Kansas school fund balances rose significantly this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.
Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
The interactive visualization holds data for each district since 2008.
As Kansans debate school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court considers ordering more school spending, and as school spending boosters insisting that school spending has been slashed, a fact remains constant: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Fund balances grew in many years, and rose rapidly this year.
Fund balances are necessary for cash flow management. The issue is what levels of balances are necessary. Based on recent data from the Kansas State Department of Education, fund balances rose rapidly after 2008, remained largely level from 2011 through 2015, and rose for 2016.
For the school year ending in 2015, total cash balances were $1,745,557,046. (This total does not include non-school funds like museums and recreation center funds.) For 2016, the figure was $1,871,026,493. This is an increase of $125,469,450, or 7.2 percent.
Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds and presented it as an interactive visualization. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created using Tableau Public.
Total Spending Per Pupil:
Arizona: $7,528. Kansas: $9,972.
Spending on Instruction Per Pupil:
Arizona: $4,091. Kansas $6,112.
This data is from the school year ending in 2014, which is the most recent data from the Census Bureau that includes data from all states in a comparable fashion.
So how do Arizona and Kansas Students compare? A nearby table holds data from the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” This is a snapshot of a larger interactive visualization.2
For each state, I show the data for traditional public schools and for charter schools. (As Kansas has very few charter schools, there is no data for this category.) Kansas scores exceed Arizona scores in only one instance.
Arizona embraces charter schools and other forms of school choice. In 2014, 17.8 percent of Arizona public schools were in charter schools. Kansas has a law that allows for charter schools, but it is designed to make charters difficult to form and run. Plus, the Kansas public school community fights against charter schools. As a result, only 0.5 percent of Kansas students are in charter schools.3
Can Kansas learn from Arizona with its lower costs and higher student achievement?
Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?
In a letter to the Wichita Eagle, a longtime educator asks “Just how much confidence in the schooling community should taxpayers embrace?”1
The answer should be: Some.
The author’s primary topic in this letter was school funding. He writes that public school educators are best qualified to decide school funding issues, and we should trust their judgment.
The problem is that public school educators have a self-interest in this matter that goes beyond the achievement of Kansas schoolchildren. Teachers complain that class sizes are too large. At what level would teachers agree that their classes are not oversized? When making that decision, do they weigh the much larger expenditures that will be required to reduce class sizes substantially?
The success of class size reduction has a mixed record. For example, when the Brookings Institution surveyed the literature, it came to this conclusion: “Class-size reduction has been shown to work for some students in some grades in some states and countries, but its impact has been found to be mixed or not discernable in other settings and circumstances that seem similar. It is very expensive.”2
More importantly, do educators consider that smaller class sizes mean more teachers, and that if school districts have hired the best teachers first, then any additional teachers hired must be (by definition) less qualified than current teachers? This is important because teacher quality is known to be — by far — the largest factor in student achievement.3
Small classes are good. Most people like personalized attention. But teacher quality really matters:
Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.4
Despite this, our state’s public school establishment tells us that we must have smaller classes.
Besides the obvious self-interest of public school educators, there is also this: They have lied to us. Blatantly. For years our state’s education leaders have told us that Kansas schoolchildren score well on the state’s achievements test. This should be good news, but the Kansas tests were much less stringent that other states’ test. The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has published many studies over the years that documented the weakness of the Kansas assessments. For some years, only a handful of states had standards weaker than ours.56
Finally, last year Kansas adopted realistic standards. A presentation by the Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explained the relationship of the new standards to the former: “The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards.”7
This admission came, however, after many years of telling us Kansas students were among the nations’ best. But Kansas students were taking easier tests.
Undoubtedly those who work in our public schools have much knowledge about their operation and what needs to be fixed. But they have an obvious self-interest, and we need others to look at schools, too.
John H. Wilson. Trust judgment of school educators. Wichita Eagle, October 6, 2016. Available here. ↩
“For instance, the median finding across 10 studies of teacher effectiveness estimates that a teacher who is one standard deviation above the average in terms of quality produces additional learning gains for students of 0.12 standard deviations in reading and 0.14 standard deviations in math.” Dan Goldhaber. In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most. EducationNext. Available at educationnext.org/in-schools-teacher-quality-matters-most-coleman/. ↩
Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm traditional public schools, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.
The prevalent argument is that charter schools and other school choice programs drain funds from public schools. That is, if a public school student chooses to attend a charter or private school, and if the money follows the student to the other school, the public school district loses money that it otherwise would have received. Therefore, the public school district is worse off, and so too are its students.
A rebuttal is that since a public school has shed the responsibility for schooling the student, its costs should fall correspondingly. This would be true if all the costs of a public school are variable. Some costs are fixed, however, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly — in the short run, that is. An example is the cost to maintain a classroom. If a school has one less student than the year before, it still requires the same support for utilities. One or several fewer students doesn’t mean that fewer teachers are needed.
Public schools and their lobbyists, therefore, argue that school choice programs are a financial burden to public schools. Under school choice programs, they say, public schools lose students and their accompanying funding, but the public schools retain their fixed costs.
The question, then, is what portion of a school’s costs are variable, meaning costs that schools can adjust quickly, and what portion are fixed, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly? Benjamin Scafidi, professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, has examined schools looking for the answer to this question. His paper The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts, published by EdChoice (formerly The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), holds answers to these questions.
The first question is this: What is the relation of school choice programs to school districts’ variable costs? Scafidi has endeavored to determine the breakdown between variable and fixed costs in each state. In Kansas, for the 2008 – 2009 school year, total spending per student was $11,441. Of that, Scafidi estimates $3,749, or 32.8 percent, were fixed costs. Variable costs were $7,692, or 67.2 percent. Since then spending has risen, but there’s no reason to think the allocation of costs between fixed and variable has changed materially. For the school year ending in 2015 total spending per student was $13,1241. That implies fixed costs per student of $4,305 and variable costs per student of $8,819.
Now, how much money would a public school lose if a student chose to attend a school other than the traditional public schools? For Kansas this question is complicated by recent changes in the way public schools are funded. Prior to the school year ending in 2016, Kansas used a school funding formula that started with a figure called “base state aid per pupil.” For 2015 the value was $3,852, and that is the starting point for calculating state spending per student.
In a recent presentation on this topic, Scafidi said: “Any school choice program where about $8,000 per student or less, on average, follows the child to the school of his or her choice, improves the fiscal situation of the public school district, on average, and students who remain in public schools have more resources available for their education.” Considering only base state aid per pupil, a typical Kansas school district, which has variable costs of $8,819 per student, has its fiscal situation improved when it loses a student and the accompanying $3,852 in state funding.
Many Kansas students, however, trigger much more funding due to weightings that compensate for the purported higher costs of some situations. The largest weighting in Kansas, based magnitude, is the “at-risk” weighting. It adds 45.6 percent to base state aid. So if a Kansas public school loses such a student and weighting, it loses $5,608 in funding. That is far less than its variable costs of $8,819. State funding for Kansas schools in the school year ending in 2015 was $8,5672 per student, still less than school districts’ variable costs.
I asked Scafidi what is the dividing line between variable and fixed costs? The answer is that within two or three years, schools should be able to adjust their fixed costs to be in line with their needs. This is in line with the economic and accounting reality that says in the long run, all costs are variable.
Can school districts adjust their costs quickly in response to changing enrollments? This may be a problem for the very smallest districts, those with just one or two teachers per grade, Scadifi concedes. In his paper, Scafidi illustrates two examples of districts in Georgia with just over 1,000 students making adjustments. In Kansas, there are 286 school districts. Of these, 207 have enrollment of less than 1,000 students, but only 20 percent if the state’s students are in these small districts.
School districts often dispute the contention that they are able to reduce their variable costs rapidly in response to enrollment changes. Scafidi notes that if school districts say they cannot reduce costs when they lose students, the implication is that all of their costs are fixed. If that is true, then schools should not receive additional funding when enrollment rises. If all their costs truly are fixed, the total cost of running a school district does not change with enrollment — either up or down.
Going forward in Kansas
Kansas is in the process of formulating a new school financing method. For the school years ending in 2016 and 2017 the state has used a block grant method, whereby state funding to school districts was frozen at the 2015 level with some increases programmed into the law. Current law anticipates a new funding formula being passed in the 2017 legislative session and applied to the school year ending in 2018.
One of the most important goals for the new funding method should be transparency and flexibility. The prior school finance formula was criticized as being complex and difficult to understand. For example, in June the Kansas Legislature held a special session in order to increase school funding in response to a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court. But, more than half of the higher funding the Wichita school district received went to property tax reduction, rather than being spent on schools.3 Citizens have trouble understanding how increasing state school funding means a reduction in property tax instead of more teachers or schoolbooks. This illustrates a problem with transparency in the prior funding formula.
We have seen that school choice programs do not harm the finances of local school districts. The second question concerns the quality of education for the students who remain in public schools.
To answer this question, we must recognize the wide variation of teacher efficacy. Some are very good, and some very poor. Further, the difference between good and bad is large. Eric A. Hanushek and others have found that very good teachers routinely produce 1.5 years of gain in achievement during an academic year. Bad teachers produce 0.5 years of gain.4 If a student is unfortunate enough to experience ineffective teachers two or three years in a row, the student may be so far behind as to never catch up.
What does this have to do with school choice programs? If public schools have to downsize due to students lost for any reason — including school choice programs — this gives public schools an opportunity to shed their least effective teachers. This means that students who remain in public schools have a higher likelihood of experiencing the most effective teachers.
An interactive table of NAEP scores for the states and races, broken down by charter school and traditional public school.
Some states have few or no charter schools.
In many states, minority students perform better on the NAEP test when in charter schools.
The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), conducts the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year. Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” it is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”1
NAEP is useful because the test is created and administered independently of the states: “Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same sets of test booklets across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts.”2 This is important because studies have shown that states vary widely in the rigor of the tests they create themselves: “The key finding is that the variation among state achievement standards continues to be wide.”3
The NAEP tests are administered at several grade levels and for a variety of subjects, but the primary focus is on math and reading, at grades four and eight. I’ve gathered test scores from NCES for the 2015 test cycle, for these two subjects and two grade levels, with the results broken down by race and whether the school is a charter school. I gathered the data using the NAEP Data Explorer available at NCES4 and used Tableau Public to present the data. The data includes the scale score for each state, grade, and subject, along with the percentage of students scoring “Below Basic,” “At or above basic,” “At or above proficient,” and “At Advanced.”
There are two visualization dashboards. Each starts by breaking down the data by state, race, and school type (charter school or not). One visualization shows the data at this level, while a second continues to break down the data by subject and grade. There are many missing values, usually meaning there is no data, or not enough data to be a reliable sample. You may access the visualization here.
At the national public school level, when looking at all students, charter schools are outscored by traditional public schools (TPS). Looking at subgroups by race, we find that charter schools score higher than TPS.
Colorado is an example of a state where charter schools have broad success. When considering all students, Colorado charter schools have better scores than the traditional public schools. For the subgroups of white and Hispanic students, charter schools have higher scores. The data is not available for black students. Overall, 10.9 percent of Colorado student are in charter schools (2014 data).5
Illinois is an example of how it is important to look at subgroups of data instead of simply considering all students in a state. For Illinois, considering all students, traditional public schools score better than charter schools 252 to 243, which is a substantial margin. But considering only black students, charter schools do better than TPS, 240 to 230. For Hispanic students the gap is larger, with charter schools outperforming TPS, 278 to 242.
The Illinois results are in line with what the oft-cited CREDO study has found: “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.”6
A companion to this visualization is an interactive table showing charter school prevalence and enrollment in the states. Click here to use this visualization.
There is a claim that a recent change in the handling of KPERS payments falsely inflates school spending. The Kansas State Department of Education says otherwise. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
From Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a new website with facts about the Kansas budget, economy, and schools.
GetTheFactsKansas.com aims to provide Kansans with factual information about our state. Sometimes this is in short supply, so this effort is welcome.
As an example, when explaining school spending, the site notes: “At $13,124 per-pupil, 2015 marked the third consecutive year of record-setting funding according to the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE). And if the Department’s estimates hold, another new record will be set when the 2016 final results are reported. Record funding is not the result of accounting changes; emails from KSDE confirm that no accounting changes impacted state or district funding totals for more than ten years. There was a correction effective in 2015 when the state-mandated 20 mills of property tax began being properly recorded as State Aid instead of Local Aid, but there would have been an increase in State Aid without that change.”
Information like this rebuts two arguments that Kansas progressives use. First, that the increase in school spending is due to a recent change in the way KPERS payments are reported. But, there has been no change in ten years. Second, that the shift in the reporting of local property taxes is used to falsely inflate state spending. As KPI notes, even after adjusting for this change, state funding of schools has risen.
Near the end of this article are definitions of each measure. There are measures for total expenditures and total current expenditures. The major difference is that the current expenditures measure does not include the cost of construction of schools and the expense of debt associated with that.
Of note, the values for “United States” are the average of the values for the states, computed with equal weight without regard for the total spending or number of students in each state.
As of the date of publication, data was available through the school year ending in 2013.
Since these data series cover substantial periods of time, I’ve also used the Consumer Price Index2 to adjust the figures for the effects of inflation. Each measure has a companion whose name starts with “i.” This is the value adjusted for inflation, based on the CPI. You may choose to view the values as reported by ElSi, which are in current dollars. These are the values not adjusted for inflation. Or, you may use the “i.” measures, which are in constant dollars.3
This data is presented in an interactive visualization created using Tableau Public. To access the visualization, click here. There are three views of this data, accessed by tabs along the top.
Definitions of measures
Total Revenues (TR) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Total revenues per student ate the total revenues from all sources (tr) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.
Total Expenditures (TE11+E4D+E7A1) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
This is the Total Expenditures (Digest) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. The Total Expenditures (Digest) is the subtotal of Direct State Support Expenditures for Private Schools (e4d).
Total Current Expenditures for Public El-Sec (TE5) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
This is the total current expenditures for public elementary and secondary education (te5) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. The Expenditures for equipment, non-public education, school construction, debt financing and community services are excluded from this data item.
Local Revenues (STR1+R2) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Local revenues per student are the total of all local revenue categories (strl and r2) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file. Local revenues are raised and allocated by local governments.
State Revenues (R3) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
State revenues per student are revenues received by the LEAs from the state (r3). divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.
Federal Revenues (STR4) per Pupil (MEMBR) [State Finance]
Federal revenues per student are federal revenues (str4) divided by the fall membership as reported in the state finance file.
The U.S. Census Bureau explains: ” Constant-dollar values represent an effort to remove the effects of price changes from statistical series reported in dollar terms. The result is a series as it would presumably exist if prices were the same throughout as they were in the base year-in other words, as if the dollar had constant purchasing power.” Current versus Constant (or Real) Dollars.www.census.gov/topics/income-poverty/income/guidance/current-vs-constant-dollars.html. ↩
Trends for the nation and each state in teachers, administrators, and students, presented in an interactive visualization.
Each year states report data to the National Center for Education Statistics. While NCES provides methods for extracting data, it isn’t an easy process, and opportunities to produce charts are limited. Here I present trends in teachers, administrators, and students for each state from 1998 to the school year ending in summer 2014, the most recent year of data that is available.
For each state, the charts show the growth in teachers, administrators, and students. For both teachers and students, the value used is full-time equivalency. A table also shows pupil/teacher ratio and pupil/administrator ratio.
There are some obvious mistakes in the data. An example is the number of administrators reported for Kansas for years 2007 through 2009. Figures obtained directly from Kansas State Department of Education show no sudden drop and increase in the count of administrators. Nonetheless, I have presented the data as retrieved from NCES.
For the nation as a whole, the count of students has increased 8.5 percent since 1998. The count of teachers (full-time equivalent) rose by 13.4 percent, and the number of administrators by 19.4 percent. Individual states vary widely, with many having increased administrators at a far faster pace than either students or teachers. Some states, however, have reduced the number of administrators, or the rate has grown slower than students and teachers.
Data is from the Elementary/Secondary Information System (ElSi) at National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. The number of administrators is calculated as the sum of “LEA Administrators” and “LEA Administrative Support Staff.” LEA Administrators is defined by NCES as “The count of Local education agency superintendents, deputy and assistant superintendents, and other persons with district-wide responsibilities such as business managers and administrative assistants. Excludes supervisors of instructional or student support staff.” LEA Administrative Support Staff is defined as “The count of Staff members who provide direct support to LEA administrators, including secretarial and other clerical staff.”
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.23
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.
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.
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.
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.”
It 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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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. ↩
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.