Thursday, May 30, 2013

Common Core Questions and Answers

Controversy over the Common Core academic standards and related issues continues at the State Legislature.  KASB opposes efforts to block funding for implementation of the Common Core at the State Board of Education or school district level.  Key points: 
  • School districts are already implementing the new standards.  We have heard no concerns about the quality of the actual standards.
  • KASB supports implementation of higher state standards based on college and career-readiness and new assessments aligned with the Common Core. 
  • Blocking the Common Core would impede those goals.
School leaders should share their concerns with their local legislators.  Action is possible until the final adjournment of the session.  Here are 10 key questions on the Common Core controversy.

  1. What will happen if the Legislature attempts to block the Common Core standards?

Frankly, no one knows – and that’s a major reason for KASB’s opposition.  It depends on the specific wording of the legislation, whether it is only tied to funding or any use of standards, and how the language is interpreted by the State Board of Education, local school boards, or the courts.  Such legislation could raise constitutional issues about the powers of the State Board.  However, at a minimum, it could require the State Board to start over on adopting replacements for 10-year-old reading and math standards, threaten the state’s No Child Left Behind wavier, delay selection of new state assessments, and force local districts to spend time and money retraining teachers and purchasing new textbooks and materials based on another set of standards.

  1. Does implementation of the Common Core mean the federal government will be dictating what is taught in Kansas schools, even if opposed by state and local school boards?

No.  Under state law, local curriculum will continue to be determined by local school boards.  The State Board adopted a modified version of the Common Core reading and math standards in 2010 under its constitutional authority for “general supervision” of the public schools.  State law passed by the Legislature reads: K.S.A. 72-6439 (b) “The state board shall establish curriculum standards which reflect high academic standards for the core academic areas of mathematics, science, reading, writing and social studies. The curriculum standards shall be reviewed at least every seven years. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed in any manner so as to impinge upon any district’s authority to determine its own curriculum.”  (Emphasis added.)

  1. Was the Legislature and public by-passed in adopting the Common Core standards?
The reading and math standards based on the Common Core were adopted in 2010 in the same manner as every other set of standards since at least 1992, when the current law was passed.  The process involves committees of educators to write and review standards, opportunity for public input and, increasingly, use of social media.  If the Common Core standards are blocked or repealed, the same process would presumably be used for the next standards, unless the Legislature changes the law or the State Board changes its process.

  1. What happens if local schools object to something in the Common Core or other standards adopted by the State Board, or want to teach something else?

The State Board is directed by state law to “ensure compatibility between the statewide assessments and the curriculum standards” required by that same law.  Schools are not required to teach to those standards.  If a school does not teach items included on state assessments, its students may not score as well on that test.  However, the standards do not specify how reading, math and other concepts should be taught, or what textbooks or other materials should be used.  Local districts are free to add other curricular topics.

  1. Does the Common Core increase federal control over K-12 education through funding?

Kansas is already required to follow many federal requirements as a condition for federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act (or Elementary and Secondary Education Act), the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and school nutrition programs.  Federal funding provides about 8 percent of total school spending in Kansas.  Adopting the Common Core was part of the Kansas waiver from NCLB/ESEA, which actually removes some federal requirements.  However, neither the federal waiver nor any other federal law actually requires states to adopt the Common Core standards.  The NCLB/ESEA waiver does require states to adopt college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and mathematics that are either (1) common to a significant number of states, or (2) have been approved and certified by a state network of institutions of higher education.  The Common Core is one way to qualify for the waiver, but not the only way.  However, Kansas would have to go through the entire process of standards development all over again to re-qualify for the waiver.

  1. Who developed and promoted the Common Core standards?

The primary originators of the Common Core were the National Governors Association, the bi-partisan organization representing the elected governors of the states; and the Council of Chief State School Officers, composed of state officials including the Kansas Commissioner of Education, who are either elected, appointed by Governors or appointed by boards that are elected or appointed by Governors or other elected officials.  The Obama administration has promoted the Common Core by making adoption of the standards a factor in the Race to the Top grant competition and one qualifying option for the NCLB/ESEA waiver, and by funding development of new assessments that match the Common Core through two consortia of states.  Kansas is participating in the Smarter Balanced consortium.  Kansas is not participating in the Race to the Top program.

  1. What will it cost to implement the Common Core in Kansas?

A Kansas Legislative Post Audit Division report noted that districts are continually purchasing new materials and providing teacher training, so these costs associated with implementing the Common Core are not necessarily additional or new costs.  They went on to estimate it could cost school districts between $32 and $60 million over five years, mostly for new instructional materials such as textbooks and teacher training.  If the State Board is required to start over on adopting a different set of standards, the same kinds of costs would be required.
The KLPA study indicated the State Department of Education may actually save money by implementing the Common Core if its uses new assessments developed by the one of the national consortia.  However, the State Board of Education has not yet selected the testing program that will be used, so it is impossible to accurately predict what the cost will be.  KLPA also found that, unlike some states, Kansas should not incur additional technology costs for the new assessments because current state tests are already given on-line.

  1. Who supports the Common Core standards and why?

In addition to the Obama administration and most governors and state school officers – including many Republicans, conservatives and self-identified supporters of educational “reform” – 45 states have adopted the standards, although efforts to reconsider are underway in some states.  A number of business leaders, the military, and conservative policy analysts have also adopted support for the standards.
Reasons include: (1) Unlike current Kansas standards, the Common Core is designed to identify what a student needs to be successful for continuing postsecondary education and employment, and what students should master as they progress grade-by-grade through the system toward that goal.  (2) A common set of standards will allow students to move among the various states with similar expectations in schools.  (3) The standards reflect a more uniform set of expectations for college-readiness.  (4) The standards more closely match those of higher performing nations that are economic competitors of the United States.  (5) A common set of standards will allow easier development of open-source instructional materials, reducing educational costs.
Kansas has been implementing the new standards for two years.  KASB has not received any criticism or concerns from local school leaders about the actual content of the standards, although there are concerns about what testing system will be selected and how it will be used.

  1. Who opposes the Common Core standards and why?

Just as support for Common Core comes from both the “left” and “right,” so does the opposition.  Critics generally fall into two camps, although there is considerable overlap.
The first group argues: (1) A common set of standards promoted by the federal government will lead to further federal intrusion into education policy, diminishing the authority of parents, local school boards and states.  (2) The cost of the standards and related assessments is too high.  (3) The standards are not tested and may not really be an improvement. (4) The new system will collect and share too much information about individual students.  (5) Federal funding has created conflicts-of-interest, if not actual corruption, in the testing industry.
The second group of critics argues: (1) There is no real evidence that the standards and testing movement as it has developed over 20 years has improved education.  (2) The Common Core will perpetuate “teaching to the test” at the expense of real teaching.  (3) The overemphasis on assessments will be used to make inappropriate judgments about teachers and students.  (4) The more rigorous and unfamiliar standards and tests will causes more students, teachers and schools to be unfairly labeled as “failing.”  (5) The system will force instruction to be focused on a narrow range of skills for college-bound students, ignoring the diverse needs and interests of other students.

  1. Is there an alternative to blocking the Common Core?

KASB believes Common Core implementation should be allowed to proceed, but suggests closer oversight by the Legislature and cooperation with the State Board.  Kansas can respond to problems in the Common Core system when and if they actually arise.  No one can know for sure the impact of the Common Core, but that’s true of any system.  There are multiple independent indicators (National Assessment of Education Progress, graduation rates, college readiness tests and completion rates) that can be used to measure the impact of the Common Core and allow corrections moving forward.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Kansas Tax Plans: What They Means for School Funding

Last Thursday, the Kansas Senate passed a new tax plan in HB 2085 on a vote of 24-14.  Friday morning, the House overwhelmingly rejected that plan, with only five voting in favor and 109 voting against.  Friday afternoon, conference committee negotiators for the first time reached an agreement that Republican tax leaders on both sides would sign. This bill that could be sent to the House for a vote Tuesday.  If the conference committee report passes the House, the Senate would vote next.  A conference committee agreement cannot be amended by either chamber - it can only be passed or rejected (usually by sending it back to conference committee).

Given the difficulty the Legislature has had in reaching even tentative agreements on tax policy, it might be surprising that the new agreement proposed by the House, put in SB 84, would raise $856.8 million over the next five years - which is $40 million MORE than the Senate plan the House defeated Friday.  One reason it is so difficult to reach agreement is that both Democrats and some conservative Republicans consider any of these proposals a tax increase.  That's true - when comparing it current law.  But state tax policy has already shifted significantly.

Impact of Tax Policy: Current and Proposed

State general fund revenues - which include most of the income and state sales taxes paid in Kansas - totaled $6.4 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30 last year, Fiscal Year 2012.  Due to the income tax rate cuts passed last session and the scheduled expiration of the three-year sales tax passed in 2010, revenues are projected to drop to $6.2 billion this year (FY 2013) and fall to $5.45 next year - a reduction in state taxes of approximately $1 billion in FY 2014 compared to FY 2012.

What if the tax cuts had not passed?  For simplicity, let's assume the sales tax did not expire and continued to go into the state general fund, and tax revenues would grow at the same rate as projected for Kansas personal income by the state's consensus revenue estimating process: 3 percent in 2013 and 4 percent in 2014, and then continue to grow at 4 percent per year through 2018.  With no change in tax rates, state general fund revenues would likely increase to over $8 billion, a $1.5 billion increase over 2012.

However, under current law the Kansas Legislative Research Department estimates SGF revenues will not even equal FY 2012 levels until 2018.  All of the tax plans proposed this year by the Governor, passed by either the House or Senate, or proposed in conference committee, essentially "take back" some of the one billion dollars in tax cuts over the next few years, but also enact future tax cuts over the next five years. The conference committee agreement on SB 84 would keep half of the 0.6 percent sales tax due to expire this summer (dropping from 6.3 percent to 6.0 percent, rather than 5.7 percent), reduce the value of itemized and standard state income tax deductions, and adopt future income tax rate cuts through 2018.  The net effect is expected to not only generate almost exactly the same SGF revenue in FY 2018 as current law, but also raise more revenue between 2014 to 2017 to avoid deeper reductions in state spending.

As the chart above shows, even with the "tax increase" in SB 84, state tax revenues will be far below what they would have been under previous rates.

Even with the additional revenue, the budget estimates prepared by the Legislature Research Department project the SGF will spend more than it takes in every year from 2014 to 2018, dropping the ending balance from 10 percent this year to 1.5 percent in 2018.  In fact, since the SGF is projected to spend more in 2018 than it brings in, the state would likely face a significant deficit in 2019. However, Legislators have limited their projections to the next five years.

All of these budget assumptions are based on the budgets for 2014 and 2015 adopted by conference committee last week, but not approved by either the House or Senate.  For 2016 through 2018, the estimates assume the state will add funding for human service caseloads, school finance and KPERS retirement contributions based on historical experience.

Finally, all of these assumptions are based on essentially "average" growth in the economy.  If the state economy grows faster than normal, which supporters of the income tax cuts expect, revenues will be higher.  If the state or national economy shows or falls into another recession, revenues will be lower.

What does this mean for school finance?

The conference committee budget for K-12 education is basically the same as proposed by Governor Brownback: funding to keep the base budget per pupil level at $3,838 in FY 2013 and 14, with a $14 increase in FY 2015 due to more revenue from the statewide 20 mill levy.  It contains no change in funding for local option budget and special education state aid.  Additional funding is provided for KPERS contributions and capital improvement (bond and interest aid).  The Legislative Research Department budget assumptions project general state aid will increase $52.2 million in FY 2016, $53.2 million in FY 2017 and $54.3 million in FY 2018.

Those assumptions mean school district general fund budgets, including special education, would increase an average of just 1.6 percent per year over the next five years (2014-2018).  Assuming Local Option Budgets usage (as a percent of total general fund) increases 0.1 per year, total general fund, special education and LOB operating budgets would increase 1.7 percent per year. (LOB use is unlikely to increase much because so many districts are at or near the statutory maximum unless they hold an election.  Without an increase in LOB state aid, increased LOB use will result in higher property taxes for all districts that receive state aid.)

A five-year average increase of 1.7 percent per year is more than the previous five-year average of 0.6 percent during the Great Recession and recovery.  But is less than half or one-third of every other five year period going back to 1989. With enrollment growth of approximately 1 percent per year over this period, the per pupil increase will be less than 1 percent annually.  This does not take into account inflation, which typically rises around 2 percent per year.

As this chart shows, state and local funding for school district operating budgets increased more than Kansas personal income from 1988-93, less from 1994-98, and about the same from 1993-03.  However, since 2004, operating budgets have been increasing less than KPI.  This trend will continue over the next five years based on the budget and tax assumptions currently under consideration. (This does not include funding for KPERS contributions, capital spending on construction and equipment, debt payments, federal aid and school meals.  When these areas are included, total school spending has increased at about the same rate as personal income since 1990.  However, most of these funds cannot be spent for "regular" classroom instruction and current educational operations.)

Shrinking Kansas Government

Whatever happens to the tax policy this session, the structure of Kansas government funding has already been changed when measured against Kansas personal income, which represents both the size of the state economy and ability to pay taxes.

If KPI increases by 4 percent per year over the next five years - modest by historical standards - both state general fund revenues and expenditures will at their lowest point as a percentage of KPI since at least 1975.  In other words, Kansas state government will be taxing and spending the lowest share of state income in over 40 years.  The State General Fund peaked at around 6 percent of KPI in the late 1990's - largely because the state assumed a larger role in school finance to reduce property taxes.  State aid increased from about 55 percent of school operating budgets in the 1970s and 1980s to over 80 percent in 1999, and has remained at that level.

Because school districts now rely so heavily on state aid, tax reductions that reduce or limit state aid have a major impact on school budgets.  This year, school operating budgets are estimated to equal 3.2 percent of Kansas Personal Income - also the lowest level since 1975.  As calculated above under the proposed tax and budget plans, this percentage would drop to 2.9% by 2018.

In other words, the next five years of school funding is not expected to be as bad as the previous five, but still far below "normal" in recent decades.  With average growth below the rate of inflation and the rest of the state economy, school districts will continue to face budget cuts or re-allocation as they balance rising costs with higher expectations.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Senate Passes New Tax Plan

The Senate voted  24-15 Thursday night for a new tax plan that offset part of the income tax reductions approved this year, but also provides future income tax rate cuts through 2018.  Assuming state revenues grow at projected levels, the plan would slowly drop the state general fund ending balance from 10 percent this year to less than 1.0 percent in 2018.

The bill would impose a 6.25 percent sales tax rate beginning July 1, rather than dropping to 5.7 percent under current law, but would drop the sales tax on food to 4.9%.  It also phases out most income tax deductions. The original plan supported by the Senate and Governor kept the tax rate at 6.3 percent.  House negotiators have proposed 6 percent, but that has not actually passed the House.

Revenue projected under the bill would fund the budget agreement reached earlier this week for the next two years, Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015, which essentially provides level funding for school district state aid.  The budget projections assume the state will add $52 million to $54 million for school finance in 2016, 2017 and 2018, equal to about a 2.0 percent increase in the base budget per pupil at current enrollment levels.

The plan was placed in a House bill, HB 2084, which means the House could vote to concur in the Senate version, possibly today.  Or, the House could vote to "non-concur" and the send the bill to conference committee, where negotiations between the House and Senate leadership have stalled. Also, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, could rule the bill "materially altered," and not subject to a vote to concur.

If the House approves the Senate plan - a major question - the final step could be a voting on the state budget, which has been placed in SB 171 and will be considered first by the House.  A background issue that continues to simmer is an attempt to block further implementation of the Common Core academic standards and Next Generation Science Standards.  A key factor may be the number of Legislators willing to link their vote on the budget based on action for or against the standards.

The House is to convene at 9:30 a.m. and the Senate 10:30 a.m.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Budget, Taxes and Standards Not Resolved on 90th Day

The three big issues for K-12 education - budget, taxes and Common Core standards - remain unsolved as the Legislature begins the 90th day of the 2013 session.

House and Senate negotiators have an agreement on a two-year state budget in SB 171, which will first go to the House for a vote.  It does NOT includes any language dealing with state academic standards and testing.  However, revenue projections indicate the proposed budget would create a deficit in the State General Fund by the end of Fiscal Year 2015 (2014-14 school year) without additional state revenue.  It is unclear whether the House will vote on the budget before or after an agreement on tax policy is reached.

Tax committee negotiators FAILED to reach an agreement, when the House rejected a new offer from the Senate.  The tax conference committee is scheduled to meet at 9:30 this morning.  The committee has both a House and Senate bill in conference, so a compromise bill could be sent first to either chamber for a test vote.  Also, the Senate has moved a tax bill passed earlier by the House to general orders today, meaning the Senate could place a new tax proposal into a House bill and give the House an option to simply concur, by-passing the conference committee process.

Although a proviso concerning the Common Core academic standards was not included in the budget deal, opponents continue their push to prohibit or delay the new standards.  As long as the session continues, there are options.  Although House leaders have pledged not to bring up any bill for debate on general orders during the wrap-up session, 70 House members could vote to bring the bill dealing with the Common Core out of committee.  A new bill could be introduced in either the House or Senate by an exempt committee.  An attempt could be made amend language into another bill on general orders, if any are available that could be properly amended.

These would require the cooperation of the Republican majority leadership.  As the Legislature struggles to finish the session, it may come down to whether action on the Common Core helps or hurts passage of the budget or a tax bill.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Common Core Provision Excluded from Budget

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Tuesday afternoon on a budget that does NOT include a controversial provision blocking state funding for the Common Core academic standards and testing.  KASB opposed that provision. Tthe House will vote first on the bill, which was amended into SB 171. Rejection would send the budget back to conference committee. Also Tuesday, the Senate made a new offer a tax plan.

The conference committee accepted a budget offer from the House after Senate Ways and Means Chair Ty Masterson, R-Andover, asked for a proposal House leaders believe has the best chance to pass.  The House offer did not include the Common Core proviso put forward by the Senate last Thursday.  House Appropriations Chair Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, told Senators legislative staff believed the proviso would be unconstitutional if placed in the budget.

The Kansas State Board of Education has adopted the Common Core standards, along with 44 other states, and the standards are included in the No Child Left Behind Waiver the state received last summer from the federal government.  Many schools districts have been training teachers and implementing instructional materials to match the new standards.  However, opposition to the Common Core has intensified in Kansas and nationally in recent months.  A bill prohibiting further implementation of the standards was narrowly defeated in the House Education Committee during the regular session.  KASB issued a statement in support of the standards at last week's State Board meeting, and a sent a joint letter with the Kansas National Education Association and the United School Administrators regarding the proviso on Friday.  Further background information and links to materials are available in my blog posts from Monday and Tuesday.

Although the budget is expected to be ready for consideration this afternoon, some media reports say it is unlikely to come up for a vote until negotiators also reach agreement on a tax plan.  The Senate yesterday responded to the House offer made last week to drop the state sales tax rate from 6.3 percent to 6.0 percent on June 30, rather than 5.7 percent under current law.  The new Senate proposal drops the rate to 6.25 percent.  The tax conference committee is scheduled to meet at 9:30 this morning for a formal House response.

Like other proposals under consideration, the latest Senate tax plan attempts to balance the following: (1) assumption of 4 percent annual growth in future state revenues; (2) further income tax rate cuts through 2018 which reduce state revenue; (3) funding a budget plan that that does not make major cuts in core state services like education, medical expenses and public safety; and (4) does not result in a budget deficit through 2018.

Given the magnitude of income tax rate cuts passed last year and supported by the Senate and Governor Brownback, the major options to meet those goals are: (1) keeping all or part of the 0.6 percent sales tax in place rather than allowing it to expire on scheduled, (2) "broadening" the income tax base by reducing income tax deductions, or (3) adopting less aggressive future rate cuts.

The Senate offer does all of those things, and results in a barely positive 0.6% ending balance in FY 2018.  Here is a description of the latest Senate plan from the Kansas Economic Progress Council.  A new projection of how the Senate tax plan matches the conference committee budget has not yet been released.

The House proposal adopted by the budget conference committee includes an alternative to the Governor's Read to Succeed initiative, which originally included $6 million in each of the next two years for reading program grants.  Under the conference committee budget, if the Governor's plan does not pass, the Children's Cabinet would be directed to spend $6 million each year to implement a pilot program in reading education called Lexia Reading in FY 2014 and 2015. House Chairman Rhoades said the money is expected to allow the program to be expanded from less than 100 schools currently to 250 schools in FY 2014 and all schools in FY 2015.

Monday, May 20, 2013

No Monday Action on Budget, Common Core; School Leaders Urged to Take Action

It was day of little action Monday at the Statehouse, but Legislators report receiving a stream of communications both for and against the Common Core academic standards.  Despite an usual move by the Senate to shift negotiations to another bill, no meetings on the state budget were held, and no action was taken on the proposal to block state funding for further work on either the Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards, or any assessments "affiliated" with those standards.

The proposal was offered by Senators as a "proviso" to the state budget bill in conference committee last Thursday night.  The House did not respond, and a meeting Friday morning was cancelled.  No further meetings of the budget conference have been scheduled.

The State Board of Education, which adopted the Common Core standards several years ago and incorporated them into the state No Child Left Behind waiver, is strongly opposed to the proviso.  At least four members of the board were meeting with Legislators throughout the day Monday.

School leaders are strong encouraged to quickly communicate with both House and Senate members regarding your district's activitites to implement the Common Core standards, your views on the value of those standards, and the impact of prohibiting further implimentation of those standards.

It would be particularly helpful to encourage site councils, parents, business or community members to share concerns.

For further background on this issue, see Monday's blog posting.

Senators made an unsuccessful bid to move the budget deadlock Monday afternoon.  Last Friday, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, removed the chair, vice chair and ranking minority member of the Senate Education Committee from the conference committee on SB 171, and replaced them with the chair, vice chair and ranking miinority on the Senate Ways and Means Committee - the three members responsible for negotating the budget.  SB 171 is the bill previously amended by education conference committee negotiators to require a mandatory 10 percent local option budget in order to inflate the base budget per pupil as a defense in the school finance lawsuit.  The Senate rejected that proposal on the last night of the regular session in April, sending the bill back to conference.

After a short Senate session Monday at 2:30 p.m., Ways and Means Chair Ty Masterson, R-Andover, called a conference committee on that bill at 3 p.m., generating a roomful of education and other lobbyists and budget staffers.  However, the House has not switched its conferees from the Education Budget committee to the Appropriations Committee - and may not intend to.  In any case, no one from the House showed up to confer on the bill.

Senator Masterson told the audience his intention was propose that the last House offer made on the budget be amended into SB 171. If the House conferees agreed, that would require the House to vote first on the budget proposal.  The idea is to test the actual support for positions proposed by House negotiators.  (Under joint rules, the "house of origin" votes last on a conference committee report, so "Senate Bill" 171 would go the House first.  The budget billl which has been under negotiation since the regular session is a House bill, so the Senate would vote first on it.)  

It is unclear whether the Senate will continue to pursue this strategy or return to the previous negotiations - and whether the House would even meet on SB 171.  (The committee of the "house of origin" on a bill also gets to chair - and therefore call meetings of - a conference committee.)  Until negotiations resume, the proposed budget proviso on Common Core will not be resolved, either.  There has also been no word on another meeting of the tax conference committe, which has not met since the House offered keep half of the 0.6 percent special sales tax in place after June 30, instead of the full amount sought by the Senate and Governor Brownback.

New Legislative week: taxes, budget and Common Core

The Kansas House and Senate reconvene this afternoon after negotiations stalled last week on both a compromise tax plan and the state budget.  A new issue emerged in budget negotiations Thursday evening when Senate Ways and Means Committee leaders proposed a "proviso" that would prohibit either the state or school districts from spending any state money to "implement" that Common Core academic standards.

The House members of the budget conference committee did not respond to the proposal before scheduled committee meetings were cancelled Friday morning.  No further meetings have been announced.  In addition, the Senate has not yet formally responded to a House offer made last week that would keep half of the 0.6 cent sales tax due to expire on June 30 in place, and accept deeper income tax rate cuts in phased in through 2018.  The Senate has expressed concerns about the long-term impact of that plan on the state budget.

On Friday, KASB issued a joint letter with United School Administrators of Kansas and the Kansas National Education Association opposing the Common Core proviso.  The State Board of Education last week issued a fact sheet on the Common Core.  Also Friday, KASB presented a special webinar explaining the controversy over the Common Core, questions and concerns about the proposed proviso, and other background information.  You can access those materials here.

Please send me questions, comments and concerns about the common core controversy by commenting on this post or e-mailing

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Four Reasons to Celebrate High School Graduation in Kansas

As many high schools across Kansas hold graduation ceremonies this week, here are some important facts to celebrate about our school system.

1. High school completion is at an all-time high in Kansas and the U.S.

The percent of adults who have completed high school has increased with every census since data collection began in 1940.  High school completion did not reach 50 percent of the population until the 1960's.

Kansas has exceeded the national average by approximately 5 percent each decade and reached nearly 90% in the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report on educational attainment.

Kansas ranked 15th in the nation in 2009 with an 89.7% adult completion rate.  States in the region exceeding Kansas include Minnesota (2nd, 91.5%), Iowa (7th, 90.5%), North Dakota (11th, 90.1%), South Dakota (12, 89.9%), and Nebraska (13th, 89.8%).  Trailing Kansas were Colorado (17th, 89.3%), Missouri (28th, 86.8%), Oklahoma (32nd, 85.6%), and Texas (50th, 79.9%).

2. High school completion has been increasing for all major ethnic groups

Another study looks the percentage of young adults age 18-24 completing high school.  This is different from the adult (over 24) population, because it focuses on individuals finishing high school either "on time" or within a few years of their "graduating class."  Although not broken down by state, this report shows the progress the nation has made to closing achievement gaps among major ethnic groups.

Since 1972, overall high school graduates aged 18-24 increased from just over 80% to nearly 90%.  The completion rate for whites increased at about the same rate, from 85% to 95%.  But completion by African-Americans rose from just over 70% to 85%, and for Hispanics increased from under 60% to 75%. Despite legitimate concerns about the U.S. high school drop-out problem, especially for minorities, high school completion rates have never been higher, and minorities have narrowed the gap with whites.  This information is from "Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2009"  by the National Center on Educations Statistics.

More recent data on high school completion - and movement into college - comes from the Pew Hispanic Research Center, which details significant improvement in high school completion, especially by Hispanics, since 2000.

3. Kansas ranks high nationally in graduation rates

A more narrow focus than high school "completion" is the four-year graduation rate; in other words, what percent of students graduate "on time" within four years of entering high school as a freshman.  The most recent "Diplomas Count"  report, with data on the class of 2009, shows Kansas with a 78.4% four-year graduation rate, 10th highest in the nation.  The 2012 annual  U.S. "Condition of Education" reports Kansas had an 80.2% freshman graduation rate for 2009, 15th highest.  Most recently, the U.S. Department of Education released a report for the class of 2011, which first the first time required all states to use a common methodology.  It reported Kansas had an 83.0% graduation rate, 12th best in the nation. (It's not clear whether the differences are due to different reporting methods or actual improvements between 2009 and 2011.)

For persons aged 18-24 who have completed high school, the U.S. Digest of Education Statistics
for 2011 reported Kansas had an 86.1% completion rate over 2007-2009, 17th in the nation.

4. Kansas gets higher graduation outcomes while spending less per pupil, educating more at-risk students

After averaging the four reports listed above, Kansas ranks 11th in the nation.  The ten states ranking higher are North Dakota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Iowa, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

Given the debate over the link between school funding and achievement, it is worth noting that every state but one spent significantly more per pupil in 2010 than Kansas (Iowa spent about the same).  It's also significant that every state with a higher average completion rate had fewer low-income students (a 10-state average of 34.7% eligible for free or reduced price meals, compared to 45.7% in Kansas). Finally, every state except New Jersey had a lower percentage of non-white students (a 10-state average of 22.9% non-white, compared to 31.2% non-white in Kansas).

As students and their families celebrate high school graduation this year, remember to celebrate the work of the Kansas educators, school board members and other elected officials who helped make these results possible.

Next week, we will look at results for college completion.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

KASB Statement on Common Core to State Board Tuesday May 14

Statement before the Kansas State Board of Education on Common Core Standards

by Tom Krebs, Advocacy Specialist, Kansas Association of School Boards

May 14, 2013

Madam Chair, Members of the Board:

            With growing concerns expressed both in Kansas and nationally about the common core academic standards, we want to share the perspective of local school boards.  KASB’s goal of making Kansas “First in Education,” relates to the common core in two ways.
            First, our member school boards and district leaders want to increase students who leave high school fully prepared for college or other postsecondary training, and with workplace skills.
            Second, our members believe that the No Child Left Behind process has far outlived its usefulness and has become a hindrance to higher achievement.
            Therefore, although KASB did not take a position on adopting the common core standards several years ago, we strongly support provisions of the NCLB waiver granted to Kansas last summer.  The common core, as modified by the State Board, satisfies the wavier requirement for a set of college and career-ready standards as well as state law regarding state curriculum standards.
            As school districts have begun implementing the common core, we have heard no objections from any of our members about quality and academic rigor of these standards; or about intrusion into local control.  We believe the standards will help promote a transition from “basic” proficiency to attainment of higher skills and knowledge required for the workplace and postsecondary education.
            Dropping the common core would require starting over on the waiver, putting Kansas schools back under the old requirements of No Child Left Behind.  It would require additional money and time to develop new college and career-ready standards.  Because new assessments cannot be implemented until new standards are approved; it would delay moving toward more rigorous student assessments.  Many districts have already spent considerable time and money for professional development of teachers and other staff on the common core standards.  Any new set of standards will have implementation costs.  We have no evidence that the common core standards will be more expensive than any other standards adopted pursuant to state law.
            Standards are simply expectations of what students should know and demonstrate.  Common standards will allow Kansans to more clearly evaluate how our students compare to competing states and counties.  Currently, we use the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which is given to just a sample of each state’s students, or the ACT or SAT, which are not used consistently in all 50 states.  None of these tests currently provide a clear set of standards to guide teaching.
            However, nothing in federal law, the waiver, or state law requires local districts to adopt any particular standards or curriculum; or directs what they may or may not teach.  State standards may guide local teaching, but they are primarily important because state assessments are based on them.  If there is an actual future attempt to require or prohibit specific curricula at the local level, KASB would oppose it.
            This does not mean concerns about the common core should be ignored.  We believe the State Board, legislative committees and local school boards can and should carefully monitor the implementation of common core standards and the other changes in the school accountability system, and make corrections if problems arise.
            In June, KASB will conduct a 24 city tour of the state to discuss education policy issues with local school leaders and elected state officials.  We hope you will join that discussion, and look forward to working with you on the next steps in making Kansas first in the nation in educational achievement.

State Budget Could Block Spending on Common Core

A proposal to block the State Board of Education and local school districts from spending any general fund state aid or special revenue funds over the next two years to implement to Common Core academic standards, the Next Generation Science Standards or any assessment affiliated with the Common Core was proposed late Thursday afternoon in the conference committee on the state budget.

The proposal was offered by the Senate conferees and was received without discussion during the 5:30 p.m. round of negotiations.  The committee is expected to meet again Friday morning at 9 a.m. and may continue meeting throughout the day in an effort to the resolve differences between the House and Senate budget plans.  At this point, neither chamber’s budget contains the language in the proposed “proviso,” which has not been considered on the floor of either the House or Senate.

Opposition to the Common Core has been increasing in Kansas and nationally in recent months.  KASB testified against a bill with similar language, HB 2289, in the House Education Committee during the regular session.  After extensive discussion and debate, a majority of the committee opposed reporting the bill to the full House.  On Tuesday of this week, KASB presented a statement to the State Board of Education supporting the Common Core as part of the state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.  However, a number of individuals spoke against the new standards and proposed assessments.  

If the budget proviso is accepted by the House conferees and included in the conference committee report on the budget, the entire budget package will go to the House and Senate for an up or down vote, without amendment.  In that case, the only way to remove the proviso would be to defeat the entire budget in either house, sending a message that the conference committee should remove it from the budget.
This is the actual document:

Movement on Taxes and Budget

For the first time in the week-old 2013 veto session, a compromise proposal on tax policy was made by the Kansas House.

The proposal offered in the tax conference committee yesterday would lower the state sales tax rate from 6.3 percent to 6 percent on July 1, rather than dropping to 5.7 percent as scheduled under current law.  It would also "take back" part of the income tax cuts passed last session by limiting income tax deductions, which would phase down over the next five years.  Both of these steps would raise state revenue compared to current law.  The plan would would also includes further income tax rate reductions sought by Governor Brownback and the Senate, and partially restore the food sales tax rebate, a program favored by Democrats, reducing state revenues.

The net impact of the plan would be to keep state general fund ending balances above the statutory target of 7.5% through Fiscal Year 2016, including on the Governor's proposal to avoid K-12 education state aid cuts in the next two years.  It would also likely allow restoration at least part of the higher education cuts in the budgets passed earlier this session (4 percent by the House, 2 percent by the Senate), which the Governor opposes.

However, assuming a 5 percent baseline growth in state income tax revenue and a 3.75 percent growth in sales tax revenue, the state ending balance would drop to nearly zero in Fiscal Year 2018, as a result of deeper income tax rate cuts in 2017 and 2018..

The Senate is expected to respond to the proposal in a tax conference committee later today.  In addition, the budget conference committee is scheduled to meet at 1:30, when the House could move toward the Senate position based on its new offer.

However, it is unclear whether the Senate, which wants to keep the sales tax rate at 6.3%, will accept the House proposal, or whether the full House will accept the plan offered by its leadership.  Virtually all Democrats and many House Republicans say they are committed to allowing the full one-cent sales tax rate adopted three years ago to expire as scheduled.

The Senate is scheduled to meet today at 10:30 a.m. and the House at 2:00 p.m. Neither chamber has scheduled bills for debate on general orders, but conference committee reports could be considered.

Here are the details of the House tax offer, courtesy of the Kansas Economic Progress Council:

Here’s a quick update on legislative activity Wednesday concerning taxes from the Kansas Economic Progress Council

The state sales tax due to drop by 0.6 cents would only drop to 0.3 cents.  This would put the state sales tax at an even 6 percent.
Partial restoration of the food sales tax rebate program (worth about $20 million) is offered.
Over a five year period, all itemized tax deductions would be reduced (the so-called haircut) by the following percentages:
2013 – 24%
2014 – 35%
2015 – 40%
2016 – 50%
2017 – 60%
No deductions would be allowed for gaming losses, beginning in 2013.
Income tax rates would be reduced as well in the future
The top rates would be
4.9 % in 2013 - 2014
4.8% in 2015 – 2016
3.8% in 2017 – 2018
The bottom rates would be
3.0 % in 2013
2.7% in 2014 - 2015
2.25% in 2016
2.1% in 2017 - 2018
The Standard Deduction for Head of Household would be $5,000 and Married Filing Jointly at $6,500 in 2013 - 2018
A complicated formula for income tax reductions would kick in starting in 2019 when revenues come into the state over 2 percent.
A state general fund profile prepared by legislative staff shows the plan results in only a 0.2 percent ending balance in FY 2018.  That means the state would only have $16.3 million in the bank.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Balances, Bullying, Freedom Week Bill Passes on another Slow Day

On a vote of 119-3, the Kansas House adopted a conference committee report Thursday on HB 2261, extending local board authority to transfer money among certain district funds, adding to school district bullying requirements and designating “Celebrate Freedom Week” each September in Kansas schools.  KASB supported the first issue and was essentially neutral on the other two topics.
The bill had passed the Senate 36-3 on the final day of the regular session in early April, and now goes to Governor Brownback for expected signature.  The only other education conference committee to have passed one chamber is HB 2140, the heavily amended version of the Governor's reading bill. Sources indicate that the conference committee report may not be presented to the House this session.  Although the Senate amended the reading program into an unrelated House bill, the House never held hearings on the proposal and did not debate the bill on the floor.  If no action is taken, the issue will carry over to next session.
Otherwise, the second day of the 2013 “veto” session was uneventful.  The House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees put final touches on budget proposals reflecting amendments recommended by the Governor, but the conference committee on tax policy did not meet.  Until the tax issue is resolved, the budget negotiations between the House and Senate are on hold.  No major meetings have been announced for Friday, and the Legislature is expected to take the weekend off for graduations and Mother's Day.
Here are the details of HB 2261 from the Legislature Research Department:
Celebrate Freedom Week: The week containing September 17 (or any other full school week as determined by the local school board) will be designated "Celebrate Freedom Week." 

1.  Public schools are required to teach to grades kindergarten through eight the history of our country’s founding, with particular emphasis on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 

2.  The bill prohibits censorship of religious references in the writings of the Founding Fathers when presented as part of the instruction.

3. On or before December 31, 2013, the State Board of Education must adopt rules and regulations to require history and government for the designated grade levels. The instruction must include the meaning and context of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the documents' relationship to the nation’s diversity by way of immigration, major wars and social movements in American history. 
4. The State Board of Education would be required to promote “Celebrate Freedom Week," and others would be encouraged to also promote the special observance. 
Fund Flexibility: The bill makes permanent school districts' authority to transfer unencumbered cash balances for general operating expenses.

1. Finds authorized in current law remain unchanged and include at-risk education, bilingual education, contingency reserve, professional development, summer program, one-third of textbook and student materials, one-third of special education, virtual school and vocational education. 

2. Maximum amount allowed to be transferred from the unencumbered funds cannot exceed $250 multiplied by the adjusted enrollment of the district. 

3. Sets a public policy goal for the State of Kansas that at least 65 percent of the aggregate of all unencumbered balances authorized for expenditure will be spent in the classroom or for instruction as defined in KSA 72-64c01. This essentially means classroom teachers, aides and instructional materials.  However, the bill does not require specific expenditures by district.

4. Removes any cap on the amount of monies that could be maintained in the contingency reserve fund. (Current law allows a district to keep up to 10 percent of the district’s general fund budget in a contingency reserve fund.)

5. Requires the superintendent of a school district to report the unencumbered balances in each of the funds named in the bill to the local board of education at the board’s July meeting, and to the State Board of Education by July 15 of each year.
Policies Regarding Bullying: The bill amends current law related to school district policies on bullying, defined as an intentional gesture or threat creating an intimidating environment for a student or staff member. The bill does the fallowing:

1. Clarifies the definition of bullying to mean any threat by a student, staff member or parent toward a student or by any student, staff member, or parent toward a staff member. 

2. "Parent" is defined to include a guardian, custodian, or other person with authority to act on behalf of a child. 

3. “Staff member” is defined to mean any person employed by the school district. 

4. The bill requires these changes to be reflected in the school districts’ policies and plans to address bullying.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Working after retirement, Common Core highlight Legislature’s return

Legislators returned to Topeka for the 2013 wrap-up session on Wednesday, but there were no public meetings on the most critical unresolved issue: Governor Brownback’s call to extend the state sales tax.  

The Senate has agreed to keep the special 1 percent sales tax in place to shore up the state budget over the next few years, and also to adopt a new round of income tax cuts over the next five years. The House has voted to let the tax expire as scheduled, resulting in deeper spending cuts and almost no ending balance. The House also supports a less aggressive plan for future tax cuts.

Negotiations have stopped on the state budget bill until the tax issues are addressed. Legislative leaders and the Governor are reportedly searching for a compromise tax plan, but no meetings of the tax conference committee are scheduled.


Working After Retirement

The House Pensions and Benefits Committee meeting on Wednesday devoted most of its time to hearing from KASB and three of its members about the value of the current working-after-retirement provisions for certain school employees under the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. These provisions are scheduled to expire July 1, 2015. Chairman Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, and the working-after-retirement sub-committee chair Jim Kelly, R-Independence, have expressed interest in tackling this issue next session rather waiting until 2015.

Diane Gjerstad, government relations specialist for Wichita USD 259, indicated this provision helps maintain continuity in policy, administrative and instructional practices given all of the temporary workers they use. According to a report released by KPERS, Wichita USD 259 has the greatest number of employees hired under the plan.

Darin Headrick, superintendent of Kiowa County USD 422, focused on how his district uses the provision to hire the best instructors.  He cited a math teacher in the district who is very effective working with at-risk students.  The teacher also farms, so having a part-time contract is beneficial to him as well.

Tri- County Special Education Director Kevin Shepard told the committee the ability to bring back retired teachers as either teachers or paras in light of the high attrition rate in the special education field is of particular benefit. He also noted, in the highly litigated world of special education, it is imperative to have highly-qualified teachers to effectively work with parents and to mentor newly-hired teachers.

Conferees suggested the current provisions are beneficial for all concerned. Teachers have the freedom to sign contracts that are in their best interest financially and in other ways. Districts are allowed to make decisions on hiring and teaching assignments, and have the ability to negotiate a salary that reflects how the KPERS assessment is divided between the district and employee. By adding an additional amount to the actuarial rate, KPERS not only collects the money a non-retired member would contribute but also an additional amount that may actually improve KPERS’ efforts to reduce its unfunded actuarial liability.


Common Core protest

About 40 people attended an event featuring legislators and other speakers criticizing the Common Core academic standards. These have been adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education and incorporated into the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. The standards have become the focus of increasing opposition from groups and individuals who would be considered on both the political left and right, nationally and in Kansas.

Earlier this session, after days of hearings and debate, the House Education Committee narrowly voted against a bill that would have blocked the state and school districts from spending any money to implement Common Core standards in Kansas. KASB testified against that bill, stating the Legislature should not attempt to force a complete halt to the standards, but suggested additional legislative oversight of implementation was appropriate. KASB noted that much of the concern over the standards revolves around the assessment that will be used, which has not yet been determined in Kansas.

It is unclear whether an attempt will be made to block the standards in the final days of the session. Leaders have said the House will not debate bills on “general orders,” which means any new legislation would have to be considered in conference committee proposals and these are not supposed to contain material that has not passed at least one chamber. The Senate has not yet held any hearings or considered any bills on the standards.

Thursday’s Schedule

The only meetings currently scheduled for Thursday likely to have a possible impact on K-12 education are for the House Appropriations Committee at 9 a.m. and the Senate Ways and Means Committee after the morning session of the Senate.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Five Facts on State Budget and Tax Policy

When the Kansas Legislature reconvenes next Wednesday, the major unfinished business will be reaching an agreement on a state budget and tax policy.  The Governor and Senate Republicans are pushing to keep in place the current state sales tax rate.  The House has rejected that plan so far, with Democrats in both chambers strongly opposed.  Here are five important facts about the latest official Consensus Revenue Estimate released April 19 and the competing budget and tax plans.

1. The Kansas economy continues to recover, but more slowly than in the past.

State officials and university economists, who develop the consensus estimates twice a year, project Kansas Personal Income (total income of Kansas residents from all sources) will increase by 3.1 percent this year and 4 percent next year, to $129.5 billion.  That is an increase of $21.1 billion since the bottom of the recession in 2009, an average of nearly 5 percent per year.  By contrast, KPI increased an average of 8 percent the previous five years (2003 to 2008), and an average of 7 percent between 1992 and 2012.

According to the US Census Bureau, Kansas per capita income (personal income divided by population) was $41,835 in 2013, ranking 24th in the nation; down from 21st in 2010 but up from 28th in 2000.  Kansas per capita income has increased 3.9 percent per year on average since 2000, higher than the national average of 3.4 percent.

2. State income tax cuts are not projected to have a significant economic impact – yet.

Governor Brownback and Republicans who support the major income tax cuts passed last year believe they will accelerate economic growth.  They expect more jobs will be created, leading to higher personal income, which will create more spending and therefore more tax revenue for the state and local governments, which will offset some of the revenue lost through the tax cuts.

The consensus estimating group apparently does not see this is happening so far.  Projected state general fund (SGF) revenue for Fiscal Year 2014, when the tax cuts are fully implemented, is $5.45 billion.  That is almost exactly what was expected under the so-called “static” model that does not factor in economic stimulation from tax cuts.  In other words, the official estimate of economic and revenue growth almost one year after the tax cuts were passed is almost identical to the Kansas Legislative Research Department’s estimate before the tax cuts passed.

However, the new April estimate increased the revenue projection for the current year (FY 2013) by $30 million – slightly more than projected under a “dynamic” analysis developed by the Beacon Hill Institute and the Kansas Policy Institute released last July.  That model projected state general fund revenue in FY 2014 would be between $80 and $108 million higher than the “static” model.  The new consensus estimate does not agree with that projection; in fact, the revised estimate for FY 2014 is slightly lower than the amount projected last November.

At the same time, there were fears that more small businesses than expected would change tax status to reduce tax liability and result in a deeper drop in state revenue.  The consensus group does not see that happening, either.

Finally, there are many factors other than tax rates influencing the state economy, such as drought, federal budget policies and the international economy.  One of the problems with evaluating economic policy is the difficulty in determining how much any single factor contributed to the overall result.

3. The tax cuts are having a major budget impact.

The $5.45 billion estimate of state general fund receipts next year (FY 2014) is almost $1 billion, or 15 percent, below last year (FY 2012), mostly due to income tax rate cuts.  SGF revenues would be the lowest since 2006, except for the recession year of 2009.

This is an even more dramatic shrinking of state government when compared to the state economy and taxpayer income.  The FY 2014 SGF revenue estimate equals 4.2 percent of projected Kansas personal income for 2014.  That would be the lowest ratio of state revenues to state personal income since at least 1976.  In fact, since 1988, SGF receipts have only been below 5 percent of KPI twice (1992 and 2010).

However, both the Senate and House have agreed to transfer $118 million from other sources into the state general fund.  These transfers are not counted in the revenue estimate, which is based on current law.  The Senate has also agreed with the Governor’s call to keep the state sales tax at 6.3 percent permanently, rather than dropping to 5.7 percent under current law; and has approved a phase-down of income tax deductions and other revenue adjustments that would generate SGF revenue of $5.9 billion, or 4.6 percent of Kansas personal income.  The House revenue plan does not include the sales tax rate extension and would produce SGF revenue equal to 4.4 percent of KPI.  Under both the House and Senate plans, state revenues as a percent of personal income would be lower than any point since the 1980s, before the state assumed a larger role in school finance in 1992.

4. Kansas school spending compared to personal income is the lowest in decades.

The House and Senate have both adopted the Governor’s proposals to hold K-12 funding “harmless” from spending cuts, partly by replacing state general fund aid with state highway fund transfers, and actually increasing funding for Kansas Public Employees Retirement System contributions and bond and interest state aid.

However, school district general operating budgets for FY 2014, with no increase in base state aid, special education aid and local option budget aid, are projected by KASB to equal 3.1 percent of Kansas personal income, lower than any year since prior to 1975, and well below the 38-year average of 3.6 percent.  State aid for school districts (which excludes local revenues) is projected at 2.5 percent of KPI, and would be even lower without the significant increases in KPERS funding.  This level of state aid compared to state personal income would be the lowest since passage of the 1992 School Finance Act, which significantly increased state aid to reduce and equalize local property tax rates for schools.

5. The key budget challenges are long term, not next year.

Because the state is projected to have an ending balance of at least a $625 million (over 10 percent) on June 30, both the House and Senate budget proposals for next year could be funded without any changes in tax policy.  However, under the House plan without the sales tax extension, the ending balance drops to 7 percent in 2014, 2.6 percent in 2015, and essentially zero in 2016.

The Senate plan, which keeps the sales tax in place, also includes additional income tax reductions beginning with less than $40 million in FY 2014, but rising to over $500 million in 2017 and over $1 billion in FY 2018.  As a result, the ending balance would remain at least 6.5 percent through 2016, but would face a deficit by 2018.  Since SGF revenue is expected to grow by about $1 billion between 2014 and 2018 with a normal growth rate of about 4 percent, actual growth would have to be more than double this amount to offset additional tax cuts in the Governor’s and Senate’s plans.

Under “normal” growth assumptions, if the House defeats the extension of the sales tax, the state general fund balances will drop to a point with where state aid payments may be delayed and there will be “no margin for error” if revenues fall below expectations in FY 2015 and beyond.  If the Senate plan is passed with the sales tax extension but also with deep income tax cuts mounting over the next five years, the state will again face a significant budget shortfall.  For either approach to work without further significant spending cuts, the state economy will have to grow much faster than is currently projected.