Kansas State Board of Education establishes four priorities heading into 2024 election cycle

Focus to be on student safety, college prep, teacher training, community ties
Betty Arnold, a Wichita member of the Kansas State Board of Education, said work on the goal of...
Betty Arnold, a Wichita member of the Kansas State Board of Education, said work on the goal of increasing the number and quality of educators in public schools should involve examination of impediments to being part of the profession.(Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 9:30 PM CDT
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TOPEKA — Kansas State Board of Education member Betty Arnold endorsed the goal of expanding the number and quality of educators working in K-12 public school classrooms.

“One of the things that really sticks with me are the obstacles … that tend to decrease the interest in that profession. This is an area where I have some concern,” said Arnold, a Democrat who would have to seek reelection next year in a district gerrymandered by the Kansas Legislature.

Increasing enrollment in university teacher education programs and subsequent leadership development opportunities were among four objectives adopted this month by the state Board of Education for the 18-month period concluding in January 2025.

“Every one of these is a huge challenge,” said Republican Jim McNeice of Wichita. “What’s the plan to do this? How do we evaluate success?”

In 2024, the August primary and November general elections determine control of five of the 10 positions on the state Board of Education. Members with terms expiring Jan. 14, 2025, include Democrat Ann Mah of Topeka, Republican Deena Horst of Salina, Democrat Melanie Haas of Overland Park, McNeice and Arnold. Seven state Board of Education members are Republicans, and all three Democrats would be on the ballot in 2024.

“Five of you will be up for reelection,” said Randy Watson, commissioner of education in Kansas. “Either there will be a change in the board that happens in January again or it will be the same people. I don’t think any of us know that.”

Watson said expanding the pool of new teacher candidates and enhancing instructional skills of those individuals could involve reform of licensure standards and apprenticeship offerings. Graduate programs to develop superintendents and principals should be strengthened, he said.

“What we’re seeing in education right now … is: ‘How short can I condense the time and how inexpensive can I provide that environment,’” Watson said. “I’m not sure that always gives us the best quality.”

The state Board of Education agreed to devoted themselves to enhancing each public school student’s chance of success at a post-secondary institution, whether that was a private or public university, college or trade school. High schools in Kansas excel in helping students earn technical certificates and prepare them for college or the military, Watson said, but a problem existed in the student pipeline at middle schools.

“We have too many students who arrive at high school with too low of academics,” the state commissioner said.

Watson said the state Board of Education would strive to shift more students into the higher levels of achievement on state assessments, move the Kansas high school graduation rate closer to 95% and assist districts with aligning budgets to maximize student success.

State board member Cathy Hopkins, a Hays Republican elected in 2022, said regulatory mandates and associated paperwork were a burden on school districts with modest staffing.

“It seems like there could be a way to streamline that a bit more so they are not so overwhelmed with what these requirements are,” Hopkins said.

A third area of attention for the state Board of Education would be creation of stronger partnerships with families, communities, businesses and local, regional or state policymakers.

“We’re not doing a good enough job there,” Watson said. “So many of our families feel school is not necessarily a good place for them.”

The final category centered on improving safety for people working and learning in schools, which have served as a magnet for individuals intent on perpetrating violence.

The state Board of Education and the Kansas Department of Education ought to develop a better response to cybersecurity threats and ransomware attacks, Watson said. Two districts in Kansas, including the Hays district in 2022, experienced ransomware incidents and more were likely, he said.

Danny Zeck, a Republican from Leavenworth elected last year, was the lone vote in opposition to the state Board of Education’s priority list.