- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Hutchinson News, July 11

Flunked test:

With the announcement that the State Board of Education has decided not to release individual school test results because of cyberattacks and other problems this spring, educators are scratching their heads, as are taxpayers who footed the bill.

Because the usual data showing improvements, or declines, on public school student performance on standardized reading and math tests isn’t available, school administrators, school boards and the general public have no way to know how their schools stacked up against the rest of the state or their previous scores. Typically, these results are released each fall.

Schools gain from that. Students and teachers also put considerable work into the tests to continue improving. For this year, those efforts were for nothing.

But the testing cost far from nothing. The Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas was paid $4.6 million to conduct the tests. Although the state board voted 9-0 not to release the results, board member John Bacon, an Olathe Republican, expressed frustration and suggested the contract with KU be reviewed. That’s certainly in order.

Around the region, reactions varied among administrators. Hutchinson USD 308 Superintendent Shelly Kiblinger wasn’t pleased.

“Obviously, we are very disappointed that we will not be receiving that data,” Kiblinger said. “It makes it difficult for us to adjust our material.”

On the other hand, Haven USD 312 Superintendent Rick White said that while the district uses the data, he doesn’t think that this year’s results are legitimate.

“I don’t think it’s fair to release something that’s flawed,” said White.

Both viewpoints are valid. This is disappointing, and the results are flawed. Consequently, the vendor should be held accountable.


Lawrence Journal-World, July 11

Going extra mile for voters:

It’s hard to imagine that any county clerk in Kansas is making a greater effort than Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew to help their residents get registered and vote.

Two years ago, Shew and his office were trying to help voters meet the new requirement to present a photo identification at the polls. For people who have a valid driver’s license that was easy enough. However, Shew heard from the operators of several nursing homes and similar facilities that some of their clients no longer had driver’s licenses and would find it difficult to go to a driver’s license office and wait in line to obtain a state-issued photo ID. To remedy that problem. Shew’s office began to issue its own photo ID cards that could be used at the polls.

About the same time, Shew’s office sent new cards to every registered voter in the county, telling them where to vote, what party they were registered with, the legislative and congressional districts in which they lived and the address listed on their registration. His goal was to eliminate any confusion triggered by redistricting and new election laws and give voters a chance to check their information and make sure their registrations were up to date and valid.

After the new law went into effect requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship when they registered to vote, Shew and his office have continued to go the extra mile. More than 600 Douglas County residents are among the 19,000 people whose voter registrations have been held up because they don’t include the proper citizenship documents. Shew said this week his office had tried to contact all of those people to let them know their registrations were incomplete.

In that process, Shew said he found some people who said they couldn’t afford to pay to get a copy of their birth certificate from another state. People born in Kansas can get copies of their birth certificate for free, but people born in other states must pay anywhere from $10 to $60 to obtain that document. Shew correctly saw that as unfair discrimination against non-Kansas natives and decided to help remedy the situation. His office not only is making itself available to help people obtain citizenship documents, it is offering to help people of limited means pay for those documents. That’s only five people so far, and Shew thinks it will be easy enough for his office’s budget to absorb the cost of providing that help. Within reason, it’s money well spent in support of fairness and the democratic process.

The net result of Shew’s efforts will be to increase the number of Douglas County voters who are properly registered to cast their ballots in the Aug. 5 primary and the Nov. 4 general election. Encouraging voter participating is an important role for any county clerk. Shew obviously is taking that responsibility very seriously. We hope other county clerks across the state will follow his lead and that Douglas County voters will repay his efforts by turning out in record numbers for the upcoming elections.


The Wichita Eagle, July 9

Guard against racial profiling:

A third study finding that black motorists in Wichita are ticketed at disproportionately higher rates than whites should to lead to more efforts to guard against racial profiling and, it follows, foster public trust. Data collection and an advisory board, though essential, aren’t enough.

To his credit, City Manager Robert Layton asked for the most recent Wichita State University study at the request of the city’s racial profiling advisory board.

The research showed that 22 percent of those given traffic citations from November 2012 through April 2013 were African-Americans, who are only 11 percent of the city’s population. WSU studies in 2001 and 2004 had found black drivers accounted for 21 and 18 percent, respectively, of motorists stopped by Wichita police.

The latest report included the worthy caution that “if the police are deployed more heavily in minority neighborhoods it would not be surprising to find minorities overrepresented in stops.” And as Police Chief Norman Williams noted to The Eagle’s Tim Potter, police presence in such neighborhoods is a reflection of the statistics showing a disproportionately high number of minorities among the city’s crime victims and crime offenders.

But it’s concerning that the African-American community is so consistently overrepresented in the police stops, and that the disparity was greater in 2012-13 than in 2004.

It’s one thing for Williams to say “we continue to have a zero tolerance in the Police Department for racial profiling.” Citizens need to believe it, and to see evidence that greater awareness and better training are deterring it on the streets.

Residents also need to be assured that complaints of racial profiling are taken seriously. The department’s reports to the state of complaints of racial or other bias-based policing from July 2011 through June 2013 listed all 38 complaints as either unfounded or still under investigation.

The racial profiling advisory board is important to oversight; attending its meetings should be a priority for the police chief.

The data hardly signals a systemic problem with the Wichita Police Department, which has fine officers and does an outstanding job of protecting the community day after day. And racial profiling persists nationally, with University of Kansas researchers recently finding that black drivers in Kansas City were nearly three times more likely to be stopped than white drivers.

But the Wichita study, as Layton said, “shows there is a disparity, and as long as there is a disparity, we need to drill down and determine the causes of the factors behind those numbers.”

The goal locally should be to move the needle on the next racial profiling study, and the one after that, so that the public can have confidence that driving while black in Wichita is no offense.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, July 13

KPERS looking better

Depending on who you talk to these days, either the state government’s finances are in good shape overall despite having hit some rough spots or they’re in an uncontrolled free fall without a parachute.

The truth, as is often the case, probably lies somewhere in the middle, and if problems are on the horizon, they likely can be fixed if our elected officials are willing.

A point in case is the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, which a few short years ago was among Kansas’ biggest financial hot spots. Now, a report, “The High Cost of Big Labor: Understanding Public Pension Debt,” indicates changes in KPERS are moving the system to sounder, if not rock solid, footing.

That should be welcome news to every KPERS participant and every Kansas taxpayer. A lot of Kansans depend on the system to meet their financial needs when they quit working and nothing is more important than ensuring money is in hand to meet the call for benefits as state employees reach retirement age.

Different reports and studies that rank the states’ pension systems according to their unfunded liabilities have Kansas in the middle of the pack or as high as 14th among the worst funded plans. That might not sound good, but the experts seem to agree Kansas has taken responsible steps to get KPERS back on track.

Aloysius Hogan, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which published the report mentioned above, says the Kansas retirement system was rated in the middle of the pack for years but slipped between 2009 and 2012. The state deserves some kudos, Hogan says, for taking action when it did.

That’s not to suggest everything is rosy. KPERS’ unfunded liability once was estimated at $10 billion, and that represents a lot or retirement checks.

Alan Conroy, CEO of KPERS, said at the end of 2012 the system’s funding level had fallen to 56.4 percent of projected needs. When more current data is released this week, Conroy expects it to show the funding level has risen to 60 percent, due to higher contributions by the state and its employees and investment returns. Hogan says 60 percent is somewhat of a floor for solvency and that a pension system is considered well-funded at 80 percent or above.

Clearly the state is doing better due to reforms, including the increased level of employer and employee contributions, enacted by the 2012 Legislature but there still is much work to do.

Any movement in the right direction is worth hailing, but state and KPERS officers must ensure KPERS keeps making gains on its unfunded liability and doesn’t move again in the wrong direction.

Hitting the 60 percent mark would be an accomplishment. Eventually hitting at least 80 percent apparently is essential. It’s not out of reach if those in charge are determined to make it happen.

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