Highlights of the March State Board of Education Meeting
TOPEKA – At their meeting March 8 in Topeka, State Board of Education members heard a report from administrators in the McPherson School District, USD 418, regarding the adequate yearly progress (AYP) accountability waiver recently granted to the district by the U.S. Department of Education. The waiver does not exempt the district from having to meet performance measures for AYP, but it does allow the district to use a measure other than the state assessments for determining AYP.
For the current school year, students in grades six through 12 in the McPherson School District will not take state assessments in reading, math or science. Instead, those students will take one of a series of ACT assessments. Those assessments include the ACT Explore for students in grades six, seven and eight; the ACT Plan for students in grades 10; the ACT WorkKeys for students in grade 11 and the ACT college entrance exam for students in grade 12. The district will work with the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) to determine what the appropriate accountability measure will be for AYP purposes.
District Superintendent Randy Watson said the intent in seeking the waiver was never to avoid taking state assessments or being held to AYP accountability. The request was more about finding a way to make the AYP measures more meaningful to the goals the district had established for its students. Last year, the district established a new initiative, Citizenship, College and Career Ready, or C3. The focus of the initiative was to ensure that students leaving McPherson High School were prepared for whatever step they would take after high school.
“We really wanted to put the focus back on what we needed to do for our students, and we asked ourselves, where do our kids go when they leave us?” Watson said. “We changed the conversation we have with high school students from what do you need to graduate to what do you want to do when you graduate. That has made all the difference.”
Watson said he thought one reason the U.S. Department of Education was willing to grant the district’s waiver request was because the district was already performing well on AYP measures and, if granted, the district’s waiver request would actually hold the district to a higher standard. He said it was possible other districts might be able to replicate the type of program McPherson is pursuing, but he stressed it was not a one-size-fits-all program. He said communities needed to engage in deep conversations about what they wanted for their children, and also needed to research where their children were going after high school to determine how best to prepare them for those options.
Also in March, Board members reviewed recommendations from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) regarding the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Later this month, several Board members will be attending a NASBE meeting that will include visits to legislators regarding the reauthorization. The purpose of the discussion at the Board meeting was to gain consensus on the views of the Board with regard to each recommendation.
Board members reviewed each of 11 recommendations outlined by NASBE. Overall, the feeling of the Board members was that the federal government should have as little involvement in public education as possible. To the extent the federal government was involved, they should provide greater flexibility to states, especially with regard to how they will demonstrate accountability. Board members expressed a strong desire to see the requirement for 100 percent proficiency by 2014 eliminated in any reauthorization of ESEA. They also wanted to express that if the federal government created any mandates for states they had to also provide the funding to allow the states to fulfill the mandates.
In other business, Board members reviewed a plan from Kansans for Children in Nature (KCN). KCN was created in 2009 by executive order to address the growing disconnect of children with nature, which many in the health, education and natural resources communities believe is contributing to increased numbers of children with diagnosed behavioral issues and illnesses resulting from overweight and obesity. The three-year plan developed by KCN relies on a community approach focused on existing resources to increase the number of children spending time outdoors.
The plan presented to the Board includes nine goals centered around early childhood experiences, K-12 education experiences and community experiences. With regard to K-12 education experiences, the plan primarily calls for resources that will allow educators to incorporate the outdoors into existing education plans. That includes appropriate outdoor learning spaces in schools as well as professional development to help teachers understand how to use the outdoors as a teaching tool in a variety of subject areas. The plan also includes a recommendation for including an environmental high school course as an approved science requirement for graduation.
KCN is asking for the State Board’s endorsement of the plan. Board members are expected to vote regarding the endorsement at their April meeting.
Also in March, Board members received an update on legislative activities. Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis told Board members that a recision bill, which would make additional cuts in the current fiscal year, had still not passed. The primary hold up is over additional funding to meet federal maintenance of effort requirements for special education.
Under maintenance of effort, the federal government requires states to maintain a level of funding for special education that is equal to the previous year’s funding in order to continue receiving the same level of federal special education funds. For fiscal year 2011, the state sought a waiver from this requirement due to significant and unanticipated revenue shortfalls. The state was granted a waiver which indicated the state could lower its commitment to special education funding by a percentage that was equal to the percentage that total general funds were decreased. When the state budget was finalized, special education funding had been reduced by a slightly higher percentage than overall general funds. That difference, equal to about $2.2 million, will now be deducted from the state’s federal special education aid beginning in the 2012 fiscal year and for each year thereafter.
The larger problem is that the one-cent sales tax passed by last year’s Legislature has added revenue, bringing up the total general fund and causing an even wider gap between the percentage reduction in overall general funds and the reduction in state special education funding. The gap is now equal to an amount between $21.2 million and $26.4 million. To avoid a federal penalty that would be equal to that amount, the Legislature has to find a way to add the additional amount to special education funding in the current budget. The House Appropriations Budget Sub-Committee has recommended delaying a KPERS payment for school personnel and using that money to cover the special education shortfall. The money to make the delayed KPERS payment would come from the fiscal year 2012 budget by reducing the amount of base state aid per pupil beyond the Governor’s recommended reduction of $232.
Dennis also reviewed a number of bills that are still making their way through the legislative process, including two concurrent resolutions that originated in the House Education Committee. House Concurrent Resolution 5019 requires the State Board to conduct a study on the reorganization of school districts, requiring at least 10,000 students per school district. The state currently has 289 school districts, ranging in size from 37 students to more than 49,000 students.
House Concurrent Resolution 5018 would eliminate the State Board of Education and the Kansas Board of Regents and create a Secretary of Education appointed by the Governor. This change would amend the state constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate, and a simple majority in a public vote. Following discussion of the resolution, the Board voted to adopt a position in opposition to the resolution.
In other action, the Board voted to accept the recommendations of the Professional Practices Commission to revoke the teaching licenses of three educators due to felonious conduct.
During Board member reports, Chairman David Dennis shared the outcome of two meetings he and Board Vice Chairman Carolyn Wims-Campbell and Commissioner Diane DeBacker had with representatives of the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI), the Kansas National Education Association, the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas Association of School Administrators. The meetings were to discuss an invitation from KPI to participate in a public forum to discuss education issues in the state. Dennis said the meetings were productive and cordial but the group thus far had been unable to reach consensus on three major points: the purpose of the forum, conditions of participation and topics to be discussed. Dennis said discussions with the group would continue and were beneficial in building trust and dialog among the participating organizations, however it was unclear whether a forum as originally envisioned would occur. It was suggested that if any of the individual organizations were to conduct public meetings they invite representatives from the other organizations to take part.
Dennis said he also received an offer from KPI to bring the former education commissioner from Florida to Topeka to address the Board regarding the various education reform measures that had been implemented in Florida and the results from those efforts. Board members discussed whether to include such a presentation on a future agenda item. Members voted to receive information in April regarding what type of presentation would be made and to vote at that time on whether to include the presentation on the May agenda.
Following an executive session, Board members conducted a discussion regarding concerns on the part of some members with the statements and correspondence being disseminated by a member of the Board. The concerns centered on whether the information being provided by Board member Dr. Walt Chappell was misleading and if it was being presented in a way that caused confusion as to whether it represented the position of the full Board or simply Chappell’s opinion. After some discussion and debate, Chappell agreed to adjust settings on his e-mail account that currently identify him as a Kansas State Board of Education member in an effort to avoid confusion as to whether he was speaking on behalf of himself or the Board. A motion to widely distribute a statement from the Board indicating correspondence from Chappelle did not represent a State Board position failed to pass
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for April 12 and 13 in Topeka.