Below is a briefing of the challenges facing education in Boys State of Kansas. City Councils may use this information as needed to define and understand challenges or to prioritize initiatives for the progress of the county. Each issue does not be addressed, and city councils may decide that a challenge included in the briefing is either not a problem or not one that needs to be prioritized.
SES and LGBT Issues at School Schools are seeing an increasing level of diversity in a variety of areas, and many want to ensure that all students receive a quality education regardless of their backgrounds. Boys State of Kansas has seen its population diversity more in regards to race, socioeconomic status (SES), sexual orientation, and language. Heightened LGBT inclusion and awareness has also led to debate. Concerns include bullying, bathroom/locker room usage for transgender students, suicide prevention, acceptance by non-LGBT students to foster a safe learning environment. Research conducted by The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has shown that up to 40 percent of LGBT youth in some areas have considered or attempted suicide. SES varies widely in Boys State of Kansas. One poverty institute reported that over 14,000 state citizens are enrolled in TANF and that 137,000 children in come from families receiving SNAP benefits. The number of citizens enrolled in CHIP, EITC, and Medicaid exceeds 200,000 per program. (Many of these citizens, it is worth noting, are enrolled in multiple of these programs.) This, of course, has significant impacts on education by influencing the ability of children to attend school well-fed and well-rested, as well as their ability to access basic school supplies, toiletries, and technological devices (an increasingly necessary tool for 21st century students). As they look to the future, these students must also plan for challenges in paying for a college or a technical education, should they so choose.
Real World Preparation Whether or not schools adequately prepare their students for the real world is a continuous source of contention. According to the College and Career Readiness standards, 93 percent of middle school students reported wanting to attend college, but only 44 percent end up enrolling. Out of those 44 percent of student who enroll, only 25 percent go on to graduate from college. English language learners (ELLs) are believed to face some of the largest challenges. ELLs often find it difficult to develop English proficiency while trying to meet academic standards, and because they often have to attend classes with no language support, long-term ELLs often lose their motivation in school. Overall, ELLs are twice as likely as their peers to drop out of high school. According to research, over 80 percent of “21st century jobs” require some postsecondary education. A significant number – though certainly not all – of jobs in today’s society require a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. Adults with a postsecondary degree are statistically more likely to be hired than adults without a degree. This, of course, leads many to argue that the primary focus of high school should be preparation for postsecondary education.
Funding and Teacher Exodus Recent administrative and political decisions by previous legislative sessions have caused a unique problem for Kansas schools – teacher retention. Funding cuts to schools and districts and the increased pressure they place on educators have prompted many teachers to either exit the state or even the education profession entirely. Prior funding models have been based on Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP), a model that directs funding to districts based on student population. Recent funding has come in the form of more equal block grants levelling the monies received by high-population urban districts and lower-population rural districts. When the block grants are broken down by student to provide a rough estimate of BSAPP given to each district, the amount comes out to about $3800 spent per student. Counties, of course, have no ability to control the funding provided by the state, though they can play a role in the property taxes levied to assist in the funding of schools and can also develop other methods for funding. Districts consistently express concern about the availability of funds to provide new and relevant technology, fund extracurricular activities, maintain schools, etc. They are also increasingly concerned with the loss of quality experienced teachers, although the new openings do provide employment for recent college graduates looking for teaching jobs willing to take employment wherever it is available. Administrators who have welcomed new graduates have admitted to experiencing an influx of new ideas and methods that revitalized parts of their schools.
STEM Education Boys State schools focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education) areas together because the skills and knowledge in each discipline are essential for student success. Many adults are pursuing jobs in those fields of study over any other field due to the continuously expanding availability of well-paying employment. Surveys show that well over three-fourths of Boys State residents favor such a shift in the focus of education – it would seem that this would increase Boys State’s ability to compete with other states while also guaranteeing employment for their children in the future.
Patriotic Curricula In 2015, some legislators in Oklahoma attempted to remove AP US History from state public schools due to perceptions that the College Board’s inclusion of some aspects of American history taught students to be “unpatriotic.” This ban was ultimately defeated, but the conversation about where or not schools should foster patriotism or even American exceptionalism has not been absent from midwestern and southern legislatures, including Boys State of Kansas. In a statewide survey last year, 89 percent of Boys State citizens said they believed it was the responsibility of schools to foster citizenship, and 78 percent believed schools should teach students to be patriotic. Of those asked, 54 percent of citizens believed American exceptionalism should be an aspect of social studies curricula. No decision on the issue has been made by the state legislature, even in the presence of discussions. In some counties, however, some parents who believed their children were taught unpatriotic took the issue up with the school or district administration, requesting that teachers be instructed to change what they teach. Other parents have argued that this only serves to damage education, fail to prepare students for the real world, and ignore all aspects of American history.
School Choice and the Public Education Monopoly As mentioned earlier, school funding continues to be a contentious statewide policy challenge, and multiple funding formulas have been adopted in the state at different times to address this issue. Regardless of the funding plans adopted, however, some public schools continue to underperform in comparison to other schools, although the causes (funding, unqualified teachers, etc.) remains open to debate. Until this problem can be addressed, however, the question remains about what to do about students who live within the boundaries of underperforming school districts. Several arguments have been made. Many insist on the need to increase funding and support for struggling schools. Others make an economic argument, stating that public schools currently maintain a monopoly on education in the U.S. and therefore do not perform to their fullest potential; therefore, they argue, state and local governments need to encourage competition with public schools to force them to perform better or lose their students. The concept of school choice is one proposed solution – that parents and students can choose to attend any public, charter, magnet or private school regardless of where they live. Some take this argument further, suggesting that the state should provide money to families via vouchers to help fund a change from local public schools to private schools, magnet or charter schools, or distant public schools. Opponents of school choice have made several counterarguments:
- They believe schools will never be able to function or compete as businesses, nullifying the monopoly argument.
- They believe that personal funds/vouchers would allow families to direct public money to private schools, including religious schools, which many argue stands in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
- Forcing students in underperforming districts to travel away from their homes to acquire a quality education is still inequitable
Health and Sex Education Over the last few years, there has been debate on the national level about how students should be educated on matters of sex. Some argue that students should be taught about sexual anatomy, contraception, and safe sex practices, while others believe that schools should adhere to an abstinence-only approach. On a more local level, several years ago, one school district chose to alter its sex education program to go beyond just the teaching of abstinence. The CDC has reported that by graduation the average high school student receives seventeen hours of sex education; the district’s intent was to increase this time by providing two additional days for discussion about STD/STI prevention and contraception. Additionally, sexual orientation would be added to the curriculum. District patrons in favor of the plan argued that this curriculum would not be forced upon children of parents who did not support it, who could choose to have their children opt out of the program. This instance is just one example of division over sex education across Kansas. Yet another concern is at what age students should begin receiving any degree of sex education. Some argue that it should be restricted to high school. Some have suggested that it should begin to some extent in early elementary school, where students could be taught/allowed to use correct anatomical terminology.
Determine those issues that appear significant to your county and develop actionable experiments to address those challenges. Monitor the progress of these experiments to decide if further action needs to be taken. Experiments may take the form of county resolutions, collaboration between counties on joint measures, working with city councils, or any other measure developed by the county commission.