Candidates for state school board on the issues: How can we improve the quality of education in Kansas?

Photo via SMSD Facebook page.
Photo via SMSD Facebook page.

Last week we sent five questions to candidates for Kansas State Board of Education District 2 which covers a large part of Johnson County. The set of questions came from those submitted by readers.

Here are the responses from incumbent Republican Steve Roberts and Democrat challenger Chris Cindric to our fourth question. Today’s question is:

What steps can the state school board take to improve the quality of education in Kansas?

Steve Roberts

Steve Roberts
Steve Roberts

It’s a beautiful question! Although we’re a local-control state, the board in Topeka has clear responsibilities from Article Six of our state constitution. We have stewardship of education through high school. We on the board tend to smile when folks refer to us as the “fourth branch of Kansan government.” We truly want to adhere to the words in our board room: Our Children Come First in Every Board Decision.

Our vision has evolved to: Kansas leads the world in the success of each student. When I suggested three-and-a-half years ago at a meeting that our mission should be “the success and happiness of every citizen in the state,” little did I know that our little board in little ol’ Kansas would have a profound effect on the national education scene, including the passage of the federal “Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Here are steps I will work toward if citizens return me to the board for another term:
Pay good teachers more. It’s a local issue, but the board can speak to it.

End the “postal-clerk” salary chart that rewards longevity and additional degrees only. Again, this is a local issue that the board can speak toward to welcome professionals into our classrooms.
Stop forcing every instructor to pass through the tollbooth of the colleges of education.

Encourage local districts to extend the school year. The state board should provide a wider range for the school year’s length: the traditional 180 school days plus-or-minus 15 days. That’s a range of 165 to 195 days, which would provide more flexibility as we encourage the legislature to devise a new and simpler funding formula.

Stop labeling school children by race. This means pushing back against federal directives.
End the federal free-and-reduced lunch program; make food part of the school experience. Think of it as heat in the winter. When you send your kids to school in the winter the buildings have heat paid for with general tax revenues. We do not nickel-and-dime our poorer citizens to “chip in” 65 cents for warmth while those not in poverty “contribute” $3.25 for electric radiant heat or the fuel for boilers. No, that would be stupid and cruel. We should treat food in the cafeteria as we treat heat in the winter. We are Kansas. Kansans can feed our own children.

Chris Cindric

Chris Cindric
Chris Cindric

We already have quality public education in Kansas, but to continue providing high quality educational programs the SBOE should work closely with colleges and universities to attract young students to the field of education (see question #5.)  Our local districts understand the long-term benefits and costs of investing in art, music, library, and PE (in addition to STEM and core curriculum,) but they must be provided the resources to continue those indisputably valuable programs.

Offering universal early childhood education opportunities, free kindergarten, and affordable before and after school care is an extremely wise investment in the future of our state and will help to build a strong middle class.  As a state and society we must begin to embrace cultural differences.

As a grandchild of immigrants I believe we should begin to:   1) Understand and capitalize on students’ culture and abilities .  2 ) Increase staff’s cultural competence and be sensitive to home differences.  3) Work with medical, community, and social services to help identify student/family needs and available resources.  4) Provide ongoing professional development targeting cultural and learning differences.  5) Develop a plan to attract teachers of color and diversity.  Understanding issues surrounding poverty is crucial.  Schools that close achievement gaps utilize data, research based strategies, continuous improvement, and staff and community input.  While the quality of education is good in Kansas we must continue to strive for improvement.