The new KSDE Accounting Handbook provides another stark reminder that academics and the importance of instruction are being de-emphasized in Kansas schools.

The 2018 Accounting Handbook and previous editions made the importance of instruction abundantly clear.

“Although all other functions are important, this function acts as the most important part of the education program, the very foundation on which everything else is built. If this function fails to perform at the needed level, the whole educational program is doomed to failure regardless of how well the other functions perform. Instruction not only includes the regular face to face classroom teaching but also such things as lab sessions, independent work, and education field trips.”

School districts paid no attention to the KSDE guidance on the importance of instruction.  Despite persistently having more high school students below grade level than are on track for college and career, local school boards barely allocated half of total spending to instruction.  About 54% was allocated to instruction in the 2005 school year.  With spending $3 billion higher in 2020, the average allocation was just 53%.

School officials got a $750 million court-ordered funding increase in 2005, claiming not to have enough money to educate students. But with no accountability for improving achievement, they continued allocating money as they had in the past.  And then they sued again in 2010.

The Kansas Supreme Court said in 2016 that having about 25% of students were below grade level somehow proved schools were underfunded and gave schools $1 billion more.  But with still no accountability for spending money to improve achievement, nothing changed.  And now, about a third of students are below grade level.

Dept. of Education de-emphasizes achievement

KSDE officials have offered no explanation for de-emphasizing the importance of instruction in the new Accounting Handbook, but their action is part of a pattern.

State school board members and department officials overtly downplayed academics with the introduction of their Kansans Can initiative in 2016.  Despite its disingenuous tagline – Kansas leads the world in the success of every student – the program is devoid of accountability and consciously obscures persistently low student achievement.

This year’s “Success Tour” saw KSDE officials handing out awards like candy.  KSDE gave out 68 Gold Awards and 24 Silver Awards to districts with high school graduation rates at or above 93%.  But how many school districts do you think received Gold or Silver Awards for Academic Preparedness?  Exactly none.

School officials know they are giving diplomas to many students who can’t read at grade level. That deplorable situation won’t change until legislators intervene to give students a fighting chance.  Universal school choice, with money-follow-the-child education savings accounts, is the solution because money is the only thing that motivates most school board members.  As has happened in states with robust school choice options, the threat of competition will compel education officials to ‘up their game’ and benefit all students.

Legislators should see the de-emphasizing of the KSDE Accounting Handbook for what it is and pass universal school choice legislation when they convene in January.

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