Five new directions for Kansas education was the topic of discussion when representatives of the Kansas Association of School Board stopped at the USD 457 Education Support Center to visit with local school, business and civic leaders Wednesday as part of the KASB advocacy tour.

During the stop, KASB officials updated attendees on what's to come from the KASB and heard some of their input on education. Rob Gilligan governmental relations specialist for the KASB, told local officials that 2017 is the association's 100th anniversary, and to commemorate the milestone, it has adopted the statement, "Understanding our past, imagining our future."

“Think about Kansas in 1917. Think about education in 1917. It was most likely a one-room school house, ungraded, you had a single teacher that covered the township square and the highest level of education attainment — if you’re doing good and your family was committed to it — was eighth grade,” he said. “Obviously, we know things have changed. It’s a whole new world and a whole new perspective and different meaning. I think that’s where we’re at this year, and there’s really five important things going on right now that have all kind of converged … to give us a great opportunity to help us move forward.”

The first step in the new direction is a new vision for success. Gilligan said the Kansas State Board of Education adopted a new vision: “Kansas will lead the world in education.”

“It’s a huge statement,” he said. “It’s not Kansas will lead the Midwest. It’s not Kansas will lead the United States or North America, or the hemisphere. It’s Kansas will lead the world in education.

“It gives us that direction to say, ‘Here’s where education has to take us in the next year, it’s where education has to take us for the next 100 years. Here is education reforming, and here’s how Kansas is going to lead the way.'”

The second step is a new school finance formula, which was adopted by state legislators earlier this summer.

In March, the Kansas Supreme Court said Kansas failed to ensure adequate funding for public schools, and lawmakers were given a June 30 deadline — like last year — to come up with a formula deemed adequate in order for schools not to close. The Supreme Court ruled the the block grant system is unconstitutional and denied academically low-achieving students — about 25 percent of students in the state — an appropriate education.

Most of the 2017 legislative session was filled with school finance debate, and in June, lawmakers settled on a bill that would reinstate a per-pupil funding formula. The formula is similar to one repealed in 2015 and would provide nearly $195 million in funding for the 2017-18 school year, and an additional $98 million the following year.

Gilligan credits legislators for their work on school finance.

“They did a lot of work to develop a formula that was supported by an overwhelming majority of legislators…” Gilligan said, adding that the Supreme Court still has to weigh in on it and there are some adjustments that may need to be made. “But it gives us a foundation to move forward. Districts now know. School board and administration teams now know where we’re going to go. Not just next year, but the following year, the year after, and the year after that.”

The third piece of the vision puzzle is finding funding to make it work, Gilligan said, which ties in with school finance.

“Do you guys remember when the conversation was, ‘What programs do we want to add? Where do we want to invest money?’ It’s been a decade since schools have been able to have those conversations,” Gilligan said, referencing budget cuts in education for nearly a decade. “This year, for the first time because of the work of the Legislature, we have that money available. Districts can now have conversations about where they are going to invest that. … Those are the kind of conversations that are fun to have, and those are the kind of conversations that help our communities grow.”

The fourth new direction is new accountability based on student success.

Gilligan said the state school board said that schools can no longer base the success of a school district on how students test on a particular day.

“They said let's spend less time developing a student as a good test taker and more time developing a student as a whole,” Gilligan said. "Where the success is what do they do after they leave school.”

During the stop, USD 457 superintendent Dr. Steve Karlin said the direction of the KASB is more focused on preparing students for their post-secondary lives.

“Those lives aren’t just about going to college, though it certainly can be a component of that. It’s not just about the academic side of things, it’s about being prepared to potentially go on and do secondary training, but also be able to live a productive life of being a family, community member or neighbor,” Karlin said. “I think there is some great work being done there (with the KASB vision)."

The last step in the new direction is new models for innovation and improvement. One of the ways the Kansas Department of Education is doing that is through a a program that will be launched this school year, dubbed the Mercury 7.

Gilligan said this is a redesigned program that the KDE wants to analyze. Seven school districts throughout the state applied for the program, and a secondary and elementary school from each of the selected districts will spend the next school year redesigning education in the state of Kansas.

“It’s a huge opportunity and a huge burden on those districts,” Gilligan said, adding that the districts selected for the program will be announced Tuesday. “We talk about this as an opportunity because what we think it allows the state of Kansas to do is to understand that the state board knows we don’t have all the answers yet. … Education is great in Kansas, but it’s not quite good enough to meet the demands of what we need to do.”

Garden City was the halfway mark of the KASB’s 27 stops in various Kansas towns and cities over a three-week period. Today, the KASB will stop in Colby and Great Bend.

Typically the KASB does its tour in May or June when the Legislature is wrapping up, Gilligan said, but because the session was extended and education and its funding is still of topic, the tour is later than usual.

Contact Josh Harbour at jharbour@gctelegram.com