$ Kansas became the second state to take away tenure from K-12 teachers. Previously teachers had to work three years at a school to prove their effectiveness. During this probationary time, they could be “let go” without explanation. After tenure, they could only be dismissed for cause. Kansas teachers lost this due process in April when this action was tacked to a huge funding bill. 63 House members voted in favor of the bill—the minimum needed to pass. The Kansas Senate approved the action on a 22-16 vote were 21 votes were needed to pass. Kansas teachers now work in a forever-tentative job. In Kansas, conservative legislators saw tenure as the cause for incompetent teachers in the classroom. Several months later, California teachers also lost tenure—this time from liberals who pressed a lawsuit—an effort that is spreading to other states.
$ Kansas K-12 teacher retirements and vacancies accelerated as teachers who held off retirement during the 2008 recession finally left the classroom.
$ The numbers of new student teachers graduating from teacher education programs declined nationwide as well as in Kansas. New (initial) secondary science teaching licenses in Kansas dropped to an all-time low at under one-tenth the 1999 levels needed to replace retiring teachers.
$ In response to the desperate shortage of science teachers, the Legislature passed SB430 that allows a person who has “...at least a bachelor's degree in one of the following subject matter areas: (1) science; (2) technology; (3) engineering; or (4) math, has at least five years of work experience in such subject matter area and has secured a commitment from the board of education of a school district to be hired as a teacher to teach in such subject matter area.” This act ignores any need for training in teaching, admits persons into the classroom without any gatekeeping, and eliminates a teaching position for a genuinely qualified teacher—thus reducing the shortage on paper.
$ Realizing that the shortage of special education teachers was in part due to having made it a graduate level “add on” to another teaching field license in the 2003 “Redesign of Teacher Education,” special education was allowed to become an initial stand alone endorsement again. However, few teacher education programs have retooled to capitalize upon the idealism of new college students and roll back our desperate shortage of special education teachers in Kansas.
$ Kansas obtained federal approval to not release test results for the last school year. Results became invalid due to technical problems and cyber attacks that targeted the state’s computer-based assessment system. For a year, parents, teachers and school administrators will be freed from the data obsession and gaming-of-the-system driven by these scores. Two decades ago, under then-Commissioner Andy Tompkins, Kansas was a leader in computerized-assessment and placing assessment data online. Kansas is now a leader in being hacked.
$ Commissioner Diane DeBacker resigned effective May 14 and now serves as adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council of the United Arab Emirates. DeBacker faced many challenges including securing a waiver from NCLB without committing Kansas’s independent USD’s to major use of test scores for teacher evaluation. She also faced attempts by the Kansas Legislature to overreach into KSBE jurisdiction.
$ Randy Watson, superintendent of the McPherson school district was chosen by the KSBE to be the new Kansas Education Commissioner. He had been one of the first to seek a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, allowing McPherson schools to use other testing methods rather than NCLB-driven, state-mandated assessments.
$ Elections changed little in the political makeup of the Kansas State Board of Education. The KSBE consists of 10 members serving 4-year terms with half elected each 2-years. Most races were determined in the primary. In District 1, incumbent Janet Waugh (D) won against Nancy Klemp (R). Incumbents John Bacon (R) in District 3 and Ken Willard (R) in District 7 were unopposed. District 5 incumbent Sally Cauble (R) won against Meg Wilson (R). In District 9, Jana Shaver did not run for re-election and will be replaced by Jim Porter (R) who won against Martin Burke (R).
$ Severe tax cuts by the Kansas Governor and Legislature produced a $278 million revenue shortfall. Since Kansas is a Constitutionally-required balanced-budget state, this would normally result in a mid-year rescission where all state agencies and schools would have to give back some percentage of their annual budget. Instead, the Governor is proposing a one-time “transfer” of funds from the KPERS retirement fund and raiding the Department of Transportation. But many legislators favor even more tax cuts. With K-12 education consuming over half of every Kansas tax dollar and all other state agencies cut to the bone, another K-12 school funding reduction remains possible.
$ The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that cuts made due to the 2008 recession left unconstitutional gaps in funding between poor and rich school districts. This forced legislators to increase aid to poor districts by $129 million for the 2014-15 school year. While this addressed the “equity” part of the lawsuit, it did not address the larger “adequate funding” issue. The Supreme Court ordered the lower court judges to consider whether the state's total spending on schools is adequate. If they order the state to restore the 2008 budget, Kansas will have to raise annual school funds by $450 million. If the courts agree with the school districts’ lawsuit, K-12 school funding would have to increase by over $1 billion.
It all makes you wonder where the words “where never is heard, a discouraging word” in our state anthem came from.