KPI Supports An Effective Education For All
By:  Dave Trabert
December 23, 2011
Word Count:  544

I recently had the pleasure of talking in Humboldt with Rep. Bill Otto and area residents about the state of public education in Kansas. We examined the facts about student achievement and school funding, and discussed options for managing budgets and improving public education.

Unfortunately, the Humboldt Union misrepresented some of my remarks. Specifically, I did not call for education spending cuts or say that school districts are “hoarding” cash. I simply presented data from the Kansas Dept. of Education and local districts regarding their spending, achievement, and carryover cash balances (that is cash reserves not including capital, debt, and federal dollars). For example, we showed that USD 258 spent $12,345 per-pupil in 2011. State aid per-pupil last year was $8,323 and is expected to be about $9,000 this year.

But we spent most of the time talking about student achievement. According to the 2011 state assessment test, 54% of Kansas juniors read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension, and only 45% of juniors perform math accurately most of the time and have effective content knowledge. In USD 258, the results are 53% and 32%, respectively. The question we posed is whether these results are acceptable.

If you believe current achievement levels are acceptable or will soon get there, then you probably don’t feel we need to make any significant changes. Kansas Policy Institute does not believe achievement levels are even close to acceptable levels, but as we pointed out, it really doesn’t matter what we think. It only matters what each citizen believes.

This is not about assessing blame, but accepting responsibility. We must look forward and ask what we can do to give every kid access to an effective education.

Why not allow all qualified people to be teachers instead of just those who have an education degree? State law allows Bill Gates to teach computer science at K-State but not at Humboldt High. Changing that law would significantly expand the pool of qualified teachers, which is of particular benefit to smaller districts and online options.

Why not let parents decide which school is best for their child instead of being assigned by their zip code? Providing tax credit scholarships for kids in low income families or allowing universities to open public charter schools expands parental choice and makes an effective education available to everyone, not just parents of means.

Why not allow superintendents to reward and retain the most effective teachers, instead of forcing them to follow the last-in-first-out rule?

The common thread among these and other opportunities is that they are based on what is in the best interests of students, not adults.

Until our state changes its focus from dollars to students, we’ll be stuck in the same rut of finance squabbles, court battles, and politics as usual. While adults continue to fight over who gets how much, more children will be denied access to the education they deserve.

That is what KPI stands for and what we are working to make a reality - providing the opportunity for a challenging education to every kid, from every income level, in every community in the state. Like many education officials around the country, we believe this is an achievable goal and can be done in a cost effective and efficient way.

This column appeared in The Humboldt Union on 23 December.