He said with budget cuts in recent years, districts have been hesitant to send students to places like area tech centers, tech school or junior college because of transportation expenses.
“This bill allows schools to continue to do that and receive reimbursement for all transportation costs,” he said. “If the student is a successful completer, and receives an industry-recognized certification, the sending school district receives $1,000 as an incentive to continue to do this.
“So that’s all really good.”
The bill also expands the time students have to complete that certification to Dec. 31 following a student’s graduation. Previously, a student had to achieve certification by graduation.
“We have students who are working through that process, but aren’t quite ready to be fully certified—but they could get it done in the summer,”Noble said. “The state realizes public schools need to be rewarded for doing these sort of things with kids.”
Another bill Noble said has “great potential” for school districts is HB 2319. It would enable up to 10 percent of the state’s school districts to become “innovative districts,” which basically would exempt them from most state laws that govern education.
These districts, selected through competition, would still be required to meet all federal requirements, but would be released from state requirements such as designating certain funds for certain programs, collective bargaining rules and tenure laws.
The idea, Noble said, is to see what the schools could do through local innovation.
“This is an interesting concept,” he said. “We all belly-ache about state rules. They’re there for a reason, I know that. But this concept frees you from all that.”
Noble identified several legislative initiatives that could negatively impact districts, including various efforts to curb the bargaining rights of public employees, including teachers.
“One bill would not allow a payroll deduction to come out and go directly to a political-action cause—which is frankly silly, because in our communities our teachers voluntarily do that if they want to,” Noble said. “They’re not pressured to do that.”
Some legislators argued that districts absorb a significant expense to administer the withdrawals, but Noble said that’s not the case.
“Jerry (Hinerman, board clerk) assured me there’s nothing we do except put a code into the payroll system,” Noble said. “It’s automatic every month.”
Meanwhile, a different initiative to reduce collective bargaining rights of public employees was essentially tabled, with an invitation for district personnel to come up with better options for next year’s session.
“We appreciate that,” Noble said. “They’re going to let the ideas be generated at the local level. We’re going to get the opportunity to restructure collective bargaining in the state of Kansas.”
Another negative-impact legislative initiative is Senate Bill 171, which Noble called a “shell game” in the way school funding is reported. Under the bill, the state would take 10 percent of a school district’s local option budget authority and claim it as “state aid.”
Noble said the move is essentially an attempt to “fool” the state court into believing the Legislature is adequately funding K-12 education by meeting the mandated target of $4,400 base state aid per pupil.
“(Claiming the local 10 percent) makes the state look better on the base state aid per pupil argument, but all it does is take money from one pocket and put it over here in this pocket,” Noble said.
The local option budget is the portion of operational funds that a school district can raise through self-imposed taxation.
“To me, it’s a very unfair attack on boards of education and the taxpayers of their schools,” Noble said. “They’re basically taking what we are raising in our schools, and they’re going to count that as state aid—and not give us anymore state aid.”
School districts have been allowed to generate up to 30 percent of what it receives from the state through the local option budget. The new bill would reduce that to 20 percent.
Noble said he’s “fine” with the concept of reducing the tax load on local patrons, but the bill is “mean spirited and wrong.”
“If there’s a message I could get out to people, it would be if you don’t like the state taking your local tax dollars that are generated for your local school district, then write your representatives and tell them it’s a bad idea: ‘I don’t want you to take 10 percent of local tax money and call it a state contribution. Just raise the state contribution.’”
‘Bogus’ reading bill
One bill passed by the Legislature is simply “bogus,” according to Noble.
HR 2140, called the “Read to Succeed Act,” would prevent schools, beginning in 2017, from promoting students from first grade to second grade if the student performs poorly on the state’s standardized reading test.
The original version of bill applied the standard to third-grade students.
“Many of us in education came forward and said retaining kids at third grade is a bad idea,” Noble said. “You might be able to get the kid to read better by holding them back, but you’re going to be doing many other damaging things to the kid socially. They’ve established their friends, and there are a whole lot of other ramifications.”
The adjustment to first grade is an improvement, Noble said, but it’s also unnecessary, given the bill’s provision to require parental input in the decision.
“Guess what? Education has been doing that for 50 years—and longer,” Noble said. “Now, the Legislature all of a sudden creates this bill that we’re going to make schools do this.
“(The bill is) a bad idea that looks pretty good in Topeka,” he added. “But in the practical world, let educators, parents and local people figure out what’s best for kids.”
More with less
In the final analysis, Nobel said the pressure on school districts to provide more education without more state dollars will likely continue.
“There will be cuts,” he said. “For some schools, it’s just getting tougher and tougher. Our saving grace in Hillsboro is that we had the highest enrollment this year that we’ve had in several years.”
Even though that likely will change next year with the graduation of a large senior class this spring, state law allows a school district to use the previous year’s enrollment numbers for the coming budget year.
“So we have one year’s saving grace,” he said.
Nobel expects actual state funding to remain flat; cuts will come in the form of increases in operational costs.
“We’ll have to use some reserves to get through one more year,” Noble said about USD 410. “Then the cuts will hurt us in two years—unless something changes and we get some help.”