By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Sally Cauble believes the state’s board of education is the best kept secret in Kansas, and it can be used for economic development much more than it already is.
Cauble represents District 5 of the Kansas Board of Education, and she was on hand Wednesday, along with regent Donna Shank, for a brown bag legislative luncheon at the Rock Island Depot.
Cauble said her board is not trying to change the direction of secondary schools in the state.
“We have been very consistent, mainly because we have not been able to reach all of these goals, but we are certainly working at it,” she said.
Cauble did say something has happened this year that has never happened in the state of Kansas before.
“There is a memorandum that was developed between the board of regents and the state school board to serve these purposes,” she said. “We now have the ability to track a student from the beginning of their education up until their graduation from another institution besides K through 12.”
Cauble said this will help Shank and herself as they prepare students for after high school on what is missing that colleges need for students to know and bridge that gap.
Cauble said because of Kansas’ system of education, the state is now one of the few in the competition for the race to the top. She said the state has been consistently better than the national average on ACT testing statistics.
“In the state of Kansas, we had more students take the ACT test this year than ever before,” she said. “We actually have 75 percent of the students take the ACT in the state of Kansas, and usually, when you have more students take the test, the scores go down. We were fortunate enough to show that they are going up, and we are very, very proud of our students.”
Cauble said education can no longer be an island of its own.
“It has to work with the business community,” she said. “You have to work with higher ed.”
Cauble said education in the 21st century has been redefined.
“The three R’s are no longer reading, writing and arithmetic,” she said. “The three R’s are rigor, relevance and relationship, and that will equal results.”
Cauble also said the board of education is working with the state’s health department on preparing for the H1N1 virus.
“This is a pandemic,” she said. “In the schools, we’ll be asked to probably give the shots when they come out, and that’s how they’re going to immunize the students.”
Cauble said board members understand the state has no money, but lawmakers still need to look closer at what funds education will receive in its budget.
“We do not want to nag, but we do think that when you can have 50 percent of your budget, that is an investment into the future into the state of Kansas because that’s what education is,” she said. “We know that it’s important, and we want to keep it at that level.”
Cauble said the board does have suggestions for representatives, but she said the 50 percent education receives is on property tax only.
“When you have 50 percent of your budget being funded by a three- legged stool and 50 percent of your budget on a one-legged stool, maybe there’s some room for improvement,” she said.
In its next session, Cauble said the board is going to ask the state legislature to fund the law.
“They provide the law,” she said. “They can pass legislation that we have to do, and we have to mandate. What we are going to ask them to do is to fund their mandated laws.”
Cauble said Kansas is in competition with the rest of nation when it comes to education.
“We are second in reading in the nation, and we are fourth in math,”
she said. “The only state that really outperforms us is Massachusetts, and they spend almost two to one more for a child than we do in the state of Kansas.”
The news is not all good, however, according to Cauble, who said teachers in the Sunflower State are ranked 38th in the nation in pay, but the board and other education officials are looking for ways to correct this.
“The state of Kansas has received a grant from the Governors Association in which we are looking into alternative pay for teachers in the state of Kansas,” she said. “We hope that by the beginning of next year, we will have a school district that will step and say we want to try this.”
Like most parts of the state’s budget, education is seeing big cuts, and local Kansas Board of Regents member Donna Shank said those issues are huge, particularly for higher education.
Shank was at Liberal’s Rock Island Depot Wednesday to discuss some of those problems, and she said they began last year when the bottom fell out of the nation’s economy.
“We’re dealing with significantly decreased state revenues,” she said. “Because of that, there had to be budget cuts all across the state. We are no exception. We knew it was coming.”
Shank said the good news is that last year, the governor was able to give enough warning ahead of time that cuts were likely.
“They predicted a little bit what the cuts might be,” she said. “We began planning as early as last summer for budget cuts. We instructed the universities to plan for those cuts.”
Shank said because of that advanced warning, the amount of damage was lowered.
“We tried to plan how much we could cut without seriously affecting the delivery of higher education in Kansas,” she said. “Fortunately, that level was at about 7 percent for us. We felt like we could handle that by making cuts in lots of other areas and not affecting classrooms.”
Shank said unfortunately, education cuts went beyond that level.
“In the end, higher education ended up with a 12 percent budget cut last year, and we may be headed for more this year,” she said.
Shank said the 12 percent cut amounted to $100 million taken out of higher education in the state of Kansas last year.
“That level has had a dramatic impact on higher eduction,” she said.
“There was no way around it and no way we could protect programs and services with that big of cut.”
Last year, universities only received 28 percent of their funds from the state, according to Shank.
“We are rapidly not becoming a public higher education system in the state of Kansas,” she said. “The remainder of the money for the state universities comes from tuition and private research funding.”
Shank added the budget cuts have led to the closing of 450 classes and programs across the state, as well as 655 employee layoffs and position eliminations, and tuition has been increased.
“We have reduced operating hours in libraries, computer labs, rec centers,” she said. “We’ve had to cut back on advising and counseling services for students.”
Shank said the cuts have impacted every level of the state’s higher education system, but she said the regents knew they had to do their part.
“We had to take cuts,” she said. “Everybody had to take cuts. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. That was the attitude that we went in with, and that’s still our attitude. We understand that there is no money.”
Shank said the regents are looking for everything they can to make up that money and do things differently.
“But without that funding, you just have to know that there’s very little that we can do to keep up with the demands for education services in the state of Kansas,” she said.
Shank said state higher learning facilities are seeing a significant increase in enrollment this year, particularly community colleges.
“The number I hear most often on average is in excess of 15 percent enrollment increases at the community college level,” she said.
“That’s with a significant less amount of money to be able to deal with those students.”
Education did receive stimulus funding from the federal government, and Shank said this helps with offsetting some of the budget cuts.
“In higher ed, we directed the universities to use two thirds of that money for deferred maintenance jobs, and one third would go to offset budget cuts or tuition mitigation in the form of scholarships to students,” she said.
Shank said the stimulus funding is temporary money, only available for two-years, so it is in effect one-time money. For this reason, she said it does not make sense to build those funds into the budget because it will eventually be gone.
Shanks said part of the regents’ strategic planning for next year will be to focus aggressively on improving graduation and retention rates, particularly those of universities. She said adult education is also going to be a priority.
“We have a great adult education center here in Seward County, but as a whole, Kansas is very good at adult education,” she said. “We’ve been named the best practices state by the federal government in adult education.”
Shank said the problem is there is not enough money in place.
“Federal funding is the largest part of adult education,” she said.
“The state puts in some. As far as our state contribution goes, we are very far down on the list.”
Shank said Kansas is about 45th in the nation as far as state contributions, and the regents are hoping once revenues become available in years to come to be able to increase state contributions, but also look for ways at the federal level and private dollars to increase those funds.
“It’s something that is so key to economic development and to the growth of Kansas and the growth of jobs in Kansas in the next several years,” she said. “We want to grow our economy. We want to bring jobs to Kansas, but the problem is there aren’t workers in Kansas. Our population is not growing. If we were to have a big influx of jobs, we wouldn’t have the people to fill those jobs right now.”