2011—The Year in Education
State funding of K-12 education, which consumes 51 percent of the Kansas state tax dollar was cut to $3,780. In response to the 2005 Kansas Supreme Court Montoy vs. Kansas ruling, base state aid per-pupil (BSAPP) was targeted at $4,400 for FY2009. But massive revenue shortfalls forced cuts that pushed the funding back to 1990s levels.
The number of United School Districts (USDs) in Kansas continued to fall to 286. After having remained level at 303 USDs for decades, the dramatic decrease in BSAPP as well as a shift in Kansas population eastward forced many smaller rural schools to consolidate. Not on the radar were additional internal "consolidations" where attendance centers were shut down and students were moved to other schools within the district.
This resulted in additional reductions in teachers and administrators. Having lost over 1600 licensed personnel in the summer of 2010, several hundred more licensed positions were lost this summer. These were disproportionately from music, art and other subjects that are outside the mandated testing. Many newly graduated teachers found no jobs awaiting and had to move into other career paths—one of the major long lasting down sides to the current education crisis.
Meanwhile, Kansas added 777 more K-12 students statewide this fall. With more students and fewer teachers, class sizes have continued to increase.
Nationwide, for-profit online "schools" continued their record expansion of low-value programs and devouring federal money directed to aiding returning veterans. These operations that often spend more money on advertising than on faculty drained a half billion dollars in GI Bill funding last year. They also spent record sums lobbying in Washington to protect their cash cow.
Alternate route programs continued to proliferate despite the 2008 end of the teacher shortage, producing partly trained teachers who compete with fully-trained teachers for limited vacancies.
KSBE voted to have a seat at the table of National Science Standards. Hoping to be one of the six to eight "lead states" to develop the national science standards, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 to apply for a "seat at the table." Achieve, Inc., the group that will develop the "Next Generation Science Standards" decided to have all 20 state applicants at the table. Then in November, an additional six states were allowed to pull up a seat and join. While outsourcing the evolution debate may be appealing, there is little illusion left that Kansas will have any significant input at the table when Achieve admits that they "will rely on a group of outside experts to help make a final decision." In any case, accepting the national science curriculum and its national assessment tests will be a decision that will come back to a future State Board of Education.
Governor Brownback carried through on campaign promises to modify the state tax formula for school funding. So far, poorer rural districts are promised that they will be "held harmless." Maintaining the current low tide funding will continue the impoverishment of rural and mid-income school education. Meanwhile, uncapping local option budgets will allow the rich schools to get even richer, a new formula that could easily run afoul of equity issues with the Kansas Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Schools for Fair Funding group of 55 Kansas school districts, who filed their lawsuit
for greater tax funding in December 2010, will still take their case to trial in June 2012.
Faced with impossible partisan gridlock, Congress failed to revise the No Child Left Behind insane goal of 100%-proficient-by-2014 despite bipartisan admission that it was harming American education at many levels. U.S.D.E. Secretary Duncan therefore is offering "waivers" from NCLB for states that will agree to performance pay and other federal mandates.
The federal budget compromise continues funding for more Race-to-the-Top Grants that extort state compliance with federal education policy.
The only bright light for parents and students going into 2012 is a growing nationwide effort to boycott state assessment tests and bring the NCLB system to a halt.