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Low standards or low funding? 2 views of public education at MainStream event
Are Kansas schools suffering from lowered standards despite sufficient funding or performing at exceptional levels in the face of fewer dollars available for the classroom? Depends on whose point of view and whose data you believe.A full house of nearly 200 packed the basement at Colonial Church for the second of MainStream Coalition’s 2013 Legislative Series events Thursday. Tom Trigg, superintendent of the Blue Valley School District, and Dave Traebert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute presented two different perspectives on how Kansas schools are doing and the funding needed to help them do better. From crowd reaction, attendees leaned to Trigg’s version of the state of education.
Traebert contended that student achievement hasn’t changed while spending has gone up dramatically and that Kansas has lowered its standards for student achievement. Kansas has a “false sense of achievement,” Traebert contended. “It’s how the money is spent that matters, not how much.”
In Trigg’s view, Kansas students score higher than the nation on college readiness measures and Blue Valley scores higher than the Kansas average. The state ranks sixth nationally on 11 combined indicators of achievement, Trigg said. “Kansas is doing really well.” He also displayed Blue Valley data that showed a continual rise in achievement measures in recent years.
One point of dispute is dollars in the classroom. While Traebert said that just looking at base state aid obscures the increase in money for schools, Trigg said the biggest concern is dollars to the classroom. If spending to the classroom had not been going down, he said, then Blue Valley would not be making all of the budget cuts it has imposed in recent years.
On a constitutional amendment to change the court’s involvement in school funding, Trigg worried it would inhibit school districts’ ability to sue the state if they felt the constitutional funding requirement was not met. Traebert said the amendment just restores the proper role of funding to the legislature. On ‘paycheck protection’ to restrict union contributions, Trigg said he was concerned about the motive: “if it is to break the union, then I don’t like it.” KPI has not taken a position on paycheck protection, but Traebert said public opinion is for it.
While Traebert expressed reservations about the new Common Core standards to measure achievement in Kansas, Trigg called it a positive step that will let schools do a better job of teaching higher order thinking skills.
“The teacher in the classroom is the key to quality education,” Trigg said, which takes adequate funding and it costs more to educate “kids in poverty.”
“We can provide the same quality of education, if base aid stays flat,” Traebert summarized, using Florida as his example. He also called for consolidation of services across small districts.
KPI is a think tank that advocates for free market solutions to public policy issues.
(Thanks to Dani Gillihan Photography for use of the photos.)