Education

KCUR 89.3 covers education issues across the Kansas City region and in Kansas and Missouri. 

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Maria Carter / KCUR 89.3

At Frank Rushton Elementary, students aren’t just getting new boxes of pencils and crayons. They’re getting a whole new school.

"Compared to the other building, it’s really nice,” says parent Ayesha Marks. “I like the library upgrade with the computer and books and everything.”

“It’s awesome,” says third-grader Gianni Ramos of the school. “It’s much bigger and has more space.”

A lot more space. The old building, near the intersection of 43rd and Rainbow Ave., was jam-packed.

One of the school funding lawsuits that has been hanging over the head of Kansas has been dismissed.         

The lawsuit is called Petrella and was filed in federal court by a group of Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) parents.

They argued that the district, one of the wealthiest in Kansas, should be able to raise and spend as much local tax money as it wants.

Kansas law caps how much local money a district can spend.

 Julia Szabo
KCUR 89.3

The number of teachers leaving Kansas or simply quitting the profession has dramatically increased over the last four years.

The annual Licensed Personnel Report was released Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Education. While it was provided to the Board of Education meeting in Topeka Tuesday, the report was buried in board documents and not addressed by either staff or the board.

The report shows that 1,075 teachers left the profession last year, up from 669 four years ago. That's a 61 percent increase.

Brad Wilson / Flickr-CC

It only took a few minutes for the Kansas State Board of Education to approve $7.2 million in extraordinary needs funding for school districts across the state. The extra money will go to 34 school districts. Three districts didn't get any money.

The six local districts who applied for the additional state aid didn't get all they wanted but still did well.

Liz / Wikimedia Commons

Schools around Kansas are just a couple of weeks from opening for the new school year, but about three dozen districts say they need more state aid and have applied for extraordinary needs funding.

In all, 37 districts are asking for about $8.4 million from the state Board of Education. There is about $15 million in the pool. All districts contribute a small portion of their state aid to the pool.

Two of the biggest requests come from the two of the smaller districts in this area: Spring Hill in Johnson County and Basehor-Linwood in Leavenworth County. 

The Shawnee Mission School District and its teachers were unable Wednesday to reach a deal on compensation, so the talks will now go to a federal mediator, according to the teachers union.

The negotiations fell apart when the union asked for a $1,350 stipend for teachers who won't get a raise next year as they progress through the salary schedule.

“Most people who go to work and work hard like to see some sort of increase to keep up, in the very least, with the cost of living,” says union president Linda Sieck.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

This week I did a story on a group of Democrats and moderate Republicans who are already working on a new school finance formula in advance of the 2017 session which will gavel in come January.

The story was based on an interview I did with Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly from Topeka on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Kelly is the senate minority whip.

Anna Sturla / KCUR 89.3

The Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family foundation will donate more than $1.5 million over two years to the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, a new charter school serving East Kansas City.

The Kauffman Foundation is donating $1 million while the Hall Family Foundation is donating $600,000.

“This is a tremendous vote of confidence for our new school,” says Urban Neighborhood Initiative Executive Director Dianne Cleaver. UNI was created by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in order to revitalize Kansas City neighborhoods.

KHI News Service

While most Kansas educators are still breathing a sigh of relief that the school funding equity issue was solved in a special session and public schools could remain open, some lawmaker are already looking ahead to the new session in January.

Sen. Laura Kelly, the minority whip from Topeka, says a small bipartisan group has already begun meeting to draft a new school funding formula to replace block grants, which expire at the end of this fiscal year.

The plan, drafted by Democrats and moderate Republicans, is based a great deal on the old formula.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

Do you remember not long ago when Kansas was on the edge of facing a public education shutdown? Many feared schools would be closed July 1. Some even believed they may not be open for the start of the school year in August.

The unconstitutional inequity between rich and poorer districts appeared to be a problem the Legislature couldn't solve.

Wikimedia Commons - CC

Kansas lawmakers have approved a school funding plan that they say will end the risk of a legal fight closing Kansas schools. The bill is in response to a Supreme Court ruling that says the funding system was unfair to poorer school districts.

Democratic Sen. Anthony Hensley joined a large bipartisan majority Friday night that supported the bill.

“Regardless of who came up with the plan, what matters is that what we did today was put the children of Kansas first. This is a responsible plan that solves the problem,” said Hensley.

The Kansas Senate has narrowly defeated a constitutional amendment that would have prevented courts from closing public schools in the future. Lawmakers are currently in a legal dispute with the Kansas Supreme Court over education funding that could result in schools closing July 1.

The proposal was designed to prevent courts as well as lawmakers from shuttering schools. Republican Sen. Jeff King said he pushed the amendment so that Kansas voters could consider the idea on the November ballot.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A school funding plan has been making fast progress in the Kansas Legislature, passing out of both House and Senate committees Thursday. The proposal will cut the general state aid all school districts receive by .5 percent, then redistribute that money to assist poorer school districts.

It also takes funding from several other places for a total of $38 million. Republican Sen. Ty Masterson believes the bill can win legislative and judicial approval and prevent schools from shutting down.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A special session focused on solving Kansas' nettlesome school funding problem begins Thursday. At stake: school itself. The Kansas Supreme Court has threatened a statewide shutdown of schools if lawmakers don't make funding more equitable before June 30.

It's not an overstatement, then, to say most Kansans will be impacted by what happens in Topeka over the next few days. 

KHI News Service

The Vice President of the Kansas Senate says the special session set to gavel in on Thursday will probably stretch into early next week. That would move the Legislature even closer to a June 30 school shutdown deadline, and make the session longer than Gov. Sam Brownback suggested it would take to fix the inequity that exists between rich and poor school districts in Kansas.

“We’re probably looking at more like three to five days if all goes well,” Sen. Jeff King from Independence said on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend.

KIPP KC

KIPP KC has rented space in the old Metropolitan Community College Pioneer Campus building at 18th and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City for eight years. Now, the charter middle school has bought the entire 95,000-square foot property as it embarks on a larger expansion plan. 

The school offers grades 5-8 and will add classes in kindergarten through fourth grade next year. School officials anticipate adding these grades will boost enrollment by more than 100 students, to around 380 total.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Johnson County superintendents and local chambers of commerce are asking for a return to Kansas's old school funding formula and for a provision that would “hold all districts harmless.”

The Kansas Supreme Court has given lawmakers until June 30 to come up with an equitable funding formula or risk closure of the state’s schools. As it stands, Blue Valley, De Soto, Gardner-Edgerton, Olathe and Shawnee Mission will lose money under state lawmakers’ plan to equalize funding.

The Kansas Board of Regents met Wednesday afternoon to approve tuition increases for the next school year. The board thought it was going to do that last month, but during the meeting Gov. Sam Brownback announced he was cutting an additional $30 million out of higher education.

So, at their last regular meeting until September, the Regents found themselves having to approve even higher tuition hikes.

Claire Banderas / KCUR

The Kansas Legislature is preparing to go into special session to remedy a school funding formula that the Kansas Supreme Court ruled is unconstitutional. The court told the Legislature they have until June 30 to remedy the formula, or schools will be closed

Tristan Bowersox / Creative Commons-Flickr

Students at the University of Kansas could see their in-state tuition rise next year by 5 percent, not 4 percent as they might have been anticipating after last month's Board of Regents meeting. Likewise, students at Kansas State University could see a tuition jump of 5.8 percent, not 5 percent. 

Most public universities in Kansas now plan to ask for tuition increases at Wednesday's Board of Regents meeting bigger than what was requested at last month's meeting.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The man who spent 14 years in the top job in the St. Joseph School District pleaded guilty Monday morning in federal court to one count of wire fraud. Under a deal with the U.S. Attorney, Dan Colgan will spend a year and a day in federal prison.

Colgan will also have to repay $660,000 in a lump sum to the Missouri Public School Retirement System (PSRS). Colgan improperly padded the last three years of his salary using stipends, car allowances and other means. The school board knew about some of the payments but often they did not.

After two years of investigation, a former St. Joseph School District superintendent and school board president will be charged with a federal crime.

Dan Colgan who, associates say grew up as a brawler on St. Joseph's north side, has two court dates Monday morning in federal court in Kansas City.

According to the district court, Colgan will appear before a magistrate and then before a district court judge. While we don't know exactly what he'll be charged with, these hearings indicate a plea deal is in the works.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

While most school districts in Kansas prepare for a possible shutdown at the end of the month, educators are looking for some guidance from the state Department of Education (KSDE).       

Everyone is waiting to see whether there will be a special session of the Kansas Legislature to try and fix the inequity between rich and poor districts.

If it’s not fixed by the end of the month, the state Supreme Court has said it will prohibit districts from spending or raising money.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

For the first time, someone in leadership in the Kansas Legislature has called for a special session to craft a solution to school funding inequity that will satisfy the state Supreme Court and head off a possible shutdown of schools by month's end.

Rep. Ron Ryckman from Olathe, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, sent a letter addressed to "Colleagues" suggesting now is the time to act.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

While many school districts in Kansas are preparing plans for a possible shutdown by the state Supreme Court, the Shawnee Mission School District in Johnson County, Kansas, says it will be open on July 1.

Superintendent Jim Hinson says he’s making no contingency plans in case the high court says schools must cease operating.

"We will be open on July 1 and we will start on time in August," says Hinson.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

Now that the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the Legislature failed to fix inequity, school districts must seriously plan for a possible shut down on June 30.

Here's some questions school officials and parents may be asking.

Are the schools really going to close on June 30?

AP Pool Photo
AP Pool Photo

The Kansas Supreme Court has handed down its decision in the long-awaited Gannon school funding case, and it comes as no surprise to those who have followed its many twists and turns.   

“This case requires us to determine whether the State has met its burden to show that recent legislation brings the State's K-12 public school funding system into compliance with Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” the court wrote in an opinion not attributable to any individual judge. “We hold it has not.”

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Two more former high-ranking members of the St. Joseph School District have repaid tens of thousands of dollars to the Missouri state retirement system after it was discovered they inflated their incomes.

The Public School Retirement System (PSRS) has confirmed that Mark Hargens has repaid $90,000 and former superintendent Melody Smith has repaid $23,000.

Courtesy North Kansas City Schools

North Kansas City Schools Board of Education will ask voters in August to approve a $114 million bond issue to improve overcrowded and aging schools.

If approved, rates for taxpayers will remain the same, and North Kansas City Schools will construct two new elementary schools and renovate the 90-year-old North Kansas City High School. 

The district is one of the largest in the metro with nearly 20,000 students.

Dyche Hall, University of Kansas
Ajohnson360 / CC

The regular meeting of the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday already had a bit of a somber tone; all six universities came in with tuition hike requests between 3.3 percent and 5 percent. In a 109-page document the schools detailed increased expenses and an anticipated 3 percent cut from the state.

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