Archives for category: Kansas

The Kansas Supreme Court threw out the legislature’s latest school funding plan and told the legislature to draft a new, equitable one by June 30. If the legislature fails to enact such a plan, the Court will close the schools.


Governor Sam Brownback has very little wiggle room because of the tax cuts enacted when he was elected. He is threatening to cut higher education and Medicaid to direct more funding to K-12 schools.



“The ruling was the latest volley in a long battle over public education in Kansas. A lawsuit from a coalition of school districts led the Kansas Supreme Court to order the Legislature in 2014 to increase funding to poorer districts.


“The court and the Legislature have been at odds ever since. In February, the court said that a solution proposed by lawmakers, to use block grants to allocate funds, had failed to address inequities in schools. In response, the Legislature passed a bill that it said gave poorer districts a fair share of funding. Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, signed the measure in April.


“In a 47-page ruling, the court rejected that bill, saying the Legislature’s formula “creates intolerable, and simply unfair, wealth-based disparities among the districts.”


“This case requires us to determine whether the state has met its burden to show that recent legislation brings the state’s K-12 public school funding system into compliance with Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” the ruling said. “We hold it has not.”


“The Legislature is expected to meet Wednesday before it officially adjourns for the session.
Ray Merrick, the House speaker, said in a statement, “The court has yet again demonstrated it is the most political body in the state of Kansas.”


“Dumping the ruling at 5 p.m. the day before a long weekend and holding children hostage,” Mr. Merrick said. “This despite the fact that the Legislature acted in good faith to equalize the record amounts of money going to schools.”


“Satisfying the court could mean spending tens of millions more on public schools, a measure that Mr. Brownback said could be achieved by making more cuts to higher education and Medicaid.”





Mercedes Schneider tells the wonderful, wacky, mad story of the backhoe that cut through a fiber optic cable and canceled testing in the state of Alaska.

John Richard Schrock is a professor at Emporia State University in Kansas, where he teaches science and prepares science teachers.





No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has not gone away!

The testing mandate remains because Kansas and 42 other states incorporated most of NCLB into their state education standards. As states convert from their various waiver agreements to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the teach-to-the-test mindset remains in full force.

Yes, there will no longer be the impossible “100 percent proficient-by-2014″ requirement. But the damage from NCLB testing continues, and parents of school children have the power to stop it.
In Kansas, we have seen permanent losses of art and music teachers as well as teachers of other untested subjects. Our curriculum will continue to narrow as long as state assessments in a few subjects continue to rank, sort and impose consequences. This narrowed curriculum shortchanges our students.

In some Kansas schools, state assessment scores are being misused to evaluate students with learning disorders. This is educational malpractice because these state assessments are not designed to diagnose learning disorders.

And despite cheerleading from above to promote “soft skills,” teachers must continue to “drill-and-kill” student learning excitement as long as external tests are used to standardize teaching.

The way to stop this teach-to-the-test oppression, narrowing of the curriculum, and misuse of the one-size-fits-all testing rests in the hands of Kansas citizens: parents have the full right to opt their child out of the state tests. Period.
Across the United States, the Opt-Out movement has been spreading. New York, Colorado, Connecticut and Rhode Island have seen major increases in parents who refuse to allow their children to participate in this testing. Kansas parents have a full right to pull their students from the state assessments as well.
The new federal ESSA contains the requirement that states test at least 95 percent of their students for purposes of accountability and mathematical significance. But there is no authority for Kansas schools to compel students to take this test. Nor should there be any hint of coercion or threat of retaliation.

Schools naturally want as many students to take the assessments as possible. They want students to take the computerized test seriously and not just strike random answers—so-called “happy clickers.” Toward this end, schools have held cheerleading sessions and thrown parties—a sad lesson for our students in institutional coercion.

Unfortunately, in past years I have received reports of schools posting scores in public to shame low scoring students, a highly unethical practice if not a violation of FERPA. Another school threw a party just for students who passed the proficiency level; but any student whose parent opted-them-out had to sit in the non–party room with the failed students! Such practices deserve condemnation.

According to the January 20 Education Week, last year the U.S.D.E. had to send letters to 13 states with test-participation rates below 95 percent at either the district or state level. In New York, one-fifth of the students did not take the English Language Arts test last year. This year the Colorado opt-out movement is aiming to triple opt-outs to 300,000. In Colorado, it is the Democrats for Education Reform that is defending testing and opposing this opt-out. But in other states, the opt-out movement is non-partisan. [Diane’s comment”Democrats for Education Reform” represents hedge fund managers, not the Democratic party].
Despite the renaming of NCLB, this over-testing continues. It is expected that more states will see more opt-outs and that more will drop below the federal 95 percent test participation rate. Only parents have the power to bring this one-size-fits-none testing to a halt.

—To restore non-tested subjects to the curriculum,

—To prevent misuse of the assessment for taking students off of IEPs,

—To stop the continued deadening push to teach-to-the-test,

Kansas parents should seriously consider opting their child out of the state assessment this year.

––For the sake of their child. And for the sake of all Kansas schoolchildren.

The state board of education in Kansas voted to drop teacher certification requirements for six districts, including two of the state’s largest.

Kansas is preparing for the 19th century, when teachers needed no professional preparation.

“Cynthia Lane, superintendent of Kansas City USD 500, one of the affected districts, called the compromise “a reasonable outcome.”

“The bottom line,” Lane said, “is we want every possible tool in order to put the right staff in front of our kids.”

Who dreamed up this scheme to lower standards? ALEC.

“Earlier in the day, more than a dozen educators and parents gave impassioned statements to the board in hopes of persuading the 10-member body not to exempt the districts from licensure regulations.

“James Neff, a chemistry teacher from Manhattan USD 383, said Kansas’ current rules, which stipulate that teachers need formal, academic training in pedagogy, not just subject matter, are critical to the “integrity” of the profession.

“A subject matter specialist is just a subject matter specialist,” Neff said, “but a teacher is something different.”

“The measure will waive the state’s licensure regulations for a group of districts called the Coalition of Innovative Districts, a program that the Legislature established in 2013 based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council….,

“Critics who spoke earlier Tuesday against dropping the requirements included education professors, Kansas Parent Teacher Association president Denise Sultz and Topeka USD 501’s Marie Carter, who recruits teachers for the district.

“They warned of the difficulties that untrained teachers can face managing large class sizes, understanding pedagogy and the learning process, and serving students with a variety of skill levels, including those with learning disabilities or behavioral issues.

“No members of the public spoke in favor of the waiver Tuesday.”

Rebecca Klein, education editor of Huffington Post, reports that Kansas faces a serious teacher shortage. She knows why. Under its retrograde political leaders, Kansas underfunds its schools, pays low teacher salaries, and eliminated teacher tenure (due process rights).

These are the bitter fruits of what is deceptively called “reform.”

More evidence that the so-called “reform movement” is a hoax that hurts American education and kids.

How did the American people fall for the Bush-Obama-Duncan-Walker-Brownback-Snyder-Scott-Kasich, etc. line that attacking and demoralizing teachers was “reform?”

Emily Richmond at The Atlantic reports on the exodus of teachers from Kansas.

“Frustrated and stymied by massive budget cuts that have trimmed salaries and classroom funding, Kansas teachers are “fleeing across the border” to neighboring states that offer better benefits and a friendlier climate for public education, NPR’s Sam Zeff reported.

To be sure, this is a tough time for the Sunflower State, where funding shortfalls forced a half-dozen districts to shorten their academic calendars, and teacher jobs are being advertised on billboards. But it’s hardly an outlier. Las Vegas, home to the nation’s fifth-largest school district, is undergoing a particularly brutal struggle to recruit, and keep, enough new teachers for the upcoming academic year. (After all, how many superintendents have been reduced to zipline stunts to draw attention to a hiring crisis, as was the case with the Las Vegas district’s Pat Skorkowsky?) And it doesn’t take much to find stories of teacher shortages in Arizona and Indiana, among many others….

“One solution: Residency programs that provide new teachers with intensive mentoring, coaching, and support for their first few years in the profession are gaining in popularity. But an underlying issue is that fewer people are opting to become teachers, and when they do, about half will quit within five years. Indeed, in last year’s Gallup poll, the percentage of people who said they didn’t want their children to become teachers jumped to 43 percent from 33 percent a decade earlier.”

The so-called reform movement has succeeded in making teaching an undesirable profession. Not only are teachers quitting, unable to live on meager salaries, but the number of people who want to be teachers has sharply declined. This fits the agenda of the reformers, who want to replace teachers with computers, encourage the retirement of costly experienced teachers, and turn teaching into a low-wage, high-turnover job rather than a profession.

Responding to the extremist group Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, the Kansas state legislature enacted legislation that strips teachers of due process and expands “school choice” (aka privatization of public schools and their funding). In the future, teachers may be fired without a hearing.

The legislature used the pretext of a court ruling to equalize funding to enact proposals that align with the far-right ALEC organization.

Destroying due process is called “reform.” Teachers may be unjustly accused and fired without a hearing. They may be fired because they taught both sides of a controversial issue or expressed a controversial view. They may be fired because the principal doesn’t like the way they look or doesn’t like their race or religion. No reason is needed because there will be no hearing.

Without any right to a fair hearing, you can be sure that the word “evolution” will never be heard in many districts, nor any reference to global warming. Nor will many classics of American literature be taught. Books like “Huckleberry Finn,” “Invisible Man,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” are risky and controversial. Now is exactly when the children of Kansas and the U.S. should be reading “1984” and “Brave New World.”

“The bill is potentially a big victory for conservative Republicans because it gives them some educational reforms they have sought while putting more money into schools.

The reforms would:

• Foster school choice by allowing corporations to make tax-deductible contributions to scholarship funds so children with special needs or who come from low-income households could attend private school.

• Make it easier to fire teachers by eliminating their due-process rights.

• Relax teacher licensing when hiring instructors with professional experience in areas including math, science, finance and technical education.

“As the final bill was negotiated, lawmakers jettisoned an idea to block funding for Common Core academic standards.

“They also shed a plan that would have provided property tax relief for parents who home-school their children or send them to private schools. Lawmakers questioned whether the property tax break was constitutional and whether they knew its real cost.

“Urged on by conservative special interests such as Americans for Prosperity, Republican leaders pressed hard to eliminate due process rights for teachers.

“They say the proposal is intended to ensure that school administrators are free from regulations that would keep them from firing substandard teachers.

“If you talk to administrators, they want this,” said Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican. “They want really good teachers to thrive. They don’t want to be in a position to protect those teachers who are under-performing.”

“State law had required administrators to document conduct and provide a hearing for teachers they want to fire after three years on the job.

“The bill means terminated teachers would no longer be able to request a hearing.”

Read more here:

Sometimes it seems that the purpose of the false reform movement is to keep us diverted from the center ring, where America’s public schools are being starved of the resources they need while expected to do more and produce ever higher test scores.

While we battle rearguard actions to stop the attack on teachers and the escalating demands for more testing, elected officials defend privatization and implement tax caps (see Cuomo, Andrew, exhibit A).

Yet not all common sense has departed our fair land! In Kansas, the state’s high court ruled that the state must spend more on its schools.

“TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas must spend more money on its public schools, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday in a decision that could jeopardize Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s desire to make his state a tax-cutting template for the nation.

“The high court’s ruling, which found that Kansas’ school funding isn’t constitutional, came in a 2010 lawsuit filed by parents and school districts. Instead of balking, Brownback and other leaders of the state’s GOP-dominated government said they were pleased because the decision stopped short of telling legislators exactly how much the state must spend on its schools overall, leaving that responsibility to a lower court.

“It was not an unreasonable decision,” Senate President Susan Wagle said. Republican leaders also believe the court left the Legislature substantial leeway in providing adequate aid to poor school districts and pledged to get it done before the session adjourns in late April or early May.

“Education advocates and attorneys for the parents and school districts saw the decision as a rebuke to the GOP-led state and in line with past court decisions that strongly and specifically laid out how much needed to be allocated to provide adequate education for every child.

“This decision is an important one in sending a message to states across the nation that need to reform their financing systems to get their house in order,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Newark, N.J.-based Education Law Center, which filed a brief in the Kansas case.”

We are a country that likes flowery rhetoric about education and children, yet is unwilling to take care of our children, nearly a quarter of whom live in poverty and unwilling to fund our schools equitably so that all public schools have the resources they need.

In an important opinion piece in the New York Times, David Sciarra and Wade Henderson explain how a court decision in Kansas might have national reverberations.

In 2009, Kansas, like many other states, slashed school funding while approving tax breaks that benefited mostly upper-income Kansans. Spending on education dropped far below 2008 levels, leading to larger classes, layoffs of teachers and other staff, and cuts to essential services. At the same time, the legislature enacted higher standards. This is a typical “reform” pattern: higher standards accompanied by funding cuts.

Parents filed a lawsuit against the cuts and won last year. But Governor Samuel Brownback is appealing the decision, and the outcome of the court case could affect similar situations in other states.

Sciarra and Henderson write:

KANSAS, like every state, explicitly guarantees a free public education in its Constitution, affirming America’s founding belief that only an educated citizenry can preserve democracy and safeguard individual liberty and freedom.

And yet in recent years Kansas has become the epicenter of a new battle over the states’ obligation to adequately fund public education. Even though the state Constitution requires that it make “suitable provision” for financing public education, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-led Legislature have made draconian cuts in school spending, leading to a lawsuit that now sits before the state Supreme Court.

The outcome of that decision could resonate nationwide. Forty-five states have had lawsuits challenging the failure of governors and legislators to provide essential resources for a constitutional education. Litigation is pending against 11 states that allegedly provide inadequate and unfair school funding, including New York, Florida, Texas and California.

Many of these lawsuits successfully forced elected officials to increase school funding overall and to deliver more resources to poor students and those with special needs. If the Kansas Supreme Court rules otherwise, students in those states may begin to see the tide of education cuts return.

If the Court sides with the parents, legislators are threatening to amend the state constitution to remove the term “suitable,” so that there are no constraints on their ability to cut the budget for education.

And that is how Kansas plans to reform its schools.