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2012 June 11 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: Kan. Education Deal Takes Aim at Student Readiness

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Negotiators in the Kansas Legislature struck a deal to provide more help for college students who struggle academically, as well as $40 million in additional funding for K-12 education.

The changes would require state universities to work with students admitted under exceptions to the state’s qualified admissions standards. The goal is to help students who may have not been prepared for the rigors of college to develop good study habits and strategies to make the grade and earn their degree. The students would be required to develop an “individual plan for success’’ with an academic adviser and other university staff.
The changes would take effect in 2014.

Each state university is currently allowed to admit up to 10 percent of its incoming freshman class who fail to meet admissions standards, which include a student’s GPA in a college prep curriculum or qualifying scores on national college entrance exams.

“We’re wanting to make sure that they succeed, which is my concern,” said Rep. Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican and House negotiator on the bill. “This gets to my concern that if we are letting some of the kids in through the exception that we ought to help them succeed.”

The bill would reduce the exception percentages at Kansas State, the University of Kansas and Wichita State to 5 percent of the freshman class, and leave it at 10 percent at Emporia State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State.

The agreement includes language that would prohibit universities from using state funds to provide remedial courses for students.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, the Senate Education Committee chairwoman, was concerned about what universities would do if it was determined that some students targeted for additional assistance needed remedial courses.

The original language of the proposal also included looking at the student’s living arrangements and any extracurricular activities in which they were involved. “Don’t you think this is a little far-reaching?” said Schodorf, a Wichita Republican, before the housing and activities language were deleted.

Aurand said he came up with the assistance piece after consulting with Kansas Board of Regent Chairman Ed McKechnie.

Budget negotiators approved adding $40 million to public school aid for the next school year, adding roughly $59 per student to spending.

They also agree to add $24.6 million for the current year to keep funding level, as requested by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Both years’ funding comes from the state general fund.

The negotiators also added $10.25 million for changes in technical and career education programs, which will be used to encourage more high school students to enroll in vocational programs through community and vocational schools.

The goal is to give them a head-start on technical careers and education, including certification to enter the work force.

Legislators dropped efforts to make other policy changes in K-12 education, including increasing funding for the 2012-13 school year and changing to how the state pays school districts for students who are determined to be at risk of academic failure.

School districts receive additional funding for each student who qualifies for free lunches. The theory is that those students are living at or below the poverty line and income is considered one of the best indicators of success in the classroom.

The changes would have required school districts to repay the state if it’s later determined that a student didn’t qualify for free lunches. The amount is about $3.5 million a year statewide.

Another provision at play would have modified the state’s funding for districts with high concentrations of at-risk students.

Districts with 50 percent or more at-risk would receive 10 percent more at-risk funding, sliding down a scale to 6 percent for those with at least 35 percent at-risk.

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