KASB Advocacy Tour: Focus on educator issues, school improvement, rural development

The KASB advocacy tour began its third week in Manhattan and Concordia Monday with the same focus as the previous two weeks: deep concerns about finding qualified staff. 

As Kansas per pupil funding fell behind inflation and dropped compared to other states over the past eight years, so did average teacher salaries. That compounded a state and national trend of fewer college students entering teacher education programs. 

The result: fewer applicants for school teacher and leadership positions, more vacancies and worries that some employees lack the quality needed to improve schools for student success. 

Increased state funding last year allowed the largest increase in the average Kansas teacher salary since 2009, and funding approved for next year and scheduled for the following four years should help that trend continue. But school leaders yesterday said increased funding must be divided between higher salaries for current teacher positions and the need for new staff to address unmet student needs, such as increased early childhood programs, more counselors and social workers, and improving college prep and technical programs. 

Some school leaders say Kansas teacher licensure remains too restrictive, especially in areas like technical education, but others worry that reducing standards will lower quality. In Manhattan, participants said there is a perception that teachers are getting less respect as well as declining pay compared to other professions – but it was also noted that school employees are among the best paid in many Kansas communities. 

For some, that means young teachers may simply look for jobs in other districts or states with higher pay. 

In Concordia, participants also discussed the challenges of rural Kansas, including a depressed agriculture economy, declining employment opportunities and population loss. However, the Concordia district noted “surprising” enrollment growth in recent years, but with a highly transient student population. 

Responding to KASB data and this year’s legislative state school finance cost study, state Sen. Randall Hardy, R-Salina, commended school districts on their operations, saying he had “sensed” efficient use of resources that was confirmed when the new study said Kansas has among the most efficient school districts in the nation. 

The tour continues today in Topeka; in Olathe on Wednesday and Hutchinson on Thursday. The meetings are free and open to the public.

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