Kansas high school journalism funding at risk

TOPEKA — Kansas journalism teachers are worried that changes in the way the state funds high school programs could bring student newspapers and yearbooks to an end.

At issue is the Kansas State Department of Education's decision to modify what qualifies for vocational education funds. High school newspaper and yearbook programs currently are allowed a share of that money. Last school year, that amounted to about $700,000 of the $30.6 million distributed statewide for vocational programs.

But the funding for salaries, training and equipment is likely to go away in the 2012-13 school year, when traditional journalism courses are moved into other academic areas such as art, technology or business.

That has teachers worried, especially about programs in smaller school districts with limited resources.

"In a lot of districts, it pays the salaries of journalism teachers, or part of it," said Jill Chittum, a member of the Kansas Scholastic Press Association's board of directors and a journalism instructor at Blue Valley High School in Stilwell. "In the bigger districts, it might not be as big a hit."

Kansas Department of Education spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes said the State Board of Education approved changes earlier this year. Instead of stand-alone courses, the journalism programs would be woven into a cluster of classes with broader content such as digital media, information technology and Web-based communications.

Traditional journalism courses would no longer meet the criteria for state funding, but still could receive funds if a school district has a more expansive curriculum that fits the new criteria.

Linda Drake, a journalism teacher for 30 years in Cottonwood Falls, said asking English teachers to add journalism to their curriculum may not work, especially if they lack training in that area. She said teachers are meeting with state education staff later this month to air their concerns and will try to bring national student organizations into the discussion.

Chittum said high schools already struggle to publish newspapers and yearbooks in the time they're given. Moving those projects to other courses would complicate the process, and many publications would disappear, she said.

Toelkes said the journalism course changes are part of a statewide effort to revise curriculum so it reflects current and future needs of students heading to college or the job market.

But Chittum said most journalism courses already expose students to skills they'll need in today's world through Web-based publications, social media and blogging.

Blue Valley High senior and yearbook editor Gretchen Hess said her journalism courses have helped her develop communication and leadership skills that will be helpful in college in whatever major she pursues.

"It's helped me be a better student in general," she said. "I understand what teachers go through when I lead yearbook staff through the day."