Kansas lawmakers clash with education group over state assessment scores
TOPEKA — A member of an education advocacy group on Monday asked lawmakers tasked with education policy to focus on reliable public school funding.
In response, Republican lawmakers questioned the function of his advocacy group.
Scott Rothschild, who monitors legislation for the Kansas Association of School Board on behalf of the 286 school boards statewide, ignited the discussion by pushing back on the use of state assessment scores as an important measure of Kansas public schools’ educational success.
Lawmakers on the Special Committee on Education have tried to leverage low assessment scores in their push for private school voucher programs, including one program in the last legislative session that would have granted about $5,000 to students attending private schools and unaccredited home schools.
Rothschild said student assessment scores were often influenced by students’ home life, with lower-income students and disabled students often scoring worse, and using the scores as an indicator of public school failure was “ill-advised.”
“Student performance on state and national assessments is greatly influenced by societal factors that teachers cannot control,” Rothschild said. “This isn’t an excuse. It is merely a fact of life that circumstances beyond the scope of the classroom affect our students.”
Rothschild said Kansas’ graduation rate for public high schools last year was 89.1%, and the rate of students completing high school with a postsecondary credential has increased 34% in recent years.
“These kids are graduating. They’re getting jobs. We have extremely low unemployment,” Rothschild said. “Our post-secondary numbers are going up. To me, that’s a big success.”
Following his speech, committee legislators asked if funding KASB was the best use of resources. The organization is funded through fees from the organization’s partnering school boards.
Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, said she had asked another legislative committee about KASB’s funding, and she ballparked the figure at $3 million.
“Could that money, if it didn’t go to KASB, be used for hiring teachers and providing services directly to students?” Erickson asked Rothschild.
“I think there’s some fabulous things you could do in a district for three million dollars,” said committee chairwoman Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta.
Rothschild also mentioned the years of underfunding Kansas public schools faced. Schools were fully funded last year for the first time in 15 years, except for funding for special education. Lawmakers, in violation of state law, continued to shortchange special needs students.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, said she was sick of KASB discussing school funding and asking lawmakers to fully fund special education.
“Not a surprise that you were gonna mention more money,” Baumgardner said. “Not a surprise, but I wish you would come play a different note with a different instrument, and share with us what KASB is really doing to show leadership.”