Highlights of the December State Board of Education Meeting
Kathy Toelkes, Director of Communications, 785-296-4876
TOPEKA – Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed school funding formula was outlined for State Board of Education members at their monthly meeting in Topeka Dec. 13 and 14. Landon Fulmer, policy advisor for the Governor, first met with State Board members in November to share broad outlines of the proposed formula. In December, Fulmer presented a more complete plan that included a look at how the new formula would impact individual school districts.
Fulmer told Board members that under the proposed formula, no school district would receive less funding than in the current year, and about half of the state’s 286 districts would receive more funding. A copy of the spreadsheet Fulmer provided showing the differences in funding for each school district from the current formula to the Governor’s proposed formula is available on the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) website.
Among the more notable changes in the plan since it was originally shared last month was the elimination of county sales taxes as a means of providing local education funding. Some Board members had expressed concerns about the regressive nature of sales tax as a means to fund education, and Fulmer said the idea had not garnered much support as he shared information about the proposed plan around the state. Also missing was a series of block grants, originally envisioned to provide additional funding to schools for things such as at-risk students and operational costs.
The plan presented to the Board in December increases the base state aid per pupil amount (BSAPP) from the current $3,780 to the statutorily required amount of $4,492. Unlike the current formula, the Governor’s proposed formula counts all kindergartners as full-time students rather than half-time. Also unlike the current formula, the new formula does not provide weightings to the BSAPP for such things as at-risk students, transportation, enrollment, new facilities, high density at-risk, bilingual students, etc.
The Governor’s proposal retains the state mandated 20-mill property tax for education. However, those funds would not stay with the local school districts. Instead, they would go into a state Property Tax Equalization Fund that would be used to offset local property tax inequity.
Another feature of the proposed formula is elimination of current limits placed on the amount districts can raise through local property taxes. Currently, local option budgets (LOBs) are capped at 31 percent of the district’s general fund budget. Under the Governor’s proposal, there would be no limits placed on the LOB.
An additional mechanism in the new funding formula is supplemental equalization, which provides supplemental funding to districts that are unable to achieve the funding level of the previous year through state aid per pupil amounts and their local option budget. This effectively sets a funding floor equal to the previous year’s funding level, except that districts could see funding amounts decreased based on lower enrollment totals. Districts with declining enrollment will be able to use a three-year rolling average enrollment number for funding purposes. Districts that lower their LOBs could also see their funding amount drop below the previous year’s total as the state will not make up that difference through supplemental equalization.
Board members briefly discussed the information provided to them, but agreed they needed more time to fully review the information and the impact to school districts. They agreed to revisit the issue at their January meeting.
Also in December, Board members received an update on KSDE’s work to complete an application for flexibility on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements. The application must be submitted by Feb. 21, 2012. Commissioner Diane DeBacker told Board members that over the past month, the majority of the work on the application has been in identifying how the state wants to measure student and school achievement. Under the current system, performance is gauged based on one measure – performance on state assessments. In the application for flexibility, the agency will likely request a reporting mechanism based on multiple measures, including achievement, growth and achievement gap reduction.
Those three measures would be used to identify reward schools, focus schools and priority schools, as required by the U.S. Department of Education. KSDE staff walked Board members through a suggested process for measuring and reporting performance based on multiple measures, and for identifying the highest and lowest performing schools in the state.
The timeline for completing the application calls for providing a draft application for public comment by Jan. 13, 2012 and providing a final draft to the State Board by Feb. 14, 2012.
Board members also received an update on work to redesign the state’s accreditation model for schools. Currently, the school accreditation model looks at performance on state assessments, as well as several school quality measures, in making accreditation determinations. At previous meetings, KSDE staff shared with Board members a broad framework for a 21st Century Accreditation model that would base accreditation decision on the ability of schools and districts to implement effective programs and practices related to the five “Rs” of results, rigor, responsive culture, relevance and relationships. Such a system would allow for a total view of educational quality within a district, getting beyond just test scores. In December, Board members were updated on efforts to seek input from members of the education field and got a sense for how measurement within of the five categories might be accomplished.
Brad Neuenswander, deputy commissioner for Learning Services, shared some initial ideas with Board members, but was careful to point out that input was still being sought and nothing had been finalized at this point. He said the timeline called for working through the measurement aspects of the model from the winter of 2011 through the fall of 2012 and piloting the model with some districts in the fall of 2012. Board action on the new system would be sought in the fall of 2013, with implementation set for August 2014.
Among the other items considered by the Board in December was a presentation by the 2010 Kansas Teacher of the Year Curtis Chandler. Board members asked Chandler to share with them what he had learned in his year as the Kansas Teacher of the Year. Chandler praised the state’s educational efforts, noting the continual progress students show on state assessments. He also noted that as he traveled the state visiting schools, he saw many that were focused on 21st Century skills and that had truly engaged students in learning. However, he said that was not the case in all schools. To foster that type of environment in all schools, Chandler recommended starting with teacher preparation and ensuring that all aspiring teachers were able to experience 21st Century learning first hand. He recommended providing every teacher candidate with school-embedded clinical experiences and creating opportunities for exemplary teachers to work with teacher preparation programs to model effective teaching practices. He recommended raising the bar for educators working with student and novice teachers, and having beginning teachers work with multiple teachers. In addition, he recommended a focus on teacher leaders, providing teachers with the resources, opportunities and support to build their skills and help other teachers do the same.
Board members also received an update on legislative activities. Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis reported to the Board that the Legislative Education Planning Committee (LEPC) had met Dec. 7 and authorized several bills to be introduced during the 2012 legislative session. Among them was a bill that would allow school districts’ contingency reserve fund balances to remain at 10 percent until July 1, 2015. Under current law, the fund balances are to drop to 6 percent on July 1, 2012.
Another of the bills authorized by the LEPC would repeal a special education provision that changes the minimum and maximum amounts of funding schools receive for special education. The law that establishes a minimum of 75 percent of the special education state aid per pupil and a maximum of 150 percent of the special education state aid per pupil is set to begin in the 2012-13 school year. Another recommendation related to special education is to allow school districts to use their special education state aid amount from the 2008-09 school year, or from the current year in computing their local option budgets. Districts could use whichever amount is higher. Currently, local option budgets are computed by taking $4,433 times the weighted enrollment without special education state aid, and then adding the 2008-09 special education state aid amount.
The other bill authorized for introduction would extend for three additional years a law that establishes a KPERS surcharge for employees who work after retirement. The provision is set to expire July 1, 2012, the bill authorized by the LEPC would extend that date to July 1, 2015.
Also in December, Board attorney Mark Ferguson shared that the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office had reviewed the facts surrounding the Board’s self-reporting of a possible violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act and determined that no violation had occurred. The self-reporting occurred after the Board’s April meeting when Board member Walt Chappell suggested the Board had violated the Open Meetings Act at its March 8. Chappell was referring to an executive session called during March meeting to discuss some members’ concerns with information Chappell had been sharing in the media and other outlets. The opinion from the Attorney General’s Office indicates that the executive session called for consultation with the Board’s attorney and to preserve the attorney-client privilege was appropriate and did not constitute a violation of KOMA.
In other business in December, Board members heard a presentation from the 2011 Kansas Milken Family National Educator Lisa Gruman. Gruman is an associate principal at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. Board members also voted to accept the voluntary surrender of the teaching license of Tad Hernandez and to revoke his license as a consequence of his conviction for indecent solicitation of a child and lewd and lascivious behavior.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for January 10 and 11, 2012, in Topeka.