From the KASB President

Amy Martin
Olathe USD 233

Twitter: @AmyBiancoMartin

In school finance, our children need us to be the adults
April 2017

The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in the Gannon school finance case reaffirmed what most of us always knew — the block grant funding system was a school finance method that failed to respond to the needs of our Kansas public schools and students.

Now, the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback have until June 30 to come up with a school finance formula that is constitutional.

It is frustrating and disappointing that so much time has been spent in litigation that could have been avoided if Kansas had followed prudent fiscal policies in coming out of the Great Recession. The bad tax policies of the past few years have resulted in years of K-12 under-funding our schoolchildren can’t get back.

But now that Kansas voters have produced a Legislature that is more knowledgeable about public education, we have the opportunity to make sure we put in place a school finance system that works for all Kansas children.

The Kansas State Board of Education wants Kansas to lead the world in the success of each child and the Kansas Supreme Court has referred to the Rose Capacities as the standard for determining suitable funding. The Rose Capacities say that for students to succeed in today’s society, they must have essential skills, such as being adept at communications, knowledgeable about the government, physical and mental health wellness and they must be prepared for post-secondary and career options.

As parents, school board members and Kansans, we know what our children need. They need us to put together a fair and equitable finance system so that all children have access to an equal and quality public school education. They need us to make sure children facing poverty, developmental or language obstacles are provided the assistance to lift them up. In short, our children need us to be the adults.

Legislators and the governor need to hear from school advocates from across the state to make sure they make the adult decisions for our Kansas children.

Secretary DeVos: Learn as much as possible and keep an open mind
March 2017

Dear Secretary Betsy DeVos:

Now that your confirmation battle is over and you are in charge of the U.S. Department of Education, I would like to extend to you an invitation.

Please, on a daily basis or as often as possible, visit a public school. It is imperative as the person in charge of our federal education agency, that you learn as much as possible about how our schools operate and experience as much as possible the challenges that our students face.

Public school students need from you exactly what they need from every teacher, parent, adult, administrator, staff member and school board member. They need individuals who are kind, intelligent and dedicated and who have both high expectations of students and the ability to inspire and cheer them on to success.

As you expand your knowledge about public schools, please consider a visit to Kansas and our schools.

In Kansas, we don’t have mountains and we don’t have the ocean, but we have a tradition of solid public education. In many instances, our schools are the very heart of our communities.

And just like schools everywhere, Kansas schools are meeting the challenges of a changing world. We are raising students to higher standards while at the same time seeing more students who are coming from poverty and facing other disadvantages. It would be good during your school visits to talk with and observe our special education teachers who are working to help students overcome enormous obstacles. Secretary DeVos you have been given a great opportunity. Please approach it with an open mind.

Make your voices heard for students
February 2017

As we work in 2017, it is imperative that school board members and education advocates raise their voices and make their views known on what Kansas schools should be like.

Because if you don’t, others will.

There are well-funded organizations that lobby state legislators hard to diminish school funding or transfer public dollars to private schools.

School funding is under the microscope. Every branch of state government has a role in the K-12 system.

The Legislature is considering a new school finance formula, the Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether the state provides adequate school funding, and Gov. Sam Brownback recently announced initiatives he would like to see, such as merit pay for teachers, as part of the Kansas school system.

With all this attention on school funding, it is imperative that school board members across the state let policymakers know the challenges they face, the opportunities they see and what is needed in the classroom to prepare the next generation of Kansans.

The state budget is simply a mess and a new Legislature faces many difficult decisions on how to match spending with revenue. Since K-12 funding makes up approximately half of the state budget, the decisions they make will undoubtedly affect our students.

The good news is that more than a third of the Legislature are new members, and most of those have a more moderate view of the role of state government and public schools. In fact, a good number of the new legislators are, or have been, involved in public education as school board members or administrators.

Writing a new school finance formula and ensuring adequate funding of schools will require the kind of knowledge one gets from serving on a school board or working in a school.

The funding of public schools, the success of our students and the future of Kansas is at stake. Please stay in touch with your state representatives and state senators to let them know what is needed for our schools.

KASB President Martin promotes Put Students First Week, encourages recommendations on school finance
November 3, 2016

Promoting "Put Students First Week," KASB President Amy Martin said it’s important for school board members and others to provide input on the next school finance formula.

Martin, who is also a member of the Olathe USD 233 board, was interviewed this week by WIBW Radio News in Topeka. She emphasized the need to support the state’s vision of ensuring the success of each student and urged elected leaders to write a new school finance formula and then allow local communities to implement strategies for students.

“You really have to leave it up to the individuals in those communities to make the decisions on what is the best way forward for their community to be providing education for their kids,” Martin said.

KASB is urging the public to discuss school finance and let Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators know what they want in their Kansas schools by submitting recommendations to and

The current block grant system of funding schools is scheduled to end this school year and Brownback and other leaders say they want the Legislature to put together a new school finance system when the 2017 legislative session starts in January.

KASB, the Kansas State Department of Education and United School Administrators of Kansas have developed toolkits to help lead discussions and develop recommendations to send to Brownback. Here is a link to the toolkits and more information about Put Students First Week, including more videos submitted by Kansas school districts.

KASB President Martin urges Kansans to make their voices heard on school funding
October 25, 2016

Once the elections are over, our Kansas legislators and governor will meet in January for the start of the 2017 legislative session and they will start work on one of the most important and difficult jobs in the public arena: They will be writing a new law that will determine how schools are funded and operated.

The political battles over school finance will undoubtedly be complicated and contentious, but the school funding formula that our elected leaders agree on will determine and shape the future of our children and our state.

So, it is important that they get this right and we, as citizens of Kansas, must help them get it right. Simply put, we must have a school finance system that Puts Students First.

And that is why the Kansas Association of School Boards has declared Oct. 31 through Nov. 4 as “Put Students First Week!” We are inviting Kansans to come together in their communities to have conversations about what our future Kansas schools should look like and how they should be funded. We are urging Kansans, either individually or as groups, to send Gov. Sam Brownback their ideas about school finance to an email address that the governor has set up at More information about “Put Students First!” week is available on the KASB website at

Recently, KASB held meetings across the state asking educators and others what it meant to Put Students First. Some common themes emerged.

Putting students first means starting early by getting kids ready for kindergarten, improving pre-school options, providing state dollars to fund all-day kindergarten and restoring universal access to Parents as Teachers.

Putting students first means finding out what makes each student tick and then helping him or her pursue their dreams. This means setting up Individual Plans of Study, providing a broad array of extracurricular activities, partnerships with businesses for work-study programs, updating counseling standards, implementing career and technical education at the middle school level, career fairs and others. We must also teach our children to be engaged in their communities and offer them volunteering opportunities as part of their grades.

Putting students first also means high school graduation is a must. While Kansas graduation rates are above the national average, more than 14 percent of students are not completing high school on time. We must have programs directed at students at risk of dropping out, alternative schools, virtual programming, smaller class sizes, and other supports.

But learning cannot stop after 12th grade. In just a few years, it is projected more than 70 percent of jobs will require some level of post-secondary education, with about 35 percent requiring a four-year degree or higher. Nearly every single job created after the Great Recession has required some post-secondary work. Some schools are providing concurrent enrollment offerings with post-secondary education. Putting students first means we must ensure students are prepared for college, technical training or the workforce under a new school finance plan.

Finally, putting students first means helping children grow socially and emotionally in our ever-changing and complex society. Schools must respond to the mental health needs of students and their families and provide resources such as hiring social workers, behavioral specialists and working with other agencies.

Accomplishing all these goals will mean we need to support our teachers and add staff and provide incentives for them to further their education.

But first, we need the governor and legislators to come up with a school finance plan that will set our future in motion. The plan must be adequately funded, have sustainable resources and the political commitment to improve Kansas public schools so that our children can meet the challenges ahead of them.

Please reach out to your school leaders or KASB to find out more about how you can Put Students First. We owe it to our children and the future generation to remain engaged, vigilant and active on the issue of school finance.

Reflections on Year as President, July 2016

As I look back on my year as President of KASB, I am happy to see the progress we have made. When I started, I challenged everyone to have their “water cooler talk” be about public schools. You all took up that challenge and succeeded —  little did I dream that Kansas public education would be one of the most talked about subjects of the year!

In the fall, the State Board of Education unveiled “Kansans Can,” its new vision for education where “Kansas leads the world in the success of each student.” I’m encouraged by the drive we now share to achieve this profound goal.

I’m also encouraged by everyone who is standing up for public education. Your advocacy efforts have energized thousands of parents, students, teachers and community members in their efforts to let our elected representatives know just how important public education is to them, their families and their communities.
As I issued a challenge upon arrival, I issue another upon departure: In this election year, we have a record number of first-time candidates running for seats in our Legislature. Many of them are running because of their concerns about the future of public schools in Kansas. Please encourage everyone you can to register to vote and support candidates who share your views about public education.

Thank you so very much for the opportunity to serve you and the kids of Kansas. It has been an honor and a privilege that I will treasure always.

—  Don Shimkus is a member of the Oxford USD 358 school board and served as KASB president from July 2015 through June 2016.

This Special Legislative Session Needs Special Attention from Board of Education Members

A Message to Our Membership from Don Shimkus, KASB President and Amy Martin, KASB President-Elect- June, 2016

The members of local school boards are volunteers. We have jobs and families and obligations and on beautiful summer days we often have things we would rather be doing. Yet each month we come together to do the business of our district. 

Part of our job is making tough financial decisions. It is hard and it is often painful. Yet we do it anyway. 

Why? Because it needs doing. Because we took an oath. Because we care about kids and their future and the future of our community. We do our job because it is the right thing to do. It is really pretty simple. We do it for the kids, not the courts.

And now it's our legislators' turn.

The Legislature will hold a special session this Thursday, June 23rd. The court has ordered them to do one job - get a funding solution that is constitutional.

Legislators may be coming back, but getting them to act is another matter. 

We will be going to the capitol in Topeka Thursday, June 23rd. We will wear our school colors and sit in the gallery to watch the proceedings. We will be joined by board members from across the state, from districts small and large, urban and rural. We will be a strong, thoughtful presence of encouragement to get the Legislature to move beyond rhetoric and into action. And to remain focused on the job at hand - keeping kids in school. 

Our calm, respectful presence will bolster the legislators working to protect schools. And encourage the rest to do the right thing. For the right reason. 

We need you to join us. The session is scheduled to start at 8 a.m., but could go on and off throughout the day. 

Here's what you can do:

  • Come to Topeka for the start of the special session on Thursday.
  • Wear your school shirts to show support. 
  • Get other members of your board to join you.
  • Contact your local media, share your thoughts and ask parents, community members and board members from surrounding districts to join this effort. (Remember, as an individual board member you do not speak for your board or your district, but as an elected official you can encourage active participation!)
  • If traveling to Topeka is not an option, use social media or other forms of communication to share information, your concerns and publicly encourage legislators to act on behalf of the kids of Kansas.
  • Talk to your friends and neighbors, encouraging them to actively participate either by coming to Topeka or also voicing their opinions.
  • Contact your local representatives and encourage thoughtful, swift resolution of the funding issues.

Come on! Let’s do this!      
         Don and Amy

Message to Members - April 2016
Don Shimkus, KASB President

As the Kansas Legislature enters its veto session and final days of the 2016 Legislative Session, KASB reaffirms its support of the vision of the Kansas State Board of Education: "Kansas leads the world in the success of each student."

The outcomes identified by the State Board of Education, also supported by KASB, include kindergarten readiness, increasing graduation rates, increasing the percentage of students completing a credential or pursuing post secondary education, providing each student with an individual plan of study focused on career interest and developing local measures for social/emotional factors relative to student success.

KASB supports efforts to develop a school finance plan that will make this vision a reality for every Kansas child. This plan must include the following key components:

KASB believes it will take more resources to achieve higher graduation rates, college readiness and post secondary participation. The states that outperform Kansas on these and other measures all spend more money per pupil.

More support is required for students who, through no fault of their own, come to school disadvantaged by poverty, disability or language barriers. In Kansas, in other states and in private schools, these students tend to come to school lagging behind their peers in language and social skills and too often remain behind. Providing more resources for additional special instruction, and helping families through other supports may not close the gap, but will give these students new opportunities for success.

More support is also required for career technical education in important employment areas and to put these programs on par with postsecondary academic programs.

KASB believes students require support and skills beyond academic skills to be successful adults. Our fellow Kansans who participated in the State Board of Education’s listening tour and surveys agreed. Schools offer extracurricular activities, health and nutrition programs for these very reasons. Additional skills are also part of the Rose Capacities adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court and Legislature.

KASB believes school districts must be able to offer salaries and benefits to attract and retain qualified and effective teachers, leaders and support staff, and be able to tailor their compensation packages to local community and district needs.

If the state wishes to set limits on district cash balances, KASB believes a plan should be phased in and provide exceptions for special circumstances and funds where higher balances are appropriate.

KASB supports efforts to continue seeking operating efficiencies that result in more effective use of resources and accomplishment of local priorities.

KASB supports local option funding for raising revenue, but only if all districts can raise similar revenue with a similar tax effort. This is the key principle of school funding equity and the path to creating success for every Kansas child.

KASB believes all schools receiving public funding should be required to serve all students equally and be held publicly accountable for student success.

KASB supports the concept of rewards or incentives for success, but only for results districts can directly influence and only if all districts can compete equitably.

KASB’s membership, leadership and staff stand ready to partner in the development of a school finance plan that will support success and provide accountability for all students and all schools receiving public funds.

Message to Members- July 2015

Don Shimkus, KASB President


I'm excited by the opportunity to lead KASB this year. To get started, I’d like to share some of my beliefs:

  • Public education is essential to a free society
  • It is a moral imperative that we provide every Kansas child with the tools to succeed
  • This is not a zero-sum game - one district’s gain need not be another’s loss


  • There is a concerted effort to discredit and dismantle public education - this effort is well-organized and well-funded
  • "We grow accustomed to the dark, when light is put away." -Emily Dickinson
  • We cannot accept this as “the new normal” - It's time to take back our schools from those who seek to cripple or eliminate them

What can we do? Talk about it! To everyone. All.The.Time. I love baseball, but instead of "How 'bout them Royals", our water-cooler (or social media) talk should be "Did you hear about the great things going on at the school"? Or, “Do you think we provide our schools enough support”? At the diner, coffeehouse or co-op we should discuss the weather less and our schools more. Ask others, “What do you think about our schools”? Make public schools the talk of the town!

I continually hear from legislators that they aren't hearing anything from their constituents. It's time to change that, too. Silence is tacit approval. Stand Up, Step Up and Speak Up!

Some further beliefs:

  • The power of one - YOU can make a difference
  • Strength in numbers - WE are more effective working together
  • To that end - We must focus on our similarities rather than our differences
Thank you for all you do for our kids. Let’s get talking!

Message to Members- June 2015
Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

Reflections on the Year

It may be a cliché, but it really doesn’t seem possible my year as KASB president is coming to an end. I know time moves faster as we get older, but this year seemed to fly by at warp speed!

As I reflect on this year, there are so many thoughts that come to mind. First, of course, is the incredible support I’ve received from my wife, Kannette, and our two kids, Ashley and Ryan. As many of you know, we run a farm and seed business north of Washington, Kansas. Their willingness to go the extra mile gave me the time to spend in Topeka or on other KASB business.

At the 2014 Delegate Assembly, I challenged the delegates to “Stand Up, Step Up and Speak Up for Public Education.” I am humbled by how many of you answered that call. During this Legislative Session, we started “Wednesdays at the Statehouse” and encouraged board members to bring students to the Statehouse to advocate for schools. We had Kansas board members in attendance at almost every Wednesday of the regular session. I have had many lobbyists tell me the presence at the Statehouse definitely had a huge impact. We didn’t always get what we wanted, but we made a difference by improving many bills before they were passed.

The KASB Board began a new tradition of having one of its meetings in the President’s hometown, which means everyone gathered in Washington, Kansas in March. It brought a different perspective to our board and has received a lot of attention from members across the state. Anytime we get a chance to visit other districts, it makes us better board members and leaders.

This was the first full year for KASB’s new logo and rebranding efforts. Changing a logo that has been used for – well, more years than anyone can remember – was no small feat. Three years ago, the board adopted new mission and vision statements as part of its strategic planning. The new logo and rebranding were part of putting the plan into action. The board has done a great job of promoting the new look. I have received many positive comments about the new logo and how professional we look when wearing it on our KASB apparel.

The final milestone I would highlight is the agreement we reached in January 2015 between NEA Kansas, USA Kansas, KSSA and KASB on proposed changes in the Professional Negotiations Act. The discussions started before my tenure as president, but I was honored to represent KASB, along with our Executive Director John Heim, during the final meetings as we worked to build consensus. The four groups have committed to meeting on a regular basis to promote greater communication and cooperation between us.

As I prepare to hand over the leadership of KASB to our President-Elect, Don Shimkus, I am reminded of a quote by Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” There are big challenges ahead, particularly in the next two years with a new school finance formula and changes in school accreditation. These and other important issues will require us all to remain involved, active and united in our vision for a better future for our children through Kansas public education.

My tenure as your president comes to an end June 30, 2015, though I will remain involved as the past-president. I am filled with gratitude for the support and encouragement I have received from my family, my fellow board members all across Kansas and the staff of KASB. Thank you – to each one of you - for this incredible opportunity.

Message to Members- April 20, 2015
Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

Stand Up, Step Up and Speak Up!

The April election is behind us, and it is time for our newly-elected board members to begin their journey. It is also time for us as the current board to make sure we do all we can for a smooth transition in July. A lot of that depends on what we do in the next two and a half months to help our new board colleagues prepare for their responsibilities. 

The workshops for new board members sponsored by KASB begin the end of the month. There are seven dates and locations to choose from. The best way to participate is to make sure at least one veteran board member and the superintendent attend the workshop with the new board members. It is a great opportunity to spend focused and uninterrupted time with your new colleagues, building relationships and leadership capacity. And KASB staff will present updated materials, best practices and insight that serve as a great refresher course for the veterans.

Stand Up, Step Up and Speak Up for Public Education!

That was the message shared with us by NSBA President John Tuttle during the national conference in March. I am very proud to say Kansas school board members have already been answering this call! We have been present and active in Topeka this legislative session, and I can tell you it has made a difference. But our work is not done. When the legislature returns for their veto session, there are a number of issues we expect to be big topics of conversation. The latest issue of KASB’s “School Board Review” includes a good summary of these issues.  

Among these is the push to change when school board and other local elections are held. More than two-thirds of the school boards in Kansas have passed resolutions opposing this change, yet the issue continues to be discussed in the legislature. I’m asking every boards member to individually “stand up and speak up” against this change. The stated purpose for changing is to increase voter turnout. I believe there are better ways to do that than destroy the current system.

Changes to the Professional Negotiations Act is another area of concern. KASB, along with KNEA, USA Kansas and KSSA, agreed on several recommendations to improve the current process. There has been a lot of debate and discussion in the legislature, but no final action on a bill that includes our recommendations. KASB will continue to monitor this issue and alert us on the status of this issue.

This is a busy and exciting time of year for everyone involved in public education. As board members we will go to recognition banquets and ceremonies, participate in graduation, attend concerts and programs. At the same time we’ll be working on budgets and making decisions to get ready for next school year. Along with all of that many of us will be planning for July 1 when our new board members take office. Please do all you can to encourage them to participate in KASB's training. A great way to begin building your new board team is by attending one of the new board member workshops with them. It will be time well-spent for everyone involved. 

Best wishes for a great end to this school year!

Message to Member - March 2, 2015
Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

We cannot look away

I had the honor of attending the NSBA Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C. in February. This was the fifth year I have been able to represent both KASB and my local district on the national level. As you might expect, the three days in Washington were spent listening to thought-provoking speakers, sharing with other school board members from across the nation, and in deep discussions with others in our Kansas delegation.

My impressions after this great experience are many, but what keeps coming back to me is this one phrase: we cannot look away. (Full disclosure: the phrase was used in a tweet by another member of the Kansas delegation, Region 5 Vice-President Lori Blake, Southeast of Saline USD 306. So thank you, Lori!)

Both in Washington, and here in our own state, public education is caught in the middle of a fierce political tug of war. The cost of providing public education opportunities for every child is substantial. But tax cuts passed by the 2012 Legislature and signed by Governor Sam Brownback have not improved our economy enough to make up the lost revenue. One side says let’s blame the courts and change the funding formula, the other side says funding public education is the state’s responsibility and they aren’t living up to their constitutional duty. Kansas students are better educated and prepared for success than ever before, but we have to keep getting better. Yet there is no agreement on what that might mean, or how to measure it. So one side blames the state department and common core, the other side blames the teachers or in some cases even the students themselves.

The battle for local control is another example. Moving local board elections to November completely disrupts the governance cycle for Kansas school districts. Inserting partisan politics into local board of educations will exclude our active military and federal employees from even running for election. We all can see - both nationally and in the Kansas Legislature - how well it works to have a governing body divide along party lines. Our relationship with our teachers is another area where local control is being challenged. KASB and others worked together to develop a good plan for changes to professional negotiations, but many in the Legislature seem to believe they know better. A huge budget black hole is looming. Cuts have already been made to this year’s school budgets, and the “solution” to the problem is to just change the rules - rewrite the school funding formula.

It’s time to pay close attention. Each Wednesday the Legislature is in session members from the KASB Board of Directors will be in Topeka. We are asking you to pick a Wednesday and join us. We’ll spend time at the Statehouse, attend committee meetings and meet with legislators. When the House or Senate are in session we’ll be there to listen and learn. Let KASB know you are coming and they will arrange meetings and schedules for you.

I also urge you to contact your legislators personally and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Invite them to meet with your board and discuss the issues. Get your legislators into your schools and show them the amazing things our students, teachers and administrators are accomplishing! Attend local meetings sponsored by local chambers of commerce, League of Women Voters or other civic groups.

Our legislators need to know there are people in their local communities who care deeply about what’s happening in our state and who will support them in their work on behalf of their local community, not their work on behalf of their state party leadership.

At the national level, contact the offices of your Senator and Representative. They won’t know how we feel about the issues unless they hear from us. Give them a better understanding of exactly how their decisions will impact you, your community and school.

Believe me, I understand issue fatigue! Keeping up with meetings at the local level and the decisions that have to be made for next year on top of everything else is a huge challenge for all of us. But it is what we were elected to do, and if we let our attention turn away from protecting and defending public education, public education will be torn apart in this tug of war. I really do believe we are at a critical point in the history of public education in Kansas.

We cannot look away.

Message to Members- Jan 30, 2015
Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

Comments on Proposed Changes to Professional Negotiations Act

KASB members will remember that changing the Professional Negotiations Act has been the focus on many discussions throughout the years. More than a year ago, representatives from KNEA, KASB, USA and KSSA begin meeting in response to questions about narrowing the list of mandatorily negotiable items in the Professional Negotiations Act. The meetings included the presidents and directors/executive directors of the four organizations.
The group met several times, sometimes using an outside facilitator, and finalized an agreement January 21, 2015 that includes several proposed changes to the Kansas Professional Negotiations Act. The agreement responds to concerns that the list of mandatory negotiable items is excessive and maintains a commitment to the principle of negotiating salaries and other issues.
You can see the full agreement HERE
The agreement also calls for mandatory training for local negotiating teams, with the content and format determined by the local negotiating team.  The group believes this will improve the negotiations process by having all parties knowledgeable about the procedures required under state law and best practices for reaching a successful outcome.  
The agreement recommends pushing back the statutory annual dates to exchange a list of items for negotiations and for declaring an impasse in negotiations.  The notification date would be changed from February 1 to March 31, and the impasse date changed from June 1 to July 31. The new dates better reflects when districts have information on funding from the state and could also reduce the time involved in the negotiations process.
The agreement also calls for KNEA and KASB attorneys to jointly draft model language addressing two major concerns-attire/dress code and discipline procedures. We chose to do this rather than removing these issues from the list of mandatory negotiable items.
We believe a more focused list of items, improved training and more realistic notice and impasse dates will help improve the efficiency of the negotiations process and allow increased focus on the shared goal of student success.
It is important to note that this agreement does not propose any changes in the statutes of current contract language, or the process of making changes under current law.  The agreement also provides local school districts a great deal of flexibility in how local negotiations are handled.
We reached this agreement through consensus and a collaborative give and take strategy. It is our hope that the legislature will approve the resulting proposal. 

Op/Ed Jan. 2, 2015
Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

Response to School Finance Ruling Should Focus on What is Best for Students

As children return to school after the Christmas break, they probably don't realize the fate of their public school education career will be based on decisions by the Legislature, Gov. Sam Brownback and members of the judiciary.

The recent school finance decision by a three-judge panel in Shawnee County will no doubt increase debate over money, taxes and formulas. The underlying focus, however, of the decision should be on our Kansas students and the long term future of our state.

The court again found Kansas is failing to provide constitutionally suitable school funding. That is not because schools are failing. Based on national test scores, high school completion, preparation for college and adult education attainment, Kansas ranks among the top states in the nation - number 10 as measured across 18 different indicators. At the same time, Kansas ranks near the average in spending per pupil and in student poverty, a critical factor in student success, indicating school districts are efficiently delivering high results for a reasonable cost. By every historical measure, Kansas educational outcomes are high.

Why, then, did the court rule Kansas schools are underfunded?

First, the court noted that after several years of improvement on state reading and math tests, scores began to drop as the impact of funding cuts were felt. Likewise, Kansas scores on national tests have leveled off. Other factors, like graduation rates and college readiness and completion, are “lagging indicators” that may decline as students move through an under-funded system. This year, Kansas students will take new, tougher tests designed to measure higher skills, setting a new baseline.

Second, like all states, there are significant performance gaps among Kansas students. Low income students, who are also disproportionately represented among minority groups, lag behind their more advantaged peers on tests of basic skills, graduation and college preparation. This alone is evidence the state is not providing “suitable” funding for all students. This also represents a growing problem for the future of the state, since the number of low income students has increased significantly, whether measured by participation in free meals or by childhood poverty rates.

Third, demands for educational attainment are growing as fast - or faster - than actual achievement. By the end of this decade, nearly 70 percent of Kansas jobs are expected to require some type of postsecondary education. Currently, only 58.1 percent of Kansans ages 18-24 have some postsecondary education.

Getting more students prepared for success after high school is critical and costs more than simply attaining high school diploma. Jobs requiring higher skills and educational levels pay significantly more and pave the way for economic prosperity and personal advancement.

Kansas has recognized this fact by adopting the seven Rose factors, which include providing each and every child certain skills to advance in either academic or vocational fields.

States with the highest educational attainment spend more per pupil than low achieving states. Because their educational levels are higher, their income levels are higher and they have fewer students in poverty, which makes it easier to continue raising achievement. These states are preparing for long-term economic growth and security, just like individuals and families who make it a priority to save and invest for the long term as their incomes grow.

Unfortunately, Kansas has been doing the opposite. As the total income of Kansans has grown since the Great Recession, the state has been investing less of that income for public education. Total Kansas personal income is projected to have increased by over 25 percent since 2010, while total school funding has increased just 10 percent in the same period, and much of the funding increase has come from local districts where voters have approved building projects to improve their schools.

Total K-12 school funding is projected to be just 4.42 percent of total personal income in 2015 - the lowest level since 1985. In fact, the state could increase educational funding by $550 million and still be spending a lower share of income than the ten-year average between 2001 and 2010. That is the approximate cost of providing additional base-level funding at what the court suggested was “the bottom level of reasonableness.”

The court did not order the Governor and Legislature spend a particular amount of money. It simply found the current level of funding cannot achieve the Rose standards adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court and by the Legislature as educational goals for all students. It is up to the Governor and Legislature to respond.

The people of Kansas approved an education article of the state constitution that says the public school system exists for “intellectual, educational, scientific and vocational improvement.” The status quo is never good enough. The court found overwhelming evidence money matters to educational quality, and noted funding for current educational programs (as opposed to buildings and pensions) had fallen far below previous levels found to be constitutional.

The ruling should be seen as an opportunity by the Legislature and governor to invest in higher levels of achievement and success for Kansas students, a state economy based on high skills and wages, and stronger families and communities.

Message to Members- September 2014
Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

Welcome back! Come to a Fall Summit

I hope that your school year has gotten off to a great start! The beginning of school is always an exciting time, whether you are entering your first year of school or your last, your first days on the job, or your first year in the leadership chair of the board of education. We’re all involved in something very important – public education!

In my role as president of KASB, I have the opportunity to attend many workshops and meetings, some on the national level, and some closer to home. Do you know what I see everywhere I go? I see hard-working, dedicated individuals wanting to do what’s best for kids. I also see some groups who seem to want to discredit public education and weaken our system. What we are doing is too important to let them succeed.

A few weeks ago, KASB hosted a meeting of about 80 individuals representing many organizations and groups, including legislators, state board members, KNEA, state administrator groups and PTA. We spent the day discussing how our education goals based on the Rose capacities align with initiatives at the post-secondary, K-12 and early childhood levels, and what policies or decisions need to be made to move our schools forward. It was an exciting, energizing day, and I couldn’t help but wish every school board in every community across our state could have a similar conversation.

In fact, I believe everyone should have this conversation. Public schools and school funding will be on the agenda once the 2015 Legislative Session roles around in January. Before the state can decide how much money is needed to reach the Rose capacities – which is the new test for school funding decided by the Supreme Court last March – we have to find agreement on what the standards mean and how to assess whether or not students are meeting them. The education community should be ready to tell our legislators what needs to change and what resources are needed. This will only happen if we start talking now.

Fall SummitsA great first step is to come to the KASB Fall Summits coming up the end of September and first part of October. You’ll get to hear similar information to what I heard this summer, and you’ll get to discuss what that means for your local community. I encourage every school district to bring a team of board members, staff and community members. There are a number of education-related agencies and organizations working to help our state and school districts understand and connect the new standards to the current public education system in Kansas. But this is a conversation for every community and every school board in Kansas. To see a detailed agenda and location information for the Fall Summits click here now.

If you have any questions or comments, I hope you will reach out and let me know!

Message to Members- August 2014 Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

Where will you be August 5?

In less than four weeks, Kansans will have the opportunity to substantially shape the future of our state for several years to come. If this seems like an overstatement, think about the policies and laws passed in the last few years by both our elected state board of education and our Kansas legislators. Their actions have a direct impact on our local communities and our local public schools.

The primary election August 5 has a number of key races, both for state board and for the state legislature. Election season has always been marked by an increase in mail, phone calls and advertising. You add in social media, and it becomes even more tempting to just tune it all out. KASB created an election tracker to provide information that can help clarify who is running for what seat.

But it is important to listen to what candidates are saying (or not saying!) during this election cycle, and it is even more important to do your own research and find out if they are “walking their talk.” Find out if their voting records and actions align with the direction you believe we must head.

The reality is that many races are already decided or will be decided on August 5. If candidates are running with no general election opponent, their election to the office is essentially decided. If two candidates from the same party are the only candidates, then whoever wins on August 5 has won the election. Independent candidates have until noon on August 4 to file, but this kind of challenger is almost never successful.

Whatever your political affiliation, whether or not you are happy or troubled by the direction our state is going, your vote matters. And it matters that you model the importance of voting and going to the polls on Election Day for your children, grandchildren, friends and colleagues.

July 2014
Rod Stewart, KASB President (July 2014-June 2015)

Washington County USD 108 board member starts term as President of KASB

Rod Stewart, Washington County USD 108 board of education vice president, took over as president of the Kansas Association of School Boards July 1. Stewart has served as president-elect this past year.

"It is truly an honor to begin my term as president of KASB. I believe KASB is in a position to take the lead on a number of critical issues facing our state, and I ask my fellow board members to remain informed and involved,” he said.

KASB provides service and support to governing boards for unified school districts, community colleges, area vocational-technical schools and cooperatives, interlocals and regional service centers. The association serves a diverse membership base of close to 5,000 board members and educational leaders.

“KASB members have unique challenges and opportunities, but we are united in a common cause,” Stewart said. “We all want our students to be prepared for success, to accomplish their dreams and to become responsible citizens.”

Stewart has held numerous leadership positions at the local level. He served on the USD 222 board of education, president of the consolidation transition board, and is now in his second term on the Washington County USD 108 board, serving terms as president and vice president. He has been involved in the district’s negotiation committee, the superintendent selection committee, the curriculum committee and a several facilities planning and construction committees.

In addition to local leadership, Stewart served two terms on the KASB board of directors as regional vice-president. His involvement with KASB has included numerous committees for the association, including the convention credentials committee and the executive director interview committee.  Stewart has been an active participant in both the KASB Governmental Relations and the Federal Relations networks.

Stewart holds a bachelor of science in agriculture education and a master of science in adult and occupational education, both from Kansas State University. He is a member of the Washington County Schools Booster Club and the school’s agriculture science department’s advisory committee. He is a member of the National Corn Growers Association, Kansas Soybean Association, National FFA Alumni Association, K-State Alumni Life Member and both the First United Methodist Church and the Washington County Historical Society.

Stewart begins his leadership of KASB at a time of renewed emphasis on local control brought about by recent legislative decisions.

“We must remain focused on and committed to what’s really important, and always ask ourselves ‘what is in the best interest of the students?' If we, both on our local boards and as KASB, will keep that as a guide, we can provide the kind of leadership our communities and state require.”