Answering questions about public education during the COVID-19 pandemic

Answering questions about public education during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kansas schools have been mostly closed for two months and are seven weeks into continuous learning plans that try to make up for some of the lost time. Governor Laura Kelly has released a four-stage, six-week plan to re-open business and social activities, as people wonder how the future will look. The state and national shutdown has caused massive unemployment, threatens countless businesses, and sent state revenue projections plummeting.

These facts are creating many questions about public education going forward. As KASB works to answer these at the state level, many times the answer is simply “we don’t know yet,” and “it depends on the district.”

School leaders are probably already receiving questions from parents and constituents, news media and state and federal representatives. Expect many more in the upcoming weeks and months. Superintendents may want to have a discussion with their boards about these topics and prepare short reports that could be given to their members of the Legislature, State Board of Education and Congress. They could also be used in other district communications to staff, parents, and community members. Please also consider sharing them with KASB.

How has your district dealt with closing schools and continuous learning plans?

All school districts and accredited private schools submitted continuous learning plans to the Kansas State Board of Education to provide learning opportunities for students at home. Schools have been surveyed by the State Department of Education and a statewide report has been presented to the State Board of Education.

How are continuous learning plans working in your district? What factors have you determined help some students and families be more successful, or more likely to struggle? What strategies have you found to assist families who need more help?

What policies has your district adopted for grading, graduation, and promotion this year?

How have your district’s students been able to use technology to continue learning?

Over two-thirds of school systems surveyed by the State Board said lack of internet access is a barrier to continuous learning opportunities.

How many of your students have been able to access online learning?

What differences do you see between those who can connect online and those relying on take-home “paper” packets? What steps have you taken to close the gap?

What additional assistance related to technology do your students need, such as state or federal support for home internet access?

How are you dealing with various levels of student engagement and progress?

Over 75 percent of school systems said inactivity or truancy is a barrier to continuous learning; over 40 percent say parents not responding is a barrier and over 20 percent say that have no valid way to contact some students.

How have your teachers and other staff been able to keep in regular contact with students and families to track learning and provide services?

Approximately what percentage have not been engaged and what steps have you taken to reach those who are not responding?

For most students, continuous learning will not replace what they learn in the school building.

Realizing that we don’t know what policies and restrictions will be in place this summer and fall, what plans are you considering to deal with differences in academic progress, such as summer school, special services next fall, and where students will be placed?

How have changes in school operations affected your budget?

Most school buildings have been closed since mid-March, but districts were required to adopt continuous learning plans, continued to serve meals to students and provided special education services.

How has closing or reducing the use of most buildings allowed you to reduce expenditures and if at all?

Under the continuous learning plans and providing services to students such as meals, internet access and take-home packets, in which areas have you had to increase expenditures, if any?

At this point, what do you plan to do with any savings or to make up any increased expenditures?

What are your current plans, if any, for federal funding your district will receive under the CARES act?

How has your district managed changes in staff responsibilities?

Teachers and other licensed and leadership staff had contracts through the year and the Kansas Legislature directed schools to continue to pay hourly employees.

How did you provide for contracted employees such as teachers and administrators to continue working to meet their responsibilities?

Did you reassign hourly employees for other duties if their regular jobs were no longer needed and if so, what types of reassignments did you make?

Did you make any formal (memorandum of understanding) or informal adjustments in your master teacher contract as a result of different duties under the continuous learning plans?

Many school employees have been called on to do their jobs in different ways, such as online teaching, delivering meals and packets, or meeting with parents by phone or internet. Nearly half of school systems said lack of technology skills is a barrier to learning.

What added training or employee flexibility is needed to operate if this environment continues or is required in the future?

How is your district using increased funding and what might budget reductions mean?

After a decade of falling behind inflation, base state aid has increased more than inflation since 2018 and was scheduled to increase next year.

Understanding that districts with declining enrollment may not have received increased funding, what were the major enhancements your district was able to provide in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 (this year)? Examples: restoring previously cut staff positions; new positions for teaching, counseling and career planning, and mental health; new academic or student support programs; higher compensation.

What are your plans or priorities for additional funding next year?

Although the Kansas Legislature has approved a base state aid increase for next year, falling state revenues due to the COVID pandemic state shutdown have created a projected state general fund deficit next year unless federal funding is provided.

If base state aid was reduced by as much as 10 percent or more under certain assumptions, what would be the potential impact on staff positions, salaries, student services and programs, and building operations?

What are you learning from this experience that could help your district improve in the future?

Before the COVID crisis, Kansas school districts under the leadership of the Kansas State Board of Education were exploring ways to redesign schools around four key principles: student success skills with more social and emotional support; stronger partnerships with families, business and communities; more personalized learning based on how, when, where and what students want to learn; and making education more relevant based on real world experiences. The continuous learning experience may have lessons for each area.