Capitol Update: Rep. Nancy Lusk on applying business lessons to question of how to fund Kansas’s future

Kansas State Department of Education Commissioner Randy Watson giving a presentation on KANSANS CAN! last year.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Nancy Lusk, Rep. Randy Powell and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook are scheduled to send updates this week. (Rep. Powell did not respond to our invitation to submit a column). Here’s Rep. Lusk’s filing:

Rep. Nancy Lusk.

Do you read Forbes Magazine?  I do. I see lessons in the business stories they publish that are relevant to the school funding decision before us.

Most of their stories feature a business that was in decline or facing new challenges in the ever evolving marketplace, but despite that has managed to become rejuvenated. Those success stories almost always have two common elements: one, a new vision; and two, a significant reinvestment of capital.

For example, a recent issue of Forbes had a story about the Guittard Chocolate Company in San Francisco. Founded by the owner’s great grandfather in 1868, the company was struggling. But with a new vision of using old family recipes, and new processing techniques, they are now able to make chocolate of better quality than the big guys (like Hershey’s and Mars), and in quantities that the new artisan chocolate makers can’t match. Today the company is profitable.

But the chocolate business remains capital-intensive. And so, the Guittard Chocolate Company plows an average of 30 percent of their profits back into the business each year!

We in the legislature face a decision this session of how to fund the state’s future. It is not just about funding K-12 education, but a decision about the quality of our future workforce and the future vitality of the Kansas economy.

Why not learn from today’s competitive businesses?

To rejuvenate a business it takes two things:

  • A Vision
  • A willingness to invest

Just like the Guittard Chocolate Company and other companies that are regrouping with new survival visions, our state needed a new vision to educate and equip our future workforce for survival in the global marketplace. Fortunately, thanks to the KS State Board of Education and the KS Department of Education, we now have a new vision for public education. It is called KANSANS CAN! and its goals relate to what the KS Supreme Court is seeking in the new school finance formula, and to what the new WestEd school finance cost-function study was designed to measure.

Here is some brief background: In 2014 the legislature adopted education benchmarks called the Rose standards, and directed the KS State Board of Education to “design subjects and areas of instruction to achieve the goal established by” each of the Rose standards. The Kansas State Board of Education took up this charge and implemented the Rose standards into the new state K-12 education standards, called the “Kansas College and Career Ready Standards.”

Next, Randy Watson, the Kansas Commissioner of Education, and the Kansas Department of Education conducted 287 community conversations across the state, and asked the question, “What are the characteristics, qualities, abilities and skills of a successful 24-year old Kansan?” Those conversations not only included educational professionals, but also business and industry focus groups – all of whom placed a high value on “soft skills” such as teamwork and applied problem solving.

The feedback was translated into data, from which the KS State Board of Education developed its new vision, KANSANS CAN!, and they identified five outcomes that are tied to the Rose standards to help measure the progress toward achieving the new vision. They are:

  • 1.Social-emotional growth measured locally
  • 2.Kindergarten readiness
  • 3.Individual Plan of Study based on career interest
  • 4.High school graduation
  • 5.Postsecondary success

This quote from the KANSANS CAN! webpage sums up the KS State Board of Education’s vision:

Kansans are demanding higher standards in academic skills, as well as employability and citizenship skills, and the need to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” system that relies exclusively on state assessments. This new vision for education calls for a more student-focused system that provides support and resources for individual success and will require everyone to work together to make it a reality.

Together, Kansans Can!

So, we have the vision. Do we have the willingness to invest? That is the question the Kansas Supreme Court has posed for the legislature, and the deadline for the decision is April 30th.

I like this quote of the WestEd study, “Public school funding is an investment, with upfront costs paying dividends in the form of productive citizens.” By providing universal access to a quality education, we are preparing children to become economically self-sufficient, and getting them ready for citizenship in a democratic society.