Five questions legislators will likely want answered for the 2021 session

Five questions legislators will likely want answered for the 2021 session

Between now and Jan. 11, legislators are preparing for what will undoubtedly be an historic session because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Now is a crucial time for education leaders to develop or solidify relations with legislators, including those who are returning to office and the many new ones, so that our concerns, challenges and suggestions are considered. 

This week (Nov. 16-20), KASB will present a series that features key questions and answers for educators and legislators to consider. Please join us at noon Friday (Nov.20) for an Advocacy Update to discuss the issues covered in this series and others that have arisen as the pandemic gains strength and forces schools to repeatedly pivot. Go to this link to participate in the Advocacy Update.

Question 1: How are districts working to improve student learning? What impact will the COVID pandemic have on student learning and health? 

The Gannon decision was based in part on evidence of a correlation between higher funding and higher student outcomes, and that Kansas outcomes began declining after funding cuts. 

Outcomes did not fall immediately after reductions, and educators believe it will take a few years to see improvement. But many legislators are impatient to see results after funding began increasing in the 2017-18 school year. So far, Kansas test scores, for example, have not improved. 

Another aspect of the Gannon case was the significantly lower performance by some student groups, including low income, disabled English Language Learners and others. Legislative Post Audit reports have raised questions about the effectiveness of two major programs: at-risk weighting and bilingual weightings. The at-risk weighting for districts with a high density of low-income students will expire in two years without legislative action. 

There is widespread concern that the loss of onsite learning and services due to COVID will set back student progress, especially among students with higher needs and fewer resources. 

The State Board of Education has launched a school redesign project, suggesting that not only funding resources but also how schools operate must be changed to significantly improve student success. 

Local Issues: How is your district addressing the following: 

Prior to COVID, how have new resources been used to support student success in academic, social and emotional growth, and preparation for postsecondary college and careers? 

How does your district use and evaluate state aid for programs such as at-risk and bilingual weighting? 

What new “redesign” efforts has your district made, before and in response to COVID, to strengthen academic focus, address social and emotional needs, improve partnerships with families and communities; provide individualized education and give students more real world application? 

What are your biggest concerns about the impact of COVID and how can the state help you address them?

Tomorrow: How has the COVID pandemic affected your school district’s operations?

Wednesday: How has COVID affected school budgets?

Thursday: What is the Gannon school finance case and agreement reached between the Legislature, Governor and Kansas Supreme Court?

Friday: What are school district cash balances or reserve levels?