education

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. 

YouTube

The man who has testified dozens of times in the Kansas Legislature saying that public schools are over-funded, administrators and some teachers make too much money and school districts operate inefficiently, once called for lawmakers to raise taxes to improve schools.

Dave Trabert now runs the Kansas Policy Institute and is a powerful voice among conservative lawmakers. On its website, KPI calls itself "an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans." 

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.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

To an observer, Mahlet Yeshitla is sitting in a chair with a large headset covering most of her face, waving her arms at the empty space in front of her.

But from her perspective, she's using cubes to create building blocks.

“It does feel like you’re in a room, at a table, just building things,” Yeshitla said.

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.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Today is the first official day on the job for new Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell, and he certainly has his work cut out for him. 

Bedell is looking to help the district regain full accreditation, but he is also focusing on changing negative attitudes about the district. In these first few weeks, he says he "wants to come in and just restore hope and really give these kids the best opportunities to be successful." 

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.

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.

Last year, we asked our listeners to solve the Kansas School Funding Formula. As news develops around a potential public education shutdown in Kansas, we break out our calculators and enter the Kansas school funding debate. When legislators go back to Topeka next week, what will go into solving the state's toughest math problem?

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.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Mayor Sly James joined city leaders and educators from Missouri and Kansas Saturday at the Kauffman Foundation for the Municipal Summit on Afterschool and Expanded Learning to discuss the importance of after-school and summer programs for students.

James says once students are out of school for the summer, there’s not always a lot for them to do — which he says puts them at risk for participating in dangerous activities.

James said across Missouri and Kansas, only 14 percent of school-aged kids participate in after-school events.

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.

You know the story; with a good education, hard work, and a little stick-to-itiveness, you can make a better life for yourself and your kids. It's quite literally the American dream. Political scientist and author Robert D. Putnam wonders, though, if that narrative is becoming less attainable.

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.”

It's a question you hear a lot, especially if you have young children and live on the Missouri side of the state line: Where are you sending your kids to school?

We explore the world of charter schools — they're getting so big in KC that even the district is opening one. Who chooses charter schools and why? Are charters bringing on a new era of thriving public education in KC or taking away from struggling district schools? Are they integrating urban neighborhoods or segregating communities in new way?

Guests:

Wikipedia

Once upon a time, a paleontology expedition to dig up dinosaur bones might have been funded primarily by grants and major philanthropists. But KU's Natural History Museum has its eye on a tyrannosaurus rex, and if they succeed in bringing the specimen home from Montana this summer, guess who's footing the bill? You are, through crowd-sourcing. How the crowd-funding model is changing education, from grade school classrooms to university museums.

Guests:

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.

KC Social Innovation Center

Three Kansas City startups will receive a combined $59,000 from the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund to expand and develop programs that promote innovation in the classroom.

KC Social Innovation Center, PlanIT Impact and  Pennez were awarded money for using Kansas City’s gigabit internet to create new ways to learn.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

Most school districts have moved to comply with stricter nutrition standards since the U.S. Department of Agriculture imposed them almost four years ago. 

But many still lack kitchen equipment necessary to make the healthier school breakfasts and lunches appealing.

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