Posts tagged with Education

Feds deny Kansas’ request for waiver on No Child Left Behind requirements

Federal education officials have rejected a request by the state for a waiver this year to increased student performance requirements under No Child Left Behind, officials said Friday.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Michael Yudin said that while the agency appreciated Kansas’ work in education reforms, it felt that the best way to assist states was through timely reauthorization in Congress of the federal education law.

“I certainly understand the secretary’s position, but I’m very disappointed in this decision,” said State Board of Education Chairman David Dennis. “I feel strongly that we need to be focused on a growth model for accountability purposes and I’m hopeful Congress will understand the urgency involved for our schools and heed the President’s call to reauthorize (the law) by the start of the next school year,” Dennis said.

The state education board had sought to hold performance targets in reading and math assessments to 2009-10 levels while transitioning to new math and language arts tests.

The decision by the U.S. Department of Education means that in order to meet Adequate Yearly Progress measures, Kansas schools and school districts will need to have at least 87.8 percent of students in grades K-8 reach or exceed standards on state reading assessments, and at least 86 percent of grade 9-12 students meeting or exceeding standards in reading. The math targets for proficiency are 86.7 percent in grades K-8 and 82.3 percent in grades 9-12.

By Scott Rothschild

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Feds deny Kansas’ request for waiver on No Child Left Behind requirements

Federal education officials have rejected a request by the state for a waiver this year to increased student performance requirements under No Child Left Behind, officials said Friday.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Michael Yudin said that while the agency appreciated Kansas’ work in education reforms, it felt that the best way to assist states was through timely reauthorization in Congress of the federal education law.

“I certainly understand the secretary’s position, but I’m very disappointed in this decision,” said State Board of Education Chairman David Dennis. “I feel strongly that we need to be focused on a growth model for accountability purposes and I’m hopeful Congress will understand the urgency involved for our schools and heed the President’s call to reauthorize (the law) by the start of the next school year,” Dennis said.

The state education board had sought to hold performance targets in reading and math assessments to 2009-10 levels while transitioning to new math and language arts tests.

The decision by the U.S. Department of Education means that in order to meet Adequate Yearly Progress measures, Kansas schools and school districts will need to have at least 87.8 percent of students in grades K-8 reach or exceed standards on state reading assessments, and at least 86 percent of grade 9-12 students meeting or exceeding standards in reading. The math targets for proficiency are 86.7 percent in grades K-8 and 82.3 percent in grades 9-12.

By Scott Rothschild

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Kansas legislative committee rejects deeper cuts to school aid

Two attempts by several House Republicans on Monday to make deeper cuts to the state budget were rejected by a group of Democrats and other Republicans.

“The governor has continued to say, ‘make cuts, make cuts,’ and that is what I’m attempting to do,” said Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee.

The first plan offered by Donohoe and Reps. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, and Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas, would have cut further base state aid to schools.

Base state aid is $4,012 per pupil. But an earlier position approved by the House would drop that to $3,762 per pupil.

Initially, the Donohoe-Brown-Kelley amendment would have cut that to $3,602 per pupil. But the three legislators softened the proposal before the Appropriations Committee on Monday by reducing base state aid schools by $98 per pupil to $3,664.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, however, said combined with earlier school cuts approved by the House, that was just too large a chunk to take from schools.

“That is just too heavy a cut for me,” Ballard said.

Several committee members also complained that the amendment was made too late in the session and without knowledge of the effect the cuts would have. Key House and Senate members already are negotiating a budget plan, and the session is expected to end this week or next.

“I oppose making cuts without the understanding of how they will impact programs,” said Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington.

Ranking Democrat Bill Feuerborn of Garnett said that in his 15 years on the Appropriations Committee, “I’ve never seen a proposal this late that would have such a devastating effect on the budget. It’s mind-boggling.”

The amendment failed 4-14.

Then Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, proposed a 2-percent across-the-board cut, excluding public schools, human service caseloads, prisons and several other areas. But it would have sliced higher education another $14.3 million, including $2.6 million at Kansas University, and $2 million at KU Medical Center, and it would have cut some disability services.

That proposal failed on a closer vote, 9-11.

Supporters of the deeper cuts argued they were needed to build up the state’s ending balance in case projected tax revenues fall short. Gov. Brownback, a Republican, has urged legislators to increase the ending balance.

“All we’re trying to do is get in a better position in the out years,” said Brown.

By Scott Rothschild

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Advocates for those with disabilities rally for funding

As thousands of Kansans with disabilities wait for services, several hundred people rallied Wednesday against funding cuts to those services.

“They should do the right thing,” said Kathy Lobb of Lawrence. “The waiting list seems to go up every year,” Lobb, a consumer representative with the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas, said.

More than 4,650 children and adults with developmental disabilities are waiting to receive disability services.

Advocates for those with disabilities said Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature need to approve a multiyear funding plan to address the issue.

“We need legislators to try their best to eliminate the waiting lists,” Matt Fletcher, associate executive director of InterHab, said during a chilly, windy event on the southside of the Capitol. InterHab is an association of disability service providers.

After a three-week break, the Legislature resumed its session Wednesday. The House and Senate are supposed to complete work on a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, said legislators have carved out $2 million in proposed funding to help those on the waiting lists. And while that is appreciated, Laing said, “it doesn’t really scratch the surface.”

That funding should provide services to approximately 200 people, but more than that number will be added to waiting list over the next fiscal year, he said.

By Scott Rothschild

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Video games go academic at Horizon Elementary

Students at Horizon Elementary study math by playing video games during a recent joint class session.

Students at Horizon Elementary study math by playing video games during a recent joint class session. by Stephen Montemayor

Long thought to be the antithesis of learning, video games are working their way into area curricula as a potential tool for teaching, testing and tracking progress.

Arcademic Skills Builders, a startup that began as a side project at Kansas University, has seen use of its educational video games spread by word of mouth to more than 150 countries.

At Horizon Elementary, third-grade teachers are participating in a pilot program using Arcademic games in math instruction.

Thursday, students from the school’s four third-grade math classes converged during the last half-hour of school to compete against each other in games like Grand Prix Multiplication or find a quiet corner to try their luck at Penguin Jump.

“It’s fun,” said Kavya Kolli, one of the third-graders. “We get to play and race and make noise.”

Kavya, whose screen name is “Mrs. JB” (Justin Bieber), clicked answers to multiplication problems to propel her car forward on a virtual track. It didn’t take her long to master 1x7, 2x5 and 2x8, sending her to a brisk first-place finish in a far cry from jotting down solutions on paper at the behest of a stopwatch.

“That motivating factor makes it feel like it’s not work for them, it’s fun,” Horizon learning coach Ben Huebsch said.

Last year, Huebsch contacted Arcademic through its website, where its games are available to play for free, and said he’d like to see a program that tracked student’s progress on each game. The company replied that it was working on such a program, and the two sides began the current pilot program in January.

Megan Lee, a Horizon third-grade teacher, was delighted the classes were able to get together Thursday as state assessments for math began this week. She said the games added another dimension to the students’ preparation that otherwise would’ve only consisted of practice tests.

“That they get to play with each other is highly motivating in itself,” she said.

Also in the room was fellow teacher Christy Hale, who said the program quickly improved her students’ retention and willingness to practice multiplication.

“I don’t think they realize they’re learning and practicing when they try to beat each other,” Hale said.

So far the biggest hitch for Horizon has been making sure enough computers are available. Huebsch said the school of 467 students had just six laptop carts with 30 laptops in each.

Hale said her class played the games usually only once or twice every other week.

Still, students like 9-year-old Autumn Taylor are able to play and practice at home. Her favorite game is Penguin Jump, where the player guides a penguin across blocks of ice by clicking on the block with the correct answer to a multiplication problem. Click the wrong choice, however, and your penguin takes a swim.

“It’s a little bit more fun and you can understand it a little bit more,” she said with a smile.

Arcademic was founded by four people who met two years ago in a research group at KU.

Boone Bradley, director of business development, said the concept was the product of Jerry Chaffin, now a retired KU professor. The company’s designer and president, David Scherrer, is a Shawnee resident.

Bradley said the company grew from testing out 10 small games online to a catalog of more than 40 games, with a new offering each month. Bradley said the site, funded by a $150,000 National Science Foundation grant, averaged 1.7 million visitors per month. Shawnee residents, he said, visit the site an average 40 times per day.

Boone said Arcademic plans to create a game for each of the Common Core Standards, a 42-state coalition Kansas joined last year that adopts a set of standards for English language arts and mathematics.

The company already offers games on the Nintendo Wii and plans to produce games for mobile devices.

By the end of April, Boone said, Arcademic plans to offer a subscription service that will feature score tracking and customizable content. He said the company then would charge for subscriptions in the fall.

With school funding and teacher employment being linked to standardized testing, Boone says he sees an opportunity to track student progress more consistently through the games rather than relying solely on annual testing.

“The hope is to make teaching easier,” Boone said. “Teachers have a hard-enough job as it is.”

By Stephen Montemayor

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Panel addresses rising poverty in Johnson County

Johnson County acutely reflects an alarming nationwide trend — poverty in the suburbs is on the rise.

There are 38,000 Johnson Countians and counting whose income falls below the federal poverty level — about $18,000 a year for a family of three. The Shawnee Mission school district has one of the county’s highest percentages of students who need free or reduced-price lunches.

A panel of experts took on the subject during “Understanding and Responding to Poverty Among Children and Their Families in Johnson County,” a community engagement and issues program Tuesday night at the Johnson County Central Resource Library.

Panelists included representatives from educational institutions and state agencies. The event also afforded members of the public a chance to ask questions and offer ideas about how to improve the problem.

According to 2009 statistics, the most recent available, from United Community Services of Johnson County, Johnson County has the second-highest number of impoverished people than any county in Kansas or the Kansas City metropolitan area, said UCS executive director Karen Wulfkuhle. Only Sedgwick County, in Kansas, and Jackson County, just over the state line in Missouri, are higher.

In the six-county metro area, 11.7 percent of people live in poverty.

While Johnson County’s poverty rate — 7.1 percent of residents — is still lower than many neighboring counties, it has risen 150 percent in the past five years.

“Poverty is growing in suburbs across the country,” Wulfkuhle said, noting that numbers would probably be even higher if data included the entire recession.

One of the most troubling facts, Wulfkuhle said, is that half of Johnson County’s poor are children.

For residents younger than 18, the poverty rate was 10.1 percent in 2009 — double the 2008 rate.

Countywide, 23 percent of children participate in their school district’s free and reduced lunch program, reserved for families whose income is 135 percent or 185 percent, respectively, of the federal poverty level.

The Shawnee Mission and Gardner-Edgerton school districts have the highest percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch — roughly 33 percent, according to a UCS chart. Less than 10 years ago, Shawnee Mission’s percentage was less than 15 percent.

The De Soto district has the county’s second-lowest percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch, about 15 percent. Only Blue Valley is lower, with less than 1 percent.

Panelists Terrie VanZandt-Travis, executive director for Head Start of Shawnee Mission Inc., and Pat All, former Olathe school district superintendent, said getting an education helps youth find gainful employment and escape poverty.

Early childhood programs not only help children learn the basics before kindergarten, they also help connect families with other resources, such as food assistance and healthcare programs, they said. Schools can help impoverished children succeed by keeping curriculum consistent and building personal relationships despite interruptions in their home lives.

“There’s a high correlation of poverty with lack of achievement,” All said. “It’s because of one thing after another that interferes with the complex process of learning.”

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, discussed some programs and policies that are in place to help families save money and improve their situations.

Attendees’ ideas for improving poverty were primarily grassroots in nature — watch out for your neighbors, donate to your church’s food pantry and urge businesses to support organizations that help impoverished residents.

Panelist Lori Alvarado made no bones about it, Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services programs alone are not going to lift people out of poverty.

Alvarado, SRS regional director for the Kansas City metropolitan area, said department caseloads have increased 40 percent in the last two years. And they focus on immediate basic needs — which are often dire.

She said poverty has a cumulative nature, and that doesn’t help people escape it.

“Some of these folks are working really hard just to get food in the stomachs of kids who are trying to learn,” Alvarado said. “You just see this snowball effect.”

SRS helps clients for up to five years, which may seem like a lot but really isn’t when you look at obstacles like increasing earning power and escaping debt, Alvarado said.

“When we’re talking about a poverty situation,” she said, “it takes a long time to dig out.”

By Sara Shepard

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Tuition increases OK’d at JCCC

The cost to attend Johnson County Community College will increase next academic year.

At its monthly meeting March 24, the Johnson County Community College board of trustees approved an increase in the cost-per-credit-hour for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. The cost will increase by $6 for Kansas residents and $16 for out-of-state residents.

Johnson County residents next year will pay $81 a credit hour (up from $75 this year, an 8 percent rise). Residents from other counties in Kansas will pay $96 a credit hour (up from $90 this year, or 6.67 percent more). Out-of-state students will pay $189 a credit hour next year (up 9 percent from $173).

For in-state students, this is $1 per credit hour more than was originally stated in the budget guidelines approved by the board in November 2010. The additional dollar will provide a specific funding source for classroom technology, board members decided.

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Engineering bill gains Kansas Senate approval

The state Senate on Wednesday approved legislation designed to increase the number of engineering graduates.

The measure would allocate $4 million next year, and $7 million each year after that from gambling revenues to a fund that could be used by the engineering departments at Kansas University, Kansas State, and Wichita State.

To access these funds, the schools would have to match the money from non-state sources.

The legislation also allows the issuance of up to $195 million in bonds to build and equip engineering facilities at any of the three universities.

The measure has been pushed by Senate leaders, business representatives and higher education officials.

Several senators voiced opposition to the proposal, however, saying the state shouldn't increase debt during the current tough fiscal times. The state faces an estimated $500 million revenue shortfall in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

By Scott Rothschild

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Groups criticize Brownback over budget cuts

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget cuts will hurt public schools and low-paid state employees, representatives of those groups said.

On Friday, Brownback ordered $56.5 million in cuts after fellow Republican budget negotiators in the Legislature couldn’t reach an agreement on how to balance the state budget for the remaining part of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Brownback said the cuts were needed to bring the budget into balance by the end of the fiscal year as required by law. “These are certainly difficult times and difficult choices must be made. We must return fiscal sanity to government,” he said.

The Legislature faces a deeper shortfall for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, of nearly $500 million.

Of that $56.5 million in cuts, Brownback sliced schools by $50.2 million.

“Making public schools great for every child is not on this governor’s agenda,” said Blake West, president of the Kansas National Education Association.

Referring to Brownback’s Roadmap for Kansas, which the governor proposed during his campaign, West said, “It seems Gov. Brownback’s `Roadmap for Education’ is an unpaved path taking our students back to the 19th century.”

Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, criticized Brownback for cutting $1.3 million from state employees who were found through a state study to be severely underpaid and were given a market adjustment.

“It is disappointing that everyone who received a market adjustment for this current fiscal year 2011 back on July 1, 2010, will get a pay cut from their already inadequate paychecks,” Carter said. “This move is clearly an assault on state employees and an indication that our budget shortfalls will be passed off on to the public servants of the state,” she said.

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback cuts $50 million from public schools

Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday slashed $56.5 million in state spending, including $50.2 million from public schools after fellow Republicans who control the House and Senate failed to come up with a budget-balancing plan.

The move produced finger-pointing between House and Senate GOP leaders, and Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka questioned whether Brownback even had the authority to take the unilateral action on the budget.

The move means that base state aid to schools will fall from $4,012 per pupil to $3,990 — a $22 per student decrease, according to the governor's office. The base state aid per pupil cut would have been deeper, but the state will move some federal funds around to keep it at $22 per student, the office said.

Brownback said the cuts will satisfy a state requirement to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

He said he would like legislators now to focus on the budget for the fiscal year, that starts July 1 and which faces a nearly $500 million deficit.

Noting the state’s 110,000 unemployed, Brownback said, “Our focus must be to grow the state’s economy and get those folks back to work. We do that and we’ll have additional funding for everyone’s budget priorities.”

Brownback said he picked up the budget knife after House and Senate negotiations fell apart.

Brownback had asked the Legislature on Jan. 12 to send him a bill that would cut spending and provide a $35 million ending balance.

The House and Senate passed different versions. But negotiators couldn’t hammer out the differences. The House wanted deeper cuts to education than the Senate was willing to make.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said public schools have been cut sharply over the past three years.

Hensley said the House-Senate budget conference committee should continue working.

Of Brownback, he said, “He can’t even bring members of his own party together.”

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, also said the budget conference committee could continue meeting, but Senate members indicated that Brownback’s budget cuts would suffice for the current fiscal year, and the Legislature should focus during the rest of the legislative session on writing a budget for the next fiscal year.

The budget cuts include $2.3 million from the Kansas Board of Regents. But Kip Peterson, a spokesman for the regents, said that money is coming from an overfunded infrastructure loan program and shouldn’t affect higher education operations.

By Scott Rothschild

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