With big changes coming to funding, vision for Kansas schools, it’s time for boards to rethink aspects of K-12 education, say KASB leaders

Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Since the onset of the Great Recession, Kansas school districts have faced the challenge of how to do more with less. But with the injection of hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for the K-12 system — and the prospect of more depending on the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the Gannon case — it’s time for Kansas districts to start rethinking how they can use their resources to produce the best student outcomes.

That was the message Kansas Association of School Board leaders delivered to a group of Johnson County school board members, elected officials and parents at the Shawnee Mission School District’s new Center for Academic Achievement on Tuesday.

The presentation kicked off KASB’s two-week advocacy tour, which will take the group across the state promoting its “New Day for Kansas Education” platform. That platform, outlined in a booklet distributed to attendees Tuesday, has five goals:

  • New Vision for Success: That State Board of Education’s Kansas Can vision (Kansas leads the world in the success of each student, with five key outcomes: kindergarten readiness, improving graduation rates, improving successful postsecondary completion, individual plans of study and addressing social and emotional needs measured locally) is challenging Kansas to rethink the current educational system.
  • New School Finance Formula: The expiring block grant system is replaced with a formula similar to the previous system, but with more funding targeted to lower achieving student groups.
  • New Funding to Make it Work: For the first time in almost a decade, a significant increase in school operating budgets is provided, with much of the money targeted to high priority programs.
  • New Accountability Based on Student Success: July 2017 begins the first year of a new State Board of Education system that moves from reading and math tests to a much broader definition of education, and a new measurement of how students succeed after high school.
  • New Models for Innovation and Improvement: The State Board will be selecting 14 schools in seven districts to lead the redesign of Kansas schools to help all students succeed.

Mark Tallman, KASB’s associate executive director of advocacy, told the crowd, which included several members of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education and at least one member of the Blue Valley Board of Education, that new resources will at least partially allow Kansas public schools to patch the cuts to staffing and services they’ve endured over the past decade. The new funding formula approved by the legislature earlier this year provides money targeted to students who have lagged behind in outcomes, which Tallman said was an important step in improving the K-12 system as a whole.

“If we’re going to keep doing better, you’ve got to help the kids who aren’t doing well,” he said.

Rep. Melissa Rooker — one of five legislators at the presentation (Reps. Cindy Neighbor, Nancy Lusk and House Speaker Ron Ryckman were in attendance, as was Sen. John Skubal) — told the crowd that the House education budget committee on which she sits had worked hard to develop a new formula that aligned with the State Board of Education’s Kansas Can vision.

“What we’re seeing statewide is school boards able to make some decisions to direct the new money that they are receiving appropriately into better working conditions for teachers, bringing in resources for those kids at risk, and actually starting to think bigger and think innovatively about how to change and bring about this vision,” Rooker said.

Rooker said that she was proud of the formula itself, but that she believed the court would order the legislature to increase the amount of total funding directed to state schools.

“We can expect some instructions from the court that we need to come back and address. It’s no secret that the funding in [the K-12 bill] didn’t go as far as we are likely to be ordered to go,” Rooker said.

Even as the group encouraged board members to be proactive in bringing changes to Kansas’s K-12 system, Tallman cautioned that district-level policy makers should be prepared to have public schools’ use of their new funds scrutinized.

“We need to be very mindful that the public will be watching what we do [with the money schools receive from taxes],” Tallman said.

Melissa Rooker at the KASB advocacy presentation in Overland Park on Tuesday.
Melissa Rooker at the KASB advocacy presentation in Overland Park on Tuesday.