By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Sally Cauble not only believes the state of education in Kansas is going in the right direction, but it is well ahead of the national curve.
“We’re awesome,” she said. “I don’t know how else to say that. K-12 is doing an awesome job. Kansas is a leading state in the nation.”
The District 6 state board of education member spoke to local leaders at the Chamber of Commerce Brown Bag Legislative Luncheon Friday at Liberal’s Rock Island Depot, and one of the first signs of Kansas’ leadership Cauble pointed to was that 211 of the state’s 269 school districts made Adequate Yearly Progress on last year’s state assessments.
“That means that 83.7 percent of the students in the state of Kansas are on grade level or above. That is awesome,” Cauble said. “We are one of those states that set our standards high when No Child Left Behind came in, and instead of keeping the average low thinking that it’s going to go away and all of a sudden in the last two years we have to get up to 100 percent, that is not how the state of Kansas decided to operate. We know for a fact that our students are on grade level and above and compete nationally.”
Kansas did drop from second and third respectively in reading and math this year to third and fourth, but Cauble said with students across the state competing, this is not a bad place to be.
She next spoke about scores on the American College Test, noting Kansas students are scoring higher than the national average and more students have taken the test than ever.
“The state did approve the common course standards,” she said. “The state of Kansas was very active in the development and the writing of the common course standards. We were a key state.”
Cauble said state standards no longer match the state’s assessment tests, and therefore, new tests will be developed.
“We are a leading state in a group of states in developing of assessments,” she said. “There is a grant that is going to be awarded. We are hoping and praying for KU to be the agency to develop these assessments. They have just been awarded that for preschool.”
Cauble said another trend with assessments is having more than just one day of testing. She believes having one day is not fair to students, teachers or school systems in general. She said under the new system, a student can take the test when they are ready, rather than at a designated time of year.
“It’s the best for the students, and it’s best for the school system,” she said. “By the federal government because we are part of this, we have to have them developed by 2014, 2015. It’s a little hard to develop things when they haven’t awarded the contracts yet, but that is the goal.”
Cauble next addressed the reauthorization of NCLB, saying accountability will still be a big factor of the new bill.
“They very much want the ability of a student to be traced back to a teacher,” she said. “We have that capability in the state of the Kansas, and we are one of the few states that have that.”
Cauble said the state has the only way of turning schools around when needed – the Kansas Learning Network – something she said is very productive.
“It has been very successful, and other schools are learning about it,” she said. “We sent that model to the U.S. House of Representatives Education Committee, and because of that turnaround model, they have thrown out their four turnaround models, which the state of Kansas couldn’t even do because it was illegal.”
Cauble said Liberal is in danger of losing its share of Title I money if things do not turn around. She said that money should come from a formula and not a competitive grant.
“Anything formula is good for this part of the state,” she said. “Anything that they asked us to be in competitive grants, that is not good for us. There has not been a competitive grant come out of the U.S. Department of Education. passed west of the Mississippi.”
Cauble said although Liberal, as well as Kansas, was in play for Race to the Top grants and scores were high, none of the money from that program was given to any school west of the Mississippi River.
“We are no longer participating in any of the Race to the Top,” she said. “We are a rural state, and if you are a local control state, you will never receive the Race to the Top money.”
Cauble said a first recently happened in the history of Kansas with the finding of a correlation between money spent and test scores.
“The population shift in the state of Kansas is going east,” she said. “Kansas isn’t having less population. It’s just going east.”
Cauble said if state leaders examining school finance formula, Liberal could be “dead in the water.” She said legislators want to look at districts’ local operating budgets and the amount of money that can be raised locally instead of statewide.
“Johnson County and Wichita can raise much more money for an LOB than we can out here,” she said. “We definitely need to be working with our partners in the eastern part of the state to realize the effect on education.”
Cauble said the state is looking at a $13 million increase alone in its budget in terms of at risk and homeless students.
“Our figures show that the ESL and other is about a million,” she said. “Your property taxes have gone down, and so the amount of money that the state is raising from property taxes across the state to a point of where does the money come from.”
Cauble then asked what would happen if education funding was cut. The answer is the cutting of jobs, which she said leads to higher unemployment.
“In most of the towns in the district that I serve, those are the highest paying jobs in their community,” she said. “The school system is the number one employer.”
Cauble said this has a definite impact on economic development.
“There is a cycle of life,” she said. “Education plays a big part of it. It is a big part of the budget, but it is a part of the budget that is also futuristic. It is a part of the budget of the state of Kansas that is going to make us what we are in the years to come.”
Cauble said the workforce in Kansas has to be educated, and the basis of that is K-12, something she said has become a necessity because of the limitations of job opportunities for those with just a high school diploma.
“We know they have to have more post-secondary education to be able to survive,” she said.
Cauble said students in the 21st century are training for a job market that is quite different from that of days past.
“Education is the agent that helps the community and the state to grow economically,” she said. “We are preparing individuals for a different world than what you and I were prepared for. Our students are going to compete globally. They’re not competing within the state of Kansas.”