••• Education •••

The time is now to overhaul the K-12 at-risk program

The focus of schools should be on student achievement and now is the time for a K-12 at-risk program model that does just that. The new model has three basic components: (1) programmatic, (2) financial, and (3) accountability/oversight.

Why is the new approach necessary?

Since its inception in 1992, the Kansas K-12 at-risk program has been a dismal failure. What was created to improve the achievement of students who are at-risk of academic failure has done anything but that. Schools have spent over six billion Kansas taxpayer dollars since the program began, over $5.6 billion of that amount has been spent since 2005. Presently, districts receive nearly a half-billion dollars per year, with no results to show for all that spending. The current program has done nothing to impact significant income-based achievement gaps. KPI documented this failure in 2015 and nothing has changed in last half-dozen years.

Why hasn’t all that spending, which the Legislature has increased several times – mostly at the direction of a meddling Kansas Supreme Court –made a difference? As part of the most recent increase in at-risk funding, the Legislature directed Legislative Post Audit (LPA) to audit the at-risk program. What they found is that there really isn’t an at-risk program. Students who are academically at risk of failing are not targeted nor is the funding. A lack of oversight and accountability on the part of the state has allowed the districts to marble at-risk dollars in with general classroom spending. For all intents and purposes, at-risk funding is nothing more than a supplement to base state aid.

This is unacceptable. Those students who are supposed to get the additional academic assistance deserve better, as do all the citizens of the state.

As detailed in the policy paper, the programmatic component will change the way at-risk students are identified, the way the at-risk program is funded will get away from the school lunch program, and there will finally be some actual accountability on the part of both school districts and the state.

The state board of education/Kansas State Department of Education has adopted the slogan “Kansas leads the world in the success of each student.” If they are serious about living up to that self-designation, they would get on board with this new at-risk program that actually concerns itself with the “success of each student.”