified in the law, but it did limit that category to no more than 25 percent of a district's teachers.
Other states, including Louisiana and South Dakota, have taken action in recent years to limit or eliminate tenure rights, a term that generally refers to protection from summary dismissal once a teacher has been on the job for a minimum length of time.
In Kansas, teachers who'd been on the job at least three years were entitled to a due process hearing before they could be fired or not renewed for the following year. In North Carolina, the minimum time on the job was five years.
The North Carolina court, however, said that currently tenured teachers have a property right interest in that element of their contract, and the state's action eliminating tenure amounted to a "taking" of that property right.
That's essentially the same argument that officials from the Kansas National Education Association have been making since Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill into law. (It was an amendment added late in the legislative process to a school funding bill that was meant to address a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling.) But KNEA officials also have said they probably cannot file a suit in court until a tenured teacher is actually dismissed.
Meanwhile, teachers in the Lawrence school district are hoping to negotiate due process rights into their master contract. The district and local teachers union earlier had put their contract talks on hold pending the final outcome of the 2014 legislative session. The two sides met briefly May 5, when negotiators for the teachers asked to put the current statutory language about due process into their contract. The two sides were scheduled to meet again at 5 p.m. tonight.
Note: This story corrects an earlier version to reflect that the a negotiation meeting was held May 5.
I've been covering the Lawrence school board for almost two years now. Before that, I spent the better part of the previous 23 years covering government bodies of all other types - from city councils and county commissions to the Kansas Legislature and, occasionally, some congressional activity. I've even sat through meetings of a few rural water districts and watershed management boards.
So I think I'm qualified to say there are two things about covering the local school board that stand out as odd. The first is, in all the meetings I've attended, I have never once witnessed any person - administrator or member of the public - come before that board and tell them bad news. Not once. Not ever. That's just plain weird.
Second, I can count on one hand the number of times any member of the public has come to address them about anything, or to speak out on any topic before the board. And that includes the $92.5 million bond issue they put on the ballot last year.
Well, there's a decent chance that could change Monday, at least if my good friend and colleague, and J-W sports editor, Tom Keegan has anything to say about it. In a column today, he is urging his readers to show up Monday night and speak out on an issue of great concern to many in Lawrence — the firing of a high school basketball coach.
Now, we on the news desk are accustomed to the fact that we work in a sports-crazed town. If a public official were arrested for drunk driving (not saying that would ever happen) on the same day Bill Self signs up the number-one high school recruit in the nation, there is no doubt as to which story would get more web hits.
But there should come a point when sports needs to be put in its proper perspective, and so here's my rant about the obsession with college and high school sports:
Public universities were not built to be taxpayer subsidized (and tax-exempt) farm clubs for the NFL and NBA. And public high schools are not training camps for the NCAA. These are educational institutions whose mission is to mold boys and girls to become responsible, educated young men and women. Sports are a means to that end; they are not an end unto themselves.
The row over the sacking of Lawrence High basketball coach Mike Lewis centers on the fact that he posted a 17-5 record this year, and it has been widely assumed his team will be contenders for the 6A state title next year. Secondary to that is the widely held belief that he's a good guy and a good role model for his students.
What seems to be missing from the conversation is that Lewis is, first and foremost, a teacher. And as such, he should be held to the same educational standards of accountability as all other teachers, whether they teach English, math, science ... or kindergarten.
Every subject that is taught in school, and every extracurricular activity that takes place before or after school, is supposed to have an educational objective. And teachers are held accountable for how well they achieve those objectives.
The objectives of a high school sports program should be to teach students about teamwork, leadership, goal-setting, physical fitness, health, and mental and physical discipline. Students should learn the importance of respecting the rules and respecting (if not always obeying) authority. And, yes, they should have fun.
I have no idea how Coach Lewis measures up when judged by those standards. I only know that those should be the standards by which he or any other high school coach is measured. Not by their win-loss record or the number of trophies they bring home.
A northeast Kansas legislator was recorded on camera over the weekend telling constituents that Kansas has the fourth worst educational system in the country, based on student test scores, while spending more than any other state on public schools - claims that are directly contradicted by official records.
In a video posted Saturday on YouTube, Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, is shown explaining why he believes that spending on public education is not synonymous with quality of education.
"If it was, Kansas would not be fourth in the nation from the bottom," Dove said. "And we spend more money. The states that spend less dollars are at the top. And Kansas is pretty near the bottom."
Asked by audience members to explain where he got that information, Dove said: "Kansas Department of Education stats tell us that, as far as the SAT scores, ACT scores."
Dove made similar claims on the floor of the Kansas House of Representatives during the final days of the legislative session in a speech that drew loud heckling from other members.
According to results of the 2013 SAT exams, Kansas ranked 10th in the nation for average combined reading, math and writing scores. On last year's ACT exam, Kansas ranked 20th for its average composite score.
Meanwhile, the most recent Census Bureau data show Kansas ranked 29th in the nation in 2011 for total spending on K-12 public education, at $9,498 per student, well below the national average of $10,560.
The states that ranked the highest on the SAT exam, Illinois and North Dakota, as well as the states ranking highest on the ACT exam, Massachusetts and Connecticut, all reported higher per-student spending than Kansas, according to the Census Bureau.
In a telephone interview, Reeves said the remarks were made Saturday at a public meeting in De Soto at which both Dove and State Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, made remarks. He said Dove's remarks came in response to a question about why the Legislature attached major policy changes in an appropriations bill that was meant to address funding inequities between rich and poor districts, and what problems in Kansas schools were lawmakers trying to address with those changes.
Dove was also the sponsor of a bill earlier in the session that would have repealed the Common Core standards in reading and math, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards that were recently adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education.
In an taped interview with the Journal-World, Dove admitted he had not actually read the standards, but merely objected to the way they were developed and adopted. In a subsequent interview with the Wichita Eagle, he denied having made such a statement.
The Lawrence school board meeting Monday night was dominated by discussion of the school finance bill that state lawmakers recently passed, but Gov. Sam Brownback is still yet to sign or veto.
But there was other activity worthy of note, much of it buried on the consent agenda, meaning there was no discussion because they were matters the board had discussed previously. Among the more significant items:
• AVID expanding to middle school: "Advancement Via Individual Determination" is a college-readiness program designed mainly for students who need a little extra push to help them get ready. It includes an elective course for what might be called "C" students, or those in the academic middle, as well as under-served populations that often aren't represented in college prep courses, especially immigrant students and those who would be the first in their families ever to go to college.
Lawrence schools implemented the program in both high schools and district officials say it has been successful. Starting next year, it will also be available in each of the four middle schools. That will involve spending $53,428 this year for start-up costs, including membership fees and library materials.
• Turf, tree and landscape management: Last month, the board deferred action on a proposed landscape management plan, mainly over concerns about the use (or non-use) of fertilizers and herbicides in residential areas.
The district maintains more than 135 acres of lawn scattered throughout the city, and in a town like Lawrence it's an issue that can cause friction with residential neighbors either way. In some neighborhoods, residents are vehemently opposed to spraying chemicals for any number of reasons. And in other areas, neighbors get upset if the schools don't spray for weeds because that means the dandelions will just spread onto their property.
So the new policy tries to thread the needle by leaving the decision up to school site councils. They'll be able to opt for: (A) Organic fertilizers only; (B) No fertilizer and herbicides, either organic or EPA registered; or (C) EPA registered fertilizers and herbicides.
• Langston Hughes project: This will be one of the first construction and remodeling projects to be started as part of the district's recent $92.5 million bond issue. Construction is scheduled to get underway this month. McCown Gordon Construction is the "construction manager at risk" on the package of projects that includes Langston Hughes, meaning they are in charge of hiring contractors, overseeing the project and bringing it in within budget.
The initial budget for that project, which includes adding two new classrooms, was just over $2.9 million. But when bids were received April 1, they came in a little higher than expected, with a guaranteed maximum price of $2,938,387, which includes a 5-percent contingency for unforeseen events that may crop up later. As a result, the board approved a contract amendment reflecting the $18,176 increase.
Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hayden, however, said he is confident the overall bond-funded construction program will remain within the budget.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, there was an unusual spike in the Twitter hashtag #ksleg, which reporters, lobbyists and other political junkies use to highlight items about the Kansas Legislature.
That spike, which shows up in the graphic below, was no accident. It was the result of a new kind of social media strategy known as a "thunderclap" that was organized by the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.
But it remains to be seen whether the thunderclap campaign achieved its stated goal, which was to bring pressure on Gov. Sam Brownback to veto a provision of the recently passed school finance bill that repeals teacher tenure rights.
The idea was to get as many people as possible to post messages on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtags #ksleg and #Brownback.
Based on data from hashtracking.com — an analytic tool that can be used to track the use of specific hashtags and key words on Twitter — there was an obvious spike in the use of #ksleg right at 6 p.m. For the period that covers 30 minutes on either side of that time, #ksleg was tweeted or retweeted 108 times to more than 185,000 followers. KNEA's goal had been to get 100 mentions reaching 75,000 followers.
It's probably doubtful that Brownback will weigh that in as he decides whether to sign or veto the bill. He has already stated publicly that he likes the bill, although he has been noticeably silent on the question of the additional policy amendments that were added to it, including the teacher tenure provision.
Even thornier is the question of whether Brownback wants to test the limits of his constitutional authority by using a line-item veto of a policy measure that is buried inside an appropriations bill. A plain reading of the constitutional language would suggest the framers probably never envisioned they were giving the governor that kind of discretion.
"If any bill presented to the governor contains several items of appropriation of money, one or more of such items may be disapproved by the governor while the other portion of the bill is approved by the governor."
Still, the broader objective of KNEA's "thunderclap" campaign probably had less to do with influencing Gov. Brownback, and more to do with raising public awareness of the issue and motivating voters in this year's elections.
To know whether or not that was successful, we'll all have to wait until November.
Topeka — Kansas State Board of Education member Ken Willard said today that the legislative battles over the new Common Core standards are far from over this year.
Willard, from Hutchinson, is considered a reliably conservative Republican, but he has broken ranks with the majority of his party by openly supporting the new curricular standards for reading and math, which are officially known here as the "Kansas College and Career Ready Standards."
Last week, the Kansas Senate passed one version of a school finance bill that included language to prohibit spending any money to implement the Common Core standards or to administer tests aligned with those standards. But that language was quickly stripped out during conference committee negotiations with the House.
In February, though, Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, requested introduction of House Bill 2621, which would repeal the standards in their entirety and have states revert back to the standards that were in place before October 2010 when the state board adopted the Common Core. It also would repeal the Next Generation Science Standards, which the state board adopted in June 2013.
That bill was the subject of a hearing Feb. 14, but no further action has been taken. But the bill was "blessed" by House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stillwell, which means it remains alive for the rest of this session. "Blessing" refers to a procedural maneuver that exempts the bill from the normal "turnaround" deadline for bills to pass from their original chamber.
During Tuesday's state board meeting, Willard said he has been told there will be a "big confab" while the Legislature is recessed to discuss the anti-Common Core legislation.
At the same time, Willard noted, there is federal legislation pending that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from using public funds to incentivize - some have used the word "coerce" - states into adopting the Common Core.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who is running for re-election, is one of the co-sponsors of that bill.
As the Kansas Legislature tries to fix one set of constitutional problems with education funding, it'll be interesting to see whether they create a whole host of new ones, or at least open up a can of constitutional worms, simply in the way they're going about it.
The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that lawmakers have violated their duty under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution by failing to provide "equitable" funding in two areas of public school finance. But in their attempt to solve that problem, lawmakers may be creating new problems stemming from Article 2 of the Constitution dealing with legislative powers: the ban on multiple subjects in a single bill and the limits of the governor's line-item veto authority.
Article 2, Sec. 16 provides that, “No bill shall contain more than one subject, except appropriation bills and bills for revision or codification of statutes.” (Emphasis added.) The problem is that the school finance bills now wending through the House and Senate do both – appropriate money and revise existing statutes.
Attorneys in the Revisor of Statutes office, the Legislature's official legal counsel, are saying that's okay, as long as the appropriations and the statutory changes all relate to the same topic, in this case “education.”
But here, lawmakers may be pushing the limits on that. On the Senate side, at least, the policy changes relate directly to the school finance formula itself - tweaking (or eliminating) different "weightings" that affect how different types of students are counted.
But on the House side, often the more ambitious and less disciplined chamber - GOP leaders are going after broader policy changes, such as teacher licensing requirements and setting up a new, independent "commission" outside the authority of the State Board of Education to recommend ways schools can become more efficient. Earlier version of the House bill included a massive expansion of charter schools and authorization for incentive-based bonuses that principals, at their sole discretion, could dole out to favored teachers.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that those measures pass the one-subject-per-bill test, they would still raise another question: How much authority, if any, does the governor have to “line-item veto” any of those measures - or any individual paragraphs within them - without rejecting the overall bill in its entirety?
Article 2, Sec. 14(b) states: “If any bill presented to the governor contains several items of appropriation of money, one or more of such items may be disapproved by the governor while the other portion of the bill is approved by the governor.”
Two key phrases here are “several,” and “such items?”
The standard rule in journalism is that “several” means at least seven or more, but that's just journalism. In the Legislature, "several" could easily mean anything more than one. And each of the bills now pending in the Legislature contain exactly two: one for capital outlay funding; and one for local option budgets.
But these bills contain many “items” besides appropriations. So where the Constitution says the governor can veto one or more “such items,” does that refer only to items of appropriation, or any "items" in the bill, whether they appropriate money or not?
A plain reading would seem to suggest the former. But this is where previous Legislatures have already made a mess of things, and thereby established precedents that may not be to anyone's liking. They're called “provisos,” and here's how they work:
“There is hereby appropriated for the (fill in agency's name here) the sum of $1 million, provided that no such money shall be spent unless or until said agency adopts a particular policy that a tiny cabal of low-level legislators would like, but the other chamber would never accept unless we use this amateur tactic to hold the entire budget process hostage until we get what we want, at least for one year.”
Kansas lawmakers have made increasing use of the proviso over the last 10-15 years by using the entire state budget as a bargaining chip to get a policy change in one or more area of government. And as they have done so, governors have claimed a corresponding expansion of their line-item veto authority. That is, they have line-item vetoed the proviso language without vetoing the money attached to it.
Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, did that on more than one occasion, much to the consternation of Republicans who thought she was stretching her constitutional authority. But the pending school finance bills have the potential to elevate this power game to a whole new level.
Take, for example, the language calling for a new “efficiency” commission: If that were presented to the governor as a stand-alone bill, he could either sign it or veto it in its entirety. He could not strike out individual paragraphs – like the ones giving minority party leaders appointments to the commission – while leaving the rest of the bill allowing Republican leaders to make appointments in tact.
But could he do that to language inside a mega-bill that also contains appropriations? Officials in the Revisor of Statute's office wouldn't opine on that question Monday. And as for the governor's office? “We are not commenting on pending legislation,” Brownback's press secretary Sara Belfry said via email. “The Governor will carefully review and consider all aspects of this bill once passed by both legislative houses.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers can take solace in one historical fact. It is rare for courts to strike down any legislative act for violating the one-topic-per-bill rule, and rarer still to do so strike down an illegal line-item veto. Because before any court could do so, some "aggrieved party" would have to challenge it in court. And in this case, someone who's aggrieved by one aspect of the bill likely has an interest on the other side, and therefore doesn't want to risk seeing the entire act overturned on a technicality.
That is the art of compromise.
The Kansas Supreme Court has given the Legislature until July 1 to correct two problems in the state's school funding system, but school districts themselves are facing an earlier deadline, and it's one that Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll says he'd rather not even think about.
By May 16, under Kansas law, school districts have to notify any teachers whose contracts they do not intend to renew for next year. And if Kansas lawmakers don't fix the equity problems in the Local Option Budget formula, a lot of teachers could be getting those notices.
According to the Supreme Court's ruling last week, if lawmakers haven't fixed the problem by July 1, the district court "should enjoin operation of the local option budget funding mechanism ... or enter such other orders as it deems appropriate."
Translation: If lawmakers fail to fix the problem, the entire LOB funding mechanism gets shut down. Districts will no longer have them. In the Lawrence school district, that would mean a loss of nearly $24 million. Statewide, it's a little over $1 billion, according to Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis.
The constitutional problem is that lawmakers haven't been fully funding the "equalization formula" for LOBs — additional aid the state kicks in for lower-wealth districts so that rich and poor districts can levy roughly the same property tax rates to raise similar amounts for their LOBs. Because of the under-funding of that formula, poorer school districts have either had to levy higher taxes or cut their budgets. Either way, the court said, students and taxpayers in those districts are being treated unfairly.
It would cost the state an additional $104 million to fully fund that formula, but the court allowed for the possibility that lawmakers could find some other way to solve the equity problem. If the Legislature does anything less than restore full funding, the issue goes back to the district court for review to determine whether the new funding amount is still unconstitutional.
The concern for school districts is that when May 16 rolls around, they still may not know whether lawmakers have fixed the problem. And at that point, Doll and his fellow superintendents around the state may face some difficult decisions, like how many pink slips to hand out and who should get them.
So, here are the dates to keep in mind as the deadlines approach:
• Friday, April 4: The scheduled last day of the regular session. After that, lawmakers typically take a break for about three and a half weeks before returning for the "veto session." In recent years, though, most big budget issues have remained unresolved at this point in the session.
• Tuesday, April 15: The day lawmakers get the new, official revenue estimates for the upcoming fiscal year. By law, whatever budget they pass has to balance with these revenue figures. And because of tax cuts that lawmakers approved in 2012, experts have projected that next year's revenues could fall as much as 6 percent.
• Tuesday-Wednesday, April 29-30: Approximate date for the start of the wrap-up session. The exact date hasn't been set yet. Traditionally, the wrap-up is only supposed to last three or four days, but in recent years, it's dragged on for considerably longer. The main task during the wrap-up is to hammer out a final budget that balances with the new revenue estimates. This is when lawmakers will have to decide whether, or to what extent, they want to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.
• Friday, May 16: Deadline for school districts to notify teachers of nonrenewal of their contracts.
• Tuesday, July 1: Deadline set by the Supreme Court for lawmakers to cure the inequities found in the current school funding mechanism.
Topeka - A Senate committee today advanced a bill that would change the election cycle so that school board, city government and other municipal elections would be held in November of even-numbered years so they would coincide with state and federal elections.
But the panel agreed not to include a provision that had been considered earlier to make those races partisan elections.
Currently, those elections are held in April of odd-numbered years, with the primaries being held in February.
Supporters of the bill hope it will increase voter turnout, which is typically very low. In the municipal elections held last April in Douglas County, for example, voter turnout was only 16.58 percent of registered voters.
Opponents, however, say they're concerned that races for school boards and city commissions will get drowned out in the advertising blitzes that usually accompany races for president, governor and Congress.
The Lawrence school board has expressed vocal opposition to changing the election cycle. Among other things, members note that the bill would make their terms of office begin in January - in the middle of an academic year. School board terms currently begin and end on July 1, which is the start of the their fiscal year.
The bill started out as a Senate bill, but the committee put the contents of it into a House bill - a process known around the statehouse as a "gut-and-go." That means if it passes the full Senate, the House could simply concur in the Senate amendments without sending it through another round of committee hearings on the House side. The bill is now known as Senate Substitute for House Bill 2141.
Teacher licensure: Education lobby groups that normally agree on most issues that come through the statehouse took opposite sides today on a bill that would loosen some requirements for getting a teacher's license.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing today on Senate Bill 430, which would exempt certain people from having to earn a college degree in education to obtain a license. Specifically, it would exempt:
• Those who already hold a license from another jurisdiction and who pass the required Praxis Series of tests.
• Those who hold an industry-recognized certificate in a technical profession and have at least five years of work experience in that field.
• And people who hold at least a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering or math - the so-called STEM fields - and have at least five years of related work experience.
Both the Kansas Association of School Boards and United School Administrators of Kansas testified in favor of the bill, saying they have long supported more flexibility in licensing teachers. KASB added, however, that it thinks teachers admitted to the profession through alternate routes should be subject to more frequent performance evaluations and should have to be rated as "effective" or better in order to keep teaching.
But the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, opposed the bill.
KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti said the organization opposes any attempt to lower the standards for being admitted to the profession. While acknowledging there are shortages of qualified teachers in certain fields, and in certain parts of the state, he said the same is true for other professions, including doctors, but few people suggest lowering the standards to enter those fields.
The committee has not yet voted on whether to send the bill to the full Senate.
The Kansas Supreme Court accomplished one remarkable thing with its school finance ruling last week. It threaded the needle so carefully that nearly everyone — at least in the political arena — walked away feeling like they'd won a little something.
That's not bad, considering that before the decision nearly every news outlet, from the Winfield Courier to the New York Times, was predicting the decision could lead to a constitutional showdown with the Kansas Legislature.
Instead, Republicans walked away feeling validated that the court had paid due deference to the Legislature's role in setting budgets. And Democrats walked away armed with new ammunition to claim Republicans have underfunded schools, especially poorer schools.
Politically, it was a master stroke that avoided a potentially bitter confrontation that could have permanently damaged the court itself. But it may have come at a huge cost to schools. Because by backing away from the “actual cost” model of determining adequate funding, and instead adopting the so-called “Rose” factors, the court lowered the bar for what can be deemed a constitutional level of funding in Kansas.
The Rose factors lay out a set of educational outcomes that the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled was sufficient for that state in 1989. They specifically reference outcomes in reading and writing, social studies and government, health, the arts and vocational training. They suggest that students coming out of Kentucky public schools should have sufficient knowledge, skills and training in those areas "to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization," and to "compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states."
Here are three things to remember about the Rose standards:
First, they were established 25 years ago, before advent of the Internet, and before the subsequent shift in the United States to a knowledge-based economy.
Second is the noticeable absence of two key words from those standards: “science” and “mathematics.” They appear nowhere in the seven-point Rose test. Nor, for that matter, do the words “technology” or “computer literacy.”
And third, they mention nothing of the fact that students in the 21st century are expected to compete in a global marketplace, not just against those in "surrounding states."
So by adopting the Rose standards as the constitutional touchstone for school finance in Kansas, the Supreme Court has made Missouri and Oklahoma the standards of acceptability for educational outcomes, even though students' primary competitors today are more likely to be found in places such as China, India and the European Union.
By harkening back to Kentucky at the end of the industrial age to set 21st century educational standards for Kansas, the Court ignored one fact. We already have an institution in Kansas endowed with constitutional power to set such standards. It's called the Kansas State Board of Education, a democratically elected body that has already established curriculum and accreditation standards, including science and math, that far exceed those envisioned by the Rose court.
The question now is to what extent the Kansas Supreme Court has undercut the state board by giving the Legislature a free pass to fund Kansas schools at a lower standard.
Poll shows most Kansans want court to order more school funding; Davis has slight lead over Brownback; Roberts faces challenge
A new poll out today shows that by a wide margin, most Kansans believe public schools are underfunded and want the Kansas Supreme Court to step in by ordering more funding.
The survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm based in North Carolina, found 59 percent of those responding believe that public schools in Kansas are not adequately funded, and an equal number think the Kansas Supreme Court should rule that funding for public schools needs to be increased.
The court is currently considering an appeal of the case Gannon vs. Kansas in which a trial court ruled in January 2013 that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty to make "suitable provision" for financing education. The trial court ordered the Legislature to add more than half a billion dollars a year to the K-12 education budget. A decision by the Supreme Court is expected at any time.
The survey of 693 Kansas voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent. It included telephone interviews as well as internet responses to capture voters who do not have land-line telephones.
Other findings of the PPP Kansas poll included:
• Democrat Paul Davis of Lawrence holds a slim lead over Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, 42-40.
• While Brownback suffers from a 51-percent disapproval job rating, 59 percent of those surveyed don't know enough about Davis to have an opinion of him one way or another.
• Brownback's tax policies are unpopular among voters, with only 26 percent saying they have been successful and 47 percent saying they have not.
• Former Kansas governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius now has a 55 percent disapproval rating. While she was governor from 2003 to 2009, polls routinely showed her job approval rating in the upper 50s or low to mid 60s range. She is occasionally talked about as a potential Democratic challenger to GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, but has never made any public indication that she's thinking about a Senate bid.
• Roberts may have a challenge on his hands for re-election. Although he leads his GOP challenger Milton Wolf, 42-23 percent, PPP says that appears to be a function of name recognition, since only 24 percent of GOP primary voters are familiar with Wolf. Roberts' own job approval rating is split: 29 percent approve; 38 disapprove; 32 percent are not sure. That's a 12-point drop in his approval rating from a year ago.
Critics of the Common Core standards for reading and math probably think they got a boost this week when the head of the nation's largest teachers union called for a "course correction" on how they are being implemented.
In a statement posted online Wednesday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote:
I am sure it won’t come as a surprise to hear that in far too many states, implementation has been completely botched. Seven of ten teachers believe that implementation of the standards is going poorly in their schools. Worse yet, teachers report that there has been little to no attempt to allow educators to share what’s needed to get [Common Core State Standards] implementation right. In fact, two thirds of all teachers report that they have not even been asked how to implement these new standards in their classrooms.
Van Roekel's statement was timely in Kansas since it was posted on the same day the Kansas House Education Committee held a hearing on H.B. 2621, which calls for nullifying the standards in Kansas. The Kansas NEA — the state chapter of the national union — has been a vocal opponent of that bill, and generally a strong supporter of the Common Core standards.
Rob Bluey of the conservative Heritage Foundation promptly misinterpreted Van Roekel's statement by posting on his blog that the NEA is no longer a cheerleader for the standards and that he was calling the standards themselves "botched."
That column, in turn, has since been tweeted and re-tweeted throughout the social media universe to the point where, by now, it's probably accepted wisdom — at least among people who don't bother to follow the original links — that the NEA is now a Common Core opponent.
That, however, is not the case. As Van Roekel goes on to say:
It would be simpler just to listen to the detractors from the left and the right who oppose the standards. But scuttling these standards will simply return us to the failed days of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), where rote memorization and bubble tests drove teaching and learning. NEA members don’t want to go backward; we know that won’t help students. Instead, we want states to make a strong course correction and move forward.
The thing that most concerns teachers unions — and probably doesn't concern the Heritage Foundation or other conservative groups — boils down to one thing: teacher evaluations.
Under terms of federal waivers from No Child Left Behind that most states have received, not to mention legislation enacted in many states, teachers throughout the country are now being evaluated, at least in some part, based on how wells their students are performing on standardized tests.
Most authorities agree that the Common Core standards are tougher, more rigorous standards. So in states like New York and Maryland, where tests have been implemented before the curriculum was fully developed and teachers were fully trained in them, test scores immediately plummeted, leading to widespread public backlash from both parents and educators.
But that hasn't been the case in Kansas, where the state Department of Education is now seeking to delay its new teacher evaluation scheme to give time for the Common Core standards to set in, much to the satisfaction of Kansas NEA President Karen Godfrey.
"The implementation hasn't been mishandled on a state level in Kansas, in our opinion," Godfrey said in an email to the Journal-World. "In some districts, there could be improvements, and teachers should have more voice in how it's implemented in those districts. Our state has also delayed accountability for the assessments for teachers, which is helpful as we transition. The state department has been very clear that the assessments are only a part of the measure of student growth and has resisted demanding a specific level of importance for the tests for all districts. Teachers and districts will have more control under our State Department's plan."
State Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, who is leading an effort to nullify the Common Core state standards for reading and math, is now denying he ever told the Journal-World that he hasn't read them.
At least that's what the Wichita Eagle is reporting in a story posted on that newspaper's website today. The story gives no indication that Dove now claims he actually has read them — only that he believes he was misquoted by the Journal-World.
For the record, Dove did say those exact words, which were recorded in a taped interview conducted on the floor of the Kansas House around 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 14.
Since that story was published, Dove has apparently come under some intense criticism, a sample of which is reflected in the reader comments that were posted online. Many people seem surprised that he would initiate legislation to repeal standards that he himself has not even read.
But in the maelstrom that has surrounded the Common Core debate, that actually is not unusual. Many of the people who have spoken out against the standards during "citizens open forum" times at the Kansas State Board of Education have made similar comments. They either have no particular objection to the content of the standards, or haven't even read them. But they do object to the process that was used to bring them about — and especially the after-the-fact efforts by the Obama administration to encourage, or even pressure, states into adopting them.
So, for the benefit of anyone else who hasn't yet seen them, but would like to, here they are. And they are not that difficult to understand:
The standards describe what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade.
In English language arts, for example, the standards cover reading skills for both literature and informational text; writing skills; and speaking and listening. They say that by the end of fourth grade, a student should be able to "explain major differences between poetry, drama and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialog, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text."
Examples of reading material appropriate for students in fourth and fifth grade include Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Carl Sandberg's poem "Fog." By middle school, students should be reading and understanding books like Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women." And by high school, they should be up to books like John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."
Those are examples, mind you. The material suggested does not constitute a Common Core "required reading list."
In math, the standards suggest that kindergartners learn to count, at least up to 19 to gain the foundation for place values. By third grade, they should start doing basic multiplication and division. And by fifth grade they should start developing fluency with fractions.
The Kansas State Board of Education adopted those standards in October 2010. This spring will be the first time Kansas students will take state assessments aligned to those standards.
The Kansas House and Senate Education Committees will be busy this week discussing data privacy, sex education, the Common Core standards and charter schools.
Concerns about data gathering and student privacy have been part of the conservative backlash against the Common Core standards, with many groups claiming falsely that the standards require the collection of massive amounts of personal data about students including, some have alleged, their families' religious and political affiliations.
In truth, there is no data-collection requirement in the Common Core standards. There is, however, an unrelated effort underway by the nonprofit organization inBloom — with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — to collect and synthesize student data as a way to improve individualized learning.
The Kansas State Department of Education has never been part of that program, which appears to be sputtering anyway and is now down to only three participating states. And Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker has said repeatedly that Kansas will not collect any more data about students through its assessment program than it has been collecting for years. That mainly includes the student's name, age, grade, race, gender, socio-economic status if available, and scores on the tests.
Nevertheless, two bills are being discussed this week that would limit the department's authority to collect and disseminate personally identifiable student data.
Today, the House Education Committee conducts a hearing on House Bill 2606, the Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act, which would limit the department to using only "aggregate" data when reporting "to any federal agency, state or local agency outside the state of Kansas, or any other out-of-state organization or entity."
On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee holds a hearing on Senate Bill 367, the "Student Data Privacy Act." It would prohibit schools from collecting any kind of "biometric data" about students without their parents' written consent.
On Tuesday, the House panel will hear testimony on House Bill 2620 which would essentially impose an "opt-in" policy for instruction in health and human sexuality. That means schools would be prohibited from providing instruction in that course, "unless written consent has been received from the parent or legal guardian of such student, clearly stating that such parent or legal guardian allows such student to participate in the health and human sexuality education class."
Kansas currently requires one unit of physical education and health for high school graduation, but families are allowed to "opt-out" if a physician certifies they should not participate, or if the family claims a moral or religious objection. Beyond that, however, local districts are allowed to set their own policies regarding health and human sexuality curriculum.
On Wednesday, the House panel hears testimony on House Bill 2621, nullifying the Common Core standards for reading and math, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards, and establishing an Advisory Council on Curriculum Content Standards. You can see our story from Sunday for more background on that bill.
And on Thursday, both panels will have a joint meeting to hear a presentation from Rick Ogston, founder and CEO of Ohio-based Carpe Diem Learning Systems, LLC, a private, for-profit charter school management company.
Kansas currently has one of the more restrictive charter school laws in the country. Charter schools here must be organized within the structure of a unified school district and must have the approval of both the local school board and state department of education.
But the Senate committee is considering Senate Bill 196, which would greatly expand charter schools by giving other entities authority to establish charter schools, including cities and counties, as well as public or private post-secondary institutions.
As we reported this week, Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation recently unveiled online practice versions of the new state reading and math assessments that students will take this spring. But if anyone followed the hyperlink in the story we published, they may have had trouble finding the instructions that go along with it.
The pathway to the instructions document is kind of odd, so here's the direct link.
First, you need to download the KITE client application, which is how you get into the system. Choose the one that goes with your operating system.
Once you've installed that on your computer, you need to launch the client and follow the rest of the instructions, which include the user names and passwords needed to access each of the practice tests.
The new tests are being developed in alignment with the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards — a.k.a., "Common Core" — that the Kansas State Board of Education formally adopted in 2010.
Coincidentally, though, at about the same time that CETE's Marianne Perie was briefing the state board on the status of developing those tests, a new bill was introduced across the street in the Statehouse that would declare those standards null and void and prohibit schools from administering any tests associated with them.
House Bill 2621, would also do away with the Next Generation Science Standards the state board adopted last year.
Henceforth, according to the bill, the state could only give tests "identical to the statewide assessments that were utilized by the state board of education in school year 2012-2013."
The bill is even more expansive than the one introduced last year that failed to pass the House. During her presentation to the state board Wednesday, Perie was asked about political efforts at both the state and federal levels to block implementation of the Common Core standards.
That's when she noted that if the state can't ask test questions related to Common Core standards, it could no longer ask them to find the hypotenuse of a right triangle, plot algebraic expressions or convert decimals to fractions — all standard math skills that students have always been expected to learn, and which are included in the Common Core math standards.
Actually, though, Perie clarified in a subsequent email that the way the bill is written, the state would simply go back to using tests aligned to the old standards.
Lawrence school board members indicated Monday night they plan to submit a joint written statement to a legislative committee opposing a bill that would change the election cycle for municipal elections.
Board member Shannon Kimball testified against House Bill 2227 Monday during a hearing before the House Elections Committee. It would change the date of city and school district elections from April of odd-numbered years to November of odd-numbered years.
It would also change the terms of office for school board members so that new terms would begin on Jan. 1 following an election. Under current law, board members' terms begin on July 1 following an election.
The bill was first introduced in the 2013 session. At that time, Kimball said, it also called for making city and school elections partisan races, although that provision has been deleted this year.
Before the start of the session, the school board adopted a legislative agenda that calls for continuation of non-partisan elections in the spring.
Board president Rick Ingram said he's concerned the language calling for partisan elections could be added back to the bill at any time.
"These things get added at the last minute," Ingram said. "I don't know many people who think we have too little partisanship in government."
Kimball said supporters of the bill hope it will increase voter turnout, which is typically very low in spring elections.
In last spring's elections, according to Douglas County voting records, only 16.58 percent of registered voters cast ballots in local city and school district elections, including the $92.5 million bond election in the Lawrence district.
But Kimball said passage of the bill would disrupt the work of school boards throughout the state because it would mean new terms would begin in the middle of an academic year - and in the middle of a budget year. They would also begin at about the same time most boards begin their superintendent evaluations and contract negotiations with teachers.
Although the committee hearing was held Monday, Kimball said the committee would accept written comments on the bill through the end of the business day Wednesday.
Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who chairs the Elections Committee, has not yet announced when the panel might vote to advance the bill to the full House.
The Lawrence school board is considering a new policy that could cut into some fundraising activities like bake sales and pizza parties.
The policy would prohibit the sale of "competitive foods" — defined as any food or beverage service available to students that is separate and apart from the district’s nonprofit federally reimbursed food service program — from being sold at the same time schools are serving breakfast or lunch.
District officials say it's intended to address direct competition — pizza being sold when the cafeteria is serving pizza, or cake slices for sale when there's cake in the cafeteria. But the initial draft of the policy, which the board could vote to approve Feb. 10, would appear to apply to any type of food or beverage that's being offered at the same time as school meals.
In fact, districts throughout the United States are now looking at similar policies since the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed new Smart Snacks in School guidelines about food sold in school vending machines, snack bars and other venues.
Lawrence officials, however, noted that Free State High School and South Middle School are the only school buildings in the district that have vending machines, and those are already turned off during breakfast and lunch periods.
And those machines already comply with the proposed federal guidelines, which ban certain kinds of junk foods and beverages that are high in sugar, salt or fat, while encouraging healthier options like fresh fruit, whole grains, juices and bottled water.
The proposed district policy would not affect food that students bring from home for their own consumption. It would also continue to allow snack foods and other items to be sold during nonmeal periods, or during nonschool hours. It also would not affect concessions sold at sporting events, plays or other after-school activities.
TOPEKA - A few hours before his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback addressed a gathering of school superintendents in an effort to find some kind of common ground, or at least mutual respect.
At the same time, though, he acknowledged that he has a different view than most of the education community of what has happened to school funding in the three years he's been in office.
"I've been saying every year that I've been in office, we've put more money in K-12. And we have," Brownback told the Council of Superintendents. "Your experience has been, 'I've gotten less money,' which is true."
The main difference, he said, concerns how people count money put into KPERS - the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, which funds pensions for state, municipal and school district employees.
Basically, he said, the Legislature and his administration were putting more money into KPERS at the same time the federal government was phasing out the stimulus money it had been providing states to cushion them from the impact of the Great Recession.
"And you're saying – and I'm quoting one of you – 'Well, that doesn't put diesel into the bus tank'," Brownback said. "I understand."
But he offered no apologies for that, saying it was important to shore up KPERS because of its massive unfunded liability.
"Ultimately, where state and local governments have really gotten hurt is they don't take care of their pension systems. This is Detroit's problem," he said, referring to the Motor City, which recently declared bankruptcy. "You've gotta fund your pensions."
He also offered no apologies for the fact that, as the federal government phased out the federal relief it had been getting from the federal government, he and the Legislature chose not to replace that money with state revenues, which had begun to recover by that point, and instead to pass a massive tax cut.
"Now, other places went different ways on this formula," he told the superintendents. "I'm saying that basically, on the long term, we've got to get growth happening in Kansas again. And if we're based on growth, we can fund things. If we're based on raising taxes, or if we're based on the same declining overall strength, we're going to have great trouble doing this over a long period of time, but your transition is hard."
Before the recession began in 2008, base state aid per pupil was $4,400. By the time Brownback took office, it had fallen to $3,937. In the first full year of the Brownback administration, it was lowered $3,780. It is currently set at $3,838.
But Brownback did offer an olive branch, of sorts, saying there needs to be more communication between the K-12 education community, and less litigation.
"My plea with you is, honestly, to have a lot more communication, and that it be a lot more specific," he said. "Maybe start out pretty general, maybe getting to know each other's names. … We just have not had enough communications in the system, I think, in particular between K-12 and the Legislature."
The meeting was attended by what appeared to be most of the state's 286 superintendents. They listened politely, and quietly, as Brownback spoke for about 20 minutes. During a brief question-and-answer session that followed, a few thanked the governor for his career and technical education initiative, but none tried to engage him directly on the school finance issue.
That question is now pending before the Kansas Supreme Court in a lawsuit that seeks to restore all of the money cut since the start of the recession — more than $500 million a year. If that should happen, the question then will become whether the Republican-dominated Legislature will comply with the order, or defy the Supreme Court.