Thoughts on Kansas K-12 education after the 2018 election

Thoughts on Kansas K-12 education after the 2018 election

KASB has been asked by the news media and others to respond to the 2018 election. Many school leaders probably are as well. Here are some thoughts.

First, congratulations to Senators Laura Kelly and Lynn Rogers who will lead our state as Governor and Lt. Governor – and to all those
will be taking office to serve Kansas. We should recognize all those who weren’t successful, but still tried to make a difference. Finally, we’ll miss many officials who have worked to support public education, whether for a single term or for many years, and thank them for their service.

We are pleased that Governor-elect Kelly has vowed to make education her top priority. She and Sen. Rogers were part of a bi-partisan
majority of legislators who, over the past two sessions, passed historic legislation to restore school funding to constitutional suitability.

The Kansas Supreme Court has accepted that action with one important caveat – if the restored funding is phased-in over five years, it
must be adjusted for inflation over five years. Gov.-elect Kelly has pledged to make that happen.

Since the Legislature added significant increases in funding for the first time in a decade last year and this year, school districts have begun to recover from nearly a decade of limited funding.

  • Districts provided the biggest average teacher salaries increase last year since 2009.
  • Nearly 1,000 positions were restored.
  • The Legislature made progress in funding the KPERS retirement system to keep benefits strong for school employees.
  • Districts added $135 million in programs specifically targeted at high-needs students: at-risk, bilingual, career tech and special education.
  • Schools are strengthening individual plans for college and the workforce with students and parents; districts are entering a new accreditation system; and the state has embarked on a major school redesign project.

It’s important to remember several facts.

  • Even with additional funding the past two years, total per pupil funding is lower than it was in 2008 when adjusted for inflation.
  • Since 2008, Kansas dropped from 24th in the nation to 29th in per pupil funding, and 39 states increased funding more
    than Kansas.
  • Kansas teacher salaries increased less than inflation, private sector salaries, the national average and most states in our region. School districts had to cut about 2,000 positions statewide.
  • Over this time, Kansas saw drops in state and national test scores, and other states have been improving faster than Kansas on other indicators.

Remember, the Legislature’s plan – which was accepted by the Supreme Court – was to restore operating funds to 2009 levels, adjusted for inflation. Phasing that in over the next four years will allow school districts to plan on the best ways to implement these funds and get more personnel in the pipeline to fill jobs as teachers and support staff.

Specifically, school districts have identified the following priorities:

Attract and retain qualified, effective educators and support staff.

This includes providing more competitive salaries and benefits and encouraging more people to enter the teaching profession.

Give all students the opportunity to succeed.

This includes continuing to expand early childhood programs, which has been a priority of Governor-elect Kelly, and fully funding special education programs to serve students with disabilities.

Increase support for student health and safety.

This includes not only physical safety, such as the grants provided by the 2018 Legislature, but also expanded mental health services to address learning issues, discipline and suicide.

Prepare students for postsecondary education and career success.

This includes a focus on individual career plans to help students better prepare for college and the workforce, more career counseling, expanding career tech programs and concurrent enrollment programs with higher education.

Support effective school operations.

This includes giving local districts the support and flexibility to meet diverse local needs. We note that incoming Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers served many years on the school board of Wichita USD 259, the largest district in the state.

These steps will allow schools to address the five outcomes set by the Kansas State Board of Education’s Kansans Can vision: address social and emotional needs, improve school readiness, support individual plans of study and increase high school graduation rates and postsecondary participation.

It is important to stress this isn’t just about schools, but the long-term future of Kansas. The payoff will be a better-educated Kansas workforce to fill high-skill, high-wage jobs; which results in higher personal income and lower poverty rates; and stronger state and local economies based on higher skill, higher wage jobs that support at least a middle-class life for Kansas families.

KASB encourages local districts to share your own district examples of funding challenges over the past eight years; of how you are investing additional funding; and how additional funding will be used to help more students
succeed. Please let us know if we can help.