School funding, poverty and immigrants are among the issues that divide Kathy Busch and Walt Chappell, candidates for the State Board of Education in District 8, which covers much of Wichita.
Whoever wins in the Aug. 7 Republican primary is likely to influence policies and standards for Kansas public schools in the next four years; no Democrats or Libertarians are seeking the seat.
Busch and Chappell both have experience as educators, and both attended Wichita schools.
Chappell, 70, was elected to the State Board of Education as a Democrat in 2008, then became a Republican in 2011. He owns an export and import trading business. He worked for several years as an educator in California, Kansas and Iowa; he also worked in agriculture and energy. He served 10 months on the school board of the Willits Unified District in California in the late 1970s, leaving for a job in another state.
Chappell’s main work on the state board has involved policies about bullying, obesity and school finance. He has been at odds with fellow board members, a majority of whom signed a letter of rebuke in April after Chappell had published in The Eagle a letter that called federal No Child Left Behind mandates “a major disaster and a tremendous waste of taxpayer money” and accused the state education commissioner of covering up poor test results among Kansas students.
Busch, 60, has worked as a science and biology teacher and was principal of Robinson and Coleman middle schools and Southeast High School. She retired last year as assistant superintendent for middle schools in the Wichita school district.
This is her first run for public office, which she describes as a way of giving back to the community.
When it comes to school funding, the candidates’ views could be summarized like this:
“Every child in every classroom deserves adequate funding” — Busch
And “How much is enough?” — Chappell.
A three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court heard a lawsuit last month brought by 54 school districts — including Wichita — that claims the Legislature and the governor have failed in their constitutional duty to provide adequate funds for public education.
Chappell said schools don’t need more money, but should try to use their current funds more efficiently. His theory is that, because of schools’ bureaucracy, money gets lost in layers of administration and doesn’t get to the children. He also objects to some of the projects for which schools seek funding.
“What I see coming across our desk at the State Board of Education, at least half of the requests for bond issues are for a new football field, a new weight room, a new press box,” Chappell said. “What does that do to get a job for a kid?”
Busch, on the other hand, sees what she calls adequate funding as necessary for employing teachers and para-professionals to assist children.
“It’s expensive to teach children just because of so many people that it takes,” Busch said. “It makes it very difficult to continue to have your people provide the kind of education the kids need without any money or without an increase in some funds.”
Chappell has repeatedly said that schools should use their cash reserves for operational expenses. At the end of the fiscal year, on June 30, 2010, schools had a cash balance of around $872 million.
“I’m a strong advocate for the taxpayer,” he said. “Our property taxes already are high in the city. So I’m trying to make sure what we have in the till already is going to get used effectively.”
Busch cites a study done by the accounting firm Allen, Gibbs & Houlik that shows that of the schools’ total cash reserves, only $241.3 million is unrestricted funds, which would pay for the school districts’ bills for about 23 days.
“So it looks like they’ve got all these cash reserves,” Busch said, “where what that really is is working capital.”
The two have similar views on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind.
Kansas, along with other states, has been trying to obtain a waiver from the act, which requires that all children be proficient in reading and math by 2014 in order for states to receive federal funding.
Both Chappell and Busch stamp that requirement as unrealistic. Instead, they support a growth model, which would follow students’ performance over several years instead of delivering results at one point in time.
Chappell is also critical of the Common Core Standards Initiative, which sets educational standards for all the schools in the country. He has previously called the initiative “No Child Left Behind on steroids.”
“It’s going to continue to force us to teach only to reading and math, and then expect all the other courses to take second place: science, history, geography, music, art,” Chappell said. “And what I’m trying to do is educate the whole child.”
Busch, on the other hand, sees the Common Core Standards as an improvement from the current education standards, which are “one mile long and one inch deep,” she said. The common core standards are going to allow teachers to get a deeper understanding of student learning — for example, see if students can understand statistics, not merely if they can use a statistics tool, she said.
Poverty and immigrants
About 7 out of 10 children in Wichita qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a common measure for fighting poverty in schools.
Chappell said he acknowledges the need to “feed our kids” but said the program doesn’t contribute to students’ academic achievement.
“Whether or not a parent admits to have enough money to buy their kid a lunch, it has nothing to do with whether the kid can learn,” he said. “The free lunch has nothing to do with learning ability. I’ve seen it in India, in Africa, in Russia and here in the United States. It has become a way for some school districts to pad their budgets.”
Schools should re-evaluate which categories of students they consider to be “at risk,” Chappell said, and direct money toward kids who have trouble learning, not to those who claim they need free lunches.
Busch’s solution for breaching the achievement gap between children from affluent homes and children from low-income families is intervention classes, where instructors concentrate on a small number of children, usually four or five, and try to bring them up to the average class level. Intervention classes require extra instructors, which require extra funds.
“If we really want to address the cycle of poverty, we’re going to have to do it with some resources,” Busch said.
Another category of students who need extra resources are children from immigrant families who don’t speak English. Schools regularly receive additional funds for programs such as English Language Learner (ELL).
Chappell proposed that children from immigrant families that cannot prove they are in the country legally should pay a $1,000 fee to help offset the costs of English language lessons.
“We just don’t have an endless pit of money,” he said. “We do not have any ability to just keep spending and spending in this country. We’re going broke.”
Busch, on the other hand, pointed out that schools are required by law to teach all children, regardless of their immigration status.
“We teach them when they come,” she said. “My experience with immigrant children has been very positive. They’re usually pretty hard working kids, just like our other kids are.”