Legislators, educators share importance of investing in education

Legislators, educators and community members came together to discuss ways to improve student success and education during the Kansas Association of School Boards Advocacy Tour stop at Mary Herbert Education Center Friday morning.

KASB Associate Executive Director of Advocacy Mark Tallman presented five new directions for Kansas education, modeled strongly after the Kansans Can initiative. Each directive is designed to ensure student success by implementing new measurements of educational success, adequately funding K-12 schools, basing accountability on student success and tracking the progress of the Mercury-7 school redesign project.

“We have never been as educated as we are right now as a state and as a country,” Tallman said. “We’ve never had more Kansans with high school degrees, we’ve never had more Kansans who have attended college (and) earned four-year degrees, but we know there are still too many students not reaching where they need to be.”

Part of that, Tallman said, requires changing how the state currently measures student success and moving away from test scores. Research shows that 70 percent of jobs require some education past high school, whether it be college or specialized training. By tracking students post-graduation, districts such as USD 253 will have a better idea of how well they are preparing students for the world.

Another key piece of ensuring student success, he said, was investing in K-12 education.

“The states that are the most prosperous spend the most on K-12 education,” he said. “Those states who spend more are able to hire more people to provide quality assistance to kids. It gives them the ability to give traditional assistance to kids who have traditionally not been successful … We have been falling behind the national average in almost every category at the same time our funding has declined.”

Tallman said the proposed school finance formula currently being debated by the Kansas Supreme Court will result in more funding to school districts. The formula would mark the first increase in almost a decade to school operating budgets.

“It’s really one of the largest investments in the state,” Representative Mark Schreiber said. “An investment sometimes takes a little bit of time to produce the results, but if you don’t invest in the state, it will continue to degrade. To me, it’s an investment in the future of Kansas, whether it be in schools, mental health care … I think what we have to do is be — as in Kansans Can — a leader in education and not just getting by.”

Senator Jeff Longbine said he was concerned the progress made for a more moderate legislation would lose momentum if leaders in education didn’t engage with the community about the positive outcomes of the tax increase.

“What I would like to leave you with my comments is whatever increase that’s given or has been ordered, is to talk about the importance of education on the community,” Longbine said. “I think it’s extremely important that you start justifying and explaining to your patrons the reason for the increase. Explain any further increase and how that money will be spent and how it will benefit the students and benefit the community.”

Tallman said if there was one takeaway the public should take away from the current initiatives, it would be that a lot of change was happening in education across the state.

“It’s an exciting time in education, and focusing on that will help more of our kids be successful,” Tallman said. “We want to thank the legislators for their actions to be kind of providing resources, and our board and our local districts to kind of put those into practice … I think we will be seeing a lot of good things happening in our school districts that we haven’t been able to do, really in the last six to eight years. That’s our key message — good things are happening.”

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