Friday, February 26, 2010

Fun Facts to Know and Tell

It costs us $17.1 million to run the legislature for one year, an increase of 41% since 2005, just curious if they think about this when they are whacking our budgets the way they are. Renovation to the capital building $280 million, almost as much as what our deficit will be this fiscal year.

Representative Clay Aurand, who lives in north central Kansas and a chair of one of the education committees in the legislature, is proposing mandatory consolidation of any district which has less than 400 students and is less than 200 square miles, which Pleasanton falls into that category. His home district also falls into that category, however he send his kids to Belleville which does not. That is his right, but there is also another chapter to this story, he has 4 children and only sends 2 to public school, the other two are doing virtual schooling, again that is his right. My problem is this, why is someone a chair of an education committee when he does not believe in public education? I am not a soccer fan, and if asked to chair a committee on soccer I believe I would refuse.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fighting Misinformation about Public Education Funding

This article came across the Superintendents Listserve and is very good. Darrel Stufflebeam from Rock Creek wrote it and may answer some questions.

Mark Twain said there are three kinds of lies: lie, damned lies, and statistics. You may have heard recently some lobbyists, legislators, or television commercials offering statistics claiming that spending on Kansas public schools has actually gone up over the past few years and school districts have $700 million in reserves to deal with budget cuts. The statistics they cite are, at best, partial truths.

For example, in 2005, the state legislature mandated that, instead of sending school KPERS money directly to KPERS, it would first be wired to school districts and then immediately be re-wired to KPERS. That's about $250 million that shows up on school district budgets. At the time, the majority in the legislature said they wanted to show what the actual expenses of education were. The fact that schools can't actually educate children with the money apparently makes no difference. Increases to KPERS are counted as increases to education and, since the legislature has been borrowing from KPERS and must soon pay it back, this statistical red herring will undoubtedly continue.

And, funding statistics include state-wide funding for new school buildings, which is called Bond and Interest. While it's true that the state is spending more money on recent bond issues in some school districts, it is funding for operating costs like salaries, utilities, fuel, food, and insurance that is being cut.

It would be more honest to cite statistics that relate to the General fund, which is the primary fund for operating expenses. That fund decreased 6.9% from last year to this year. According to KSDE, even when you include funding increases from KPERS, Bond and Interest, Local Option Budget, and federal funds the amount of funding to Kansas schools still decreased 3.2% from last year to this year. Meanwhile, schools have more students, more at-risk students, and higher student achievement requirements than ever before.

The other thing we hear a lot about is how school districts have $700 million sitting around in reserves. Various funds must have cash balances because, even in good economic times, money often goes out faster than it comes in. The Special Education Fund in particular must have a healthy balance (about $225 million this year) because school districts don't receive a penny of special education funding until three and half months after the fiscal year starts.

Lately many school districts have need cash balances just to make payroll due to state cash flow problems and late funding payments. Saying that these cash balances can take are of funding cuts is like saying you can absorb a pay cut from your job right after you've been paid because your mortgage and car loan haven't been deducted from your checking account yet.

The Contingency Fund (rainy day fund) is the fprimary reserve fund but that money can only be used once. For the past two years, school funding has been cut during the school year after the vast majority of school funding is contractually committed. That's why it's important to have contingency money available. For school districts, keeping no reserve and, when bad times hit, telling parents we're sorry but there isn't any money to suitably educate their children isn't an option.

Last year year, the legislature passed a law raising the limit of how much money school districts can put into their Contingency Fund to encourage school districts to cut spending ad transfer savings there. They knew more mid-year cuts were likely to come. Now, some legislators and others are pointing to that money as a reason why school districts can handle more cuts. Wow.

Are Kansans really naive enough to believe that school districts are closing schools and laying off thousands of teachers and other employees even though we have more money than ever and just want to hoard our huge reserves? Some politicians and some people paying for television commercials are hoping so. Instead of political spin, we need an honest discussion about what's going on so we can reach informed solutions.

Education is the best-perhaps only-solution to ignorance, intolerance, and poverty. It's also the only way to ensure the continued success of democracy. Without public education, the quality of a child's education would be based on the wealth of his or her parents. That's why the state's Founding Fathers made public education a required state expenditure in the Kansas Constitution. If we're going to imperil their vision and our children's education we should do so while understanding the whole truth.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Nothing from Nothing Leaves...

This is an editorial from the KC Star on Saturday February 20, 2010:
An audit released to the Kansas Legislature this week showed 47 tax credits and two tax refund programs cost the state $669 million in 2007, while 99 sales tax exemptions cost $4.2 billion in 2009.

Kansas has suffered a $1 billion revenue drop and is facing an added $400 million deficit in the next fiscal year. It can ill afford to give away $4.9 billion a year.

The Legislative Division of Post Audit recommends that lawmakers take a close look at tax exemptions and work out a consistent policy to make sure they benefit the state.

Well done to the auditors. We call for a total redo.

Just thinking out loud how many people that you know receive tax exemptions on what they buy?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tis the Season

We are about to enter, as all schools across the state of Kansas, the testing season. The state assessments are coming up and teachers across the state are working themselves into a tissy to make last minute preparations so their students are prepared. You see this is how our schools are evaluated, by both the state and feds, high stakes testing. Forget what has been learned in the classroom it all boils down to a few days of student testing.

We had a good year last year with our state assessment scores, which is a tribute to our staff and building administrators, but I still feel this system is flawed. By 2014 we must have 100% of our students meeting standards (proficient) or better. While this is an admirable goal when was the last time 100% was obtained by anyone. Students don't test well, some students take more time to attain skill levels, some don't react well to time deadlines, problems with the technology either at the state or local levels, students who are absent during testing, so they are doubled up. How about this for a goal, 100% of Congress not commit a crime, pay their taxes, not cheat on their spouses, and listen to the American people instead of carrying out their own agenda. Now that is a goal worth shooting for.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

School Shooting

The last in to long a line of school shootings has occurred in Alabama, at the university located in Huntsville. I suppose it has hit the natural progression, but for a faculty member to shoot other faculty members because she did not receive tenure seems so senseless, as all school shootings are. It seems the latest few have happened on college campuses and not K-12 public schools.

People seem to have lost all forms of manners and politeness if they don't get their way. "No" seems to be the most hated word in some folks vocabulary and it seems they treat it as a curse word if they happen to hear it. We need to teach our young people that they will not always get what they want, failure is a part of life, disappointment happens to everyone and how to react to adversity. We all will face adversity at some point in time and how we handle these situations is a learning experience also.

I mourn the three dead faculty members in Alabama, especially since we now know that she shot her brother and sent a pipe bomb to a Harvard professor. Simply because she was told "no" by her superiors certainly doesn't warrant the effect she had on innocent people's lives.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Post USA and Other Items

The USA convention had the best speakers and breakout sessions of any of the approximately 10 years that I have attended. The problem is the attendance was probably 50%of what it normally was. The keynote speaker was the worst of the bunch but our small groups really benefitted each of us that attended and gave us good ideas to bring back to school to use.

The legislative post audit has just concluded a study showing what mandatory state wide school consolidation would save the state, the $400 million hole they put us in is still there. The scenerio 2 is the one I find interesting, it makes every school have at least 1600 students. Since 5 counties in our state have about 50% of the population this should come as no surprise to me. They obviously did not attend nor have they been around small schools. I think the benefits of an education at a small school far outweigh the limited participation you have in a large school. I know in our community I am preaching to the choir, as we value small schools. At least they kept the post audit branch busy so they weren't bothering a school with their trivial quest for useless information.

If you wish to contact your state representative or senator their emails are listed below: