Two state senators last week bluntly rebuked the Kansas Association of School Boards and the United School Administrators when they tried to pretend they didn’t understand the legal requirement to conduct annual needs assessments of each school building. It was an unprecedented dressing-down, prompted by years of education officials ignoring the Legislature’s efforts to improve public education.
Senate Education Chair Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) asked KASB Executive Director Mark Tallman how school officials could possibly misunderstand the word ‘shall.’
“You indicated in your testimony that…if we want something from our boards of education, we’re going to have to make it clear. I’m going to read specifically from the statute. ‘Each year, the board of education of a school district shall conduct an assessment for the educational needs of each attendance center in the district.’
“I don’t know what could be more clear than that. They must conduct it. I assume if they conduct it, they are documenting it in some way. Are you saying it doesn’t have to be published and KORA- (Open Records) ready? Is that what your position is?”
Tallman said there isn’t a requirement for a particular ‘instrument’ or form to be used. He said boards are going through a process but it doesn’t follow a particular design or survey.
K.S.A. 72-1163(a) also says the information obtained in the building needs assessment process “shall be used by the board when preparing the budget of the school district.” But Tallman and USA Executive Director G.A. Buie seemed befuddled that the Legislature would expect school districts to be able to prove that they followed the law.
Buie said school districts have created multiple committees to determine building needs, but Senator Baumgardner challenged his assertion. She said legislators continually hear that teachers aren’t involved in the budget process. Baumgardner also admonished Buie for implying schools have limited funding.
“Mr. Buie, I was a little surprised to hear you say ‘with the limited funds schools have’ because quite frankly, this year and last year, schools districts have been flush with money…not only from the funding formula that was approved by the state supreme court but also the money coming in from the federal government.”
KASB and USA basically say legislators should just trust education officials. Forget about that pesky independent audit that found school districts weren’t spending most of their at-risk funding “in accordance with state law.” That was just a one-off.
Legal requirement to conduct building needs assessments ignored
A Sentinel investigation last year of 25 of the largest school districts in Kansas found only two that completed the forms as recommended by the Kansas Department of Education, but there was no indication that the information generated redirected resources to improve student achievement.
That investigation prompted the introduction of Senate Bill 362, with the following new provisions:
- In the minutes of the meeting at which the board approves its annual budget, the board shall include that such needs assessment was provided to the board, the board evaluated such assessment and how the board used such assessment in the preparation of the school district’s budget.
- Each year, the board of education of a school district shall review state assessment results and, as part of such review, shall document the following:
— The barriers that must be overcome to have each student achieve grade level proficiency on such assessments;
— any budget actions, including, but not limited to, recommendations on reallocation of resources that should be taken to address and remove such barriers;
— the amount of time the board estimates it will take for each student to achieve grade level proficiency on the state assessments if such budget actions are implemented.
KASB pretends grade level not defined on state assessment
In yet another ‘dog ate my homework’ moment, Tallman asserted that achievement of grade level on the state assessment is not defined. Baumgardner wasn’t buying it.
“Mr. Tallman, did I hear you say there are no standards for grade levels?”
Tallman said the descriptors on the Department of Education website don’t identify grade level, which is true…but that’s because KSDE is trying to obscure their official definitions. As the Sentinel reported last year, state officials were caught trying to reduce standards to make achievement look better.
KSDE introduced the current state assessment test in 2015, measuring outcomes in four levels. Level 1 is below grade level. Level 2 is grade level but not on track for college and career, and Levels 3 and 4 are on track for college and career. They used the adjacent graphic to explain the definitions to the Legislature. State and local school officials have for years consciously presented a false sense of high achievement, but as parents learn the truth, officials have been trying to change definitions.
They don’t want parents to know, for example, that Kansas has more high school students below grade level than are on track for college and career.
“Frankly, I’m very frustrated”
The Vice-Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Renee Erickson (R-Wichita), made concluding remarks that reflect the feelings of many Kansans.
“Frankly, I’m very frustrated…that we have a law that’s very clear and what we get from the people who are supposed to be teaching our children critical thinking skills are telling us they can’t comply with the law because, and let me tell you what I heard today…we’re too busy…we don’t have a set format…we don’t have enough money…we’re already doing it.
“I agree Madam Chair…I’m happy to put (a specific form) in place…that wouldn’t be hard to put in place, but I guarantee what we’ll hear is, ‘that’s the local control; that’s the responsibility of the local school board.’
“I would just like know what we are to do when local school boards aren’t complying with the law, and then this is the response we get when we try to make sure that that law is enforced for a very good reason. Why wouldn’t we want to base our allocation of funds on what’s best for kids? Why on earth is that such a hard lift? And the only thing I can think of quite frankly is ‘you can’t make us and you can’t tell us what to do,’ and I find that quite shocking.”