Rep. Kristey Williams part II
By June 30, the Kansas Supreme Court will rule on the adequacy of an additional $360 million recently added to public education by the Legislature.
After adding more than $3 billion more in education spending over a period of five years, will the Kansas Supreme Court conclude we’ve finally met adequacy? Will the four school districts (plus 80 others providing financial support) suing Kansas taxpayers finally be satisfied? And once the Court declares schools are adequately funded – how long will it take for Kansans to see improved student achievement?
After all, underperforming students are the foundation of the lawsuit against Kansas taxpayers – those students not receiving a constitutionally suitable education. The Court considered the one-fourth of all students failing and decided adding more money would fix the problem of underachievement.
The Court did not ask for more school accountability. Nor did they ask that more money be spent in the classroom. They simply picked the easiest pathway to solve a very complex problem – they demanded more money. The Court mandated the Legislature add more taxpayer dollars to the entire system in hopes that it would fix the problem. The Court was banking on the concept that adding more money, billions more, would improve student achievement. Let’s hope they’re right!
The premise behind the Gannon lawsuit that began in 2010 was that a growing number of students were failing in the classroom. The plaintiffs argued that their students were underperforming and it was the State’s fault. In response, the Court stated that we have a ‘system that fails to provide approximately one-fourth of all its public-school K-12 students with the basic skills of both reading and math.’ Further, the Court said we are failing our students, especially the growing gap between different types of students (comparison of all students with subgroups such as various minority groups, free lunch, English Learners).
The problem is real – an alarming number of students are graduating high school, yet are not college and career ready. The stats are pretty disheartening. Even with increased funding – student achievement has continued to drop in the past decade. Why?
The numbers speak for themselves, and while the data is concerning, the reasons behind the numbers are varied and complex. In English and math, over 33% of all Kansas high school students are performing below grade level (level 1 of 4 levels). This number has jumped from 12% and 14% (English and math) since 2010 when the lawsuit was filed.
Even worse, USD 259/Wichita (one of the four original schools to file the lawsuit) has fallen to a new academic low – 45% of ALL students are performing below grade level in English (level 1) and 47% are performing below grade level in math! This is troubling.
Where is all the money going while student achievement steadily drops year after year?
With $3 billion more in funding over the next five years, we should all be looking at the schools for accountability. How was the money used to raise student achievement? How are all students performing compared with the subgroups? What is the return on public investment? Are more students making real measurable progress? Every single superintendent should be providing quantitative data, including state assessment data, showing student achievement and progress.
Not one superintendent has explained to me, Chair of the House K-12 Budget Committee, how specifically adding more money will improve student achievement. I haven’t had one single superintendent talk to me about how new money would be targeted to close the gap between students falling behind academically and why money wasn’t prioritized for this purpose already. In the many emails I’ve received asking for more funding, no one has mentioned test scores and their desire to improve those outcomes. No one has provided any guarantees or expectations for student progress in response to increased funding. In the world of achievement, except for the Court highlighting the inadequacies of student achievement – the dialogue has been concernedly absent.
In fact, the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) states on their website that there is too much emphasis on state assessments and that they are making efforts to minimize the state assessment footprint. Ironically, at the same time KSDE says test scores should be minimized (right or wrong), the Court is evaluating the Legislature on those very test scores! In fact, it’s those very test scores that were used to make the plaintiff’s case that one-fourth of all Kansas students are failing.
It seems that the Kansas taxpayer, along with the Legislature, has been held accountable for student achievement for far too long. It’s now time for the schools to be accountable for how the billions of dollars are being spent.
Accountability. It’s crucial. We can provide all the money at the State level – but ultimately, it matters most how school districts spend the money. Let’s get the money into the classrooms and in the hands of the teachers. Let’s ask questions about accountability, achievement, and outcomes. Let’s partner for the true purpose of public education – to prepare a future workforce for our communities and the world. It’s time to see results. It’s time for schools to end the lawsuit and place all their focus on student achievement.
Supreme Court – the ball is in your court.
Rep. Kristey Williams
Office Ph#: 785-296-3971