School finance consultants seek input (fast)

The consultants hired by the Kansas Legislature to conduct a study of educational costs laid out their methodology and sought input from school leaders during a meeting Saturday at KASB. 

With just a few weeks before the report is due to the Legislature on March 15, they said additional recommendations and data to incorporate into the study were welcome, but need to be sent to by Monday night. 

Specifically, researchers Dr. Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University and Jason Willis of West Ed asked for suggestions for any additional data sets on Kansas school finance and performance that should be included in study, and any additional considerations for the research team regarding treatment of the Rose capacities. 

The four-hour presentation can be viewed here on KASB’s YouTube channel, including both material presented by Taylor and Willis, and questions from the audience. Here is a link to the power point presentation. 

The frequently skeptical audience Saturday included Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka and Representative Nancy Lusk, D-Overland Park; State Board of Education members Ann Mah, D-Topeka and Deena Horst, R-Salina, and approximately 40 school superintendents, school board members, Kansas National Education Association leaders and school advocacy groups. 

The meeting followed a similar presentation Friday to a joint meeting to the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance and House K-12 Education Budget Committee and other legislators. 

Before the end of the meeting Saturday, Dr. Taylor listed a number of items the researchers would consider adding to the report, based on input from the two days of meetings. She indicated that some other proposals would be impossible to include unless consistent data would be provided for all Kansas school districts and if possible, school buildings. 

A common concern expressed at both meetings is that the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled funding must allow students to meet the “Rose Capacities,” which include areas without common statewide measures. These include government and economic knowledge, physical and mental wellness, and arts appreciation. Another area of concern is student mental health. 

The initial report was expected to examine only recent state assessments, graduation rates and the State Board of Education’s new postsecondary effectiveness rate as measures of meeting the Rose capacities. 

Democratic leaders in the Kansas Legislature have been highly critical of the new study, suggesting the researchers were hired specifically to justify a “lower number” to comply with the Supreme Court than previous studies. 

Concerns have also been expressed by judicial comments critical of Dr. Taylor’s work in a previous study in Texas that produced a much lower cost estimate than other studies. Dr. Taylor responded to the criticism by saying the Texas study was designed to measure the cost of meeting standards that all Texas plaintiff districts were meeting at the time. 

In the Gannon case, the Kansas courts have ruled that system is inadequate because approximately 25 percent of students are not meeting “grade level” benchmarks on state assessments, as well as deep disparities in student performance. 

The researchers said they have not yet decided on either statewide performance benchmarks or a period of time to achieve them, requesting input from practitioners on those points. 

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