Highlights of the November State Board of Education Meeting
Kathy Toelkes, Director of Communications, 785-296-4876
TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback’s policy advisor, Landon Fulmer, shared with State Board members in November the broad outlines of a proposed school finance formula likely to be debated during the next legislative session. The formula as presented to the Board would remove limits currently placed on local school boards with regard to the amount of property taxes they can levy through their local option budgets and would permit counties to raise sales taxes to support school district budgets.
In addition, the formula eliminates weightings in the current system for such things as transportation, low enrollment, at-risk students, etc. Instead, the proposed formula establishes a number of block grants for which school districts could make application. Some of the block grants would be awarded on a formula basis, and are designed to provide supplemental funds for such things as at-risk students and operational costs, in particular the high transportation costs in small, rural districts that cover a large geographic area. Other block grants would be awarded on a competitive basis and include such things as innovation.
Board members expressed support for a hold harmless provision in the formula that would ensure a level of funding certainty for districts during the transition to a new funding formula, but had concerns about the ability to equalize funding across the state through the proposed funding formula. Fulmer explained that the formula seeks to equalize funding on the front end by reducing the state mandated mill levy and collecting that money into a special revenue fund that would be distributed back to districts based on a formula that would send more funds to property tax poor districts.
Fulmer said not all of the detail of the plan had been worked through and that there still were not numbers to put with the plan, although he said he expected numbers might be available before the Board’s next meeting in December. Board members asked Fulmer to come back to the Board when numbers were available so the Board could make a determination as to whether to support the plan or not.
Also in November, Board members discussed the state’s requirements for graduation. The discussion centered around the state’s current requirement of 21 credits to graduate and whether it was sufficient to ensure students were college and career ready upon graduation from high school. Information provided by the Kansas State Department of Education indicated that nearly 98 percent of high schools in the state require more than the minimum 21 credits to graduate and that the average number of credits required to graduate is 25.
While many members of the Board expressed a preference for keeping existing graduation requirements the same and continuing to allow local districts the flexibility to increase those requirements, there was concern about how schools handle high school juniors who do not pass the 11th grade assessments for reading and math. Board members indicated a preference for having some assurance that those students were receiving instruction that would help them meet standards in those assessments prior to graduation. Additional items discussed included the potential for a course on college and career readiness that would assist students in making the transition from high school to college or other post-secondary pursuits, and adopting a high school assessment that was more geared to determining college and career readiness.
Another topic under discussion at the November Board meeting was the state of music education in Kansas. Craig Manteuffel, director of bands in the Hays school district and president of the Kansas Music Educators Association (KMEA), and Mike Quilling, a band and choral director in the Deerfield school district and KMEA vice president, shared information on the impact of recent education budget cuts on music programs in Kansas schools. A survey by the Kansas Music Educators Advocacy Committee, in which 190 of the state’s 293 school districts participated, indicates that 185 music education positions had been cut in the past three years. Of those, 124 were cut in the past year and 61 in the year prior. Fifty-five percent of the districts reported a loss of funding for the current fiscal year for vocal and instrumental music programs and up to 33 percent of those districts saw cuts of more than 25 percent from their previous year’s operating budget.
Manteuffel and Quilling said the cuts were resulting in remaining staff taking on additional positions, managing more students per class and requiring some elementary music teachers to split their days between multiple schools, among other options. Board members were quick to point out that all of the fine arts areas were likely seeing similar cuts based on reductions in state aid for schools in recent years. While Board members expressed concern for the cuts, many indicated they thought the programs would continue to struggle as the state’s budget situation was not likely to change substantially in the near future.
In other matters, Board members learned more about the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant the state applied for in October. The grant is intended for states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems for children birth to age 5 with better coordination and assessment mechanisms, clearer learning standards and meaningful workforce development and family engagement initiatives. KSDE served as the lead agency in preparing the grant request, but the final product was a collaborative effort among KSDE, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Social and Rehabilitation Services and the Children’s Cabinet. Governor Brownback signed and submitted the grant.
The state’s grant request focuses on improving early learning and development programs for young children by supporting efforts to:
• Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
• Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
• Ensure that any assessments conform with the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.
Kansas could receive approximately $25 million if its application is approved. The state is expected to learn whether its application has been approved by the end of December.
Board members also received an annual report on virtual schools and programs in the state. Mark Evans, chair of the Virtual Advisory Council, shared with Board members that the number of students in virtual programs had increased by 396 since 2009, while the number of students in virtual schools in Kansas had increased by 2,140 over the same time period. He also shared that the number of students in charter schools had increased by 1,418 since 2009.
Evans reported that there were six new virtual programs in 2011-2012 and two new virtual schools. He said the state was seeing greater growth in virtual programs as opposed to virtual schools and that much of the growth was occurring in the central part of the state.
Evans report also included the progress of students in virtual programs and schools, as well as students in charter schools, on state assessments. While students in all areas had seen improvement since 2008-2009, the greatest improvement occurred among students in virtual programs. There, students performing at meets standards or above on state reading assessments had increased by nearly 33 percentage points since 2008-2009, reaching 92.5 percent in 2010-2011. The same students improved the performance at meets standards or above by almost 12 percentage points in math.
Representatives from the state’s five 2011 Blue Ribbon Schools made presentations to the Board in November, detailing the programs and policies they believe helped their school achieve Blue Ribbon status. Those presenting were Dave Tappan, principal of Louisburg High School, USD 416 Louisburg; Shawna Evans, principal of MacArthur Elementary School, USD 480 Liberal; Cindy Sanders, principal of Oswego High School, USD 504 Oswego; Dustin Mortensen, principal of Sunflower Elementary School, USD 231 Gardner-Edgerton; and Randy Roberts, principal of Union Valley Elementary School, USD 313 Buhler.
In addition to their regular meeting, Board members also conducted a work session on the state’s ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) waiver application. The State Department of Education is working to complete a waiver request by the end of January 2012, for submission to the U.S. Department of Education in February 2012.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for December 13 and 14 in Topeka.