With the New Year comes the setting of new agendas, and for lawmakers in both Kansas and Mississippi, education is set to receive the most attention.
While Kansas will focus on implementing the requirements of the state's recently-issued No Child Left Behind waiver, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has announced that he will pursue fundamental changes to the state's education system, such as the introduction of teacher merit pay and expansion of the school choice options.
One area of the Kansas education system that will not see much attention will be early childhood education. Bryant rejected a statewide pre-K program as unaffordable, but said some limited funding – about $3 million – will be made available to expand academic offerings in daycare centers and for Head Start programs.
Bryant is also anticipating action on a move that would allow students from schools rated D or F to enroll in ones that are performing better — even if they happen to be outside their own school district. If space in a better-performing school is available, the student will be allowed to transfer and their education funding will follow them.
The school choice program could face opposition from successful districts reluctant to change what they're doing.
"If I have the money, I can go buy a house in a nice district, my children go to a nice school," Bryant said. "So what we're saying to a poor family is, âYour child is in that failing school district, they can't get out and we're never going to let you.'"
In Mississippi, the main problems confronting lawmakers is how to keep the education system in the state running while adjusting to lower revenue levels brought about by 2012 income tax cuts. Other priorities include the introduction of collective bargaining limitations for teachers.
Funding issues could be further complicated by a pending decision on a lawsuit charging that current education funding levels are so low that they violate the state's Constitution.
On April 2, voters in the Lawrence school district will go to the polls to decide on a $92.5 million bond proposal to fund a wide range of projects that would affect not just the buildings where students attend class, but also the way classes are conducted and how learning takes place.
"It's certainly going to be a big year with lots of potential for change," said Lawrence school board president Vanessa Sanburn.