Tuesday, December 10, 2013

School Boards Adopt Policies for Improving Kansas Education

Delegates to the Kansas Association of School Boards annual convention in Wichita on Sunday approved a set of policy recommendations for improving educational outcomes in Kansas, focusing on raising educational standards, providing suitable finance and strengthening local school leadership.

The association endorsed higher standards for students graduating Kansas high schools and targets for improving state educational attainment to meet projected Kansas jobs requirements over the next decade.

Delegates reaffirmed support for the principles of collective bargaining and due process rights for teachers, but said changes should be made to improve state law in both areas.  KASB leaders said they hope to find common ground with teacher and administrator organizations on these issues.

KASB also voted to support the current constitutional status and authority of the State Board of Education.

Here is the full text of resolution adopted December 8, 2013:

First in Education, Kansas Way
Kansas Association of School Boards – 2014 Priority Issues
Adopted December 8, 2013
PrincIple I.    Raise Standards for Success.  Continue to improve educational outcomes by raising standards for students, educators, schools and districts.
A.  Students Ready for Success.  Set expectations for all students to graduate high school with the skills required for college and careers, as demonstrated by academic preparation, technical skills, employability skills, and interest development; and provide individualized support from early childhood through high school.
1.  Definition:  We support the State Board of Education’s definition that College and Career Ready means an individual has the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, and employability skills to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry recognized certification or in the workforce, without the need for remediation.
2.  Student Expectations.  We support development and implementation over time of a system to ensure all students graduating high school meet a higher standard than currently required.  This should include:  (1) Demonstration of a minimum statewide standard of basic academic skills.  (2) A locally-determined demonstration of employability and citizenship skills for all students.  (3) Demonstration of preparation for postsecondary employment or education (technical certification or industry credential, associate’s degree, baccalaureate degree, etc.) based on the career interest of the student.
3.  Graduation Targets.  We support these goals for Kansas educational attainment, based on projections of employment needs by 2020.  Because employment needs differ by location, individual districts should be responsible for showing proportional increases in attainment rather than statewide targets. (1) At least 40 percent of graduates prepared to pursue a four-year degree or higher, compared to 30 percent of Kansas adults currently; (2) At least 35 percent of graduates prepared to pursue a two-year degree, technical credential or industry certificate, compared to 32 percent of Kansas adults with some college but less than a four year degree; (3) 95 percent of students graduating high school by age 24, compared to 90 percent of Kansas adults.
4.  Career Interest Development Programs.  We support a program to encourage and support districts adopting student career programs meeting standards adopted by the State Board.
5.  Financial Education.  We support a program to encourage and support districts in developing personal financial literacy programs, based on local needs and capacity.
B.  Effective Educators.  Improve educator training, licensure, and retention policies using performance-based evaluation and continuing professional development while providing appropriate protections and benefits.
1.  Student Impact.  We believe state law and Kansas State Board of Education policies should require districts to adopt administrator and teacher evaluation policies meeting standards adopted by the State Board, including a requirement that the most important evaluation factor be impact on student improvement based on multiple measures.
2.  Evaluation Input.  We support removing evaluation procedures from professional negotiations to facilitate improvement in instruction, with administrator and teacher input into the evaluation process independent of negotiations.
3.  Alternative Licensing.  We support options for licensing teachers who have not completed regular requirements for teacher training, provided such teachers annually receive high level evaluations for effectiveness.
C.  School Performance.  Establish a school accountability system for core academic subjects based on achievement, growth, and narrowing differences in student performance.
1.  Accountability Measures.  We support public accountability based on reading and math assessments measuring the movement of students to increasingly higher achievement levels, annual student growth, narrowing the gap between high and low performing students, and reducing the number of non-proficient students.
2.  Intervention and Support.  We support funded interventions to assist low-performing or non-improving schools and districts.
3.  Assessment.  To assess student performance, we support implementation of an improved testing program aligned with the Kansas College and Career Ready standards, measuring college and career readiness and higher-order skills.  KASB supports allowing districts to choose among different assessments equally benchmarked against state standards.
D.  District Accreditation.  Adopt a new accreditation system to encourage and recognize districts for student outcomes, programs and practices that support student success, including school board and district leadership.
1.  Broader Focus.  We support the concepts under development in the Kansas State Board of Education’s “21st Century Accreditation” model to provide a broader measure of school district performance and encourage best practices while minimizing additional state mandates.
2.  Board Development.  We believe the new accreditation system should require locally-developed programs for the continuing education and improvement of school boards and their members.  Such programs would be developed by local boards, and evaluated using the same system as other accreditation areas.
Principle II.  Finance for Success. Provide constitutionally suitable funding for continuing educational improvement in all districts.
A.  State Responsibility.  The state should pay for what it requires schools to do, including costs that rise each year, as part of “base” funding for all districts.
1.  Base Funding.  We support increasing statewide education funding and the per pupil amount for each district, based upon the statutory level approved by previous legislatures and the Kansas Supreme Court and recommended by the State Board of Education, studies of educational costs, funding levels in the highest achieving states; traditional levels of educational funding compared to state income; and annual increases in operating costs and state requirements.
2.  Cost Differences.  We believe the school finance system should provide additional funding through weightings or other mechanisms for higher cost students, districts and programs, particularly those required by the state.
3.  Long-Term Funding.  We support continuation of multi-year funding for school districts.
B.  Funding Equity.  Balance increased local funding options with increased state equalization aid.
1.  State and Local Balance.  We support a balanced plan for school funding increases that provides both increases in base aid and local option budget authority, contingent upon full funding of LOB state aid as recommended by the State Board of Education to reduce disparity in local school district property tax rates.
2.  Capital Costs.  We support continued state equalization aid for capital improvement bonds and restoration of capital outlay aid as recommended by the State Board.
C.  Targeted Aid.  Maintain the successful at-risk funding system based on economic disadvantage and other factors; improve instruction through professional development and mentoring; and promote innovation.
1.  At-Risk Students.  To improve mastering of skills and preparation for college and careers for all students, we support the use of free lunch eligibility as the primary factor for at-risk funding in order to provide stable revenues for these successful programs, supplemented by other risk factors.
2.  Instruction.  To improve instruction, we endorse the State Board’s 2014-15 funding request for Professional Development state aid, Teacher Mentoring and National Board Certification.
3.  Graduation.  To improve the graduation rate, we support state funding for Communities in Schools.
4.  Innovation.  To promote new ways to achieve these goals, we support creating a grant program for innovative programs and strategies.
5.  Program Focus.  We would support provisions in each of these programs requiring a focus on raising student mastery of basic skills, improving instruction and evaluation, and increasing the number of college-and career-ready students.
D.  Efficiency.  Encourage cooperation, services sharing, consolidation and efficiencies, balanced with local needs and priorities.
1.  Consolidation and Cooperation.  We support maintaining current incentives for voluntary school district consolidation, and support additional incentives for consolidation and cooperation.
2.  Sharing.  We support a statewide study of ways to promote school district cooperation and sharing of academic programs, personnel and operations.
E.  Tax Policy.  State tax cuts should not reduce school funding when improving education is vital to the economic health and quality of life for the state, communities and individuals.
1.  State Revenues.  We support state tax policies that provide increasing education funding necessary for increasing educational outcomes.  If current tax policies do not provide revenue to meet these costs, state tax policies should be revised.  Changes in education funding and tax policy should not increase disparity in local tax efforts, and any new revenue source should be equalized.
2.  Tax Policy.  We support efforts to broaden the tax base by reducing special exemptions and credits and oppose further targeted tax reductions.
principle III.  Local Leadership for Success.  Strengthen responsiveness to parents and community needs under locally elected boards and school leadership.
A.  Local Decision-Making.  Support local policy and funding choices unless the school persistently fails to demonstrate improvement; oppose new requirements without clear evidence of effectiveness and funding for additional costs.
1.  Limit State Intervention.  We believe the best response to educational issues is almost always determined at the local level, rather than the state or national level. State policies should address outcomes to be achieved, not methods to achieve them. State intervention should be focused on schools or districts that fail to meet ambitious but reasonable standards.
2.  New Mandates.  To focus on the student mastery of basic skills and college/career readiness, we oppose any new state or federal requirements except for the proposals contained in this First in Education plan.
B.  Innovation.  Promote flexibility in educational programs, accountable to local boards and state accreditation.
1.  Local Flexibility.  We support giving local school boards more flexibility in developing programs and operations.
2.  Accountability.  We support promoting innovation within the public school system so successful initiatives can be replicated, rather than authorizing and funding charter schools and other institutions outside the constitutional authority of local boards.
C.  Employee Relations.  Strengthen board and administrator management flexibility while maintaining core employee rights.
1.  Professional Negotiations.  We support continuation of collective bargaining between school boards and teacher associations.  We believe changes should be made in the professional negotiations act to strengthen professionalism and efficient district operations, which we would seek to achieve through negotiations with teacher representatives.  If agreements are reached that are acceptable to the KASB Board of Directors, KASB will oppose further amendments to the PNA.
2.  Due Process.  We support the current system of due process rights for teachers if the process is clarified to allow boards of education to remove teachers as long as such removal is supported by a preponderance of evidence.  The board's decision should be given deference unless its action was arbitrary, capricious, or unsupported by evidence.
D.  Constitutional System.  Maintain the elected Kansas State Board of Education for general supervision of public education, the authority of local elected boards over public schools; and prohibition of public education funding for religious organizations.
1.  State Board.  We support an elected Kansas State Board of Education with authority over the Commissioner and Department of Education, with general supervision of local schools as provided by the Kansas Constitution.
2.  Private Schools.  We support the constitutional prohibition of state educational funding for religious organizations. KASB supports the authority of local school boards to provide services to private school students.
3.  Judicial System.  We support the role of an independent judiciary in enforcing constitutional provisions.  We oppose either changing the selection process for judges from the merit selection system, or limiting the ability of the courts to enforce those provisions, which would weaken the traditional separation of powers in Kansas.
E.  Parent and public engagement.  Increase public understanding of educational issues and support for improvement; strengthen involvement of parents, higher education, employers and communities.
1.  Local Engagement. We believe public and parental engagement cannot be effectively legislated but is the responsibility of local schools and districts.
2.  Local Elections. We believe public engagement in school district governance is best served by electing local board members in non-partisan April elections, rather than the November general elections.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Innovative Districts, KPERS Liability Shift to Districts, State Aid Cuts to Locals

Here is a quick round-up of news this week:

Innovative Districts

The Topeka Capital Journal reports that eight school districts -  McPherson USD 418, Blue Valley USD 229, Concordia USD 333, Hugoton USD 210, Kansas City Kansas USD 500, Seaman USD 345, Santa Fe Trail 434 and Sterling USD 376 - have applied for innovative school district status under a bill passed last Legislative session.

Under the procedures set for the the bill (described here), the first two districts must be approved by a majority consisting of the Governor and chairs of the Senate and House education committees.  If approved, the applications goes to the State Board of Education, which in turn must approve the applications if they meet requirements specified in the bill.  Once the first two districts are approved, they constitute a board of the Coalition of Innovative Districts, which must then approve other district applications, followed by approval of the State Board.  Additional approved districts then become part of the Coalition's board.

Key to the bill is that innovative districts must set out education goals and measurements, and then receive an exemption from most state school laws and regulations.  The innovative status is granted for five years, but can be revoked if districts fail to demonstrate student improvement on various measures for two years in a row.

KASB supported passage of the bill. It was opposed by the Kansas National Education Association because it could allow districts to waive laws regarding employee rights.  The State Board of Education has asked the Kansas Attorney General to interpret whether the law overrides authority of the State Board and local boards as set forth in the Kansas Constitution.

KPERS Liability Shift to School Districts Unresolved

After briefing the Legislative Post Audit Committee Tuesday, the executive director of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System says there is still no final decision on whether local units of government must show billions of dollars in unfunded pension costs on their balance sheets, but warned it is a strong possibility this change will be made.

The pending change was prompted by new national accounting standards, but final guidance from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board has not been released and the Kansas Department of Administration has not made a final decision, says KPERS Chief Alan Conroy.  He noted that the KPERS liability is not currently reported by either the state or local employers.

KPERS has released the following issues brief on the new GASB guidelines, including “special situations for schools” on page 2.  The primary impact of such a change would be showing increased liability on the balance sheets of local governments, including school districts, when seeking to issue additional debt through bonds.  There could also be some additional costs for calculating the liability of individual districts.  However, the new rules will only apply to local governments that follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and KPERS estimates that only about 300 of 1,500 local governments currently do so.

The reporting change will not, by itself, change who is responsible for making employer contributions.  Currently, the state makes an appropriation to cover the employer contributions for school districts.  These funds are transferred to school districts and then immediately transferred to KPERS.  As a result, school districts shows this payment in their budgets as both a revenue and expenditure.  Other local units of government (cities, counties, etc.,) are responsible for making these payments for their employees without state aid, increasing from $82 million, or 2.3 percent of total school district budgets, in 2000, to $366 million and 6.2 percent of budgets this year.

Because of the significant unfunded liability in the KPERS state and school employee groups, the state has been increasing its contributions in recent years.  KPERS contributions have been the fastest growing part of school district budgets over the past decade.

State Aid Cuts Affecting School Districts

The Kansas Center for Economic Growth has released a new report on the impact of state funding cuts on local services.  Here is a link the report.
According to the Center's report, local governments have seen significant decreases in state government aid that affect neighborhood community health programs, schools, safety initiatives and libraries.   In particular, it notes that school districts have reduced staff and state funding for professional development has been eliminated.
According to KASB analysis of Kansas State Department of Education data, total school district full-time equivalent (FTE) employees increased from about 65,155 in 2002 to 70,409 in 2009 as state funding and local option budget authority increased, dropped to 67,860 in 2012 due to state budget cuts, and rebounded to 68,569 last year.
Total school employees actually increased about 1 percent between 2011-12 and 2012-13 after the Legislature funded an increase in base state aid per pupil and some districts increased their LOB.  However, the total number of school employees is still down 2.6 percent from 2009, even after the 1 percent increase last year.  The total number of employees is still about 5.2 percent above 2002.

For a closer look at changes in school employees over the past decade, see this blog posting, including a detailed chart showing each category of employee at the end.