The meeting of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee was held on Monday, June 18, 2007, at 10:00 AM, in Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Harry Moberly Jr., Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Guests: Clyde Caudill, Jefferson County Public Schools and Cindy Heine, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
LRC Staff: Sandy Deaton, Audrey Carr, Jonathan Lowe, Janet Stevens, Jacinta Manning, and Lisa Moore.
Representative Moberly called the meeting to order. The first order of business was election of the co-chairs. Senator Kelly made the motion to elect Senator Jack Westwood as co-chair of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee (EAARS) and Senator Winters seconded the motion. The motion carried by a show of hands of the majority of senate committee members. Representative Marzian made the motion to elect Representative Moberly as co-chair of the EAARS subcommittee and Representative Rasche seconded the motion. The motion carried by a show of hands of the majority of house committee members.
Representative Moberly introduced Ms. Marcia Ford Seiler, Director, Office of Education Accountability (OEA), who acknowledged staff that contributed to the flexible focus fund program study and the compendium of state education rankings report. She introduced Dr. JoAnn Ewalt, Research Division Manager, OEA, to present the review of the flexible focus fund program.
Dr. Ewalt gave a PowerPoint demonstration highlighting the flexible focus fund program. She said OEA worked very closely with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) staff on the report and a response from KDE on the study is included in the members' meeting folders. The flexible focus fund program study was approved by the subcommittee in December, 2006. The program gives authority to school districts to reallocate funding among five state grants for extended school services (ESS), preschool, professional development, textbooks, and safe schools.
Dr. Ewalt said the program was authorized in budget language since fiscal year 2003 and was sought by KDE to give districts financial relief. School districts must comply with all statutory and regulatory requirements of the grants, and all student populations must be served. She said the total flex focus budgets must match before and after funding shifts.
Dr. Ewalt explained the specifics for each of the five grants and provided information, which is in the meeting folder located in the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) library. She noted that the preschool grant runs for a 15 month July through September cycle, while the other four grants follow a 12 month traditional fiscal year calendar.
Dr. Ewalt said ESS provides continuing education for students who need additional instruction in order to meet academic goals. She said the funding is based on average daily attendance; the districts' percent of free and reduced lunch-eligible students; the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) index scores; and the dropout rate.
Dr. Ewalt said the preschool grant is a statewide program that serves three and four year olds with disabilities and four year olds with family incomes up to 150 percent of poverty. She said the minimum requirement is a half-day program four days a week and per-child funding varies according to the child's eligibility status such as poverty, or a developmental delay, such as speech and language, and severe disability.
Dr. Ewalt said the professional development requirement is four days of the school term or 21 hours. She said the KDE does not evaluate the quality of professional development activities, or endorse or approve professional development opportunities. The funding to districts is based on average daily attendance. She said since 1995, the allocation has been $23 per pupil. Districts are required to allocate at least 65 percent of professional development funding to local school councils.
Dr. Ewalt said textbooks for kindergarten through grade eight are supported by state appropriations. Textbooks are approved on a six-year schedule based on subject area groupings and funding is based on prior year membership.
Dr. Ewalt said the purpose of safe schools is to support a safe and healthy learning environment. She said funds are used for services such as alternative education, in-school suspension, school resource officers, security equipment, intervention services, and training programs. Funding is based on average daily attendance, plus a $20,000 base grant.
Dr. Ewalt explained the percentages that each grant receives under the flexible focus enacted budget allocations. This information is located in the meeting folder in the LRC library. She also noted that participation in the flexible focus program has been limited. Overall, 106 districts have participated at least in one year, but two-thirds of school districts do not use the flex focus program in any given year.
Dr. Ewalt said superintendents were surveyed about the program as well as to obtain final budget data for flex focus grants. She said superintendents that responded that they did not use the program said it was because there was not enough grant funding to make it worthwhile since all grants are supplemented through general fund sources. Superintendents who responded that they did use the program said it provided needed flexibility and helps them to meet local needs. She said regardless of participation status, 87 percent of superintendents favor permanent statutory authority, and 74 percent oppose distributing the flex focus grant funding within the Support Educational Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) formula. She said no districts reported having written policies for flex focus.
Dr. Ewalt said while the flex focus program is not widely used, it is a budgetary policy that local leaders favor and want to see continue. She discussed the analysis of the flexible focus implementation through the General Assembly, to the KDE, to the Flex Focus Fund Program, and to the school districts.
Senator Kelly asked if the amount of funds the KDE keeps was an authorized amount or a percentage that is applied. Dr. Ewalt said some of the grants have a specified amount that can be retained, which is two percent for ESS. There is no set limit in other grants.
Senator Kelly asked who makes the determination as to how much is retained. Dr. Ewalt said the amount retained overall varies from one to three percent. The funds for safe schools go to the Center for School Safety in the amount of ten percent, textbooks have nothing retained, and professional development ranges from six percent to twelve percent.
Senator Kelly asked who determines the percentages retained in the different grants; is it the KDE or approved through the Kentucky Board of Education. Dr. Ewalt said it is approved by the KDE staff in the grants where there is no statutory requirement. Senator Kelly asked which grants have statutory requirements. Dr. Ewalt said ESS is the only grant that has a statutory requirement and it is two percent.
Dr. Ewalt discussed the percent of total district spending outside the flex focus program. Table 2.4 on page 30 is located in the report within the meeting folder in the LRC library. She said the source used for compiling the table was from staff compilation using the annual financial reports from KDE.
Dr. Ewalt discussed conclusions and recommendations for the Flexible Focus Fund Program. She noted that the program appears to be providing participating districts with the intended flexibility to reallocate funds to meet local needs. She said almost all superintendents favor permanent statutory authority for the programs.
Dr. Ewalt said district coding errors reduce the ability to evaluate program impact. She said the districts' failure to submit quarterly electronic financial reports limits the KDE's ability to monitor program requirements. The KDE does not require districts to submit quarterly financial reports for safe schools. The Center for School Safety currently does not collect financial data and therefore, it is not possible to determine how districts are spending safe school funding. She noted that the lack of quarterly reports also means that KDE cannot enforce the 65 percent requirement for professional development and the KDE has not enforced the 10 percent carry forward limitation for the flex focus grants.
Dr. Ewalt highlighted some of the more substantive recommendations. They are: 1) The General Assembly may wish to consider authorizing the program in statute; 2) the KDE should enforce its requirement that districts submit electronic quarterly financial reports to better enable the agency to monitor program provisions; 3) the KDE should provide expenditure guidelines to districts regarding the safe schools grant. KDE should require districts to include the safe schools grant in their required quarterly reports to the department. KDE should then review districts' quarterly reports to ensure that the total allocation for the five flex focus grants matches districts' total budgets for these programs; 4) the KDE should require the Center for School Safety to include in the center's annual report a review of school districts' initial grant allocations, final budgets, and expenditures. The expenditure data should be at a sufficient level of detail to allow for an evaluation of the safe schools grant; 5) the KDE should enforce the ten percent carry forward limitation; 6) the General Assembly may wish to consider to statutory language that would permit KDE to utilize carry forward funds in excess of ten percent to support the goals of the originating grants; 7) alternatively, the General Assembly may wish to discontinue its authorization of the 10 percent carry forward provision for all flex focus grants except textbooks since the program provides districts with the ability to plan for local needs and reallocate funding to accommodate budget priorities; 8) the KDE should review its criteria for establishing per-pupil allotments for professional development; 9) if it is the intent of the General Assembly that increases in budget allocation for professional development will result in corresponding increased professional development funding to districts and schools, a constant $23 per-pupil allotment will not accomplish this. Changes in funding levels should be accompanied by an examination of professional development needs at the state and local level; and 10) the KDE should enforce the 65 percent requirement for professional development allocations to local schools.
Senator Kelly asked if the amount of funding is varied, but the allotment stays flat, is this because the student population is varying. Dr. Ewalt said the KDE provides an allotment to districts based on a combination of pupil count, low CATS scores, and dropout rates. She said schools are required to plan for the use of professional development and they must include that in their school comprehensive improvement plan. The KDE does not try to enforce a certain kind of professional development unless there is reason to monitor a certain school.
Representative Moberly asked what percentage of superintendents responded to OEA's survey. Dr. Ewalt said 100 percent of superintendents responded, but not all superintendents answered every question. She said all superintendents provided final district budgets for the report.
Representative Moberly was surprised that 74 percent of superintendents did not want the flex focus funds to go into the SEEK formula and asked what the rationale was for that high of a percentage not wanting it combined with SEEK. Dr. Ewalt said most superintendents thought if the grants were part of SEEK that they might lose the attention and focus of the General Assembly, primarily the preschool grant funds. Secondly, she said it was a fear of the unknown because they have not received any information as to what would happen if these grants were made a part of SEEK.
Representative Moberly said there are statutory requirements in regards to the safe schools grants. Dr. Ewalt said most districts are spending safe schools money on alternative education, but it cannot be analyzed because the data is not reported currently. Representative Moberly asked what the Center for School Safety would have to do to submit the information. Dr. Ewalt said it is very possible to submit the quarterly financial reports to the KDE, it is just simply not required at this point for safe schools as it is with other grants. Representative Moberly said he felt it was important for them to be complying with the statutory guidelines.
Senator Westwood referred back to recommendation number one which says the General Assembly may wish to consider authorizing the Flexible Focus Fund program in statute. He asked what the advantage was of legislating this particular piece of legislation. Dr. Ewalt said it is currently in budget language, which the General Assembly can choose to leave in or omit in any given budget cycle. She said there was evidence of good planning and use of the program among a minority of the districts, but those were districts who were strategically planning ways to use outside funding. She said permanent authority enhances the consistency of the authority and coupled with better training and instruction from KDE's part to the districts, use of the program should increase.
Senator Westwood asked about enforcing the requirement for districts to submit an electronic quarterly financial report. He asked if districts were required to submit quarterly financial reports that are not electronic, and if recommendation number four was an electronic or a reporting issue.
Dr. Ewalt said it is both an electronic and a reporting issue. She said there are districts that are providing financial data, but a minority of districts are providing information via email or not providing quarterly reports at all.
Senator Westwood asked what tool KDE could use to enforce the requirement of providing electronic quarterly financial reports. Dr. Ewalt said there is a response from KDE in the members' meeting folders. She said the KDE wants to work with the districts and more closely monitor the situation than in the past. Senator Westwood said it would probably be in the form of a recommendation instead of something tied with consequences. Dr. Ewalt said KDE understands it is an item that needs to be addressed and improved.
Senator Winters discussed the 65 percent mandated professional development that is sent to the school council or district and asked if those were synonymous terms. Dr. Ewalt said they were not synonymous terms and if the report said school district then it was a mistake. School districts receive the allocation and 65 percent must be sent to local schools and in most cases to the school councils. She said KDE is going to use the amount of professional development identified in the September quarterly report to determine that 65 percent is going to the schools. Senator Winters asked what the remaining 35 percent is used for. Dr. Ewalt said the 35 percent is used for district-wide professional development uses determined by the district.
Senator Winters said the 10 percent carry forward money was very difficult to deal with depending on whether it was a 12 or 15 month cycle. He asked what happens to the funds above 10 percent at the end of the 12 or 15 months when so many districts are overshooting this carry forward amount.
Dr. Ewalt said the KDE has not enforced this in the past, but KDE will look at districts who carry forward more than ten percent and dock those funds for the next year with the funds being returned to the state general fund. KDE has said they will be monitoring and enforcing the ten percent carry forward amount in the future.
Senator Kelly asked if problems could arise with enforcing the ten percent carry forward rule. He mentioned the example of hiring personnel to replace someone that may have left the program. Dr. Ewalt said the reason there is no carry forward limit for textbooks is because the state uses a six-year cycle. For the other grants, the carry forward provision has been shown in research studies to be the result of poor budgetary planning.
Representative Moberly asked about areas that have had money shifted out that is made up with other grants. He wanted to know if any of the shifts in funding left an underserved population or purpose from where the money was shifted. Dr. Ewalt said because this study was not a program evaluation of any of the five areas that subject was not analyzed. She did say a couple of districts had shifted the entire grant out, primarily ESS, and this would be something worth looking at to see were they really tapping other funds so that the population was still be served and what was going on at the local level.
Ms. Brenda Landy, Research Analyst, OEA, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the compendium of state education rankings. Ms. Landy said the purpose of the compendium of state education rankings is to provide a convenient source of information about how Kentucky compares to other states on education indicators. She said it is also to provide a broad overview, for identifying areas for OEA to pursue with more detailed analysis.
Ms. Landy discussed the criteria used for selection. She said works were given primary consideration if they were widely read and cited; inclusive of all 50 states; published annually or biennially; provided a unique analysis rather than re-publication of data published elsewhere; and were quantified in a way that allows the ranking of states.
Ms. Landy said the rankings can provide background for judging their credibility by the publisher, author, and sponsors; methodology and data sources; and caveats and limitations. She said although some measures are more useful than others, that no measure is perfect, and all have limitations. The compendium does cover integrity issues such as validity and reliability.
Ms. Landy said Senator Kelly had indicated at an earlier meeting that he would find it useful to find a way of adjusting for cost of living differences across school districts. She said in the compendium, an adjustment approach is given from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), and is called the comparable wage index. This index is based on the annual wages and salaries of college-educated workers. It is calculated by dividing the average salaries in each area by a baseline, which is the national average provided by the 2000 census. She said since a geographic area's wages are strongly correlated with cost of living, these data can be used for adjusting other financial data to make it more comparable from one place to another.
Ms. Landy said Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation with respect to average teacher salaries. However, Kentucky does have lower wages and the cost of living is lower than top-ranked states, and after these differences are adjusted using the comparable wage index, Kentucky does rise to 31st in the nation. She said members should be cautious when reading and interpreting rankings. For one thing, many people define things so differently, and the rank, as one number by itself, does not say how big differences are.
Ms. Landy concluded by saying that OEA will follow up with a more detailed analysis on indicators of interest or concern. She said annual updates will be made to the compendium and adjust with trends over time. She also said additional information will be provided in December, 2007, that includes a glossary of education terms and more detailed Kentucky data.
Representative Moberly said he is looking forward to reading the full report and compendium. He thinks it is a very interesting study and he feels that Kentucky has made significant progress and is not as low in some areas as others believe.
Senator Winters said it was a beneficial document and appreciated the hard work. He mentioned the projection of Kentucky's growth over the next three years and said Kentucky needs to address the issue of being ranked 50th in the total number of instruction staff as a percentage of the total staff in the school.
Dr. Ewalt said it is important for members to identify areas they are interested in for further investigation. She said the first thing to do if it is the subcommittee's desire, is to make sure that the definitions are the same across states. Ms. Seiler said the glossary of terms that is forthcoming in OEA's end-of-year annual report will be beneficial as well to members prior to the beginning of the 2008 legislative session.
Senator Kelly said the reports are a useful analysis and will be beneficial to him. He also hopes that OEA will continue to ask questions about these particular rankings, and find out if there were other factors involved in the way the information for the rankings was accumulated. He said most importantly, a state ranked 16th and a state ranked 22nd can essentially have no statistical differences.
Senator Westwood discussed rankings and looking at a combination of factors, instead of focusing on one particular factor. He asked if the teacher salary rankings took into consideration how many of the states gave out benefit packages as part of the salary as opposed to benefit packages that were not considered part of the salary. Dr. Ewalt said no, it did not and this issue is explained in further detail on page 33 and 34 of the full report.
Dr. Ewalt asked if it was an appropriate time for the committee to accept the two reports. Representative Rasche made a motion to accept the two reports from OEA, and the motion was seconded by Senator Winters. The motion was approved by voice vote.
Representative Moberly introduced Mr. Kevin Noland, Interim Commissioner, KDE, to provide a brief response to the studies and answer questions from members. Mr. Noland said he felt both studies were very informative and told members that KDE's responses to the recommendations of the review of the Flexible Focus Fund were in their meeting folders.
Mr. Noland responded to Senator Kelly about the flexible focus fund program and to what extent there are administrative costs withheld at the state level. He said there is no money held at the state level for KDE administration for preschool, textbooks, and safe schools. He said statutorily there can be two percent held at the state level for administration of extended school services, but KDE does not use the entire two percent, and just uses the actual overhead expenses required from personnel to administer the grant and monitor the program. He said professional development costs are withheld for statewide professional development initiatives and not for personnel costs associated with administering the grants.
Representative Moberly asked when the new commissioner for KDE would begin her duties and Mr. Noland said on July 16, 2007. She will be introduced at the Interim Joint Committee Meeting on July 19, 2007, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Representative Moberly said he understood that the consultants' work was completed on the alignment study of the ACT and Kentucky Core Content Test (KCCT), and asked if this would be ready for the next agenda of the EAARS subcommittee. Mr. Noland said he recommended that EAARS take the issue up at the July 2007 meeting as the alignment studies are completed for the high school level ACT and KCCT, and this was discussed by the Kentucky Board of Education last week. He recommended inviting the consultants who performed the study to the July EAARS meeting as well as providing representation from the National Technical Advisory Panel on Assessment and Accountability (NTAPPA) members, School Curriculum Assessment and Accountability Council (SCAAC), and OEA. He said advice should be solicited from all the above entities before the state board decides how to act upon the recommendations in the report as there are several different options that Kentucky could choose to move forward in assessment.
Representative Moberly asked Mr. Noland to work closely with Senator Westwood and himself to develop the agenda for the July EAARS meeting as well as a list of people to invite.
With no further business before the subcommittee, the meeting adjourned at 11:30 a.m.