Hensley: Court links student achievement to quality teachers, support staff

By Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley

During a budget debate last week, Senate President Susan Wagle offered an amendment that would cut K-12 budgets by $68 million. She argued students would not be impacted because school boards would have to cut “non-classroom” expenses. This is not true.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s most recent school finance ruling makes it clear that all cuts to schools reduce student achievement, especially when they eliminate teachers and support staff.

Cuts to K-12 budgets have eliminated more than 1,000 teaching positions along with nearly 1,000 support staff positions including school nurses, social workers, librarians, school counselors, speech therapists, and others. Additionally, the cuts led to discontinuation of many extracurricular activities because the districts could no longer afford to hire coaches. For the same reason, programs such as one-on-one tutoring were removed.

Quality teachers, support staff, and extracurricular activities directly impact student achievement, the Court concludes. They cite testimony of expert witness Dr. Eric Hanushek who said, “The most important factor in influencing student achievement is the quality of the teacher.” Without enough teachers, class sizes grew, and the larger class sizes prevented teachers from being able to spend more time with each student.

The Court notes the impact of class size on achievement when they write, “Smaller class sizes…are an effective tool for increasing student achievement.” Further, they indicate that without quality teachers and necessary support staff, school districts struggle to meet achievement goals outlined by the Rose standards.

But, the Court also notes that pay cuts and stagnant salaries make it difficult to recruit and retain quality teachers. This means it is critical for school districts to not only receive enough funding to create additional teaching positions, but to also increase salaries to attract new teachers to their districts.

The Court’s opinion is encouraging, and the defeat of Sen. Wagle’s amendment means Legislators understand what it’s going to take to ensure all Kansas children have access to a quality education.

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