Mass exodus of Kansas teachers: Can you blame them?



July 13, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Kansas is hemorrhaging teachers, according to a report released by the Kansas Department of Education.
An estimated 3,720 teachers have vacated their positions after this most recent school year. That’s up almost 60 percent, or 2,150, from a typical year’s turnover rate.
You can lay the blame of the mass exodus at the feet of Kansas legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback for enacting recent legislation that has cut funding to Kansas schools, eliminated elements of teachers’ rights, and put their pension program at risk.
Oddly enough, this anti-public school tenor comes on the heels of systemic changes that have yielded very positive results.
In the past 17 years there’s been widespread reduction in school administrators and an increase in teachers and paraprofessionals.
“Everything you would expect to improve student outcomes is where districts have targeted their dollars,” said Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards.
The result?
Better scores on tests and higher graduation rates.
Since 1998, administration levels in Kansas K-12 schools have been reduced by 16 percent, according to a study conducted by KASB. At the same time, districts have added more teachers and support staff, by about the same percentage.
For Iola schools, the student-to-staff ratio is about 17-to-1. Back in 1998, it was 18-to-1. In Iola’s case, it’s important to note the decline in student numbers. Seventeen years ago we had about 1,700 students enrolled in K-12 with a staff of 121, including aides, special ed teachers, and reading specialists. In 2015, that number has declined to 1,264 enrollment, with a staff of 112. Full-day kindergarten and the implementation of pre-K also has required additional staff.
One reason for the shift to increased staffing was because of the rise in at-risk students across the state. Students from lower-income homes do not perform as well in school as those from middle- and upper-income homes and require additional help.
Also, federal law requires those with special needs to receive a public education. Schools today must meet the needs of students with not only physical disabilities but also emotional and behavioral problems. Those, too, require additional resources and staffing.
But with those extra resources comes success.
Students deemed proficient in math and reading increased from 35.8 percent in 2003 to 40.4 percent in 2013. For low-income students, the scores jumped from 20.6 percent to 25.3 percent. And graduation rates increased from 76.9 percent in 2003 to 89 percent in 2013.

SO HOW did we afford the change? Reduced administration, yes, but more importantly, the Montoy court case in 2005 forced legislators to funnel more to Kansas schools. From 2005 to 2009 state funding to classrooms gradually rose and we were on a trajectory of success.
Ever since Gov. Brownback has been in office, however, the rug’s been pulled out from under education. Again, we await word on another court case, Gannon v. Kansas, and whether legislators will be requested to increase funding to the state’s schools. More importantly, is whether they will follow the law.

KANSAS TEACHERS feel they are working in a hostile environment and are leaving for states that appreciate their gifts.
Wouldn’t you?
— Susan Lynn

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