Friday, August 29, 2014

School finance: Is Kansas government serious?

5/16/2014

As I wrote previously, during the next 10 to 30 years, many manual labor and traditional white-collar jobs will disappear, being replaced by machines/computer apps. Just as with ditch digging, say “so long” to jobs in warehouses, truck driving, farming, manufacturing, and many others. Though potentially an assault on humanity, it doesn’t have to be, unless a state legislature makes it that way. I decided to figure out how much money our Legislature should cough up to regain/create higher-paying jobs. Obviously, we need all of our schools to be where education is of utmost importance, where the top 5 percent of American wage earners would want to send their children. Is there any very successful area school to benchmark, to divine funding levels for the public schools in Kansas?

The Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City seems a good example. Google it. Read its “Mission, Educational Goals & Educational Strategies.” It appears to be a respectable place. Pembroke easily is the 100 on a local 0-100 scale. It takes some time and adjusting for busses, food, etc., but Pembroke spends about $19,000 a year on each student. Pembroke students seem to have great facilities, outstanding staff and administrators constantly aware of the importance of keeping students and parents excited about education. The students get more than an emphasis on readin’, writin’, ‘rithmetic, and dumbed-down science texts; they get a good broad worthwhile education. Pembroke reportedly has a 100-percent graduation rate; 100 percent of its graduating students go on to colleges and universities, from which we can easily presume they graduate. Pembroke can be scored as very successful. If I had the money (I don’t), children (older), proximity (not), I would likely send my child(ren) there.

As I wrote previously, during the next 10 to 30 years, many manual labor and traditional white-collar jobs will disappear, being replaced by machines/computer apps. Just as with ditch digging, say “so long” to jobs in warehouses, truck driving, farming, manufacturing, and many others. Though potentially an assault on humanity, it doesn’t have to be, unless a state legislature makes it that way. I decided to figure out how much money our Legislature should cough up to regain/create higher-paying jobs. Obviously, we need all of our schools to be where education is of utmost importance, where the top 5 percent of American wage earners would want to send their children. Is there any very successful area school to benchmark, to divine funding levels for the public schools in Kansas?

The Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City seems a good example. Google it. Read its “Mission, Educational Goals & Educational Strategies.” It appears to be a respectable place. Pembroke easily is the 100 on a local 0-100 scale. It takes some time and adjusting for busses, food, etc., but Pembroke spends about $19,000 a year on each student. Pembroke students seem to have great facilities, outstanding staff and administrators constantly aware of the importance of keeping students and parents excited about education. The students get more than an emphasis on readin’, writin’, ‘rithmetic, and dumbed-down science texts; they get a good broad worthwhile education. Pembroke reportedly has a 100-percent graduation rate; 100 percent of its graduating students go on to colleges and universities, from which we can easily presume they graduate. Pembroke can be scored as very successful. If I had the money (I don’t), children (older), proximity (not), I would likely send my child(ren) there.

The Kansas Department Of Education website, for the official report of Ottawa’s USD 290 budget, yields $13,437 a year spent on each student, which is fairly representative of schools across the state. I then deleted funds for special education, disability, adult education, bussing, food, various mandates and a few other incidentals (wasn’t sure how much to take out for basic remediation). I don’t think Pembroke has to divert $150,000 to take care of disabled students, or their students go to school hungry. I arrived at a fairly comparable number, or a conservatively high $11,500 for each Kansas public student, only 60 percent of Pembroke’s $19,000. On a typical grading scale, that’s a D-minus. Public school results? The Alliance for Excellent Education and National Center for Higher Education Management Systems websites show how Kansas ranks.

• An 83 percent high school graduation rate, above the national average;

• 64.7 percent of high school students going to college;

• 51 percent (of those going to) college graduating, below the national average; or only about 32 percent of all students graduating from college;

• 64 percent of students operating at literacy rates of “below basic” and “basic”; higher then the national average.

None of this says Kansas is adequately preparing for a future demanding a highly educated work force. Our Kansas Supreme Court’s recent finding of our Kansas State Legislature being clearly guilty of failing to pay for our children to get a good public education reinforced this opinion.

We see that our legislative lack of vision tracks right into our universities where only about 30 percent of a Kansas State University education is financed by state funds (ages ago, it was roughly 60 percent or more), leaving numerous students burdened with college debt. Combine that with the fact public school teachers, from top to bottom, have not received an appreciable raise in six years. Now our state Legislature’s no tenure policy is telling teachers to shut up or be fired, with no real due process, do not speak ill about schools (or you will be fired).

Can you imagine a high-tech, high-finance corporate leader looking at Kansas and seeing anything representing a real commitment to public education? Neither can I. Can you see Kansans contributing/competing in Cold War mind games/battles with the likes of the Soviet Union/ Russia, again, and winning, again, while the lessons of post-Sputnik education and the GI Bill are being trashed? I can’t either.

As a parent, look at Kansas public schools as a rusting element in the process of educating your children. Push for more accountability from the state and, sorry, spend more out-of-pocket or a lot of time at the public library to make sure each of your children gets the education they will need to be successful.

Whatever “Mission, Educational Goals & Educational Strategies” the Kansas State Legislature is trying to achieve is not apparent, though it seems to be related to serfdom. Sprint recently cut about 200 people from good-paying jobs, likely middle- to upper-middle-class jobs. Cessna and Beech in Wichita are cutting numerous engineering, technical, administrative personnel as they merge. In return, we got a Mars candy factory in Topeka, gaining about 200 lower-end jobs, probably not to exceed $15 an hour with or without benefits — just a spiraling trade ... down.

As our Kansas Legislature can’t seem to get Kansas Public Employees Retirement (KPERs) funded (only about 60 percent) and as tax revenues fall because of ill-conceived tax plans, we witness Moody’s down grade of our state’s bond rating. We’re looking at $450 million to $1.2 billion in near-term tax shortfalls. That means there isn’t much hope for near-term improvements in any Kansas services.

Given all that, are you looking forward to getting only 60 percent of an appendectomy as now our Kansas legislators are bumbling ahead with plans to replace Romney/Obama health care?

 — John Holland,

Ottawa

comments powered by Disqus