This week’s start of another year for the more than 51,000 students of USD 259, as well as parochial schools and other area districts, finds the classroom the most important place in K-12 education, as always. But some big things playing out beyond those walls will affect how children learn, and how much districts spend teaching them.
A welcome dip in school property taxes is coming in many districts – including Wichita’s, even as the proposed budget nearly doubles the district’s capital outlay mill levy to 8 mills and increases teachers’ salaries and benefits. The tax relief and added state dollars were the best parts of the state law passed by the Legislature to answer the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that the state funding was inequitably divided among rich and poor districts.
On Monday the Kansas National Education Association filed suit about one of the worst parts of the law. It stripped teachers of the state-mandated right to a hearing before they are fired, unconstitutionally attaching “substantive policy riders on an appropriations bill,” according to KNEA.
Though the law satisfied the Supreme Court’s order regarding equity, the bigger question of whether state funding is sufficient overall to be constitutional is still under consideration by a lower court. Another ruling in favor of the districts and against the state could spell even more trouble for the state budget.
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The law also created the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission, whose chairman is Sam Williams of Wichita. Its findings and recommendations for how to spend school funding dollars more effectively are due before Jan. 9, 2015, and could influence the next legislative session, as will the fall elections for governor and Kansas House.
Wichita and statewide, schools are transitioning to the Common Core State Standards, known as “college and career ready standards” in the state. Kansans can hope the spring assessment season won’t bring a repeat of this year’s testing – which had so many cyberattacks and other technical problems that reading and math scores won’t even be released – and that legislators won’t revive their misguided attempts to block the standards.
Considering the natural and man-made school tragedies in Moore, Okla., and Newtown, Conn., it’s great to know that 90 percent of USD 259 schools now have Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelters (with the rest to come soon) and that $3 million worth of security upgrades are underway.
As the school bells start ringing again, please exercise special caution on the streets and highways. That means slowing down in school zones and obeying when school buses display stop signs.
And please consider signing up to volunteer at or contribute to your neighborhood school or one of the many programs that provide mentors and other support. Doing so will help students, schools and, it follows, the community succeed.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman