Equitable and Adequate School Funding

Chichen Itza, Mexico

I received this photograph from Alan, a colleague who, like many of us, has spent decades advocating for equitable and adequate funding for Kansas schools. Apparently, the Mayan people of Chichen Itza, Mexico found it entertaining to watch “athletes” transcend this tall stone wall while carrying a boulder, the size of a basketball. Once at the top of the wall, the goal was to propel the boulder through the stone ring affixed to the stone wall.

Alan suggested to me that our work to ensure Kansas kids have access to equitable and adequate funding (as required by our Constitution) is like traversing this wall. One has to be prepared, and have the stamina to reach the goal.

I want to thank the many advocates who demonstrate the stamina and unwavering commitment to education in our state. This last legislative session resulted in our representatives and senators coming together across political party lines to develop a new funding formula. While not without flaws, our legislators developed a formula that is structurally sound, and provides additional resources tied to the educational needs of our students.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed the bill on Thursday, June 15, which allowed the bill to advance to the Kansas Supreme Court for review.  The hearing at the Supreme Court is scheduled for Tuesday, July 18, 2017. There is anticipation, from some, that the Supreme Court will find areas of the law that need to be reworked, in order to ensure equity (all students having access to similar opportunity and resources).  There is also anticipation, by some, that the level of funding appropriated in the bill will fall short of adequacy. Still, I am grateful to the Supreme Court for allowing school districts across the state of Kansas to continue to operate while the bill is under their review.

I also want to extend appreciation to our legislators and education advocates, whose determination and stamina have returned the education of Kansas kids back to the top of the priority list. I am confident the Supreme Court will ensure the school finance law is constitutional, by maintaining oversight as any deficiencies in structure or funding are resolved. In the meantime, it’s up to us to prepare to welcome our students to a new school year, fully focused on their futures.


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Thank You!

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

Dear Teachers, Administrators and Staff,

As we close out the 2017 school year, I want to thank you for the role you play each day in supporting the students of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. Your leadership and commitment to our students and the entire school district is exemplary and inspires excellence in us all.

The outcome of your hard work and support is a year of tremendous accomplishments of which we can all be proud. Here are a few of those standout achievements showcasing why KCKPS is quite simply the best:

  • Passage of a $235 million bond –This is a tremendous vote of confidence for the work you are doing everyday by our community. 
  • Sumner Academy is No. 1 in Kansas on the Washington Post’s List of Top High Schools in America
  • Frances Willard Named a Dav Pilkey Summer Reading Educator Contest Winner
  • 64 high school students selected as KC Scholars ($10,000 a year renewable for 5 years in college scholarships!)
  • 283 Students were celebrated in the Superintendent’s Honor Roll for academic excellence
  • 230+ students in 4th & 5th grade received a certificate of excellence for Young Leaders of Tomorrow participation
  • Numerous business and industry leaders are investing in Diploma+ by serving on the Steering Committee, and/or Academy Advisory Boards
  • Total scholarships earned by our graduates exceeds $80 million!
  • Eli Jones and Angelica Soto were named KCKPS 2017 Teachers of the Year
  • Jodi Lin was named KMEA’s Honored Administrator for 2017
  • Parents As Teachers served 385 infants and toddlers and their families, andLauren Ware was named National Parent Educator of the Year
  • USA Football, partnered with ESPN to provide training to our coaches and support our high school teams
  • William Brame was named Debate Coach of the Year by Debate KC
  • Schlagle Men’s and Women’s Basketball Team won league and regional competitions, and competed valiantly in State 5A tournaments
  • Harmon’s Robotics Team placed 7th in FIRST Robotics, and competed in the World competition

For all the reasons listed above and so much more, the school district is fortunate to have each of you as part of our team. I know the year has not been easy.  I also know that the lives of our young people have been forever changed for the positive because of the great work of the entire KCKPS team.

Please find time this summer to rest, relax, and take care of you and your families.  You have given it your all and for that I am truly grateful.  I look forward to seeing each and every one of you in August as we continue to “Inspire Excellence:  Every Grownup, Every Child, Every Day!”

Dr. Cynthia Lane

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We Are All Immigrants

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

Can you wrap your mind around the lack of middle ground that seems present in all facets of our society these days? I must admit, my ideas can be pretty fixed. But I was taught to look for the middle ground, that the truth is always somewhere in the middle. These lessons came to me as a child, as I tried to make sense of clashing cultures within my own family.

Grandfather Francis was a large, imposing man. At least that is what I was told. I have shared before that my Grandfather Francis worked as a fisherman by day; by night he competed in a boxing ring. Grandma Francis was a tailor, until her eyesight failed. What was most important to them was visible in their actions, particularly with how they raised my mother. These things weren’t riches or creature comforts, but rather, were the ideals that build strong character.  It was clear from thier actions what was expected. “Familia primero” (family first), “trabalho duro” (hard work), and “bolar” (serve) God and your fellow neighbor. As you may know, my grandparents were emigrants from Portugal. My mother was raised in a home with strong values, speaking English as her second language. This is a heritage for which I am grateful to be part of, and proud to share.

Mother married my dad and moved to Kansas as an eighteen-year-old bride. While she was born in the United States, Kansas was a long way from New Bedford, MA, and the comfort of her primarily Portuguese-speaking community. Nonetheless, she assimilated quickly to understand the values and culture of her new family. These values were not so different from my maternal grandparents. I learned early that while the languages, food and customs in my family might be different, what was common was the love of family, service of others, and reliance on God.

As I listen to the tone and watch the actions underway in our country today, I am both puzzled and saddened by what I see and hear. Why do we spend so much energy in opposition to one another, when we all seemingly want the same thing – a quality life for our children and families? I believe that differences in culture and traditions are the very attributes that makes this country unique and great (already). It is encouraging to see so many individuals and organizations across our nation stepping up and standing proud in support of diversity, proud to welcome immigrants to our country. I am so proud to represent an organization with a Board of Education that stands united in support of diversity and immigration. To make it clear to our students and families that KCKPS is, and will remain, a welcoming and safe place for all children to learn, our  board passed a the following resolution: http://kckps.org/images/board/resolution3-2-17.pdf.

It seems strange that in 2017 we have to declare, through a resolution, that we embrace and celebrate our rich diversity, that our education system is open and welcoming of all students, that information about the immigration status of a child or the child’s family has no place in our schools. But the realities of today have necessitated that we not only declare we are a welcoming school district, but that our actions align with our words. If alive today, I imagine my grandparents would be one of the vocal members of our nation who remind us that (with the exception of Native Americans) we are all immigrants. They might even remind us that Depende de Nos (It’s Up to Us) to ensure we continue to be the land of opportunity, and a nation of justice, freedom, and liberty for all.

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Take the Stairs

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

Recently I was clicking through the local news channels, and happened upon the end of a report featuring an event where a large number of determined individuals walked or ran more than 800 steps to reach the top of one of the tallest structures in the city. I don’t recall the cause, or even the building that served as the setting for the event. But recently, I have been wondering what would motivate a person to want to walk or run up hundreds of stairs? Why do some individuals choose to take the stairs, while others look for the closest elevator or escalator, obviously a much quicker and easier way to the top? Can we really achieve what we want to achieve when we choose the escalator over taking the stairs?
The stairs have become a symbolic reminder to me of the effort it takes to reach our goals and dreams. The most meaningful goals we have in life require significant effort. Said another way, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” Educating our children well requires significant effort. If we really want to re-design schools to meet the demands of today’s world, we  must commit to a taking-the-stairs type effort. There is no easy way to realize meaningful and lasting change. Our collective effort, taking one step at a time toward our common goal, is the only way to succeed.

Educators and staff in my district are demonstrating the “take the stairs” effort. We have been on a journey to re-design teaching and learning to ensure our students are prepared for their futures in today’s rapidly changing world. We define “prepared” as graduating with a high school diploma “plus” endorsements aligned to their college and career aspirations, or what we have named Diploma+.

Fortunately, our community and business leaders are taking the stairs with us, and have embraced the promise of Diploma+. This fall, we received 79% approval of a $235 million bond referendum. The referendum was a strong endorsement of education in KCKPS. That bond is now providing the financial resources needed to renovate, remodel, redesign, and rebuild our schools.

Re-designing schools isn’t easy. I am proud of the effort of the KCKPS team. I am grateful for the support of our parents, community and business leaders. I am thankful to work alongside educators fully committed to the future of our students. It is vitally important that we continue to support each other to “take the stairs” in order to achieve results that matter for our students. “It’s Up to Us!”

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Hobson’s Choice

I imagine that people who have never visited Kansas might have a narrow view of who we are. When you say “Kansas,” some people probably envision cowboys, cattle, and fields of crops as far as the eye can see. If we are honest, in some parts of Kansas, that image is pretty accurate. But there is much more to being a “Kansan” then those images convey.

I am a Kansan, one who grew up in a small town whose economy was dependent on small businesses and farming. For the better part of two decades, I have called Kansas City, Kansas home. What I have come to realize over those years is that small-town Kansas and urban Kansas City have more similarities than differences.  Both are communities built on rich traditions, with a deep sense of place and belonging, and with a shared value of collective responsibility for the quality of life of all citizens. What is different is that KCK is an international community, with an incredible diversity of cultures, where we welcome increasing numbers of families from around the world who desire to raise their families, find meaningful employment, and pursue the American dream.

What I value most about KCK is that we view our diversity as a gift. We embrace a diversity that goes beyond background and heritage, and includes thinking and ideas. In our schools, we lift up and value that diversity, as students come together in our classrooms to learn and grow. We lift up the world languages (nearly 70) spoken in the homes of our students. We lift up the collective value that with hard work, everyone can rise to their potential, rise above obstacles, and rise to reach their dreams.

Our approach to achieving the American dream is simple really. Just like any community, we have our challenges, ones that we work tirelessly to overcome each and every day. But we have learned that our competing values are not a Hobson’s Choice, best described by Henry Ford’s statement about the Model-T: “Any customer can have a car in any color as long as it is black.”  In my community, you can truly have, or be, any “color” you want. It’s not a take it or leave it proposition. It’s about realizing that the quality of life we want requires an inclusive frame of mind, and believing that we are at our best when we can recognize and celebrate our diversity. I pray that, across this beautiful country of ours, we find ways to lift up and celebrate those same values of diversity and inclusiveness. “It’s Up to Us.”

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Journey of a Superintendent: Gloria Dean (Alexander) Willis

willisJust before the New Year, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools lost a giant, a woman who influenced the lives of literally tens of thousands of students and their families in this community. It’s hard to know where to begin to tell the story of such a remarkable life. I am filled with such a deep sense of loss and sadness, and yet I know that the lessons learned from this accomplished woman, whom I have the privilege of calling my mentor, will last well beyond her time here on earth.

Gloria Alexander Willis always wanted to be a teacher. She graduated from Tillotson College in Texas, and moved up to Kansas City, Kansas. She began teaching in 1953, the year before Brown v Board of Education. She began teaching at Attucks, and also taught at Douglass, Hawthorne, Bryant, Stanley and Emerson. Her vast talent was recognized, and the district tapped her to serve as a “helping teacher,” then as a reading specialist, and soon assigned her to serve as principal, first at Grant, and then at her beloved Quindaro Elementary School.

Her tenacity, strong work ethic, perseverance and determination were central to her ability to overcome the limitations placed on her early in her career. During those early years, she was told she could only teach black children. She was told when she got married that she had to resign. When she became pregnant, again she was told she had to resign.

District history doesn’t tell us exactly what caused the changes to those policies. However, it’s interesting that before the ink dried on Gloria Alexander’s first resignation, district leadership changed their policy and decided that married female teachers were positive models for our youth. Six months after her beloved daughter Sonya was Board, Mrs. Willis was back in front of students, doing what she loved.

Gloria Willis worked for the district for 41 years, and the year after she retired, she joined the Board of Education, where she served for another 21 years, including 14 as Board President. She began her career in a society where she was only allowed to teach children who looked like her, and ended her journey leading the most diverse school district in Kansas, and one of the most diverse in our nation. She often remarked how proud she was to lead a district where children from the world’s cultures, and all walks of life, come together to be educated.

During her tenure as president, the district implemented the First Things First Reform, and earned national awards and recognition as one of the best urban school districts in the nation. During her time on the Board, she never lost sight of the importance of the parent voice in decision making. We could always count on Mrs. Willis to ask with every proposal or recommendation: “What do the parents think?”, or “Have the parents been informed?”

Mrs. Willis influenced generations. At her memorial service, former students talked about her influence, and how she fought to give them the opportunity to succeed. It was fitting that just this past year, she was recognized by City Union Mission as one of several “Women Who Changed the Heart of the City.” I include myself among the thousands of individuals profoundly impacted by Gloria Willis.

Mrs. Willis, you will be deeply missed, but your legacy will be felt in this community for generations to come.

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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


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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