KASB’s Daily Education Roundup for Tue. Feb. 5

Tuesday was a busy day for public schools and education-related issues both in Topeka and Manhattan.

Legislators worked on the state pension system, K-12 and child welfare while the KASB and USA-Kansas first-ever Women’s Leadership Summit wrapped up with inspiring sessions in Manhattan.

KASB President-Elect Shannon Kimball, who serves on the USD 497 Lawrence board of education, kicked off the morning at the Leadership Summit by recounting her journey from Kansas farm girl to young attorney to stay-at-home mom to school board member and local politician.

Liberal USD 480 Superintendent Renae Hickert gave a session on managing conflict and its aftermath and USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden Board Member Katrina Lewison, a retired U.S. Army Major, presented on succeeding in a male-dominated environment. Hickert and Dr. Alicia Thompson, USD 259 Wichita Superintendent, facilitated a discussion group for school administrators while KASB President-Elect Designee Lori Blake of USD 206 Southeast of Saline board and Margaret Nightengale, President of the USD 214 Ulysses board oversaw a similar session for board members.

The Women’s Leadership Summit concluded with lunch and closing remarks from Dr. Evelyn Hill, Director of Community Engagement for Avenue of Life in Kansas City and a former member of the Kansas City USD 500 board, on “The Secret Power of Resilience.”

Over at the Statehouse, the Senate unanimously approved SB 9, which would make a $115 million payment to the school group of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to make up for a missed payment when the state budget was plagued by revenue shortfalls. Some Democrats had earlier argued it would be better to have a better grasp of the entire state budget, including school funding, before making the payment, but they didn’t press the issue.

The Senate was scheduled on Wednesday to consider SB 22 that would cut taxes by more than $400 million over three years, mostly in the form of tax benefits for corporations. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, is pushing hard for passage, saying it will help Kansans avoid a hit from federal tax changes, while Democrats say cutting taxes so drastically would be irresponsible at this point, given the needs of schools, health care and social services. KASB has serious concerns about the revenue implications of this bill and how that might impact school finance. Here is a link to KASB’s testimony on the measure.

Also Wednesday, the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance has scheduled a hearing on SB 44, which would enact Gov. Laura Kelly’s school funding recommendation. KASB believes this proposal has the best chance to resolve the Gannon lawsuit and provide stable, adequate school budgets for the next four years. The bill adds the State Board of Education’s “inflation adjustment” to the increased school funding approved last session in response to the Gannon case. Here is a blog by KASB’s Mark Tallman on the issue.

The Senate Committee on Ethic, Elections and Local Government has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on SB 7, which moves the date for election of school board officers from July to January, but allows boards to set another date at that meeting.

Also on Tuesday, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson presented the House Education Committee with a review of state education initiatives and fielded a wide range of questions and seemed to leave the committee wanting more.

The commissioner explained the State Board’s statewide conversations with educators, parents and employers in the early 2015, leading to a new statewide focus on broader student skills and preparation for success in college, career and citizenship. The Board implemented a new district accreditation system and launched a phase-in school redesign project.

“We learned Kansans value things that can’t easily be measured on standardized tests,” Watson said. “Kansans said academics certainly matter, but so do many other things that don’t get measured on tests or counted as courses. To help students obtain these skills, we found we will have to redesign schools to make students the top focus.”

Committee members peppered the Commissioner with questions ranging from school bus traffic safety to the relationship between accountability and accreditation, to the Communities that Care survey, which has been restricted by privacy concerns but now has wide gap in data about student social, emotional and health issues.

Chairman Steve Huebert suggested the committee would invite Watson back to discuss specific issues in more details.

Legislators also have focused on improving child welfare after numerous problems arose over the past couple of years in the state’s foster care system and the Kansas Department for Children and Families. School officials have long been chronicling these problems to state officials.

DCF’s Acting Secretary Laura Howard told the House Appropriations Committee that Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration is working on numerous fronts to improve child welfare programs and protect children in foster care.

Howard said more emphasis is being placed on services to keep children out of foster care. She said Kansas, like most states, saw an increase in foster care caseload during the Great Recession, but she added, “What is different in Kansas is we didn’t see a reversal of that a couple of years later. That is the challenge we have as a state.” Howard, who worked in state child welfare services eight years ago, said, “Systems that were antiquated when I left are still in place.”

State Rep. Kathy Wolfe-Moore, D-Kansas City, asked Howard if a University of Kansas study was correct in saying the increase in foster care caseload was due to reductions under former Gov. Sam Brownback in welfare and food assistance. Howard said she didn’t know if there was a direct correlation but added many studies show when there are fewer supports for families, families struggle.

In addition to proposing increased revenue to hire more social workers and child abuse investigators, Howard and Kelly want the state to make the necessary changes in Kansas law to receive federal grants under the Families First initiative. These grants can be used in communities for evidence-based family preservation programs. The House Children and Seniors Committee is focusing on Families First legislation.

Share this post