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Minutes for SB271 - Committee on Education

Short Title

Repealing the sunset provision for the high-density at-risk weighting.

Minutes Content for Tue, Feb 4, 2020

Chairperson Baumgardner opened the hearing on SB271. She explained each conferee would have 3 minutes to tell the Committee what programs their school district is implementing and what movement is being seen as far as student performance and outcomes.

Staff provided an overview of the bill.(Attachment 2)

The Chairperson called for questions. Senator Rucker noticed on the chart provided that some districts had no information. Staff explained that those districts are below the 35% threshold. The Committee was directed to the chart provided by staff that also explains the formula.

Proponent Testimony:

Susan Willis, Chief Financial Officer, USF 259, Wichita Public Schools, explained that Wichita USD 259 receives at-risk high-density funding totaling $84 million based on a free lunch population of 32,403 students. These funds provide for a number of at-risk programs and opportunities including afterschool programming, tutoring, homework support, summer school, extended school, credit recovery, learning centers in high schools, alternative instructional sites, intervention teachers, behavior specialists, AVID, JAG-K, drop-out prevention programs and social emotional curriculum embedded in K-12.(Attachment 3)

The critical use of at-risk and high-density funding is smaller class sizes for core instruction which gives the teachers the ability to implement small group instruction within the classroom. Additional intervention teachers are fully funded with at-risk funding with three out of four students on average within the district considered to be at-risk, this approach is the most cost-effective while providing the most appropriate differentiated supports.

The results they are seeing include a 1.3% improvement in graduation rate in the past two years, 1,188.5 credits recovered, 293 credits earned during summer school with 49 summer graduates, several schools showing 3-5% point improvements in ELA and math scores. Continued funding of high-density at-risk funding is crucial to continuing their work.

Blake Vargas, Superintendent, Caney Valley USD 436, spoke of a program Caney started this year of partnering social emotional learning with community health organizations to form a mental health initiative for those students most at-risk. They continually monitor and assess those students at-risk. As to their results, they were recognized by Kansans Can Star Recognition program for both their graduation rate and postsecondary success. In state assessments in math, they had double digit scores, higher than the state average in all areas except one. A simple deletion of the sunset in this bill would ensure that communities like Caney would be able to continue providing valuable educational services to those who most need it. (Attachment 4)

Kathy Johnson, Executive Director Finance, Lawrence USD 497, stated that at-risk funding is critical to their mission to ensure educational equity and excellence so that students of all races and backgrounds achieve at high levels and graduate prepared for success in college, careers and life in a diverse and rapidly changing world. At-risk funding is used for:

  • Paraprofessional support
  • Elementary instructional coach
  • English Language Learners supplemental instruction and support
  • Credit Recovery
  • At-Risk Early Childhood program
  • Tiered staffing ratios support smaller classroom sizes
  • A portion of classroom teacher salaries

Without at-risk and high-density at-risk funding, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to meet the unique needs of all of our students, especially those identified as at-risk. (Attachment 5)

Renee Scott, Superintendent, Atchison USD 409, reported her school district utilizes at-risk funds for their alternative education program and summer school credit recovery program which specifically targets at-risk students. During their summer school session, 52 high school students attended regularly with 94 credits towards graduation earned, twelve 8th grade students earned 24 credits to jump start their high school careers. Their alternative school served 38 students, enabling 9 students to graduate with their cohorts. If they lose funding, it will wipe out the Alternative Education Program.(Attachment 6)

Rusty A. Arnold, Superintendent, Independence USD 446, said the importance of this bill cannot be overstated because the needs of his students are great and at-risk funds have become a significant part of funding his educational system by providing:

  • Reduction in class sizes
  • Para-educators to help support the needs of struggling students
  • College and Career Readiness programs
  • Supplemental Reading programs
  • Supplemental Math programs
  • Extended School programs

Smaller class size has been a huge factor in some of the successes they are starting to have. State assessment scores have improved. The typical classroom has students working at different grade levels, so the teacher has to work really hard to meet those students where they are. You can’t teach to the middle anymore. So, they use supplemental reading programs on an individual basis or with a group. (Attachment 7)

 Liz Benditt, Shawnee Mission School District Parent and Member of Education First Shawnee Mission (EFSM), explained that EFSM is a parent-led, volunteer, education advocacy group in Shawnee Mission, and their group. EFSM firmly believes in an equitable and adequate education for all children. Their district serves a wide range of children and has seen firsthand what at-risk funding can do for their children and their classmates. EFSM is firmly in support of this bill. (Attachment 8)

Mary Sinclair, PhD, Advocacy Team, Parent Teacher Association, spoke in favor of this bill stating the high-density factor targets resources towards a population of schools and students who have significant educational needs. They ask that the Committee affirm their commitment to the Gannon agreement and fully implement the school finance formula resolution, including the high-density at-risk weighting. (Attachment 9)

Mark Tallman, Associate Executive Director, Kansas Association of School Boards, explained that failure to remove the “sunset” and allowing the high density weighting factor in the school formula to expire would result in a reduction of $50 million in funding for districts with the highest percentage of low-income students, who on average have greater academic challenges and are more likely to need extra help to meet standards for success.

Justification of high-density at-risk funding was shown in two charts, one showing the strong correlation between low income and performance on state scores, the other showing even among low income students, higher percentages of low free lunch students tends to lower performance.

Despite recent funding changes, the actual value of at-risk funding has declined over the past 5-10 years. Loss of high-density weighting would make that worse. While the value of at-risk funding has been reduced, the number of students most likely to be at-risk has increased. There is evidence that increased total at-risk funding improved test scores and declining funding has resulted in lower test scores. Despite these challenges, other measures of education success have improved, indicating that at-risk funding still helped more students succeed despite more students with greater challenges. Eliminating high density at-risk will likely make it more difficult to increase test scores and continue improvements in graduation and postsecondary success. Therefore, KASB urges the recommendation of SB271 to the full Senate favorably for passage. (Attachment 10)

Written Proponent Testimony was submitted by:

Elton Argo, Superintendent, Kismet-Plains USD #483 (Attachment 11)

Donalyn Biehler, Superintendent, Herington USD #487 (Attachment 12)

Bryce Wachs, Superintendent, Fort Larned USD #495 (Attachment 13)

Shellaine Kiblinger, Superintendent, Cherryvale USD #447 (Attachment 14)

Ron Ballard, Superintendent, Arkansas City USD # 470 (Attachment 15)

Stephen Linkous, Chief of Staff, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (Attachment 16)

Nikki McDonald, Chair of Olathe Public Education Committee (Attachment 17)

Bill Brady, Schools For Fair Funding (Attachment 18)

Deena Horst, Legislative Liaison, Kansas State Board of Education (Attachment 19)

Judith Deedy, Executive Director, Game On for Kansas Schools (Attachment 20)

David A.Smith, Chief Communications Officer, Center for Academic Achievement (Attachment 21)

Written Neutral Testimony was submitted by Dave Trabert, CEO, Kansas Policy Institute (Attachment 22)

The meeting was adjourned at 2:33 PM.

The next scheduled meeting is February 5, 2020.