Journey of a Superintendent: School Finance Formula

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

The current block grant system used to fund public schools in Kansas is set to sunset June 30, 2017. To prepare for the upcoming legislative session, Governor Brownback requested citizens from across the state share feedback with him about what is important to include in a school finance formula. I want to share the Core Tenants of a School Finance Formula that was drafted by our board and community. We believe that these tenants are critical to ensure quality education is accessible to all children and youth in our state.

  1. Funding must be tied to what is actually costs to educate students.
  2. Students’ educational needs vary; therefore, the funding formula must be both flexible and adequate to meet the needs of all Kansas students.
  3. The suitable provision of finance for educating our students is the responsibility of the state, and should not be based on the property wealth of a community. Equitable funding, derived from similar tax effort across all communities in Kansas, is essential.
  4. Any formula must meet constitutional requirements for equity and adequacy. The equity requirements of the constitution require that local dollars be equalized across the state, so that children have equal educational opportunity with similar tax effort. Attention is needed to insure local dollars are appropriately equalized.
  5. Funding for early childhood programs is critical to ensure all children enter Kindergarten prepared.
  6. Every Kansas student must have access to quality education which prepares them for college and careers in a global society.
  7. The formula should recognize local control and provide funding of educational services; in addition, the Legislature and school districts need budgeting predictability.
  8. Any funding formula that is both efficient and effective must directly tie funding to school districts to what it actually costs to educate students, as the previous formula did. As such, the previous formula was not deficient. Rather, it was not sufficiently funded, and for any new funding formula to be effective, it must be adequately funded.
  9. Any new formula needs to provide a mechanism to recognize increasing costs. One means to do this is through a direct connection to increases in the Consumer Price Index.
  10. Public funds should not be used to fund, or provide vouchers or tax credits for funding private schools.

As we enter the legislative session, I will be keeping in mind that quality public education is the backbone of what it means to be an American. I will also be reminding myself that “It’s Up to Us” to ensure that all children have access to excellent teachers and quality schools.

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Journey of a Superintendent: Thank You

thankyou3

On November 8, 2016, a no-tax increase bond for Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools was authorized with a 79% approval rate. This $235 million bond will keep tax rates the same for residents of KCK, and provide critical resources to allow the district to continue its progress in providing facilities that support the goal of graduating each student prepared for college and careers in a global society.

The bond approval is a strong statement of confidence by our community in the quality education occurring in our schools. The approval is also a testament as to why our community was recognized by the American’s Promise Alliance as one of the 100 best communities for young people.

On behalf of the Board of Education and the bond committee, I want to express our gratitude for the tremendous work done to inform our citizens about our facility needs, plans for improvements, and most importantly, the quality education occurring each and every day in our schools. The nearly 80% approval would not have been possible without the entire community working together.

Now, we are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. We have staff hard at work planning out the projects we will undertake over the next five years, and we look forward to beginning the work in the new year. Please watch this space, along with the district website and our social media sites, for updates on our bond work.

Again, we are deeply appreciative and humbled by the support of this community. You have truly taken to heart the belief that “It’s Up to Us”!

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Journey of a Superintendent: Let’s Vote!

I was so excited to open my mail box a few days ago to find my election ballot. I have voted by mail for several years now. Allocating time to stand in a line is challenging. I have asked myself from time to time, “Why bother to vote?” But I know the answer. Voting is one of the most important tools we have to influence the policy makers, and to have a voice in the type of country, state, and community we want to live in. So I was excited to receive my ballot, even though I am weary of the type of rhetoric we have been subject to in this election cycle.

So please join in and vote. It’s not just about the presidential election. We know that decision is critical. The person we elect will send a message to the world about who we are as a nation. But if we want to see work get done, the down ballot elections for Congress and our state legislative elections are just as critical. In addition, I believe we should think long and hard about the judicial items on the ballot. Maintaining three independent branches of government is what makes our democracy work. Attempts to politicize our judicial branch could dramatically change our democracy, and that is a decision we mustn’t take lightly.

Lastly, and certainly not least, we have a school bond referendum on our ballot. The board, with the guidance of our Community Vision Committee, is asking us to vote on a zero tax increase bond in order to make significant improvement to our schools. You can find the details at www.kckps.org/pleasevote. The bond question is the very last item on the ballot for those living in KCKPS boundaries.

I for one am starting my voting decision from the bottom of the ballot. Approving the bond is about supporting a positive future in our community. After all, quality education is the backbone of any strong community, and essential for our children’s future. Successful passage of the bond will impact every school, and is an economic boost to our community. There may choices on the ballot that cause us angst. However, this bond item is a way each of us can help make our community even better. Please vote, and remember, “It’s Up to Us!”

 

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Journey of a Superintendent: #Hopeful

 

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

If one depended on the nightly news, or social media, to predict the future, he/she might think our youth are lost. Be honest, when many of us were kids, the same type of image was attributed to our generation.  Just like in “the day,” today the predominant message is that our youth are lost to the streets, without hope, and living lives without direction or purpose.

We must acknowledge that there are some young people whom we know are on a negative path. However, we should be careful not to paint our kids with such a wide brush. What I see every day fills me with confidence that our youth will make my community, state, and our nation stronger.

Every week, I spend time in our schools, visiting classrooms and talking with teachers and our students. Just today, I spent time with a few hundred teenagers in one of our high schools. These young people were designing projects and business plans tied to their passions and aspirations. I was struck by the fact that nearly all of the projects centered on helping others. The projects included strategies to improve health; empowerment networks for young women; an art show featuring art created by individuals with disabilities; fashion design to help the young professional dress with style while maintaining class and grace; and the development of an “App” that would focus on access to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

What I observed today was one of many examples of our youth working hard to solve problems and improve our world.  Our kids certainly are growing up in times very different from my generation. If we take the time to really learn who they are, and what is important to our youth today, we will surely be inspired and hopeful for our future. I often say, “It’s Up to Us.” Today, I say: #Hopeful!

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Journey of a Superintendent: Stand in the Light

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

There are moments in life that affirm my belief that if you stay true to your principles, good things will happen.  I have learned that many times, just when it seems that disappointment and darkness will win the day, something changes, and a light of hope begins to flicker.

Kansas has been in darkness, since we moved away from the tenants of our constitution that require “equity” in educational opportunity through similar tax effort. This past Thursday, when the Legislature convened for the Special Session, we had a chance to move into the light, by ensuring our school finance system was amended to meet the equity requirement. As the session began, it was not at all clear that this would be the outcome.

The special session began with budget committees in both the House and Senate introducing identical bills, which would have reduced funding for all Kansas schools in order to find the money to provide equity. While a number of districts testified in favor of that plan, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) held firm to the principle that the $38 million necessary to provide equity should NOT come from school districts.  Our stance was not one of stubbornness, but rather anchored in our belief that to be in compliance with the Supreme Court’s admonishment to not harm adequacy, additional investment was required.

Throughout the session, educators, parents, and advocates from around the state came together to support our legislators.  A rally was held outside of the Capitol, with voices from across the state encouraging action to create equity and keep schools open.  I witnessed House and Senate members crossing party lines, engaged in collegial conversations, and exerting real effort to examine all possible options.  It soon became clear that there were alternative revenue sources available that would allow for additional investment in the education of our children. As the session progressed, the dark mood changed to one of hope and expectation.

I am so pleased to report that the Kansas Senate and the Kansas House passed and sent to Governor Brownback legislation that will equitably distribute money for public schools in Kansas, and when the Governor signs it, it prevents a school shutdown!

This session began with darkness and ended with Kansans standing in the light!  Let us learn from this experience.  When we work together, and stay true to our principles, good things are the result.  “It’s Up to Us!”

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Journey of a Superintendent: Kansas Supreme Courts Affirms Equity

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Kansas children and families, reminding us all that education is the cornerstone to the Kansas Constitution and our way of life. The Court ruled that the Kansas Legislature has again failed to establish a constitutional school finance formula in Kansas. The constitution requires that all school districts have equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort. In other words, quality education must not be based on the zip code, or ability of your community to increase local taxes.

Our Legislature has until June 30, 2016 to correct the problem. If the Legislature fails to fulfill its constitutional obligation, Kansas will not have a constitutional school finance formula, school districts will be unable to spend any money, and schools will be forced to close. What this means in practical terms? Summer programs cease, vendors and employees are not paid, school feeding programs halt, repairs and maintenance to school facilities will not be completed. If there is a prolonged stoppage, school will likely not open in August on time. School closures would be devastating to our children, communities, and economy!

Legislative Options

The Legislature has limited options: Fix the formula before their June 1, 2016 scheduled adjournment, or come back in a special session (which would have to be ordered by the governor) to fix it. Another option might be to do nothing.

Is There Anything We Can Do?

The district has a “worst case scenario plan” that I hope we never have to implement. Right now, our energy is best spent on advocating and supporting our legislature to do their constitutional duty.

 The danger of a school shut-down is a legislative issue, and it is up to the Legislature to solve it. It is important that legislators hear from their constituents on this issue, and I encourage you to reach out to your legislators to let them know your feelings about the importance of equitable school funding for our students, and for students across the state.

We will continue to keep you updated on legislative issues through e-mail, and with information on our Legislative Page on the district website: http://kckps.org/index.php/legislative-information.

 

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Journey of a Superintendent: Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize!

Each year I have the privilege of congratulating nearly 1,000 graduates as they commence to the next phase in their life’s journey. It is so rewarding to be a small part of the accomplishments of our students, families, schools and community.

Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Lane at 2016 Commencement Ceremonies.

Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Lane at 2016 Commencement Ceremonies.

During convocation last August, we sent our employees off to begin the school year with a rewrite of the song, “Eyes on the Prize.” The lyrics included:

We have students who depend on you, to keep them focused and see them through . . . hold on, hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

Thinking back over the school year, it is clear to me, that no matter our challenges, we have kept our eyes on the prize – the future of our kids.

Our students and schools certainly kept their eyes on the prize as:

It has certainly been a school year filled with accomplishments! I must say that we kept our eyes on the prize. Thank you students, teachers, families, and community! It is clear, that our focus is on what matters most to our future – our kids. Enjoy the summer and remember, “It’s Up to Us!”

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Journey of a Superintendent: The ABCs of School Finance

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Last month in my blog, I was celebrating the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of public schools and Kansas kids. It was the latest court decision in the Gannon vs. State of Kansas school funding lawsuit. The court found that schools must be financed equitably to ensure that every student, regardless of their zip code, receives the same opportunity to learn and prepare for their future.

Stories about school funding have been prevalent in the media during the past year, and I hope they continue to draw the interest of all Kansans. Education should be the top priority of every citizen; we are investing in our future. I encourage everyone to stay informed, and to speak out for public education.

I have had many people approach me and ask me questions about school finance – how it works, what the various proposed Bills mean, and what this latest court decision means to the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. The reality is, there is a long history, and it is not easy to explain in a few sentences. Recently, the Lawrence Journal World published a story that provides “the ABCs of school finance” which is a detailed history of school finance and how we got here.

I wanted to share it with you to help you understand, and also, to encourage you to remain up-to-date on this issue. As Kansas residents, “It’s Up to Us.”

 

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Journey of a Superintendent: A Victory for Kansas Kids and Public Education!

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Today, the Kansas Supreme Court issued their ruling in the latest school funding lawsuit in Kansas, Gannon vs. State of Kansas. The Court found schools must be financed to ensure every student, regardless of the property wealth of the community in which they live, is receiving an equitable education. The Court did not determine the level of funding, as they have in past cases. Instead, the Court directed our legislative leaders to follow our Constitution. Said another way, the Court directed our leaders to do what is right and just.

Today, every parent, every teacher, every student, every citizen is reminded of the critical importance of public education. Our Supreme Court reminds us that access to quality public schools, funded equitably for all children is not only essential, but also required by the Kansas Constitution. Journalist and TV News Anchor Tom Brokaw sums it up best,

“There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny. . . It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.”

I am encouraged, as well as reassured, that our determination to ensure quality schools for all 460,000 children in our state is at the very heart of who we are as Kansans. Every community in our state depends on strong and vibrant public schools to educate its citizens, and to improve the future of our state. I am hopeful that this reminder will encourage our leaders to work toward solutions. Solutions that are right, just for all citizens, and essential for our prosperity. It truly is Up to Us.

 

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Do the Right Thing, Dagnabbit!

Lane Headshot (small)“We need to start paying attention to the unfunded stuff and stop worry about the funded stuff.” – Dr. Christopher Thornberg, economist

So many tragic events call into question whether we are paying attention to things that matter. Consider the meaning of Thornberg’s words (above) as they pertain to the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. I must confess, I have not been able to get the Flint crisis out of my mind. Now, I don’t know the reason for the catastrophe, but I am struggling to comprehend that this type of tragedy can happen in America, in the 21st century. However, one thing is clear: The impact on the citizens of Flint, and especially on its children, will be felt for a generation or more. Who was paying attention? How many people who could have acted, turned away because they were somebody else’s children?

And what’s worse, Michigan has a state budget surplus of $575 million dollars! And yet, in order to save money, they were willing to literally poison an entire community . . . to damage an entire generation of Flint residents.

And let’s be honest: Michigan is not alone. I can’t help but think about the generational impact that decisions being made right here in my home state of Kansas are having on our kids. Thank goodness we are not facing the realization that our children have been drinking poisonous water! But we are creating our own generational crisis: In Kansas, we are facing a long-term de-investment in our children’s education. For many, this de-investment will have a life-long impact.

As we spend our time and resources bantering about buzz words like “efficiency,” “money in the classroom,” “consolidation,” and “transparency,” citizens need to understand what is really meant by these catchy phrases. “Efficiency” means spending the least amount of money for schools so we can justify having cut taxes for some wealthy individuals, regardless of how those cuts will impact the whole (community). “Money in the classroom” equals discrediting local board decision-making about how to serve their students, and pretending that students don’t need to get to school, eat while there, access libraries or physical education, or receive any support services. “Consolidation” means setting arbitrary limits on school district size, in order to justify fewer resources to support the needs of schools. “Transparency” equals, well the nicest way to put it is that in Kansas, we get to do whatever the #@!% we want, despite the implications for the next generation!

There are so many issues sitting right in front of us that must be addressed. We could fill a wall with the recent events, any one of which should sound a loud siren of distress. Collectively, we are not paying attention to the things that make for a quality life.

Thornberg reminds us that buzz words won’t jumpstart our economy, or improve communities. It’s people. Plain and simple. It’s not about tax policy, efficiencies, consolidation, or whatever the latest buzz is. It’s people who are seeking quality of life, quality of education, and quality communities with strong infrastructure.

Seems simple enough. Yet, our current system is rapidly moving away from these basic values. Decisions are being made that are sacrificing our collective future. President Lincoln reminds us: “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” I pray we begin to listen, and to do the right thing. It’s Up to Us!

 

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