While most of the current focus on education is understandably on trying to reopen schools during the COVID pandemic, the KASB Legislative Committee has begun a conversation about the enormous challenges that will face education in the years ahead.
The Legislative Committee is composed of school board members from KASB’s 10 geographic regions across Kansas and the five largest school districts by enrollment. In late August, meeting entirely online for the first time ever, the committee drafted a proposed set of positions that will be shared with KASB members and others this fall for additional input.
The positions represent both the critical issues Kansas public schools will confront and proposals for Legislative and State Board of Education action. These proposals will become KASB’s official positions when approved by the full KASB Delegate Assembly.
The recommendations are organized by the goals and outcomes established by the State Board and the education goals adopted by the Kansas Legislature and Supreme Court for successful students. These goals fall into three areas: preparing students to be happy, healthy individuals; civically engaged members of their communities; and have the skills to be economically successful by earning at least a middle-class income.
To help students achieve and support a school system to deliver these goals, the committee is proposing recommendations grouped under eight “pathways.”
1. Increase support for student health and safety
First and most obvious is helping schools reopen to onsite learning as safely as possible and provide alternatives when not possible. It also means increasing support for student mental health issues and the challenges of foster care and homeless students. These issues have been increasing in recent years and are expected to be intensified by the pandemic. The Committee also calls for supporting positive approaches to school safety and discipline focused on keeping students in school and out of the juvenile system, if possible. These challenges are added to ongoing concerns about bullying and vaping.
2. Strengthen Civic and Community Engagement
As schools continue to work more closely with other local governments and community institutions, the Committee calls for strengthening civic education through community-based activities such as encouraging volunteer poll workers, as part of the school redesign process rather than state mandates. It calls for preparing students to live in strong, diverse and inclusive communities.
3. Give all students the opportunity to succeed
Despite decades of improving educational attainment, too many students continue to lag behind their peers. Students with disabilities face barriers to learning not related to school, and state funding has fallen far behind costs. Expanded early childhood programs would better prepare disadvantaged children for school and help parents work to support their families. Low income students persistently struggle compared to middle- and upper-income students, and up to one in five students lack broadband access. Immigrant students, who are the also the responsibility of public schools, may face additional trauma.
Some say the answer is increased public funding of private schools, but no current or proposed “school choice” programs actually require private schools to accept and educate high cost students with the greatest need.
4. Prepare students for postsecondary education and careers
Preparing more students for postsecondary education is critical because more and more jobs require more than a high school diploma and the COVID recession is likely to increase that trend. But the extended school shutdown last spring and possible future interruptions is expected to set back learning, especially for low income students who need higher education the most to advance economically. Without intervention, these students – and the state and nationally economy – will be harmed for years.
It will take efforts by both the state and local school districts to rethink and redesign schools to help more students achieve the outcomes needed to be successful.
5. Attract and retain qualified effective educators and support staff
An existing shortage of staff in many districts is expected to be worsened by the pandemic, and the changes required by remote learning, postsecondary readiness and school redesign mean learning new ways to teach, operate schools and support students and families.
6. Support effective school operations
The state and school districts will need to examine whether school finance and other laws and regulations should be modified as districts face unprecedented disruptions while trying to look at new ways to operate.
At a time when students, parents and many state officials are stressing the importance of onsite, in person learning and activities, changes in state law are creating inequities in financing school buildings and capping school construction bonds.
7. Exceptional boards and leadership teams
Finally, during the state’s disaster emergency, many state leaders have championed the idea of local control. That hasn’t always been the case in education policy. The Committee reaffirms the belief that Kansas school districts – like cities and counties – have different needs and priorities, and the state should support local decision-making by school leaders.
Kansas school district leaders will have the opportunity to react to these proposals during “virtual” regional meetings beginning at the end of September.