Tag Archives: Education

David Dennis, gleeful regulatory revisionist

David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.

In 2012 the Lawrence Journal-World reported this regarding a meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education: “Board chairman David Dennis of Wichita said the state needs more information on home schools to ensure that children are being taught. … Dennis suggested perhaps the board should propose legislation to increase the state reporting requirements for home schoolers.”1 Other newspapers published similar reports.

Now, Dennis is a candidate for the Sedgwick County Commission. At a candidate forum held by the Wichita Pachyderm Club on June 10, I asked Dennis about regulation of homeschools. Was that representative of his stance towards homeschooling and regulation?

In his response, Dennis said the board never sent a recommendation to the Legislature. But that wasn’t the question that I asked. Here is a transcription of my question.

“This week the Wichita Eagle reported that as part of the effort to retain Cargill in Wichita that the City of Wichita will appoint an ombudsman to help shepherd Cargill through the labyrinth is the word they use of business processes and regulations in Wichita. Which seems to me to be tantamount that regulation in Wichita is burdensome. So for all candidates, I would ask, how do you feel about that? What can you do to streamline regulation? And for you, Mr. Dennis, I’m particularly concerned because as a member of the State Board of Education you proposed that the board recommend the Kansas Legislature pass regulations regarding the performance of home schools. So I’m wondering if that’s indicative of your philosophy toward a free market in education and regulation in general.”

In his response to this question, Dennis made a point of “correcting me,” contending that the Kansas State Board of Education never sent such a recommendation to the Legislature. He said it again for emphasis, thereby “correcting” me twice.

Initially, I was confused by his answer. I thought perhaps I had misstated the premise of my question. But after listening to the recording, I realized that I asked the question precisely as I had intended. I said that Dennis proposed that the board recommend regulation to the Legislature, not that the board actually made such a proposal to the Legislature.

Perhaps, I thought, David Dennis didn’t hear my question correctly. So I followed up by email, including a link to an audio recording of the exchange, the same recording that appears at the end of this article. He stood by his response.

I don’t like calling anyone a liar. I’m willing to allow that people misspoke, or didn’t understand the question, or had an episode of faulty recollection, or that they changed their position over time. So maybe this episode doesn’t represent David Dennis lying. Perhaps three newspaper reporters incorrectly reported what Dennis said during the board of education meeting.2 3

But David Dennis was gleeful in “correcting” me in public. Twice. And in a forum where debating the speakers is not part of the culture.

Maybe Dennis’s response wasn’t a lie. But it was deceptive. It was evasive. It was characteristic of someone who is supremely confident in himself, even when he is wrong.

Perhaps this confidence is useful when serving as a military officer, as Dennis did. But it isn’t evidence of humility, and that’s something we need in our public servants.

Following is an excerpt from the candidate forum containing my question and the response from the candidates. A recording of the entire meeting as available at From Pachyderm: Sedgwick County Commission candidates. The participating candidates were Dennis and his opponent Karl Peterjohn in district 3, and Michael O’Donnell, the Republican candidate in district 2. (Only Republican candidates were invited.)


Notes

  1. Rothschild, Scott. State board discusses home-schooling requirements. Lawrence Journal-World, August 14, 2012. Available at www2.ljworld.com/news/2012/aug/14/state-board-discusses-home-schooling-requirements/.
  2. Associated press in Topeka Capital-Journal. Kansas education board looks into home schooling concerns. August 14, 2012. Available at cjonline.com/news/2012-08-15/kansas-education-board-looks-home-schooling-concerns.
  3. Tobias, Suzanne Perez. Kansas education official’s comment riles home-schooling parents. Wichita Eagle, August 18, 2012. Available at www.kansas.com/news/article1097490.html.

Kansas government ‘hollowed-out’

Is Kansas government “hollowed-out” even though spending is rising?

In the Wichita Eagle, Burdett Loomis writes: “In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback and a far-right Kansas House of Representatives began to hollow out state government, all in the name of smaller, more efficient, more private administration.”1

Loomis doesn’t define what he means by “hollow out” but the measure of the size of government is spending. Not taxation, but spending, because if government spends without taxing by the same amount, someone has to pay, eventually. Or, in the case of Kansas, we spent funds saved from years when Kansas collected more than it spent. (Yes, Kansans were over-taxed.) Then, we raised taxes.

Kansas General Fund. Click for larger version.
Kansas General Fund. Click for larger version.
In recent history Kansas general fund spending hasn’t fallen, except for one year, and that doesn’t “hollow out” government. Tax revenue declined, but what did Kansas do in response? Instead of cutting spending, the state engaged in deficit spending. For two years in a row, Kansas spent over $300 million each year from its savings in order to support (mostly) increasing spending. When that savings ran out, the state raised taxes rather than cutting spending.2

Charts at the end of this article show Kansas government spending, from general fund and all funds spending. One chart shows total dollars spent, and one shows per-capita spending. Both are adjusted for inflation. On these charts it’s difficult to see where total spending has been cut or slashed in recent years. All funds spending continues its upward trend, with a few exceptions. General fund spending remains level or trending slightly upwards.

Loomis: “But the value of a stable, reliable state government that delivers core programs in education, transportation, health and social services remains a bedrock element of most successful American states.”

An example from the visualization. This shows statewide spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation. Click for larger version.
An example from the visualization. This shows statewide spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation. Click for larger version.
Education spending in Kansas is not falling.3 Tables at Kansas State Department of Education have the numbers.4 Now we hear that the increases in spending are “all KPERS,” meaning contributions to the state retirement fund for teachers, and the state has recently changed to method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that artificially inflates school spending. But Kansas State Department of Education says the method of reporting KPERS has not changed for ten years.5 Maybe we should ask former governor Kathleen Sebelius why she changed the method of reporting KPERS contributions in a way that (purportedly) artificially inflates school spending.

Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
By the way, when writing about “reliable” state services, I wish Loomis would take notice of the huge gaps in achievement in our state’s schools between white students and minority students. For Kansas white students, 42 percent are proficient in reading at grade 4. For Kansas black students, only 15 percent are proficient, and 20 percent of Kansas Hispanic students. Similar gaps appear in reading at grade 8, and in math at grades 4 and 8.6 The sad fact is that this gap is reliable, occurring year after year.

KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
KDOT spending on major road programs. Click for larger version.
As for transportation, there have been transfers from the state’s transportation fund to the general fund. This has been going on for a long time. But look at actual spending on roads. KDOT’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows spending in the categories “Preservation” and “Expansion and Enhancement” has grown rapidly over the past five years. Spending in the category “Maintenance” has been level, while spending on “Modernization” has declined. For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2015 totaled $932,666 million, up from a low of $698,770 in fiscal 2010. This is actual spending on roads without regard to transfers in or out of the highway fund.7

Transfers from Sales Tax to KDOT. Click for larger.
Transfers from Sales Tax to KDOT. Click for larger.
And while critics of the current administration focus on transfers from the highway fund, look at transfers to the fund. Nearby is a chart showing how many sales tax dollars were transferred to the highway fund. In 2006 the transfer was $98,914 million, and by 2015 it had grown to $511,586 million, an increase of 417 percent. Inflation rose by 18 percent over the same period.8

I’ll leave it to someone else to research spending on health and social services.

Near the end of the article, Loomis writes: “Over the past few years, much of the political discourse has focused on shrinking revenues from tax cuts.” But we should really be looking at the level of spending.

Now: Could it be possible that even with rising state spending that services are, in fact, being “hollowed out?” Yes. Absolutely. It is, after all, government providing these services.

Kansas Spending Adjusted for CPI 2016-01

Kansas Spending, Per Capita, Adjusted for CPI 2016-01

Notes for charts:
Data is from Kansas Fiscal Facts 2015
2015 through 2017 are approved figures, not actual spending
2015 and beyond population are my estimates
CPI is Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, CUUR0000AA0


Notes

  1. Loomis, Burdett. Kansas is becoming a hollowed-out state. Wichita Eagle, July 9, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article88555862.html.
  2. Kansas has been borrowing, however. See: Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school spending: Visualization. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-spending-visualization/.
  4. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/School-Finance/Budget-Information/Total-Expenditures-by-District.
  5. Weeks, Bob. KPERS payments and Kansas schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kpers-payments-kansas-schools/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. ‘Game on’ makes excuses for Kansas public schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/tag/wichita-and-kansas-schools/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas highway spending. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-highway-spending/.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Sales tax revenue and the Kansas highway fund. Available at wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/sales-tax-revenue-kansas-highway-fund/.

State and local government employee and payroll

Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

State and Local Government Employee and Payroll. Click for larger.
State and Local Government Employee and Payroll. Click for larger.
When considering all state and local government employees, Kansas spent $249.73 per person on payroll (March only).1 This was 15th highest among the states, District of Columbia, and nation as a whole. There were 14.9 citizens for each FTE (full-time equivalent employee), which ranks fourth highest.

In other words, Kansas has many government employees compared to other states, and these employees are costly, again compared to other states.

When considering all elementary and secondary education employees, Kansas spent $93.36 per person on payroll (March only). This was 15th highest among the states, District of Columbia, and nation as a whole. There were 33.8 citizens for each FTE (full-time equivalent employee), which ranks third highest.

In other words, Kansas has many elementary and secondary education employees compared to other states, and these employees are costly, again compared to other states.

Similar results are found for higher education employees. Fortunately, Kansas has zero employees working in state-owned liquor stores.

In the visualization you may create your own tables. Click here to access the visualization. Source of data is U.S. Census Bureau.2 Visualization created using http://www.census.gov/govs/apes/.


Notes

  1. For total payroll (both full-time and part-time employees), the Census Bureau reports a value for a single month, that being March.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau. 2014 Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll. www.census.gov/govs/apes/.

Teachers unions vs. students

From PragerU:

There is a dilemma in American education. On the one hand, teachers are essential to student achievement. On the other, teachers unions promote self-interests of their members which are antithetical to the interests of students. So, how do we fix this problem? In five minutes, Terry Moe, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, delineates this quandary and offers solutions.

View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Kansas City Star as critic, or apologist

An editorial in the Kansas City Star criticizes a Kansas free-market think tank.

Kansas City Star editorial writer Steve Rose penned a column accusing Kansas Policy Institute of lies and distortions in its analysis and reporting on Kansas government.1 Here, we take a critical look at a few accusations.

Rose: “To what end does the institute spew out its gross distortions? Its stated goal is to shrink government and to dramatically lower taxes. I would add: Regardless of the possible negative effect to services.”

friedman-spending-categories-2013-07It is axiomatic that government is the worse way to fund and provide services, with a very few exceptions. Why is this? When government spends money, the spending falls into one of two categories: First, it may be politicians and bureaucrats spending someone else’s money on yet someone else. Or, it may be politicians, bureaucrats, and special interest groups spending someone else’s money on themselves. When goods and services are provided by the private sector, it’s either people spending their own money on themselves, or spending their own money on someone else.

In the two latter cases, people have a strong incentive to get good value for their spending. In the first case, indifference and waste is the rule. In the second case — when spending someone else’s money on yourself — greed is the dominant motivation and consideration.2

We all would be better off if we relied less on the state and if more was provided by the private sector. Education is not one of the exceptions where government is a better alternative to private sector provision.

Rose: “The institute knows the public usually does not have either the time or inclination to get the details of the real story. The headline numbers stick, not the long, boring details of the truth.”

Kansas school spending per student, ratio of state aid per pupil to base state aid per pupil, 2014
Kansas school spending per student, ratio of state aid per pupil to base state aid per pupil, 2014
The irony here is that it is our state’s newspapers that have left out the truth. Much reporting and editorializing has focused only on base state aid per pupil.3 While base state aid per pupil did fall, total state spending per pupil rose. Data available from the Kansas State Department of Education shows that the ratio of total state spending to base state aid has generally risen since the adoption of the school finance formula two decades ago. For the school year ending in 1993 the ratio was 0.7, meaning that state aid was less than base state aid. For the school year ending in 2014, the ratio was 1.85, or 2.6 times as much as in 1993. This means that while base state aid per pupil for 2014 was $3,838, total spending by the state was $7,088 per pupil.4

(While the school funding formula has been replaced by the block grants, the weightings were baked into the grant amounts.)

I think that this qualifies as the “long, boring details of the truth” that Rose complains of. I wonder if he understands this. All he has to do is retrieve data from Kansas State Department of Education.

As far as the public’s level of knowledge of school funding, polls commissioned by Kansas Policy Institute show the public grossly uninformed about school finance.5 If you don’t trust a poll administered by Survey USA in which the text of all questions is revealed, know that surveys of the nation produce similar results.6

Rose: “As for the lies about schools, the institute counts in its preposterous $14,000 number non-operating costs such as interest on the debt from bond issues patrons passed in previous elections. It counts contributions to the retirement fund for teachers. It counts pass-through federal money that costs the state nothing.”

I don’t know where Rose gets the $14,000 spending number, but here are some actual per-pupil figures reported by KSDE for some large districts in northeast Kansas:7 Olathe: $12,803. Blue Valley: $13,168. Shawnee Mission: $12,273. Kansas City: $15,936. (For the entire state: $13,124.)

Yes, these numbers include interest on debt incurred from borrowing to build school facilities. Rose seems to say this money should not be counted as part of the ongoing cost of schools. But where should it be counted? Capital costs like these can’t be ignored, yet the Kansas school spending establishment often deflects attention from them, contending these costs “don’t get into the classroom.” Irony alert: These costs are the classroom.

Retirement fund costs for teachers? If not for schools and teachers, would the state have this cost? So where should these costs be charged?

Whether we’re spending too much (or not enough) on these items is another matter. But classifying them properly should not be controversial. Rose’s criticism is characteristic of the political class and its enablers. When the actual cost of government is revealed, the response is to attack the messenger, and truth is cast aside.

But Rose is correct about one thing: Pass-through federal money costs the state nothing. It is the state’s taxpayers that pay the federal government so it can send funds back to Kansas as — according to Steve Rose — money without cost.

NAEP scores for Kansas reading, grade four.
NAEP scores for Kansas reading, grade four.
Finally, Rose defends government services. The public is being “served well,” he says, with “superb services.” I wonder if he’s examined scores for Kansas schoolchildren on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. On this test, which is the same in all states, we find these results: For Kansas white students, 42 percent are proficient in reading at grade four. For Kansas black students, only 15 percent are proficient, and 20 percent of Kansas Hispanic students. Similar gaps appear in reading at grade eight, and in math at grades four and eight.8

I’m not satisfied with this, and I don’t think Steve Rose and the Kansas City Star should be. This is the saddest thing about Rose’s column. It used to be that newspaper editorial writers worked to hold government accountable. Now we have this newspaper making excuses for government and unfactually criticizing those who work for accountability. It’s Kansas schoolchildren, especially poor and minority, that suffer the most.


Notes

  1. Rose, Steve. Phony numbers meant to smear superb services. Kansas City Star, July 2, 2016. Available at www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/steve-rose/article87288257.html.
  2. For more on this, see Friedman: The fallacy of the welfare state, available at wichitaliberty.org/economics/friedman-the-fallacy-of-the-welfare-state-2/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita school spending: The grain of truth. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/wichita-school-spending-the-grain-of-truth/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school weightings and effects on state aid. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-weightings-and-effects-on-state-aid/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Survey finds Kansans with little knowledge of school spending. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/survey-finds-kansans-little-knowledge-school-spending/.
  6. Education Next. Results from the 2015 Education Next Poll. Available at educationnext.org/2015-ednext-poll-interactive/.
  7. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/School-Finance/Budget-Information/Total-Expenditures-by-District.
  8. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This table available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2015/pdf/2016008KS4.pdf.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Cost of Kansas schools, government schools, and understanding Kansas school outcomes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Is it true that some Kansas schoolchildren have no hope of attending a private school? What’s wrong with government schools? Then a talk on “Rethinking Education Tomorrow Starts with Understanding Outcomes Today.” View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 122, broadcast June 19, 2016.

The talk by Dave Trabert is located at youtu.be/4h_bM6QPKeI. If it does not play, please click here.

Shownotes

A Kansas school superintendent writes about school finance

A Kansas school superintendent explains school financing, but leaves out a large portion of the funds that flow to his district.

Steve Splichal, the superintendent of the Eudora Public School District, writes a blog in which he explained Kansas school financing. In one post he wrote this:

The general fund is largely made up from state funding called Base State Aid Per Pupil, or BSAPP. In 2008, the BSAPP reached it’s highest level of $4,400. As a result of funding cuts made during the Great Recession, the BSAPP was reduced dramatically. The Governor’s allotment (a cut of $42 in the BSAPP) lowered the BSAPP to $3,810. This is just about the same amount school district’s received in 2000. To put this in perspective, if the BSAPP had just maintained the rate of inflation, we would have a BSAPP of about $6,059.1

For the school year ending in 2014, which is the last before a change in the way state funding was accounted for, Eudora schools received $7,651 per student from the state.2 This is at a time the Eudora superintendent says base state aid is $3,810.

Kansas school spending per student, ratio of state aid per pupil to base state aid per pupil, 2014
Kansas school spending per student, ratio of state aid per pupil to base state aid per pupil, 2014
The superintendent’s article doesn’t mention this. Leaving out funding arising from weightings is a common mistake, or in some cases, a deliberate deception. The Kansas school finance formula used through the fiscal 2015 school year started with base state aid and added weightings to determine the aid a school district would receive. These weightings are substantial. In 2014, because of weightings, total state funding was 1.85 times base state aid.3

To his credit, the Eudora superintendent has a page explaining that the Kansas school finance formula — before the block grants — had weightings.4 But while lamenting the low level of base state aid, he never explained that his district received an additional 100.8 percent of base aid because of these weightings. Now the formula is gone, but the weightings are baked into the block grants that districts receive.

Let’s be charitable of the superintendent’s motives and attribute this to a forgetful and innocent oversight rather than deception. But I’m not going to forgive the superintendent for his errors in English usage.


Notes

  1. Splichal, Steve. *General Fund and BSAPP.* Eudora Rocks! A blog by Superintendent of Schools Steve Splichal. January 19, 2015. Available at eudorarocks.org/general-fund-and-bsapp/.
  2. Kansas State Department of Education. School finance data warehouse. Available at www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0491exp.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school weightings and effects on state aid. Voice for Liberty. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-weightings-and-effects-on-state-aid/.
  4. Splichal, Steve. Kansas School Finance Formula. Eudora Rocks! A blog by Superintendent of Schools Steve Splichal. January 19, 2015. Available at eudorarocks.org/kansas-school-finance-formula/.

‘Game on’ makes excuses for Kansas public schools

Even if NAEP “proficient” is a lofty goal, it illustrates the shortcomings of Kansas public schools, especially for minority students.

“Game on for Kansas Schools,” a Facebook page, seeks to draw attention away from the performance of students in Kansas schools. In a post, it make the case that the standard of “proficient” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is an unreasonably high expectation.1

Game on for Kansas Schools Facebook 2016-06-13

We can easily understand why GOFKS needs to make excuses. As can be seen in the nearby chart of NAEP scores for Kansas and national public schools for fourth grade reading, the Kansas public school establishment doesn’t have much to be proud of.

Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
More troubling than the absolute level of achievement is the gap in achievement between white students and minority students. For Kansas white students, 42 percent are proficient in reading at grade 4. For Kansas black students, only 15 percent are proficient, and 20 percent of Kansas Hispanic students. Similar gaps appear in reading at grade 8, and in math at grades 4 and 8.

So even if “proficient” is an unrealistically high standard of performance, it still illustrates a gap.

But if you’re not convinced that Kansas public schools are harmful to minority students, use performance at the “basic” level. Here, for fourth grade reading, 74 percent of Kansas white students are at basic or better level. For black students, 44 percent.2 Other subjects and grade levels have similar gaps.

I’m sure GOFKS will say that we need to spend more on schools in order to overcome these problems. But what amount of money, poured into the present system, is likely to make any significant difference?


Notes

  1. Game on for Kansas Schools. Facebook post, July 13, 2016. Available at www.facebook.com/gameonforksschools/posts/1012639852155750.
  2. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This table available at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2015/pdf/2016008KS4.pdf.

A plea to a legislator regarding Kansas schools

On Facebook, a citizen makes an appeal to her cousin, who is a member of the Kansas Legislature.

What should we do regarding the school funding “crisis” in Kansas? One citizen made an appeal to her cousin — a member of the Kansas Legislature — through Facebook. I’ll omit names to respect the privacy of both parties.

The writer stated, “The children of our state are on the line here. We need our public schools.” Well, children need education, but it doesn’t have to be delivered through public schools.

She also wrote, “This isn’t about politics anymore, it’s about our kids. Kids who have NO chance at attending private schools.” Examining this statement — that there are kids who have no chance at attending a private school — is illuminating. Let’s look at some figures.

For the school year ending in 2015, Kansas State Department of Education reports that Kansas schools spent a total of $13,124 per student. Of that, $8,567 was state aid, $1,101 was federal aid, and $3,469 was from local revenue.1

Now, what does a private school cost? Considering schools not affiliated with a church — although some of these provide a classical Christian education — there are some that cost less than total spending, and even less than just the Kansas state aid per pupil.2

So the writer might be surprised to learn that the taxpayers of the State of Kansas are already paying more than some private school prices. If the state would be willing to let parents spend these funds at schools of their choice, then any Kansas child would be able to afford a private school education. This could be accomplished through tax credit scholarships, vouchers, or education savings accounts. Kansas does, in fact, have a tax credit scholarship program, but it is limited — crippled, I would say — and the Kansas public school establishment fights against it.

Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
The writer pleaded this: “Needy kids who have the RIGHT to a free and good public education.” I would refer the writer to my article Kansas NAEP scores for 2015 and ask her to take note of the performance of black and Hispanic students in Kansas. For example, 42 percent of Kansas white students are proficient in reading at grade 4. For black students, it’s 15 percent. Are these black students receiving a “good” public education? Of course not. And is there any amount of additional spending that will correct this? If the money is spent through the existing school system the answer is: No, probably not. At least considering any additional sums that are within the realm of political possibility.

There are school reforms available in other states that have found to be very helpful to black and Hispanic students. The Kansas public school establishment fights to keep these reforms out of Kansas.

In making her plea for additional school spending, the writer pleads to her legislator cousin, “I know you have a wonderful, giving heart.” But when legislators vote to spend funds for any purpose, they aren’t giving from their heart. They’re simply using the power of government to transfer money from one person to another. There’s nothing wonderful about that.


Notes

  1. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District, Entire State. Available at www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0Stateexp.pdf.
  2. For example, see Classical School of Wichita at around $6,000 per year, Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka at around $7,000 to $8,000 per year, and the Independent School in Wichita from $10,000 to $10,600 per year.

They really are government schools

What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”

A recent op-ed in the Wichita Eagle read: “Some have begun to call public schools ‘government schools,’ a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government.”1

This is not the only time people have objected to the term “government schools.” Public schools bristle at use of the term. In a 2008 email from Wichita School Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart to Wichita school employees, he took issue with those who, using his words, “openly refer to public education as ‘government schools.'”2 “Openly refer,” he writes, as though it should be kept a secret.

It’s surprising that liberals and progressives object to the term “government schools.” They like government, don’t they? They want more taxation and government spending, don’t they?

When we think about public schools, we find they have all the characteristics of government programs.

Public schools are owned by government.

Their funding comes almost totally from governmental sources, which is to say taxes. (Isn’t it strange that few will donate to public schools?) If you can’t use the services of public schools and don’t want to pay for them — even if you are also paying for other schools that meet your needs — the full weight of the government will come crashing down on you.

Through laws passed by government, public schools are guaranteed a stream of customers.

Public schools are regulated — heavily — by government.

The members of their “board of directors” (the local school board) are chosen through a governmental process — elections.

Public schools are welcoming to labor unions at the time the private sector is becoming less unionized. In fact, labor unions are becoming a hallmark of government, and government only.3

Accountability of public schools, like other forms of government, is weak.

In sum, public schools have all the negative attributes of government institutions and few or none of the positive characteristics that make markets the source of continuous improvement and innovation. So I guess it isn’t surprising that public school advocates like Merritt object to being lumped in with government in general. But public schools share all the characteristics of government, and government is the worst way to supply services except in a few special instances.

What’s also troubling is how Merritt equates using the term “government schools” with scorn for education. Turning over education to government — with its litany of troubles as listed above — is scornful for children.

Merritt and others want to have the benefits of governmental institutions without accepting the reality of what government means. That’s a shame for Kansas schoolchildren.


Notes

  1. Merritt, Davis. Can traditional conservatism save Kansas schools? Wichita Eagle, May 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article77969617.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita School Superintendent Martin Libhart: What’s Wrong With “Government Schools?” Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/wichita-school-superintendent-martin-libhart-whats-wrong-with-government-schools/.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union Members Summary. January 28, 2016. Available at www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm.

KPERS payments and Kansas schools

What is the situation with KPERS contributions made on behalf of Kansas teachers?

A member of the Kansas State Board of Education has written an article that has received widespread attention. But the member, Jim Porter, is wrong on several accounts.

In his article,1 Porter wrote this:

Deception #2 – Until recently the state contribution to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) was sent directly to KPERS. Now the funds are transferred to the public school account and then transferred to KPERS on the same day. Again, this was lauded as an increase to public school funding even though it was the same amount of money with just an additional transfer from the State of Kansas to the school to KEPRS.

This expresses a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not.

In response, Kansas Policy Institute noted this:2

Jim Porter’s Deception #2 – According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals. Again, Mr. Porter doesn’t define “recently” but most people would take it to mean within the time frame he references (the Brownback administration) and that clearly is not the case.

Here, Dale Dennis3 contradicts Porter.

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS ContributionsEven through Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely only on him to illustrate Porter’s error. Information from the Wichita public school district4 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school districts started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.

Trabert’s article explains other ways in which Porter is wrong. I have to wonder what is the underlying reason for Porter writing things like this. Is he being told incorrect information or is he simply lying?


Notes

  1. Jim Porter for Kansas State Board of Education – District 9 Facebook post. Available at www.facebook.com/JimPorterKSBOE9/posts/1001536676582800.
  2. Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. Available at kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  3. Dale Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services.
  4. USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds, and USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds.

Wichita school spending

Spending by the Wichita public school district, adjusted for inflation and enrollment.

Has spending by the Wichita public school district risen or fallen? A nearby chart shows recent spending figures. These figures are expressed on a per-student basis using full-time equivalent enrollment, adjusted to reflect changes in the consumer price index.

Wichita school district, selected spending statistics. Click for larger.
Wichita school district, selected spending statistics. Click for larger.
(Current expenditures do not include facility acquisition and construction service, debt principal retirement, interest expense, and other expense. Over the past ten years, total expenditures per student have averaged $2,219 per year more than current expenditures.)

Should anyone want to politicize these figures, note that the years of decline were under a Democratic governor and a one cent per dollar sales tax increase. For the past three years, these three measurements of spending have risen each year.


Spending data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122.
Enrollment data from Kansas State Department of Education, available at http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0259exp.pdf.
Data adjusted for inflation using Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wichita school district spending on administration

Could the Wichita public school district reduce spending on administration to previous levels?

In fiscal 2006 (the school year ending in 2006), the Wichita public school district spent $32,799,723 on administration. The amount rose and fell and rose again, with the district spending $42,353,120 in 2015.

Wichita school district spending on administration. Click for larger.
Wichita school district spending on administration. Click for larger.
If we express these figures on a per-student basis and adjust them for inflation, the district spent $851 in 2006, and $896 in 2015. Like spending in total dollars, that figure rose, then fell, and then rose again.

Could the Wichita public school district cut administration spending to 2006 levels, on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis?

If the district could do this, that would reduce costs by $45 per student. With FTE enrollment for 2015 at 47,254.4, the district could save $2,126,448. Or it could use those savings to offset reductions in spending in other areas.

It’s up to the Wichita school district to decide.


Spending data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122.
Enrollment data from Kansas State Department of Education, available at http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0259exp.pdf.
Data adjusted for inflation using Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wichita student/teacher ratios

Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

When discussing school funding, there is controversy over how spending should be measured. What funds are included? Is KPERS included? Should we adjust for enrollment and inflation? What about bond and interest funds and capital outlay?

The largest expenditures of schools — some 80 percent nationwide — is personnel costs. In Kansas, and Wichita in particular, we’re told that budget cuts are causing school class sizes to increase.

When we look at numbers, we see that the Wichita school district has been able to reduce its student/teacher ratios substantially over the last ten years. (Student/teacher ratio is not the same statistic as class size.) There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but for all three school levels, the ratios are lower than they were ten years ago, and by substantial margins.

This means that Wichita schools have been able to increase employment of teachers at a faster rate than enrollment has risen.

So however spending is categorized in funds, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether spending is adjusted for inflation, the Wichita school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

Data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 122, and CAFR from other years.

Wichita Public School District, Student Teacher Ratios, through 2015
Wichita Public School District, Student Teacher Ratios, through 2015

Kansas state school board member should practice what he preaches

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute.

District 9 Kansas State School Board member Jim Porter published the following piece outlining what he considers to be deceptive statements about school funding and state taxes. He urges political leaders to “tell the whole story” but doesn’t practice what he preaches, as we found a dozen deceptive statements in his piece.

We are consistently hearing from those political leaders who are resisting what many of us consider to be the adequate funding of education that Schools are receiving more state support than ever and that support is increasing every year. Typically they say that people need to know the facts. Well, that is part of the story and although not a false statement it is certainly deceptive. I will make an attempt to explain the part of the story that they are not telling.

Continue reading at Kansas Policy Institute.

WichitaLiberty.TV: John Chisholm on entrepreneurship

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Author John Chisholm talks about entrepreneurship, regulation, economics, and education. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 119, broadcast May 8, 2016.

Shownotes

Kansas public education factbook

In debates over school funding and performance in Kansas, facts are often in short supply. Here is a compilation.

Kansas Policy Institute has release a new edition of its annual compilation of data regarding Kansas schools. On the importance of this data, KPI Vice President and Policy Director James Franko wrote, “Numerous scientific surveys show that citizens are grossly misinformed on many pertinent facts of public education in Kansas. Aid and spending per-pupil are much higher than many Kansans believe, and student achievement is lower than understood. This fact book series aims to rectify this situation.”

As to the source of data, KPI writes “Aside from ACT scores, the data in this Fact Book all come from official government sources, including local school districts, the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) and the U.S. Department of Education.”

Access the factbook here.

Kansas continues to snub school choice reform that helps the most vulnerable schoolchildren

Charter schools benefit minority and poor children, yet Kansas does not leverage their benefits, despite having a pressing need to boost the prospects of these children.

The CREDO studies at Stanford University are often cited as the most comprehensive and reliable research on charter schools. Opponents of charter school focus on a finding that some charter schools are worse than local traditional public schools, the figures being 19 percent for reading and 31 percent for math. Because of this, opponents of charter schools feel justified in keeping them out of Kansas. (Kansas does allow charter schools, but the law is so stacked against charter schools that there are very few, effectively none.)

The findings from the Stanford CREDO National Charter School Study from 2013 contain much more information than this simple conclusion. In particular, here is a partial quote from its executive summary: “Enrollment and persistence in charter schools is especially helpful for some students, particularly students in poverty [and] black students …”

Why would we not want to experience these benefits, especially for poor and minority students?

This is important. While the Kansas public education establishment touts the state’s relatively high performance on national tests, when results are analyzed closely, we see some things that should cause all Kansans to embrace whatever we can do to correct this.

Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Nearby is a chart of NAEP scores for Kansas and national public schools. It is an example from a visualization of NAEP scores that you may use yourself. I’ve circled some troubling results. An example of something that must be changed is this: For grade four math, 14 percent of Kansas black students are at the level “proficient” or better. For national public schools, the figure for the same population subgroup is 19 percent.

Following, some findings from the CREDO study that show how charter schools help precisely the students that need the most help. But the Kansas school establishment does not want charter schools, and so far Kansas Republicans — including Governor Brownback and legislative leaders — have been unwilling to help the most vulnerable Kansas schoolchildren.

“The 27 states in our study provide the widest angle view of the charter school sector to date. Across multiple measures, the students in these charter schools have shown both improved quality over the results from 2009 and an upward trend in their performance over the past five years.”

“The average charter school student now gains an additional 8 days of learning each year in reading, compared to the loss of 7 days each year reported in 2009. In math, charter students in 2009 posted 22 fewer days of learning; now that gap is closed so their learning each year is on par with their peers in traditional public schools.”

“Looking back to the demographics of the charter school sector in the 27 states, charter school enrollment has expanded among students in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students. These are precisely the students that, on average, find better outcomes in charter schools. These findings lend support to the education and social policies that focus on education as the mechanism to improve life chances for historically underserved students. Charter schools are especially beneficial learning environments for these students, as the following graphics illustrate in greater detail.”

“Enrollment and persistence in charter schools is especially helpful for some students, particularly students in poverty, black students, and English language learners all of whom post significantly higher learning gains in both reading and math. Hispanic students are on par with their TPS peers in both reading and math. For students with multiple designations (such as being black and in poverty), the impacts of charter schooling are especially positive and noteworthy.”

Kansas school salaries

Kansas school salaries for superintendents, principals, and teachers presented in an interactive visualization for each district, updated for 2016 data.

Recently Kansas Policy Institute noted the discrepancy in salary increases for Kansas public school management as compared to teachers. See Pay raises to superintendents and principals far outpace those to teachers.

In the article, David Dorsey writes: “A widely-shared solution to improving student outcomes is to put more money in the classroom. What does it say about the importance of student achievement to local school boards and administrations when pay increases are disproportionately higher to those who are not in the classroom?”

And later: “Much has been documented about teacher shortages, especially due to those leaving after only a few years in the profession. One way to reverse that trend would be for districts to make spending choices that would support the commitment to keeping quality teachers.”

Kansas State Department of Education has released salary figures for districts for the current school year, fiscal year 2016. Statewide, since 2008, the KSDE data shows these cumulative salary increases:

Superintendents: 12.2 percent
Principals: 11.8 percent
Teachers: 8.8 percent

If we start the comparison in 2009 the difference is larger, with increases of 8.2 percent for principals and 4.9 percent for teachers.

It’s also useful to look at individual districts. For example, for the Wichita public school district, there are these cumulative salary increases since 2008:

Superintendent: 53.9 percent
Principals: 7.0 percent
Teachers: 2.3 percent

The Wichita district has just one superintendent, so no matter how much the salary rises, it’s still the salary for just a single person and has a negligible effect on total district payroll costs. There are, however, 89 principals, so the increase for this category of employee matters much more.

But you have to wonder: What about the teachers?

I’ve gathered the data and present it in an interactive visualization. You may select any single district, or use district 999 for statewide totals. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Figures include fringe benefits and are not adjusted for inflation. Visualization created using Tableau Public. There are several missing values which can make the percentage change invalid for a single year.

Kansas school salaries. Click for larger.
Kansas school salaries. Click for larger.

Kansas support for higher education

How does Kansas state support for higher education compare to other states?

In the Wichita Eagle, Chapman Rackaway contributes a satirical look at Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his handling of Kansas government. And, the governor deserves many of Rackaway’s jabs. But there is something that needs clarification, which is the contention that Kansas is a backwater state when it comes to higher education funding, at least compared to Washington state. (Chapman Rackaway: How about Brownback as K-State president?, April 8, 2016.)

Rackaway writes: “That Washington State could pay [departing Kansas State University president Kirk] Schulz so much more is unsurprising to anyone paying attention to states’ budget priorities.” He goes on to write that Kansas government has not prioritized higher education funding, and that Washington state recently committed to additional higher education support.

There are organizations that collect and present data on this topic. State Higher Education Executive Officers Association publishes a report titled State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) study 1 The figures used below are for the most recent year for which data is available.

According to this report, in fiscal year 2014, Kansas appropriated $5,648 per FTE. Washington’s figure is $5,700, or 0.9 percent more than Kansas. Over the past five years, Kansas appropriations per FTE fell by 15.8 percent. In Washington they fell by 20.6 percent. (Table 5)

For fiscal year 2013, higher education support per capita in Kansas was $342. In Washington, it was $197. The same table also reports higher education support per $1000 of personal income. In Kansas the figure is $7.70, and in Washington, $4.13. For Kansas, these two figures are 132 percent and 133 percent of the national average. (Table 10)

From these two data points — and these are not the only ways to compare — I think we can conclude that Kansas appropriates nearly as much as does Washington, on a per-student basis.

Further, Kansans are much more generous in supporting its public universities, when measured by per-capita contribution. (Calling Kansans generous with their taxes is a falsehood, as taxation has nothing to do with generosity, except the generosity of politicians with money that belongs to other people.)


Notes

  1. State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) study. Available at www.sheeo.org/sites/default/files/project-files/SHEF%20FY%202014-20150410.pdf.