••• Education •••

More school districts disregard the building needs assessment law

In September of 2022, we wrote about 27 districts that ignored all or part of the state law requiring an annual needs assessment of every school in Kansas.  Thirteen of those districts hadn’t published the reports online as required, so we checked again earlier this month.  Three districts – Auburn-Washburn, De Soto, and Garden City – still have nothing published, and the other 10 districts failed to comply in other ways.

These are deliberate actions on the part of education officials, underscoring yet again that parents cannot count on administrators and local boards of education to do anything of substance about the student achievement crisis in Kansas.

The building needs assessment law has been in effect for more than 20 years.  It says, “Each year, the board of education of a school district shall conduct an assessment of the educational needs of each attendance center in the district. Information obtained from such needs assessment shall be used by the board when preparing the budget of the school district.”  The law was amended in 2022, requiring districts to publish the report for each school on the district website and answer three new questions:

  1. Barriers that must be overcome for all students to achieve above level 2 proficiency on state assessments;
  2. Budget actions that should be taken to address and remove barriers; and
  3. The amount of time the board estimates it will take for all students to achieve above level 2 (to be considered proficient) on state assessments if budget actions are implemented.

These changes were added after legislators learned that many districts ignored the law in 2021.  Education lobbyists resisted changes and said they didn’t know what the legislature expected.  But State Senator Renee Erickson wouldn’t accept their excuses.

“Frankly, I’m very frustrated…that we have a law that’s very clear, and what we get from the people who are supposed to be teaching our children critical thinking skills are telling us they can’t comply with the law because, and let me tell you what I heard today…we’re too busy…we don’t have a set format…we don’t have enough money…we’re already doing it.

“I agree, Madam Chair…I’m happy to put (a specific form) in place…that wouldn’t be hard to put in place, but I guarantee what we’ll hear is, ‘that’s the local control; that’s the responsibility of the local school board.’

“I would just like to know what we are to do when local school boards aren’t complying with the law, and then this is the response we get when we try to make sure that that law is enforced for a very good reason.  Why wouldn’t we want to base our allocation of funds on what’s best for kids?  Why on earth is that such a hard lift?  And the only thing I can think of quite frankly is ‘you can’t make us, and you can’t tell us what to do,’ and I find that quite shocking.”

Ten more districts disregard the needs assessment law

Despite a clear desire from the Legislature to ensure that money is allocated to improve student achievement, these ten districts and their boards failed to comply with the law to varying degrees:

Andover and Fort Scott published a summary for the district instead of a report for each building, and the summary doesn’t address Question #3.

Dodge City published a summary instead of reports for each building.  The answers to Question #2 do not address the barriers identified in Question #1, and the response to Question #3 (“more than five years”) is not within the spirit of the law.

Gardner-Edgerton, Hays, and Kansas City published reports for each school, but none of the three questions are addressed.

Goodland published reports for each building, but the answers to the three questions are not based on allocating funds in students’ best interests.  First of all, the answers are the same for each school.  The response to Question #1 is loaded with political statements, like ‘the Legislature should fully fund special education’ and ‘stop attacking teachers.’  The response to Question #2 basically says, ‘we know what we’re doing.’  They say they will reach 75% proficiency by 2030 in Question #3, but that isn’t close to being realistic; only 26% are now proficient in math and just 23% in English Language Arts.

Liberal has reports for each building with the questions, but the boilerplate answers do not meet legislative intent. Barriers are very generic (staffing); budget actions are identical for each building, generic, and partially cut off.  The answer to Q3 seems to be 8 years, but most answers are chopped off.

The Pittsburg reports are like those published by Goodland.  The answers to Question #1 are more political than academic, the response to Question #2 calls for more state funding for mental health, and the district’s answer to Question #3 is rather flippant; they say they may begin to see gains in five to ten years if the Legislature does as they ask.

Most districts point to things beyond their control like early childhood needs not being met, but they position such matters as excuses rather than challenges they must overcome.  These actions are part of a pattern of behavior to avoid accountability that comes from the top down, as reflected in the Kansas Department of Education’s ‘Kansans Can’ initiative launched in 2015.   Academic improvement and preparation for college and career are nowhere to be found in their list of Outcomes for Measuring Progress for accreditation.

The Kansas State Department of Education says school districts “must be in good standing with KSDE regarding all applicable state and federal statutory and regulatory requirements” to be accredited. The compliance document also defines “in good standing” as “in compliance, or actively working with the State Board to achieve compliance.”

It’s clear that many school districts are blatantly disregarding the building needs assessment law, and that presents a test for the new state school board.  If the Board is serious about its accreditation process (and it hasn’t to this point, given that districts are accredited despite tragically low student achievement), the school districts that have not fully complied with the spirit of the needs assessment law will be notified that their accreditation is in jeopardy.

Anything short of that tells school officials that the law is of no consequence.