Tag Archives: Kansas Association of School Boards

For McGinn, a liberal voting record is a tradition

Based on votes made in the Kansas Senate, the advertising claims of Sedgwick County Commission candidate Carolyn McGinn don’t match her record.

Kansas CapitolIn a radio advertisement, Carolyn McGinn says she is conservative. In a mailer, she touts her “fiscal conservative leadership” in the Kansas Senate.

But voting records don’t match these claims.

Several voting scorecards in recent years show Senator McGinn ranking low in terms of voting for economic freedom issues. These issues generally concern taxation, wasteful spending, and unnecessary regulation. In recent years, a freedom index has been produced by Kansas Policy Institute. In 2012 the Kansas Economic Freedom Index was a joint product of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, Kansas Policy Institute, and myself. In 2010 I produced an index by myself. All tabulations show McGinn rarely voting in favor of economic freedom.

In the 2014 formulation, McGinn scored 25.8 percent. Four senators (Kansas has 40 senators) had lower scores. Some Wichita-area legislators that had higher scores than McGinn include Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Representatives Ponka-We Victors, Gail Finney, Jim Ward, Tom Sawyer, and Brandon Whipple. All these are Democrats, by the way, and they voted more in favor of economic freedom than did Carolyn McGinn.

In 2013, McGinn scored 40 percent. Eight senators had lower scores.

In 2012 the scores were calculated in a different manner. McGinn scored -6, with 16 senators scoring lower.

There was no index for 2011.

In 2010, on an index that I produced, McGinn scored seven percent. Three other senators had the same score, and one had a lower score.

At a recent forum, McGinn criticized the concept of a vote index, telling the audience: “The economic freedom index, I just find that interesting. Because it’s based on amendments after we’re out of session, so you can pick and choose what you want for who.”

She’s right, in a way. I don’t know what she meant by “amendments,” but the organizations that construct voting scorecards choose votes that they believe distinguish candidates along some axis. Usually the votes are chosen after they’re made, although sometimes organizations “key vote” an issue. That means they alert legislators in advance of a vote that the vote will be included on their scorecard.

There are organizations that are in favor of more spending, less accountability, and fewer choices for Kansas parents and schoolchildren. They produce scorecards, too. In particular, Kansas Association of School Boards found that McGinn never voted against their position from 2009 to 2012. Kansas National Education Association, while not making a scorecard public, recommended that its members vote for McGinn.

Kansas school finance reporting and opinion

school-crayons-colored-pencils-168392There’s a range of opinion, that’s for sure.

Republicans concede bill would let teachers be fired without cause (Wichita Eagle)
“Statehouse Republicans are having to abandon a key talking point in their effort to defuse teacher anger over an anti-tenure bill the Legislature passed a week ago, conceding the bill would allow school districts to fire veteran teachers without having to give a reason why. If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill into law, teachers would essentially be at-will employees of their school districts and able to challenge termination only if they allege the firing violates their constitutional rights.” Click here to read.

Kansas bill renews debate about how easy it should be to fire teachers (Kansas City Star)
There is a diversity of opinion, much conflicting, it seems: “It’s not too damn hard to fire a teacher,” said Marcus Baltzell, the director of communications for the Kansas National Education Association. “It’s just that the teacher has a redress of due process, a hearing officer, (a chance to say) ‘Here’s my take. Here’s what we’ve done to address the area of concern, and I believe this is unfair.'” … “Lawmakers who backed the change — it becomes law if Gov. Sam Brownback signs it — argued that dumping dead weight from the faculty has become harder than it ought to be.” … “I don’t like tenure. I never have,” said Rep. Ward Cassidy, a Republican from northwest Kansas who worked as a high school principal for 20 years. “Good principals have a whole lot of other things to do besides going through all you need to fire a teacher.” Click here to read.

In Wichita, Brownback neither praises nor criticizes measure stripping K-12 teacher tenure rights (Wichita Eagle)
“… most questions he was asked after his short talk concerned a provision to strip veteran K-12 teachers of tenure rights in the recently passed public school financing bill, which he said he has not decided whether to sign. And while he didn’t criticize that provision, he didn’t endorse it either.” Click here to read.

In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA (Kansas Policy Institute)
“Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics. Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.) Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.” Click here to read.

Far-Right Kansas Legislature Sells Out Kansas Schools (Kansas Democratic Party)
“But none of these stories could compete with what the Kansas Legislature did to Kansas public schools. Under the cover of night and with virtually no debate or hearings, the Kansas Legislature forced through an education “reform” bill that stripped teachers of due process rights, passed out even more tax breaks to corporations, and potentially widened the disparity between rich schools and poor schools. School districts say new school finance bill will widen disparities.” Click here to read.

Opinion: Public education under attack (Lawrence Journal-World)
“The inclusion of these so-called “policy” provisions in the school finance bill passed by the Legislature are a mistake and will actually harm the very schools that the Kansas Supreme Court sought to assist. This is just one more step in the Legislature’s assault on public K-12 education in Kansas.” Click here to read.

Teachers are sacrificial lambs in school finance (Iola Register via High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times)
A confused editorial. The writer says that teachers are held accountable to, among others, school administrators, but usually it is claimed that teachers need defense from this accountability. “The defense of tenure is at its best when you consider a teacher is accountable to hundreds of ‘bosses’ — parents and school boards as well as administrators.” Click here to read.

Selling education (Hutchinson News)
“Two elements of the bill are particularly troubling. One creates a $10 million-a-year corporate welfare program in support of private education. It allows large companies to enjoy a 70-percent credit against their state tax liability if they offer scholarships to at-risk students who move to private schools. This has nothing at all to do with public education equity; rather it creates a mechanism to damage the finance structure for public schools. The second concerning component redefines “teacher” as a way to eliminate due process protections. And the concept of teacher tenure is a myth. The current due process for teachers simply ensures a written termination notice and the right to challenge the decision through review by a hearing officer. In fact the Kansas Association of School Boards reported that the state sees about 10 due process claims each year – hardly a number that indicates a systemic problem that requires legislative action. The measure is little more than a way to break the teachers’ union and silence those teachers who honestly educate and advocate for their students.” Click here to read.

Richard Crowson: We Need Some Education (KMUW)
“And that guy who was smiling and joking with me in the checkout line at the grocery last Saturday? He lit a firebomb, taped a tax credit for private school supporters on it, and flung it through the window of a first grade classroom in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” Click here to read.

Rep. Rooker ‘heartsick’ over results of education finance bill (Prairie Village Post)
Small steps towards Kansas education reform are “immoral” and make this representative “heartsick.” Click here to read.

Shame, says Wichita Eagle editorial board (Voice for Liberty)
The Wichita Eagle editorial board, under the byline of Rhonda Holman, issued a stern rebuke to the Kansas Legislature for its passage of HB 2506 over the weekend. Click here to read.

In Kansas, education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

By Dave Trabert

Media reaction to the school finance legislation has been pretty predictable. It focuses almost exclusively on institutions and ignores the impact on students. As usual, it’s all about money and politics.

Unions, media and their allies in the education establishment (UMEEA) oppose tax credit scholarships for low income students. They rail against taxpayer money going to private schools and how that might mean a little less money for public institutions but ignore the very real purpose and need for the program. (FYI, the scholarship program is capped at $10 million; schools are expected to spend almost $6 billion this year.)

Achievement gaps for low income students are large and getting worse, despite the fact that At Risk funding intended to improve outcomes increased seven-fold over the last eight years. So predictably, a program to give an alternative to low income students in the 99 lowest-performing schools is attacked by UMEEA as being unfair to institutions. Media and their establishment friends don’t even make a token mention of the serious achievement problem. It’s all about money and politics.

An ugly, inconvenient truth about low income achievement gaps emerges when the data is honestly examined. We compiled and published the information in our2014 Public Education Fact Book, available on our web site. For example, only 45 percent of 4th grade low income students can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension on the state assessment, versus 74 percent of those who are not low income. State assessment data also shows that 57 percent of low income students in private accredited Kansas schools can read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension. Tax credit scholarships offer a lifeline to low income students who want to try something else.

And before the attacks on the validity of the data begin, know that Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker and I participated in a discussion on the topic before the House and Senate Education committees recently; she could have objected or corrected me when I presented this KSDE achievement data. She did not. Instead, she said low income achievement gaps are large and getting worse. Even the education establishment agrees that having effective teachers in classrooms is probably the most important element of improving outcomes, but of course money and politics take priority over students, so UMEEA attacks efforts to make it easier and faster to remove ineffective teachers. After all, the adults in the system are a higher priority than students.

And don’t forget to throw in some clichés … efforts to help students are “ideological” but prioritizing institutional demands is “progressive” and “pragmatic.” UMEEA likes to pretend that “just spend more” and promoting institutional demands are not ideological positions.

Media is also spreading institutional notions that increasing the Local Option Budget (LOB) ceiling from 31 percent to 33 percent will create inequities among school districts, even though legislators just agreed to fully equalize the LOB. If school districts really believed that higher ceilings create inequity, they would be calling for the ceiling to be reduced. One must wonder if the real issue is that districts don’t want to, or can’t, justify the need for higher property taxes to local voters.

UMEEA will continue to attack legislators for combining policy reforms with the commitment to increase spending for equalization, but the simple reality is that that may have been the only real chance to get these student-focused initiatives passed. In that regard, spending more money finally made a difference for students.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas school finance lawsuit, problems solved?

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Kansas Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Gannon v. Kansas, the school finance lawsuit. What did the court say, and did it address the real and important issues with Kansas schools? Episode 37, broadcast March 30, 2014. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

In Kansas, the Blob is worked up

apple-chalkboard-books“Education reformers have a name for the resistance: the education ‘Blob.’ The Blob includes the teachers unions, but also janitors and principals unions, school boards, PTA bureaucrats, local politicians and so on.” (John Stossel, The Blob That Ate Children.)

In Kansas, we’re seeing the Blob at full activation, vigorously protecting its interests. The source of the Blob’s consternation is a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would add charter schools and tax credit scholarships to the educational landscape in Kansas. (Kansas does have charter schools at present, but the law is so stacked in favor of the Blob’s interests that there are very few charter schools.)

An example of a prominent spokesperson for the Blob is the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman. She recently wrote regarding Kansas school funding: “In the Kansas Speaks survey released last fall by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, two-thirds said they wanted to see more K-12 state funding.”

I don’t doubt that these results are accurate. The desire for good schools is nearly universal. But when we look at the beliefs of people, we find that they are, largely, uninformed and misinformed about the level of school spending. Kansas Policy Institute commissioned a survey that asked the public a series of questions on schools and spending. (See Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending.) A key finding is that most people think that schools spend much less than actual spending, and by a large margin. Further, most people think spending has declined, when in fact it has risen. These finding are similar to other research commissioned by KPI, and additional surveys by other organizations at the national level.

Not surprisingly, when citizens and taxpayers learn the true level of school spending, their attitude towards school spending changes. That’s dangerous to school spending advocates — the Blob. It diminishes their most compelling arguments for more school spending — “it’s for the kids.”

The Eagle editorial board, along with the Kansas City Star, has been instrumental in misinforming Kansans about school spending. These newspapers continually use base state aid per pupil as the measure of schools spending, when in fact this is just a fraction of total spending on schools. (See Here’s why Kansans are misinformed about schools.)

The survey that Holman relies upon as evidence of the desire for more school spending didn’t ask — as far as I know — questions to see if respondents were informed on the issue. Even worse: Instead of seeking to educate readers on the facts, Holman resorts to demagoguery and demonizing, referring to “education reforms coveted by some conservatives and the American Legislative Exchange Council.” There, the two evils: Conservatives and ALEC, the substance of her argument.

Reform in Kansas

There are two reforms being talked about in Kansas that are popular in other states. Popular except with the Blob, that is.

One is a tax credit scholarship program. This lets corporations make contributions to organizations that would provide scholarships for students to attend private schools. The corporations would then receive credits against their income tax. The Blob opposes programs like this. The Blob says that these programs simply let students that are already in private or church schools have the state pay their tuition.

But the proposed law in Kansas this year, as in years past, contains these provision: For the scholarship program, students must qualify as “at-risk” students and be attending a school that qualifies as “title I,” a program that applies to schools with many students from low-income families.

Further, the student must have been enrolled in a public school before seeking a scholarship, unless the student is less than six years old.

Together these requirements rebut the argument of the Blob: That the scholarships are just a way for children already in private or church schools to get tax funds to pay for their schools. Instead, the law targets these scholarships at students from low-income households.

Another possible reform is charter schools. These are schools that are public schools and receive public funding, but operate outside the present education establishment and local school boards. The Blob objects to this because they say that without government oversight, charter schools aren’t held accountable. The Blob must forget that charter schools are accountable to parents of children, which is a higher standard than the accountability of government bureaucrats. Also, unlike the regular public schools, the government can’t force children to attend a charter school.

The Blob criticizes charter schools because they say they “cherry-pick” the best students, leaving public schools with the worst. Here’s what the proposed Kansas law says: “A public charter school shall enroll all students who wish to attend the school.” If more students apply than the school has space, students will be selected via lottery. In most areas that have charter schools, there are many more aspirants than available spaces, and students are chosen by lottery. That would undoubtedly be the case in Kansas.

The Blob says that charter schools pick only the students they want, and therefore lead to segregation. Here’s the proposed law: “A public charter school shall be subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services.”

Here’s what the Blob really hates: “A public charter school shall be exempt from all laws and rules and regulations that are otherwise applicable to public schools in this state.” And also this: “Teachers in public charter schools shall be exempt from the teacher certification requirements established by the state board.”

The Blob values its rules and regulations that make work for its fleets of bureaucrats. Never mind that these regulations probably don’t increase student learning. That’s not the point.

And the political muscle of the Blob, the teachers unions? Well, charter school teachers usually aren’t unionized. The union is in favor of public schools only if the the teachers are in unions.

What the Blob won’t tell you

The Kansas Blob is proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use at wichitaliberty.org. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

When you hear the Blob trumpet high Kansas test scores, does it also explain the nuances? No, of course not, But you can examine these test scores in an interactive visualization.

Kansas school standards

Another problem you won’t hear about from the Blob: Kansas has low standards for its schools. Even worse, at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

Kansas education topic on ‘This Week in Kansas’

school-homework

Kansas education issues were a topic on a recent segment of KAKE TV “This Week in Kansas.”

Opening the show, Representative Jim Ward made a small but potentially consequential mistake when he said the “legislature has violated their constitutional duty to provide for an adequate or sufficient education.”

The Kansas Constitution actually says this in Article 6, Section 6(b): “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

It’s too bad that the Kansas Constitution doesn’t mandate that the state provide an “adequate or sufficient” education, as that would provide the basis for a lawsuit that would actually — potentially — benefit Kansas schoolchildren.

The performance of Kansas schools that the education establishment touts wilts when examined under a statistical microscope. If we compare Kansas NAEP scores to those of Texas, we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

(For more on this, see Kansas school test scores, in perspective.)

Furthermore — and this is important considering the significance given to the current school finance lawsuit: At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

That is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains.

Sample conclusions of this analysis for Kansas include:

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

Mark Tallman of Kansas Association of School Boards also appeared. His focus is primarily on spending, but also makes the same mistakes when citing the performance of Kansas schools.

Kansas Association of School Boards: Putting institutions and money before individual students

kansas-association-school-boards-sign

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas Association of School Boards: Putting institutions and money before individual students

By Dave Trabert

There is no question that many students receive a fine public education and go on to success in college or career, but there is also no question that thousands of students are left behind every year. Continuing to pour money into the current broken system — whether ordered to so by courts or by choice — will not close the large achievement gaps that exist for students of color and those from low-income families.

Yet institutional demands for more money continue to drive the debate. Many mission statements effectively say “it’s all about the kids” but in reality, the wants of institutions and the adults in the system often prevail over student needs.

A recent blog post from Mark Tallman and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) is loaded with more examples of institutions misrepresenting the facts of student achievement and school funding to justify the extraction of more money from taxpayers.

Here’s the first example. “KASB research has shown that the percentage scoring at Basic is a good indicator of the state’s graduation rate, i.e. the percentage of students who complete high school. The percentage scoring at Proficient is a rough indicator of the percentage of students who will meet college readiness benchmarks on the ACT test. In other words, the percent at Basic might be considered the percentage of student “on track” to graduate, and the percent at Proficient indicates those “on track” to be ready for college-level academics.”

First of all, a high school graduation rate says nothing about actual achievement.  In fact, the Kansas Board of Regents reports that 30 percent of 2011 Kansas high school graduates who attended a public college in Kansas actually signed up for remedial training – keep in mind that students voluntarily sign up for these courses and cannot be made to do so by the college. These students apparently know that they aren’t ready to take credit-bearing courses in college.  Also, only 30 percent of the 2013 class who took the ACT test scored high enough to be considered college-ready in English, Reading, Math and Science. (Incredibly, KASB representative Tom Krebs testified earlier this year that the ACT college-readiness measure shows that local school districts are doing a good job — because only 30 percent of today’s jobs require a 4-year degree!)

Also, the KASB research that purports to find ‘good indications’ is called a bivariate analysis, meaning that only two variables are considered. This reminds me of something the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) once said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. He noted that northern states tended to have the best student achievement, so we should move schools closer to the Canadian border to improve achievement. His point was that simple bivariate analyses and non sequiturs are no substitution for honest analysis. A bivariate analysis doesn’t control for other factors that may (and frequently do) make a difference.

Note also that KASB continues to lower the bar and now often speaks of the percentage of students at Basic+ instead of Proficient+ on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  They referenced high rankings on Proficient+ until people became aware that Kansas’ proficiency levels are in the 30 percent and 40 percent range. Now they talk about Basic+ so they can use higher percentages and make the institutions look better.

Example #2

On October 7, Mr. Tallman wrote, “KASB absolutely agrees that differences in student characteristics must be considered in evaluating educational performance … the most important factor .. is socio-economic status.”

But that “belief” is largely ignored on October 11 when he writes, “To measure overall state performance, we calculate the average of the percentage of students scoring at both Basic and Proficient on the four tests (Grade 4 reading and math; Grade 8 reading and math). We then rank the average percent for each state.” Two of the four percentages he averaged are based on All Students, which brings the mostly-White states to the top of his list. You see, students of color are two to three years’ worth of learning behind White students, so the states with highest overall average performance are those with the lowest levels of minorities. (This is the essence of Senator Moynihan’s observation.)

Similar achievement gaps exist between low income students and others. And since Census data shows that minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty as Whites, KASB’s deliberate decision to not control for race and income produces very predictable results that are favorable to their overall point (it’s all about the money). Every state in the KASB calculation of the Top Ten states in Reading and Math has Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility levels below the national average of 48.1 percent. Most of them are well below. The point of KASB’s exercise is of course about money. The states chosen to appear in their top ten all spend more than Kansas.

Example #3

“The State Board of Education has continued to set higher standards.” That’s a real whopper.  Our research shows how and when the Kansas State Board of Education chose to reduce performance standards, to the point where the U.S. Department of Education reports that Kansas has some of the lowest performance standards in the nation. Before publishing our findings, we asked KSDE and KBOE to let us know if there was anything factually incorrect in our work. They didn’t respond.

Example #4

“Economic data indicates Kansas must increase the percentage of high school graduates and college-ready students to meet future employment needs and provide “middle class” incomes.” It’s true that people with more education are able to earn more money but that speaks to the important of getting an education. It has nothing to do with the amount taxpayers are expected to spend on public education.

Example #5

“New national reports have indicated Kansas has further reduced spending compared to most states.” This is a reference to a bogus claim made by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which we completely de-bunked in a separate blog post. CBPP does not publish their data; they only share their “conclusions.” Our request to see their data has gone unanswered. Meanwhile, KSDE data shows that new records for school funding were set in 2012 and 2013 and are predicted to be broken again in 2014.

Example #6

This final example represents the culmination of all the previous misrepresentations. “The totality of the evidence indicates that funding does play an important role in state student achievement and that it will be extremely difficult — and, in fact, unprecedented — for Kansas to improve achievement on NAEP results without additional revenues.” The data, however, tells a much different story.

No change on NAEP scores despite a 32 percent inflation-adjusted increase in per-pupil spending since 1998 (even with all KPERS spending removed, it’s still a 29 percent increase).

ACT scores are flat overall, although White scores slightly increased over the last ten years while scores for Hispanic and African American students are flat or down a bit. ACT doesn’t publish income-based scores.

And after nearly $3 billion in targeted At Risk (low income) spending, there’s virtually no improvement in those students’ achievement.

Yep … it’s all about the money. It’s all about demands to put more money into a system despite voluminous evidence that large funding increases have not closed student achievement gaps and roughly half of all Kansas students are clearly not leaving high school ready for college or careers.

These large achievement gaps do not exist because those students cannot learn, but because they do not have equal access to educational opportunities. Kansas has tried ‘throwing money at the problem’ and it has not worked. Until elected officials and citizens support implementation of student-focused funding and other policy initiatives, they are tacitly choosing to place a higher priority on institutional wants than on student needs.

P.S.  We’re working with legislators and school districts to show how a lot more money can be made available to classrooms by improving district efficiency. It costs a lot of money to fund public education, but it’s how the money is spent that matters … not how much.

Why are Kansas school standards so low?

Row of lockers in school hallwayAt a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained earlier this week in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

A similar question was considered for math: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of mathematics standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the mathematics assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased (the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change).”

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its mathematics grade 4 assessment between 2005 and 2009, but the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change.”

For mathematics, NCES judges that some standards were weakened, and some did not change.

In its summary of Kansas reading standards, NCES concluded: “In both grades, Kansas state assessment results showed more positive changes in achievement than NAEP results.” For mathematics, the summary reads: “In grade 4, Kansas state assessment results showed a change in achievement that is not different from that based on NAEP results. In grade 8, state assessment results showed a more positive change.”

In other words: In three of four instances, Kansas is claiming positive student achievement that isn’t apparent on national tests.

Kansas is not alone in weakening its standards during this period. It’s also not alone in showing better performance on state tests than on national tests. States were under pressure to show increased scores, and some — Kansas included — weakened their state assessment standards in response.

What’s important to know is that Kansas school leaders are not being honest with Kansans as a whole, and with parents specifically. In the face of these findings from NCES, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker wrote this in the pages of The Wichita Eagle: “Kansans are proud of the quality of their public schools, and a steady and continuing increase in student performance over the past decade has given us ample reason for that pride.” (Diane DeBacker : Pride in Kansas public schools is well-placed, March 20, 2012.)

A look at the scores, however, show that national test results don’t match the state-controlled tests that DeBacker touts. She controls these states tests, by the way. See Kansas needs truth about schools.

The same year a number of school district superintendents made a plea for increased funding in Kansas schools, referring to “multiple funding cuts.” (Reverse funding cuts, May 3, 2012 Wichita Eagle.) In this article, the school leaders claimed “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.”

These claims made by Kansas school leaders are refuted by the statistics that aren’t under the control of these same leaders. Before courts rule on school spending, and before we change Kansas school standards, we need to realize the recent stewardship of Kansas schools under current leadership.

Ask these questions before devoting more resources to Kansas public schools:

Why are Kansas school standards so low compared to other states?

Why did Kansas reduce its standards at the same time school spending was increasing?

Following are two examples of where Kansas school standards rank compared to other states. Click on them for larger versions.

naep-scale-equivalents-state-grade-4-reading-2009

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

Let’s just ignore this Kansas school spending

School

The reaction to a survey regarding Kansas school spending is useful for two reasons: It lets us gauge the level of knowledge of the public, and it also tells us the extent to which school spending advocates will go to justify and excuse spending.

The latest example comes from Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). It’s in response to a survey commissioned by Kansas Policy Institute which asked the public a series of questions on schools and spending. (See Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending.)

A key finding is that most people think that schools spend much less than actual spending, and by a large margin. Further, most people think spending has declined, when in fact it has risen. These finding are similar to other research commissioned by KPI, and additional surveys by other organizations at the national level.

Not surprisingly, when citizens and taxpayers learn the true level of school spending, their attitude towards school spending changes. That’s dangerous to school spending advocates. It diminishes their most compelling arguments for more school spending — “it’s for the kids.”

So the school spending lobby has to explain — rather, make excuses for — the high level of spending. In this case, the school board association would like you to ignore employee pension costs and the costs of buildings and equipment. Here’s what KASB explains as part of a document titled Questions about recent Kansas Policy Institute survey:

Finally, districts received $690 per pupil in KPERS contributions for district employees, and districts spent $2,320 for capital costs such as buildings and equipment, payments on construction bonds for new schools, and other local revenues like student fees. None of these funds — almost 25 percent of total revenues — can be spent for regular education operating costs.

That’s right. The Kansas Association of School Boards recommends that Kansas taxpayers discount school spending by 25 percent. Why? Because that spending is for pensions (KPERS) and buildings (and swimming pools, tennis courts, and artificial turf for athletic fields).

This argument is disingenuous, to say the least. Pension costs are part of the cost of having employees, just as are salary, the employee portion of payroll taxes, and health insurance. That is, unless schools want to stop providing pensions for their employees, in which case they might have trouble recruiting employees, or they might have to pay more in salary so that employees could provide for their own retirement.

These personnel costs are indeed “regular education operating costs,” despite the claim of KASB.

Then, KASB wants you to ignore “payments on construction bonds for new schools,” as these are not “regular education operating costs.” KASB is correct. These costs are capital, not operating.

But when campaigning for new bond issues, school districts tell voters that this spending is absolutely necessary. The kids must have new buildings and facilities, say the school spending advocates.

But when it comes time to pay off the bonds — well, just sweep that spending under the rug, say school spending boosters.

Kansas school spending excused

Kansas public school teachers and the education bureaucracy want taxpayers to trust them as a reliable source for facts about Kansas schools. But the record doesn’t inspire trust.

At a recent meeting of the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation with citizens, teachers jeered when a legislator cited the spending numbers for USD 259, the Wichita public school district. A comment left to a KAKE TV news story claims that spending numbers presented by the legislator are “misrepresented,” because he included every single dollar. In fact, the numbers presented were correct, as explained in In Kansas, don’t mention the level of school spending.

kansas-school-funding-comment-2013-03-02

The writer seems to believe that “bond money” shouldn’t count as school spending. This is a common stance taken by public school spending boosters. They argue that spending on buildings, or perhaps on teacher pension costs, shouldn’t count as money spent educating students.

Part of the reason for this deflection is that when people learn the true level of school spending, they’re usually astonished at how much is spent. So the school spending lobby has to explain — rather, make excuses for — the high level of spending. Recently Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) recommended Kansans ignore employee pension costs and the costs of buildings and equipment. Here’s how KASB explained this as part of a document titled Questions about recent Kansas Policy Institute survey:

Finally, districts received $690 per pupil in KPERS contributions for district employees, and districts spent $2,320 for capital costs such as buildings and equipment, payments on construction bonds for new schools, and other local revenues like student fees. None of these funds — almost 25 percent of total revenues — can be spent for regular education operating costs.

(See Ignore this Kansas school spending, please.)

Should teacher pension costs and the cost of buildings and equipment be included in school spending? Of course — unless you’re arguing for more school spending.

The comment writer also claimed that lawmakers have “cut education funding consistently.” As shown on the nearby chart, it’s true that spending on Kansas schools, on a per-pupil basis, fell slightly for two years running. It then rose a small amount last year. Spending from all sources, individually and collectively, is much higher than ten years ago. I don’t see how you can make an argument for consistent cutting — unless you decide to ignore parts of spending.

Kansas school spending per student, adjusted for CPI

Winners and losers in Kansas school finance lawsuit

Who are the winners and losers now that the decision in Gannon vs. Kansas — better known as the Kansas school finance lawsuit — has been reached?

The decision reached by the court is that Kansas schools are unconstitutionally underfunded. While it is most commonly reported that the decision requires Kansas to spend an additional $440 million per year on schools, the actual amount of increased spending will be $594 million per year. This is because of the mechanism of the local option budget, according to Kansas Policy Institute. The decision is being appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

The winners are the Kansas school spending establishment. These are the people who are devoted to spending more on Kansas schools — without regard to need, or whether the spending increases student achievement, or whether the spending is harmful to the Kansas economy. The main cheerleader for this team is Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union. Although not a party to the suit, Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) is a winner, too. Kansans should remember a story told by Kansas House of Representatives member Arlen Siegfreid of a conversation he had with KASB lobbyist Mark Tallman: “During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, ‘Of course, that’s my job.'”

An obvious group of losers is Kansas taxpayers. Obviously.

The people who truly lost, and who will suffer the most from the court’s decision, are Kansas schoolchildren. That’s because most people believe the problems with Kansas schools — whatever they are — can be solved with more spending. Certainly that’s the position taken by school system bureaucrats and others who benefit from increased school spending.

These advocates for spending conveniently ignore that school spending has been on a long upward trajectory, while at the same time test scores are steady or even falling in some cases. But school spending is an easy issue. Appeals that tug on heartstrings — “It’s for the kids” — are easy to make. And it’s easy to spend more on schools — at least easier than the real reforms that will help Kansas schoolchildren.

The relevant part of the Kansas Constitution states: “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” It’s a good thing for the state’s education bureaucracy the Constitution doesn’t say “the state shall provide a suitable education.” We’d be in a lot of trouble.

The state of Kansas schools

Those who think Kansas schools are doing well should compare Kansas NAEP scores with those of Texas. See Kansas school test scores, in perspective for an explanation of why Kansas test scores seem to be much better than other states.

Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker has written that she is proud of student achievement in Kansas: “Since 2001, the percentage of students statewide who perform in the top three levels on state reading assessments has jumped from about 60 percent to more than 87 percent. In math, the jump has been from just more than 54 percent to nearly 85 percent.”

This rise in performance, however, is only on tests that the Kansas education establishment controls. On every measure of student performance that I know of that is independent, this rising trend in student achievement does not appear. In some measures, for some recent years, the performance of Kansas students has declined.

How can it be that one series of tests scores are rising, but not others? Kansas school administrators don’t have a good answer for this. But there is a good reason: The Kansas test scores are subject to manipulation for political reasons.

In 2006 Kansas implemented new tests, and the state specifically warns that comparisons with previous years — like 2001 — are not valid. A KSDE document titled Kansas Assessments in Reading and Mathematics 2006 Technical Manual states so explicitly: “As the baseline year of the new round of assessments, the Spring 2006 administration incorporated important changes from prior KAMM assessments administered in the 2000 — 2005 testing cycle. Curriculum standards and targets for the assessments were changed, test specifications revised, and assessed grade levels expanded to include students in grades 3-8 and one grade level in high school. In effect, no comparison to past student, building, district, or state performance should be made.” (emphasis added.)

Despite this warning, DeBacker and Kansas school superintendents make an invalid statistical comparison. This is not an innocent mistake. This is an actual example of — turning the superintendents’ quote on themselves — “data that was used out of context, completely misrepresenting the truth.”

On other tests, only 28 percent of Kansas students are ready for college-level work in all four subjects the ACT test covers. While this result was slightly better than the national average, it means that nearly three-fourths of Kansas high school graduates need to take one or more remedial college courses.

School spending advocates also take advantage of the fact that citizens are generally misinformed on Kansas school spending. When asked about the level of spending on public schools in Kansas, citizens are generally uninformed or misinformed. They also incorrectly thought that spending has declined in recent years.

Kansas school standards

Last summer Kansas schools received a waiver from participating in the No Child Left Behind program. KSDE reported: “Another key component of the state’s waiver is related to evaluating teachers and school leaders. Among the criteria for achieving a waiver request was implementing an evaluation system that includes student achievement as a significant factor in the evaluation. The Kansas plan calls for appointing a commission to identify the most effective means of tying student achievement to teacher and leader evaluations and building that into the existing Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP).”

Many people would be surprised to learn that student achievement has not been the primary factor used in evaluating teachers in Kansas. This is one of the reasons why Kansas has been found to rank low in policies on teacher quality.

Last year Kansas school superintendents wrote an op-ed proclaiming the high standards and performance of Kansas schools. But what Kansans ought to take notice of is the superintendents’ claim in this sentence: “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.”

The truth is that when compared to other states, Kansas has low standards.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has analyzed state standards, and we can see that Kansas has standards that are below most states. The table of figures is available at Estimated NAEP scale equivalent scores for state proficiency standards, for reading and mathematics in 2009, by grade and state. An analysis of these tables by the Kansas Policy Institute shows that few states have standards below the Kansas standards.

This table is from KPI’s report in 2012 titled Removing Barriers to Better Public Education: Analyzing the facts about student achievement and school spending.

The conclusion by NCES is “… most states’ proficiency standards are at or below NAEP’s definition of Basic performance.” KPI, based on simple analysis of the NCES data, concluded: “Kansas is one of those states, with its Reading Proficiency standard set lower than what the U.S. Department of Education considers Basic performance. Math Proficiency levels are above what NAEP considers to be Basic but still well below the U.S. standard for Proficient.”

Should we spend more on Kansas schools?

Education is vitally important, school officials tell us. They’re right — and that’s why the education of Kansas schoolchildren is too important to be exclusively in the hands of government.

The school finance lawsuits illustrate this. Suppose that the court is right, and that increased spending will fix the problems with schools. How many years will pass before the solution is implemented? And even if we immediately start spending more, do we really think it will improve student outcomes, in light of our past experience?

The solution for Kansas schoolchildren is increased school choice, through charter schools and either vouchers or tax credit scholarships. This is what we are missing in Kansas. With greater choices available to students and parents, there will be less need for government oversight of schools and all the bickering that accompanies decisions made through the political process.

This is the reform that will most help Kansas schoolchildren. It will cost less and improve outcomes. It doesn’t require fleets of education bureaucrats and stacks of plans and regulations. But it does require the school establishment to give up some power and their stranglehold on the use of public funds for schools.

Unfortunately, we’re not moving in that direction in Kansas. Recently in Wichita, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback had two opportunities to promote school choice in Kansas. On the Joseph Ashby radio program he was asked about school choice, but wouldn’t commit to it as a priority.

Later that day at the Wichita Pachyderm Club a similar question was asked, and again Brownback wouldn’t commit to school choice. The focus right now is efficiency and to get fourth grade reading levels up, Brownback said. He added that about 28 percent of fourth graders can’t read at basic level, which he described as a “real problem. If you can’t read, the world starts really shrinking around you.”

It’s a mystery why Governor Brownback hasn’t made school choice a priority in Kansas. Many governors are doing that and instituting other wide-reaching reforms.

Ignore this Kansas school spending, please

The reaction to a survey regarding Kansas school spending is useful for two reasons: It lets us gauge the level of knowledge of the public, and it also tells us the extent to which school spending advocates will go to justify and excuse spending.

The latest example comes from Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). It’s in response to a survey commissioned by Kansas Policy Institute which asked the public a series of questions on schools and spending. (See Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending.)

A key finding is that most people think that schools spend much less than actual spending, and by a large margin. Further, most people think spending has declined, when in fact it has risen. These finding are similar to other research commissioned by KPI, and additional surveys by other organizations at the national level.

Not surprisingly, when citizens and taxpayers learn the true level of school spending, their attitude towards school spending changes. That’s dangerous to school spending advocates. It diminishes their most compelling arguments for more school spending — “it’s for the kids.”

So the school spending lobby has to explain — rather, make excuses for — the high level of spending. In this case, the school board association would like you to ignore employee pension costs and the costs of buildings and equipment. Here’s what KASB explains as part of a document titled Questions about recent Kansas Policy Institute survey:

Finally, districts received $690 per pupil in KPERS contributions for district employees, and districts spent $2,320 for capital costs such as buildings and equipment, payments on construction bonds for new schools, and other local revenues like student fees. None of these funds — almost 25 percent of total revenues — can be spent for regular education operating costs.

That’s right. The Kansas Association of School Boards recommends that Kansas taxpayers discount school spending by 25 percent. Why? Because that spending is for pensions (KPERS) and buildings (and swimming pools, tennis courts, and artificial turf for athletic fields).

This argument is disingenuous, to say the least. Pension costs are part of the cost of having employees, just as are salary, the employee portion of payroll taxes, and health insurance. That is, unless schools want to stop providing pensions for their employees, in which case they might have trouble recruiting employees, or they might have to pay more in salary so that employees could provide for their own retirement.

These personnel costs are indeed “regular education operating costs,” despite the claim of KASB.

Then, KASB wants you to ignore “payments on construction bonds for new schools,” as these are not “regular education operating costs.” KASB is correct. These costs are capital, not operating.

But when campaigning for new bond issues, school districts tell voters that this spending is absolutely necessary. The kids must have new buildings and facilities, say the school spending advocates.

But when it comes time to pay off the bonds — well, just sweep that spending under the rug, say school spending boosters.

Role of government in Kansas schools deflects attention from solutions

Focus on two Kansas school efficiency panels, school spending, and the surrounding politics is deflecting attention away from what Kansas schoolchildren and parents really need: Choice.

As part of an effort to increase the efficiency of Kansas public schools, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced an online portal for reporting inefficiencies. People may remain anonymous if the want. To view the form or report an inefficiency, click on Kansas school efficiency task force inefficiency form.

Here’s an example to get started: I have received several letters from the Wichita School District using priority mail — an expensive service — to me one sheet of paper. Other government agencies are content to deliver similar correspondence by email.

This effort, like the Kansas school efficiency task force itself has been harshly criticized by those in the school system. An example from Twitter yesterday is this: “Another Brownback salvo against public education. An insult to all KS schools. Red meat for the uneducated.”

In response to the governor’s task force, another has been created by KASB, the Kansas Association of School Boards. Its purpose, as described in Topeka Capital-Journal reporting, is to “to analyze options available to local district officials to maximize educational return on investments in K-12 public schools.”

One might think that the prime mission of a school board advocacy group would already be to “maximize educational return on investments.” What could be more important when considering the lives of Kansas schoolchildren and the plight of taxpayers?

But I guess schools have to be prodded a bit. Does anyone notice the irony: Those already in charge of Kansas public schools have had the power to implement efficiency measures. They don’t need permission or a task force.

There’s an incongruity here. On one hand, the public schools are (almost) entirely dependent on tax revenue for their funding. But public school officials object to the term “government schools.” In an email from Wichita School District Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart to Wichita school employees during the 2008 bond issue campaign, he took issue with those who, using his words, “openly refer to public education as ‘government schools.'” To him, this is something that shouldn’t be mentioned.

I don’t blame them. Last year ABC News reported on the low opinion Americans have of government: “Only 26 percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’re optimistic about ‘our system of government and how well it works,’ down 7 points since October to the fewest in surveys dating to 1974. Almost as many, 23 percent, are pessimistic, the closest these measures ever have come. The rest, a record high, are ‘uncertain’ about the system.”

Schools want (what they consider) the good things about government — people being forced to pay taxes to support them — while at the same time they try to avoid the justifiably low esteem in which people hold government programs.

Governmental decisions are made through our political system — that is, unless we want to cede total control to bureaucrats. So we can’t keep politics out of school decisions as long as they are government schools. In today’s Wichita Eagle editorial writer Phillip Brownlee expressed concern for the role of politics in schools, especially surrounding the governor’s efficiency task force, concluding: “Though politics are swirling around the task force, it still may be able to come up with some good suggestions for reducing overhead without harming educational outcomes. If it does, great.” (Eagle editorial: School task force has rocky start)

I don’t think Brownlee meant to perform this public service, but his editorial is an example of why we need less government involvement in education. Our government — excuse me, public — schools are one of the most powerful ways through which civil society is destroyed. In the process, we replace the innovation and creativity of free markets and economic freedom with moribund governmental programs for our children.

As an example, take the controversy over what percent of school spending should go into the classroom. This is one of the motivating factors behind the school efficiency task force.

But consider this: Do we worry about how much the grocery store spends on administration versus other expenses? Do we quarrel over the number of assembly workers vs. managers at a manufacturing company?

Of course we don’t, at least we who don’t own these organizations. Instead, we recognize that these business firms operate in a competitive environment. That competition is a powerful force that motivates them to find the right mix of management and other expenses, or at least a good mix.

We also recognize that there are different types of grocery stores. Some offer more customer service than others. People are free to choose which type of store they like best, even on different days.

Schools in Kansas, however, face few competitive forces. There is little incentive for the public schools to find the right mix of spending, or to increase efficiency, or to offer the wide variety of choice that we have come to expect in the private sector. (It also seems that we’re failing to consider that different types of schools might work best with different mixes of classroom and other spending.)

This is what we are missing in Kansas. With greater choices available to students and parents, there will be less need for government oversight of schools and all the bickering that accompanies decisions made through the political process.

Unfortunately, we’re not moving in that direction in Kansas. Last week in Wichita, Governor Brownback had two opportunities to promote school choice in Kansas. On the Joseph Ashby radio program he was asked about school choice, but wouldn’t commit to it as a priority.

Later that day at the Wichita Pachyderm Club a similar question was asked, and again Brownback wouldn’t commit to school choice. The focus right now is efficiency and to get fourth grade reading levels up, Brownback said. He added that about 28 percent of fourth graders can’t read at basic level, which he described as a “real problem. If you can’t read, the world starts really shrinking around you.”

It’s a mystery why Governor Brownback hasn’t made school choice a priority in Kansas. Many governors are doing that and instituting other wide-reaching reforms.

Another Kansas school efficiency task force

Why is this news? “The association representing Kansas school boards Wednesday formed a committee to analyze options available to local district officials to maximize educational return on investments in K-12 public schools.” (KASB creates panel to study K-12 school efficiency, Topeka Capital-Journal.)

KASB is the Kansas Association of School Boards. One might think that their prime mission is to “maximize educational return on investments.” What could be more important when considering the lives of Kansas schoolchildren and the plight of taxpayers?

It’s likely that this panel has been formed in response to a school efficiency task force created by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. That task force has been criticized by the public school establishment for lack of educators in its membership.

So now a panel of educators has been formed to examine efficiency in school spending. Does anyone notice the irony: Those already running the Kansas public school system have had the power to implement efficiency measures. They don’t need permission or a task force.

The governor’s task force met this week. The presentation from Kansas Policy Institute is here.

Some highlights of the presentation include slides 10 and 11, which show that the ACT composite score didn’t really decline in 2012. Instead, the demographic weighting shifted. In fact, says KPI president Dave Trabert, “The composite score has been flat for several years and the last time it dropped (applying the 2012 demographic weighting to actual scores) was in 2009 when K-12 funding per-pupil (total and state) peaked. So much for the KASB theory that budget cuts caused ACT scores to decline.”

As Trabert noted, demographics play a large role in understanding student achievement. See my article Kansas school test scores should make us think for an explanation of how Simpson’s Paradox masks the problem with Kansas student test scores.

Slides 13 and 14 compare state assessment scores and state aid, again demonstrating that there is no correlation (let alone causation) between achievement and spending changes. Slide 17 shows that despite the claims of massive cuts to education, taxpayer funding of public education set a new record in 2012. Slide 18 breaks down state aid into several components, proving that simple comparisons of base state aid are quite deceptive.

Slide 42 tells a particularly compelling story: The less that districts spend per-pupil on administration, the more they spend on student and staff support (except for the five largest districts, but even there, higher spending per-pupil is associated with a wider gap on support spending). This shows that efficiency is not just about saving money. It’s also a way to put resources to more productive uses.

Kansas K-12 Efficiency Task Force: Spending Facts and Efficiency Opportunities

Kansas school test scores should make us think

A publication by Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) touts “Kansas student proficiencies in reading and math have increased 40 percent over the past decade and exceed 80 percent at every level.”

Kansas public school officials also boast that Kansas does well compared to other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), called the “nation’s report card.”

But the confidence of Kansas public school leaders has been shaken a bit with the recent release of test results for the recent school year. Results are down. The Kansas Commissioner of Education will form a task force to investigate. Already excuses are being proffered, with some officials saying they always knew that scores would reach a plateau.

(Later it was discovered that the reported decline was due to a mistake in tabulating results, and that overall, test scores were mostly unchanged.)

While Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker is conducting an investigation, here’s two questions she ought to ask.

One: Why have scores on Kansas assessments risen, while scores on the NAEP haven’t? Some know the answer, but it would be refreshing to hear the bureaucracy admit it: The Kansas State Department of Education has lowered standards on the tests it controls. When a state board of education member tries to ask questions about this, he isn’t allowed to have his questions answered.

Second question: Let’s understand why Kansas NAEP scores are high, relative to other states. Here’s a table comparing Kansas with Texas (shaded cells indicate the state with the highest score):

Notice that for all students, Kansas has the highest scores, except for one tie. But when we look at subgroups, all the sudden the picture is different: Texas has the best scores in all cases, except for two ties.

How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.” (When Combined Data Reveal the Flaw of Averages: In a Statistical Anomaly Dubbed Simpson’s Paradox, Aggregated Numbers Obscure Trends in Job Market, Medicine and Baseball.)

In this case, the confounding factor is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of white students. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 32 percent.

Texas, by the way, spends much less per student, and has a higher pupil/teacher ratio.

Kansas liberals and those who support more spending on schools say we don’t want to be like Texas. I wonder if they are aware of Simpson’s Paradox.

Will DeBacker and her task force will be interested in the answers to these questions? Kansans should be, especially as we wait the verdict on the school finance trial.

Steve Rose defends Kansas school spending

Attitudes toward Kansas public schools, or facts about them: Which is most important? For boosters of the Kansas school spending establishment, attitude is all that matters. The actual facts about Kansas schools — if we were honest enough to recognize and confront them — need not be considered.

Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose is a case in point. His recent op-ed Negative attitude toward public schools is scary is scary itself for its vigorous and misinformed defense of a system that isn’t working very well for Kansas schoolchildren.

Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert left this comment to Rose’s article:

It’s quite telling that your basis for saying schools operate very efficiently and spending has only kept up with inflation is a lobbying group that advocates for more spending rather that actual figures from the Dept. of Education of the state budget office.

Here are the facts according to official government data for the period 2001 to 2011:

  • Inflation was 24.2% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Midwest Urban Cities)
  • FTE enrollment increased 1.8% (KSDE)
  • Taxpayer support of public education increased 55.8%; state aid +37.6%, federal +155.4% and local +67%. (KSDE)
  • 2012 is expected to be a record-setting year for taxpayer support of public education, at $5.672 billion (KSDE)

Here are a few more facts that, like those listed above, are not generally known to the public and are routinely denied by education officials.

  • $402 million more in state and local aid was not spent between 2005 and 2011 but was used to increase operating cash reserves (KSDE)
  • Instruction spending per-pupil increased 84% between 1999 and 2011 (KSDE) while inflation was up only 32% (BLS)
  • Taxpayer support of public education in Kansas increased from $3.1 billion in 1998 to $5.6 billion in 2011 (KSDE) yet student proficiency levels are well below 50% (US Dept. of Ed.)

Telling parents the inconvenient truth is not attacking schools, teachers or anyone else. It is giving them the facts they need to make fully informed decisions about what needs to be done to improve public education.

Kansas Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook was mentioned in the Rose op-ed and offered this response:

In his commentary on my response to a candidate survey from Americans for Prosperity at www.afpks.org, Steve Rose used the term “hogwash” to describe this statement, with which I agreed: “Parents, teachers, and taxpayers should have a transparent system so they know how much money is being spent in each school and school district.” He stressed that I had put the statement in bold-face type.

It’s a bold-faced belief. Repeatedly, I have heard frustration from parents, teachers and taxpayers who say they do not know how tax money is being spent. This is especially true in education, which represents a huge investment by the taxpayers of Kansas. I agree with Mr. Rose that “how much” is being spent at the school district level is a matter of public record. However, what is not known is how much is being spent at “each school,” and more precisely, “how it is being spent” at each school. Individual schools have substantial budgets. How much ends up in the classroom? How much goes to fund lobbying for more money by the school administration? How much goes to fund activities and programs that are more properly described as something other than education?

It is important to remember that school based budgeting not only exposes inefficiencies and problems but it also highlights positive areas, as well. However, without the information, we are not fully equipped to make informed decisions regarding our schools. Parents, teachers, and taxpayers should have a transparent system so they can have more input over local school decisions. Mr. Rose thinks that kind of information is “hogwash.” This will come as a surprise to many of his readers, no doubt.

On the bright side, it is amusing that Mr. Rose quotes “facts” from the Kansas Association of School Boards, a lobbyist group that continually insists on tax increases and demands more funding without any accountability for public education, while at the same time saying that my figures “came right out of the conservative propaganda.” Actually, the data I used came from the Kansas State Department of Education.

Maybe Mr. Rose forgot that just a few years ago the Shawnee Mission School District dropped its membership with the KASB because the KASB uses taxpayers’ money to continually lobby against local control, something many taxpayers think is urgently needed for schools in Johnson County.

Mr. Rose’s bogeymen-of-the-moment, “ultra-conservatives Charles and David Koch of Wichita,” have never lobbied the state of Kansas for any special interest money that would benefit only themselves, their companies or their industry. In my experience, their interest is advocating tax policies that would be beneficial to every Kansas citizen.

I typically bold-face responses in questionnaires and surveys to help distinguish between my response and the questions offered. It’s a formatting choice, not a rhetorical weapon. But in this case, let me use boldface to reiterate a very simple point: I believe parents, teachers, and taxpayers should have a transparent system so they know how much money is being spent in each school and school district.

If Mr. Rose believes otherwise, he can boldface his “hogwash” as much as he likes. After all, it’s his ink — and his hogwash.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday April 23, 2012

This week is … Administrative Professionals week in Kansas. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued this proclamation, so evidently time spent on things like this is a proper and valid function of government. We ought to end these proclamations by government at all levels. … At Wichita City Council meetings there have been cases where the meaningful business of the council has not started until nearly one hour after the start of the meeting. The hour has been consumed by proclamations, awards, remarks by council members, etc. While this happens, citizens with business before the council wait. And wait. They’re wasting their time and money. Their attorneys, representatives, or employees may be there with them, racking up legal bills and wasting time and money while listening to the mayor or other official read proclamations. … These proclamations are also more about promoting the wholesomeness and goodness of government than anything else.

Taxpayer-funded lobbying. It’s one thing when private citizens or groups ask for more government spending. But when Kansans’ tax dollars are being spent to ask for more spending — that’s another thing, and a practice that should end. Here’s an example from the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). According to IRS Form 990 filings, KASB receives over $2 million in membership dues from school boards each year, money raised through taxation. Astonishingly, those same filings indicate that KASB spends no money on political lobbying. Astonishing because Mark Tallman, officially described on the KASB website as “associate executive director/advocacy,” is always described as “lobbyist” everywhere else.

American Exceptionalism to be topic. This Friday (April 27th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr., Professor of Finance, Friends University, speaking on “The Open Minded Roots of American Exceptionalism, and the Decline of America’s Greatness.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … The club has an exceptional lineup of future speakers as follows: On May 4th: United States Senator Jerry Moran speaking on “A legislative update.” … On May 11th: Gary Oborny, Chairman/CEO Occidental Management and Real Estate Development, CCIM Designated member of the Storm Water Advisory Board to the City of Wichita, speaking on “What is the economic impact of EPA mandates on storm water quality in Wichita?” … On May 18th: Paul Soutar, Reporter for Kansas Watchdog, speaking on “The evolution of journalism and how the new media empowers citizens.” … On May 25th: Ron Estes, State Treasurer of Kansas, speaking on “A report from the Kansas Treasurer.”

Kill the messenger. The Kansas government school establishment rallies: “Last Wednesday, April 18, the Wichita Eagle editorial page made an outrageously false claim about Kansas Policy Institute, saying we were ‘playing fast and loose’ with the truth. Our crime? We have a fact-based opinion with which they disagree! We asked for an immediate meeting to make our case and request a retraction, but the Opinion Page Editor, Phillip Brownlee, said he wasn’t available until next week but didn’t a meeting was really necessary, saying ‘It’s just that The Eagle editorial board (and the Kansas Dept. of Ed., school districts, and many other observers) thinks the ads are misleading.’… The Eagle editorial board, KSDE, local districts and others don’t like the ads because they disclosed that proficiency does not require full comprehension of grade-appropriate material.” More from Kansas Policy Institute at Attempting to Kill the Messenger .

The Kansas Policy Institute advertisement. Since the Wichita Eagle editorial board did not think it necessary to meet with its representatives, on Sunday the Kansas Policy Institute placed an advertisement in response to a Rhonda Holman editorial. An important fact that Kansans need to understand is that school spending is increasing, despite the claims of the Kansas public school establishment: “And while you may have been told that total funding for schools was reduced this year, the truth is that KSDE estimates that 2012 spending will reach a record $5.7 billion. Some people would have you believe that the growth in total spending is deceptive because not all spending goes into the classroom, but the truth is that Instructional spending has increased at an even faster rate than total spending! Instructional spending increased 87% between 1999 and 2011; that is more than double the combined rates of increase in inflation and enrollment.” The advertisement may be viewed here: One Goal — Different Views.

Holman on Kansas school spending. Here’s a sample as to just how bad the Rhonda Holman editorial is on the facts. She writes: “… despite state per-pupil base aid having been slashed to 1999 levels.” Most people don’t know that “base aid” is only one component of Kansas school spending. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. After weightings are applied, most school districts receive much more funding than the base aid figure. The Wichita school district, for example, received $6,511 per pupil from the state at a time when base state aid was $4,012. Also, look at the total spending picture: From 1999 to last year, Wichita school spending jumped from $336 million to over $604 million. State aid to this district increased from $200 million to $328 million over the same time. Why doesn’t Holman uses the total spending figures, or even the total state aid numbers? Answer: These facts are inconvenient for her.

Kansas school establishment defenders: the video

A video criticizing the Kansas Policy Institute for placing a series of ads in Kansas newspapers claims KPI “conceals” and “ignores” facts and statistics. But I didn’t have to work very hard to find many gross and blatant mistakes, distortions, and coverups in the video — the same problems found in much of the communications of the Kansas public school spending bureaucracy and establishment.

One slide in the video says this: “The numbers in those expensive, state-wide ads from the KPI only count ‘A’ or ‘B’ levels of performance as passing. KPI’s numbers conceal the wide range of students who score ‘proficient.’ By KPI’s logic, ‘C’ = FAILURE.”

First, the KPI ads don’t claim that Kansas schools are failing. KPI called attention to the actual level of achievement in Kansas schools, and chose to use a different measure of what is acceptable than does the Kansas public school education establishment. But instead of defending their low standards, public school defenders attack KPI.

But the real problem with the claim made in this portion of the video is a blatant misuse of the KSDE data: The performance levels KSDE uses do not correspond to letter grades. A document on the KSDE website says this: “When assigning performance levels for the State assessment, please consider the following suggestions … The performance levels do not correspond to grades (i.e. A, B, C, D, F).”

Despite this warning, the video mischaracterizes KSDE data.

Another claim made in the video mistakenly applies Kansas state assessment data. Here’s what the video says: “Actual achievement data from the KSDE shows that since 2003, 27% more students in Kansas have become proficient or better in reading; 36% more students have become proficient or better in math.”

The problem is that in 2006 Kansas implemented new tests, and the state specifically warns that comparisons with previous years — like 2003 — are not valid. A KSDE document titled Kansas Assessments in Reading and Mathematics 2006 Technical Manual states so explicitly: “As the baseline year of the new round of assessments, the Spring 2006 administration incorporated important changes from prior KAMM assessments administered in the 2000 — 2005 testing cycle. Curriculum standards and targets for the assessments were changed, test specifications revised, and assessed grade levels expanded to include students in grades 3-8 and one grade level in high school. In effect, no comparison to past student, building, district, or state performance should be made.” (emphasis added.)

Despite this KSDE warning, the video makes the invalid statistical comparison. By the way, so does Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker, when she recently wrote this on the editorial page of the Wichita Eagle: “Since 2001, the percentage of students statewide who perform in the top three levels on state reading assessments has jumped from about 60 percent to more than 87 percent. In math, the jump has been from just more than 54 percent to nearly 85 percent.”

A criticism the video makes several times is that KPI statistics do not present the entire story. For example, several times the video points with great pride to the performance on Kansas students on the ACT test, proclaiming “Kansas’ teachers consistently prepare their students for college, more so than most states in the US.” The video then presents several slides of statistics.

Missing, however, is this sobering statistic: Only 28 percent of Kansas students who take the ACT are ready for college-level work in all four subjects the ACT test covers. While this result is slightly better than the national average, it means that nearly three-fourths of Kansas high school graduates need to take one or more remedial college courses. This statistic was not reported in the video, and we can easily see why the Kansas public school establishment doesn’t want you to know this. See Kansas students, while improving, are mostly not ready for college.

As another example, the video reports on the scores of Kansas students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Looking at the gross scores, Kansas does well, compared to other states. But you don’t have to look very hard to realize that these scores are a statistical accident. It’s an unfortunate fact that minority students do not perform as well on these tests as white students. When you combine this with the fact that Kansas has a relatively small minority population, we can see an explanation as to why Kansas ranks well.

But compare Kansas with Texas, a state that Kansas school spending boosters like to deride as a state with low-performing schools (the video does not make this claim). In Kansas 69 percent of students are white, while in Texas that number is 33 percent. So it’s not surprising that overall, Kansas outperforms Texas (with one tie) when considering all students in four important areas: fourth and eighth grade reading, and fourth and eighth grade math.

But looking at Hispanic students only, Texas beats or ties Kansas in these four areas. For black students, Texas bests Kansas in all four.

By the way, the video relies on NAEP data to compare the achievement of Kansas students with those in other states. But the video doesn’t address this very important issue: Kansas NAEP scores are largely unchanged at the same time scores on Kansas tests are rising — “jumping,” in the words of the Kansas Commissioner of Education.

Another problem: “Kansas teachers will continue to help their students succeed. … Even though Base State Aid Per Pupil hasn’t kept up with cost increases.” The implication is that Kansas schools are not funded adequately.

The problem here, again, is failing to look at the total picture. It’s true that base state aid per pupil has declined. Looking at total spending, however, the same trend does not apply. Total spending by schools in Kansas has risen rapidly for many years, but has fallen flat and declined slightly the past two years. In 2001 spending was $3.7 billion, while in 2010 it was $5.6 billion.

Considering state spending only: $2.2 billion in 2001, increasing to $3.0 billion in 2010. State aid had reached a high of $3.3 billion in 2008. See Kansas school spending facts ignored by many for charts.

This deception when discussing school spending is widespread, so it’s not surprising to see it repeated in this video. See Kansas school spending: the deception for a discussion of how Mark Desetti, who is Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, uses these numbers to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

We expect this deceptive behavior from union officials. Newspaper editorial writers, however, ought to be held to a higher standard. But: A recent Lawrence Journal-World editorial contained “In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780.” And writing in the Wichita Eagle, Rhonda Holman complained of “several years of cuts totaling $653 per pupil.” (Reason to be wary, December 16 Wichita Eagle) Actual facts do not support these claims.

And teachers? They ought to held to an even higher standard. So Kansans might be surprised to learn that this video — replete of the same problems it purports to expose — was created by a Kansas schoolteacher: Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, a teacher in the Hays public schools.

In Kansas, public school establishment attacks high standards

When a Kansas public policy think tank placed ads in Kansas newspapers calling attention to the performance of Kansas schools, the public school establishment didn’t like it. The defense of the Kansas school status quo, especially that coming from Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker, ought to cause Kansans to examine the motives of the public school spending establishment and their ability to be truthful about Kansas schools.

As an example, an ad placed by the Kansas Policy Institute in the Topeka Capital-Journal had a table of figures with the heading “2011 State Assessment Results: Percent of 11th Grade Students who Read Grade-Appropriate Material with Full Comprehension; Are Usually Accurate on All Grade-Level Math Tasks.” For the Topeka school district, the number given for reading was 36 percent, and for math, 26 percent.

The publicity given to these low numbers raised the hackles of the Kansas public school spending establishment. Here’s the nut of the disagreement:

When Kansas schoolchildren are tested using the Kansas state tests, results are categorized into one of five categories: Exemplary, exceeds standards, meets standards, approaches standard, and academic warning. Each of these categories has a definition. In its ads, KPI chose to present the number of students who fall into the two highest categories. The Kansas school bureaucracy argues that KPI should have also included students in the third category.

So what do these performance categories mean? “Exemplary,” according to Kansas State Department of Education documents, means just that: “A student scoring at the exemplary level always performs consistently and accurately when working on all grade-level mathematical tasks.”

“Exceeds standards,” for eleventh grade math, means: “A student scoring at the exceeds standard level usually performs consistently and accurately when working on all grade-level mathematical tasks.” In further detail, the standard uses these phrases: “The student demonstrates well-developed content knowledge and application skills … The student is accurate … The student usually uses multiple problem-solving techniques to accurately solve …”

“Meets standards,” again for eleventh grade math, means: “A student scoring at the meets standard level usually performs consistently and accurately when working on most grade-level mathematical tasks.” More detail includes “The student demonstrates sufficient content knowledge and application skills … The student usually understands and uses … The student is usually accurate when … The student uses some problem-solving techniques to accurately solve …”

What we’ve learned is that the Kansas public school establishment wants Kansans to be proud of the number of students who are sufficient, who usually understand, and are able to use some problem-solving techniques.

KPI, on the other hand, wants to call attention to the much smaller number of students whose knowledge is well-developed, who are accurate, and usually uses multiple problem-solving techniques. This level of achievement sounds like what parents want for their children.

If we’re concerned about our national security, we need more students to be in the two highest categories of achievement. That’s right — a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations concludes that U.S. schools are so bad that they pose a threat to national security.

For calling on Kansans to insist on high standards for their public schools, KPI has been attacked by the public school establishment, most notably from the teachers union president and other union officials.

It’s one thing for union officials to defend the current system of public education. Their job is to deflect attention from the truth in order to defend a system that is run for the benefit of adults, not children and taxpayers.

But you’d expect more from the Kansas Commissioner of Education, wouldn’t you?

Not if the commissioner is Diane DeBacker. She took to the editorial page of the Wichita Eagle to defend the status quo in Kansas public education. Her defense centers primarily around the “process.” There are experts in education, she says, who create the system of assessments and determine the level of performance that we ought to be satisfied with for Kansas schoolchildren.

The problem is that nearly everyone who looks at U.S. and Kansas schools who is not part of the public school establishment finds that schools are not performing well. Can everyone but education school establishment experts be wrong?

That’s what Debacker wants us to believe.

DeBacker writes that she is proud of student achievement in Kansas: “Since 2001, the percentage of students statewide who perform in the top three levels on state reading assessments has jumped from about 60 percent to more than 87 percent. In math, the jump has been from just more than 54 percent to nearly 85 percent.”

This rise in performance, however, is only on tests that the Kansas education establishment controls. On every measure of student performance that I know of that is independent, this rising trend in student achievement does not appear. In some measures, for some recent years, the performance of Kansas students has declined.

Instead of facing this reality, the Kansas public school spending establishment would rather attack the integrity of the Kansas Policy Institute. This is on top of constant advocacy — including multiple lawsuits — for more spending on public schools. This establishment also beats back any attempts to introduce competition and accountability to Kansas public schools through school choice programs.

Again, this is to be expected from union officials and other partisans. Their job is to direct as much spending as possible into Kansas public schools while shielding schools from meaningful accountability. If Kansans became aware of the true performance of their public schools and how much they cost, these officials wouldn’t be doing their jobs.

But DeBacker, the Commissioner of Education, ought to hold herself and her profession to a different — higher — standard. For defending the current system against those who tell the truth and advocate for higher standards, she should apologize, to students first and Kansans second.

In Kansas, school reform not on the plate

Conventional wisdom this year is that Kansas is struggling with a plan for school reform. The reality, however, is that the state is merely considering a change in how to pay for its schools.

No actual reform of what happens within the schools is contemplated, except that schools might have more flexibility in how to spend their funds. A recent plan to spend more on schools over the next two years doesn’t count as reform, as it merely allows schools to do more of the same.

As Kansas struggles to find funding for its public schools and other functions of government, we’re losing an opportunity to examine our schools and see if they’re performing as well as they should, both financially and academically. Here are some actual reform measures not being discussed on a widespread basis.

School choice

Across the country, charter schools and school choice programs are offering choice and improved educational outcomes to families. While Kansas has charter schools, the charter school law in Kansas is one of the weakest in the nation, and virtually guarantees that public schools won’t face much meaningful competition from charters.

School choice in the form of vouchers or tax credits doesn’t exist in Kansas. As a result, Kansas public schools face very little of the competitive forces that have been found to spur public schools to improvement across the country.

School choice programs save money, too. In 2007, the The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. According to the executive summary: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.”

Kansas is overlooking several reforms that would increase freedom and educational opportunity and would save money at the same time.

Accountability with teeth

Recently former Florida Governor Jeb Bush explained the accountability measures that have produced great success in Florida. Measures including grading individual schools from “A” to “F,” ending social promotion, and school choice programs, which help all schools: “Choice is the catalytic converter here, accelerating the benefits of other education reforms. Almost 300,000 students opt for one of these alternatives, and research from the Manhattan Institute, Cornell and Harvard shows that Florida’s public schools have improved in the face of competition provided by the many school-choice programs.”

Teacher quality policies

Recently Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality spoke in Wichita and addressed Kansas policies regarding teacher quality. Our policies rank below the average for all states. More information from Jacob’s presentation is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

Fund balances

The Kansas Policy Institute has found that Kansas schools are sitting on fund balances of over $700 million that could be used to make it through a tough budget year.

School spending advocates dispute this. But Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis agrees with KPI President Dave Trabert that these fund balances could be used — if the schools wanted to.

Chief school spending lobbyist Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) has argued that “many of the funds Trabert labels reserves are restricted or necessary to cover costs before government payments are received.”

That’s true. But this argument, just like a faulty op-ed written by Kansas school board member David Dennis, says nothing about whether the balances in these funds are too high, too low, or just right.

The evidence we do have tells us that the balances in these funds are more than needed, because they’ve been growing rapidly. The only way the fund balances can grow is if schools aren’t spending the money as fast as it’s going in the funds.

Focus on what works

Class size, merit pay, salary scales, unions, teacher experience and education, certification: all need to be examined to make sure that schools make decisions based on what works. We find, however, that school districts resist reforms. As a monopoly shielded from significant competition, Kansas public schools face little pressure to reform.

Consider class size, something that the education bureaucracy says is of utmost importance, and one of the primary reasons given for school bond issues. What the school spending lobby won’t realize is that class size is not important. Instead, the quality of teachers is much more important. Writes education researcher Eric Hanushek: “Much of the work that I have done has focused on teacher effectiveness. From this research I have concluded that teacher quality is the most important factor in determining how well a school will do. … Teacher quality is not captured by typically discussed characteristics of teachers such as master’s degrees, teaching experience, or even certification — things that states typically monitor. Requiring such things unrelated to student performance dilutes accountability and detracts from things that would make them more effective.”

Consider the harm of union work rules: When private sector companies are forced to layoff employees, they may use the opportunity to shed their lower-performing employees first. Government schools, governed by union contracts like the one in Wichita, can’t do this. They must dismiss the teachers with least seniority first. While this might seem like a good way to keep the best teachers, it turns out that experience is only a minor factor in teacher quality.

Test scores

Are Kansas test scores a reliable and valid measure of student achievement? The test scores that school spending advocates use — tests administered by the state of Kansas — are almost certainly misleading. The basic problem is that scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show achievement by Kansas students largely unchanged in recent years. This is at the same time that scores on tests given by the Kansas education establishment show large improvements. We need to investigate so that we understand the source of this difference. The Kansas education bureaucracy resists such efforts.

The cost of a suitable education

The issue of what an education in Kansas should cost is again being examined by courts. This should provide an opportunity to examine the cost studies used by the court. The Kansas Policy Institute has published Kansas Primer on Education Funding: Volume II Analysis of Montoy vs. State of Kansas, which provides useful criticism and perspective of the cost studies used.

Alternative remedies

Besides ordering increased spending, courts should consider alternative remedies. These might take the form of increased opportunities for parents to escape failing public schools. An example is the parent trigger. This mechanism allows parents to force radical change on a school through the petition process.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday January 30, 2012

Kansas school forum. Tomorrow (January 31st) Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute and Mark Tallman of Kansas Association of School Boards will participate in a town hall meeting with the subject being Kansas schools. The meeting is at 7:00 pm at the Central Branch Wichita Public Library at 223 S. Main.

Ambassador Hotel to be subject of discussion. This Friday (February 3rd) the Wichita Pachyderm Club will host a forum or discussion on the February 28th election, which lets voters decide whether the Ambassador Hotel gets to keep 75 percent of its guest tax collections. I (Bob Weeks) will present for the “Vote No” side. Many invitations have been extended, but so far no one is willing to represent the “Vote Yes” side. If you know of anyone who would participate for the “Vote Yes” side, please contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. Upcoming speakers: On February 10th: Debra Ary, P.E., Superintendent Production and Pumping, Wichita Water Utilities, speaking on “An overview of Wichita’s water plan for the future.” Then from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm interested Pachyderm Club members and guests are invited to take a guided tour of the City of Wichita ASR (Aquifer Storage and Recovery) site. The address of the ASR plant is 11511 N. 119th St. W., Sedgwick, KS. Click here for a Google map. … On February 17th: Richard Ranzau, Sedgwick County Commissioner, 4th District, speaking on “The $1.5 million Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) HUD Sustainable Development Planning Grant. Economic Development or Economic Destruction?” … On February 24th: A Face-to-Face Forum with Kansas Congressional delegation staff members: Melvin “Mel” Thompson, State Agriculture Representative, Senator Pat Roberts; Mike Zamrzla, Deputy State Director, Senator Jerry Moran; Lea Stueve, District Director, Congressman Mike Pompeo. Topic: “Learn what is happening and likely to happen in the nation’s capitol.”

Capital gains tax rate. e21 has written an excellent explanation as to why the 15 percent tax on capital gains does not tell the entire story. Considering that capital gains are taxed twice, the true rate of taxation is 44.75 percent, which is much higher than the top income tax rate, and higher than the corporate tax rate. The full explanation is at Capital Gains Tax Rates Are Higher Than You Think, and Getting Higher.

Kan-ed audit. Kan-ed is a state-run network designed “to provide broadband Internet access and distance learning capabilities for schools, hospitals, and libraries.” Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit has just released an audit of this program. Among the audit’s findings: “Although the Kan-ed network is connected to the Internet, it is a very slow and expensive way of providing Internet access. … Most connected members need commercial Internet access or no Internet connection at all. … Kan-ed could save up to $2 million a year by switching slightly more than half of members to commercial Internet and disconnecting others.” And finally, a conclusion that reminds us of why government spending is almost always wasteful: “Kan-ed has done a poor job of monitoring network connections to ensure members actually need them and has rarely disconnected unneeded connections.” The audit highlights are at Kansas Board of Regents: Evaluating the Effects of Eliminating the Kan-ed Program, and the full audit report is here.

Huelskamp and Sharpton. Last week U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, appeared on the MSNBC television program PoliticsNation. Huelskamp’s office writes: “Congressman Huelskamp engaged the Rev. Al Sharpton over the issue of current tax rates and whether or not it’s ‘fair’ that millionaires and billionaires are allegedly taxed at a lower rate than others. The Congressman argued that the top 1% pay the plurality of all taxes in America, and that the real issue is promoting opportunity and not class envy, citing that his constituents tend to care more about having the ability to find a job and make it on their own rather than what their neighbors’ incomes may or may not be.” I would say that Sharpton has a peculiar — and harmful — idea of what constitutes fairness. Video is at Promoting Opportunity, Not Class Envy.

Education reform blog started. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has started a blog focusing on education reform, a subject the foundation has great experience in. A pres release announces: “As efforts to reform education and improve learning spring up across the nation, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice announced a new on-line information hub for advocates, parents and concerned citizens: the Friedman Flyer. The Friedman Flyer, FriedmanFlyer.com, will advance Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all with daily updates on news and lively discussion centering on education reform and school choice.”

Super PACs. Are the new Super PACs a problem? No, write Nick Gillespie and Meredith Bragg of Reason. Here’s why: “Billionaires don’t need them to influence elections, Super PACS go negative — and that’s a good thing!, and Super PACS take power away from the parties.” More at 3 Reasons Not To Get Worked Up Over Super PACs.

Kansas Speaker: Schools don’t spend all they have

Based on choices that many school districts have made in response to legislation giving them flexibility to spend fund balances, Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal questions whether a school funding crisis actually exists.

O’Neal, a Republican from Hutchinson, addressed members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club at its regular Friday luncheon meeting. He started his talk by giving a quick history of recent Kansas school finances, especially litigation.

In 2005 there was the Montoy II ruling, which resulted in a special session of the legislature in response to a ruling of the Kansas Supreme Court. O’Neal described this as “nearly a constitutional meltdown,” because the was not a party to the lawsuit, but the Court ordered the Legislature to appropriate a specific amount of money to schools, or schools would close. O’Neal said this was an unconstitutional usurpation of the separation of powers.

Nonetheless, the Legislature did respond to the Court’s order and agreed to spend as directed.

O’Neal cited two provisions in the Kansas Constitution that relate to spending and education. One, Article 2, Section 24, states: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury except in pursuance of a specific appropriation made by law.” The other is Article 6, Section 6(b), which reads: “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

Before Montoy II, this had been interpreted to require an appropriate and equitable mechanism for distributing available funds be in place. But after Montoy II, the Court interpreted this clause to apply to adequacy, that is, the Court can determine whether enough money is being spent on education.

O’Neal said there are now two pending amendments to the Kansas Constitution. One would make it clear that the Supreme Court can’t order an appropriation, and the other is a clarification to the “suitable provision” clause. “It’s trying to keep courts out of the business of education and school finance funding, and putting it in the hands of those who are elected and closest to the people,” O’Neal told the audience.

After this review of school finance litigation, O’Neal switched to the topic of whether schools are underfunded, as is the claim of the education community.

The claims of the school spending lobby are that the cuts are “devastating,” O’Neal said. But the facts, he said, do not support this contention. Since 2005 schools have enjoyed “a pretty healthy increase in funding.” The cuts that we hear about, he said, are not cuts in the sense that most people would use. Instead, there have been reductions in the amount of annual increases that have been experienced.

O’Neal said that during the last legislative session he spent a great deal of time investigating the status of school funding. He also said he tried to give schools authority to utilize funds in a way that would help address any funding crisis. He was aided by the Kansas Commissioner of Education, and also the Assistant Commissioner.

O’Neal said there are about 28 separate funds related to school funding. The Legislature created many of these in an effort to track how appropriated funds are being spent. One — the contingency reserve fund — is generally thought of as the primary reserve fund for schools.

At the end of 2011, the balance in all funds was $1.7 billion, O’Neal said, emphasizing the “b” in “billion.” He said this is a substantial increase over the prior year. Some of these funds are encumbered or spoken for, he said. In an effort to be fair, an analysis removed items like bond and interest and KPERS obligations. Taking away everything that could be argued as encumbered, O’Neal said there was still $640 million.

These balances are not distributed evenly across school districts, he added.

Referring to the 2005 Montoy decision, O’Neal said that the Court said the school finance formula distributed funds equitably, but there was not enough money in the pot. Noting the irony, he said “I would respectfully suggest today, based upon our analysis, that the Court not only got it wrong, but it was completely opposite. Why do we have a situation where some school districts have zero, with very conservative administration and management, and we have other schools districts that are sitting on tons of reserves.”

Using the Wichita school district as an example, he said the unencumbered balances are $39 million.

O’Neal asked the Kansas Department of Education this question: “Is this money that should be available to schools, and should they be utilizing that to educate Johnny and Susie?”

The answer he received was yes: There are funds, other than the contingency reserve fund, that have balances that ought to be available.

O’Neal said the analysis didn’t consider fund balances only at a particular point in time, but looked at the trend in balances over a period of five years. These balances, he said, are increasing over time, and at a “pretty hefty rate.”

The balances in some funds — he mentioned special education and at-risk — are growing rapidly. This, he said, is an indication that schools can’t spend all the money the state has sent. “But, it’s a devastating situation nevertheless, according to the education community.”

In response to recent cuts in Kansas base state aid per pupil funding, O’Neal said in 2011 the Legislature passed a bill giving school districts authority to spend up to $154 million to back-fill losses in base state aid. KNEA — the teachers union — and the Kansas Association of School Boards approved the bill.

But O’Neal said he was terribly disappointed in the result. Only 77 school districts (Kansas has nearly 300 districts) elected to spend any of the fund balances. The total amount involved was $23.4 million, which O’Neal said was 15 percent of the total authority granted by the Legislature, and a much smaller fraction of the total unencumbered fund balances.

Based on this, O’Neal questioned whether school funding is really inadequate. He said that schools could use these fund balances to compensate for cuts in base state aid, and could avoid laying off teachers. But many districts chose not to spend fund balances.

Regarding the ending balances in the Kansas general fund, O’Neal said there will be calls to spend more on education. “My question becomes: If you’re not spending the money you have already, why do you want the state to spend down its reserves, and send you more money that’s likely only to end up increasing some of your ending balances.”

School choice savings not being considered in Kansas

According to the reporting surrounding the revision of the Kansas school finance formula, Kansas is overlooking a sure way to save money and improve Kansas schools: widespread school choice.

While proponents of public school spending argue that school choice programs drain away dollars from what they claim are needy, underfunded public schools, this is not the case.

In 2007 The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. According to the executive summary: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.”

How can this be? The public school spending lobby, which in Kansas is primarily the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), would have us believe that educational freedom would kill public education. They say that school choice program drain scarce resources from the public school system.

But when researchers looked at the actual effects, they found this: “In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state’s formula spending per student. This means states are spending the same amount or less on students in school choice programs than they would have spent on the same students if they had attended public schools, producing a fiscal savings.”

So at the state level, school choice programs save money. They don’t cost money to implement; they save money.

Further research on school choice programs funded through tax credits confirms this.

At the local level, schools districts have more money, on a per-student basis, when school choice programs are used: “When a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels. Thus, school choice produces a positive fiscal impact for school districts as well as for state budgets.”

But according to news reports, the Brownback administration is not proposing school choice programs — not even an expansion of charter schools — as a solution to school finance.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday September 9, 2011

A citizen call to action. This month’s meeting of Americans for Prosperity, Kansas focuses on the Douglas Place project in downtown Wichita. Event organizers write: “On September 13, 2011 the Wichita City Council will be holding a public hearing to consider approval of millions of dollars of public incentives being offered to the downtown Douglas Place project developers. Monday’s meeting will have these topics: Learn about the incentive programs being offered. … Learn and consider getting involved in this issue as a citizen. … Consider testifying before the City Council. … Attend the council meeting to show your support for other speakers. … Please attend and participate in a group discussion to share ideas on how you can make a positive difference in local city government. … Presenters include Bob Weeks, Susan Estes, and John Todd.” This free event is Monday September 12th from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. The event’s sponsor is Americans for Prosperity, Kansas. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Troubles with Kansas City tax increment financing. I think the problems in Kansas City are larger than what we have in Wichita. But then, Wichita hasn’t relied on TIF as much as Kansas City has. But plans for the revitalization of downtown Wichita call for its expanded use. We need to be cautious, as Jon N. Hall explains in Creative Destruction in Kansas City?

Effects of stimulus on hiring. A new paper from the Mercatus Center sheds light on the effects of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as ARRA, also known as the stimulus bill, and one of the first legislative initiatives by President Obama. “In an effort to boost hiring and job creation and to invest in a variety of domestic infrastructure programs, Congress passed and the president signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly known as the economic stimulus package, in 2009. ARRA represented one of the largest peacetime fiscal stimulus packages in American history. But little is known about the ways in which organizations and workers responded to the incentives created by the bill.” Among the report’s findings: “Hiring isn’t the same as net job creation. In our survey, just 42.1 percent of the workers hired at ARRA-receiving organizations after January 31, 2009, were unemployed at the time they were hired (Appendix C). More were hired directly from other organizations (47.3 percent of post-ARRA workers), while a handful came from school (6.5%) or from outside the labor force (4.1%)(Figure 2). Thus, there was an almost even split between “job creating” and “job switching.” This suggests just how hard it is for Keynesian job creation to work in a modern, expertise-based economy: even in a weak economy, organizations hired the employed about as often as the unemployed.” See Did Stimulus Dollars Hire the Unemployed? for the full report.

Kansas education summit. On Thursday September 15th, Kansas Policy Institute is holding a summit on education in Kansas. In its announcement, KPI writes: “Kansas can expand educational opportunities for students in need — even in our current economic climate. Join a “Who’s Who” of the nation’s education reformers in a discussion on how Kansas can give every student an effective education. … Invited participants include Gov. Sam Brownback, the Kansas Department of Education, Kansas National Education Association, Kansas Association of School Boards, state legislators, and other public education stakeholders.” … KPI notes that we increased total aid to Kansas public schools by $1.2 billion between 2005 and 2011, that 25 percent of Kansas students are unable to read at grade level. The event will be held at the Holiday Inn & Suites, Overland Park West. The cost is $35, which includes breakfast and lunch for the all-day event. … RSVPs are requested. For more information, click on Kansas Policy Institute Education Summit.

Why should conservatives like libertarian ideas? From LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies: “Are you a conservative? If so, Dr. Stephen Davies provides a few compelling reasons to consider libertarianism. For instance, conservatives tend to prefer institutions that have been tried and trusted, and want to maintain and uphold a traditionally established way of life. They also typically believe in an established or correct moral code. However, it does not logically follow that government should enforce all of these things. In fact, government enforcement of morals and traditions is often detrimental to both.”

Kansas school reform issues

As Kansas struggles to find funding for its public schools and other functions of government, we’re losing an opportunity to examine our schools and see if they’re performing as well as they should, both financially and academically. Here are some issues not being discussed on a widespread basis:

School choice

Across the country, charter schools and school choice programs are offering choice and improved educational outcomes to families. While Kansas has charter schools, the charter school law in Kansas is one of the weakest in the nation, and virtually guarantees that public schools won’t face much meaningful competition from charters.

School choice in the form of vouchers or tax credits doesn’t exist at all in Kansas. As a result, Kansas public schools face very little of the competitive forces that have been found to spur public schools to improvement across the country.

School choice programs save money, too. In 2007, the The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. According to the executive summary: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.”

Kansas is overlooking several reforms that would increase freedom and educational opportunity and would save money at the same time.

Accountability with teeth

Recently former Florida Governor Jeb Bush explained the accountability measures that have produced great success in Florida. Measures including grading individual schools from “A” to “F,” ending social promotion, and school choice programs, which help all schools: “Choice is the catalytic converter here, accelerating the benefits of other education reforms. Almost 300,000 students opt for one of these alternatives, and research from the Manhattan Institute, Cornell and Harvard shows that Florida’s public schools have improved in the face of competition provided by the many school-choice programs.”

Teacher quality policies

Recently Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality spoke in Wichita and addressed Kansas policies regarding teacher quality. Our policies rank below the average for all states. More information from Jacob’s presentation is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

Fund balances

The Kansas Policy Institute has found that Kansas schools are sitting on fund balances of over $700 million that could be used to make it through a tough budget year.

School spending advocates dispute this. But Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis agrees with KPI President Dave Trabert that these fund balances could be used — if the schools wanted to.

Chief school spending lobbyist Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) has argued that “many of the funds Trabert labels reserves are restricted or necessary to cover costs before government payments are received.”

That’s true. But this argument, just like a faulty op-ed written by Kansas school board member David Dennis, says nothing about whether the balances in these funds are too high, too low, or just right.

The evidence we do have tells us that the balances in these funds are more than needed, because they’ve been growing rapidly. The only way the fund balances can grow is if schools aren’t spending the money as fast as it’s going in the funds.

Focus on what works

Class size, merit pay, salary scales, unions, teacher experience and education, certification: all need to be examined to make sure that schools make decisions based on what works. We find, however, that school districts resist reforms. As a monopoly shielded from significant competition, Kansas public schools face little pressure to reform.

Consider class size, something that the education bureaucracy says is of utmost importance, and one of the primary reasons given for school bond issues. What the school spending lobby won’t realize is that class size is not important. Instead, the quality of teachers is much more important. Writes education researcher Eric Hanushek: “Much of the work that I have done has focused on teacher effectiveness. From this research I have concluded that teacher quality is the most important factor in determining how well a school will do. … Teacher quality is not captured by typically discussed characteristics of teachers such as master’s degrees, teaching experience, or even certification — things that states typically monitor. Requiring such things unrelated to student performance dilutes accountability and detracts from things that would make them more effective.”

Consider the harm of union work rules: When private sector companies are forced to layoff employees, they may use the opportunity to shed their lower-performing employees first. Government schools, governed by union contracts like the one in Wichita, can’t do this. They must dismiss the teachers with least seniority first. While this might seem like a good way to keep the best teachers, it turns out that experience is only a minor factor in teacher quality.

Test scores

Are Kansas test scores a reliable and valid measure of student achievement? The test scores that school spending advocates use — tests administered by the state of Kansas — are almost certainly misleading. The basic problem is that scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show achievement by Kansas students largely unchanged in recent years. This is at the same time that scores on tests given by the Kansas education establishment show large improvements. We need to investigate so that we understand the source of this difference. The Kansas education bureaucracy resists such efforts.

The cost of a suitable education

The issue of what an education in Kansas should cost is again being examined by courts. This should provide an opportunity to examine the cost studies used by the court. The Kansas Policy Institute has published Kansas Primer on Education Funding: Volume II Analysis of Montoy vs. State of Kansas, which provides useful criticism and perspective of the cost studies used.

Alternative remedies

Besides ordering increased spending, courts should consider alternative remedies. These might take the form of increased opportunities for parents to escape failing public schools. An example is the parent trigger. This mechanism allows parents to force radical change on a school through the petition process.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 26, 2010

Bill Gates on school reform. Microsoft Chairman and founder Bill Gates, in an effort to help the states save money on schools, recently gave a speech, as reported by the New York Times: “He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.” This is a refreshing take on the issue of class size. For more background on these issues from Voice for Liberty, click on Focus on class size in Wichita leads to misspent resources, Wichita public school district’s path: not fruitful, In public schools, incentives matter, and Wichita school district policy is misguided. For what it’s worth, incoming Kansas governor Sam Brownback doesn’t seem to have these issues on his agenda for education reform.

Now the schools look for savings. The Lawrence Journal-World reports on an initiative to save on utility costs in the Lawrence public school system. “Teachers are unloading their refrigerators, flipping off computer monitors and unplugging their coffee pots — all to help the Lawrence school district save a few bucks over the Thanksgiving break. It’s all part of an ongoing program to trim utility costs, thus far saving the district at least $3.6 million.” I wonder: why hasn’t the school district been doing this already? This is more evidence that spending can be cut in ways that won’t harm children, despite the shrill claims of school spending advocates when they, like Wichita Representative Jim Ward or outgoing governor Mark Parkinson, claim that spending has already been “cut to the bone.” Lawrence, USD 497, contributed to the 2005 Kansas schools lawsuit, but is not a member of this year’s group suing taxpayers for more money. Give a small measure of credit to this district, that they’re trying to cut costs first instead of suing taxpayers.

Business climate under Brownback. A poll by the Wichita Business Journal indicates that Kansans think the state’s business climate will improve under incoming governor Sam Brownback — barely. 53 percent of respondents clicked on “Yes, it will get better.” The rest thought the business climate will remain the same or get worse. This is not a scientific poll, but represents the sentiment of those readers who chose to participate.

The parent trigger. A law in California allows parents whose children are in failing public schools to petition the school to become a charter school, close down, other undergo other reform. Called the “parent trigger,” the law was promoted from the political left, unlike most reform proposals which come from the political right. The Center for School Reform at the Heartland Institute explains in the policy brief The Parent Trigger: A Model for Transforming Education. As the full report states: “America’s $400 billion public education system exists primarily to serve grown-ups — bureaucrats, unions, and other special interests — not kids.” The primary opposition to this measure comes from — naturally — the teachers union: “Because many parents will likely choose to have their schools convert to charters and most charter schools are not unionized, powerful unions like the California Teachers Association view parental empowerment as a threat.” Anyone who has read much about school reform knows that the teachers unions and schools spending advocacy groups are the greatest threat to any meaningful reform. In Kansas, the two groups that consistently oppose meaningful reform are Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

Public or private parks? John Stossel asks whether parks should be public or privately owned. A video clip shows several interviewees insisting that parks must be public. Unknowing to these people, they were all interviewed in a privately-owned park. In this video clip, Stossel explains the tragedy of the commons and the benefits of private property. His written article concludes: “What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there’s a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.”

Kansas Rep. Jim Morrison. Kansas Representative Jim Morrison of Colby has died. Services are pending.

Kansas City Mayor not happy with job poaching. The flow of jobs from Kansas City Missouri across the border to Kansas needs to stop, says Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser. The Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program is to blame, he says. This program allows companies to use nearly all the payroll withholding taxes its employees pay for its own benefit instead of supporting the Kansas budget. In urging Missouri to step up its ability to offer incentives, Funhouser used the term “nuclear deterrence.” He seems to indicate that the ability of one state to counter another state’s incentives might stop companies from moving just to get incentives. See Kansas City Star article Loss of jobs to Kansas irks Kansas City’s mayor. It’s a little ironic to hear Missouri complain about generous Kansas incentives, as Kansas politicians like Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often complain about the incentives other states offer that Kansas can’t match, and how they wish they had other “tools in the toolbox.” Also, Star columnist Mary Sanchez is wrong when she writes “Present-day market realities call for upfront capital incentives for companies to relocate.”

Kansas school spending advocates sue; opportunity for reform is overlooked

Lost in the news last week was the announcement of a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against Kansas taxpayers in order to gain more funding for public schools. But now that the election is over, Kansans are starting to turn their attention to this lawsuit. So far, the discussion is missing something that could solve our problems without spending any additional money.

In its search to find a solution to the problem of funding its government schools, Kansas is overlooking a sure solution: widespread school choice.

While proponents of public school spending argue that school choice programs drain away dollars from needy, underfunded public schools, this is not the case.

In 2007 The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. According to the executive summary: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.”

How can this be? The public school spending lobby, which in Kansas is primarily the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), would have us believe that educational freedom would kill public education. They say that school choice program drain scarce resources from the public school system.

But when researchers looked at the actual effects, they found this: “In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state’s formula spending per student. This means states are spending the same amount or less on students in school choice programs than they would have spent on the same students if they had attended public schools, producing a fiscal savings.”

So at the state level, school choice programs save money. They don’t cost money to implement; they save money.

At the local level, schools districts have more money, on a per-student basis, when school choice programs are used: “When a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels. Thus, school choice produces a positive fiscal impact for school districts as well as for state budgets.”

The problem is that while school choice programs save money for the state and its taxpayers, it reduces money flowing to the public, or government, schools. School spending advocates don’t like that. While these advocates, such as Mark Tallman, assistant executive director of the KASB, present themselves as advocates for Kansas schoolchildren, their true function is to direct as much spending as possible to Kansas public schools.

If we need evidence of the never-ending appetite of schools for money and what spending advocates like Tallman consider their mission, consider a story told by Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) of a conversation he had with Tallman: “During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, ‘Of course, that’s my job.'”

Besides full-fledged school choice, charter schools save money too. Kansas has one of the weakest charter school laws in the nation, described by the Center for Education Reform as a “law in name only.” As a result, there are very few charter schools in Kansas. That’s the way Tallman and other Kansas school spending advocates like it.

What is the outlook for the future? So far, I am not aware of any legislators who are proposing school choice or charter school legislation. While incoming governor Sam Brownback had an education plan as part of his campaign, he did not campaign on charter schools or teacher merit pay. School choice was not mentioned, either.

The danger over the next few years is that Kansas will waste its time fussing over a school financing formula that, in the end, still funds a government school monopoly at the exclusion of choice, even the mildest form of choice: charter schools. Consequently Kansas misses out on the improvement and diversity that choice brings. Brownback and the new conservative legislators should take this opportunity to radically reform Kansas education.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday October 10, 2010

Countryman back on air: Gene Countryman, host of a long-running radio show that went off the air earlier this year, returns to the airwaves tonight with the Gene Countryman Show. The new show airs Sunday evenings from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on KNSS Radio 1330 AM.

Koch article criticism: Andrew Ferguson, media critic for Commentary, provides a critical look at the left-wing hysteria over Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Magazine “exposé” of Charles Koch, David Koch, and Koch Industries. Best quote: “The only support in Mayer’s article for this extravagant charge comes from second-hand assertions, usually in quotes from the brothers’ critics. Many are anonymous. Others are incompletely identified. Conservative think tanks and activists are carefully pinned with the ideological tag; liberal think tanks and left-wing activists are, well, just think tanks and activists.”

Who wins here? Letter from Pat Risley in Wichita Eagle: “Westar is requesting approval to recover direct costs and lost revenues associated with the implementation of the SimpleSavings program. Basically, it means that as homes become more energy-efficient, the lost revenues to Westar would be passed on to all Westar customers.” I thought we were all supposed to win with conservation measures. At its core, I imagine this has something to do with Westar being a regulated utility, rather than operating in a free market for energy.

‘Down-ballot’ races also are important this year: Writing in the Wichita Eagle, Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis discusses the “minor” statewide races in Kansas this year. Minor perhaps in terms of the public policy impact of some of these offices, but not for some of the candidates. Writes Loomis: “Beyond the races themselves, these statewide offices offer the real pathways for advancing to the governorship or Congress.”

Informed choice: The Lawrence Journal-World notes the lack of debates in this election season, both statewide and local: “The near lack of joint debate or forum appearances by the two major party candidates for Kansas governor has drawn considerable attention across the state, but the gubernatorial candidates aren’t the only ones opting out of such events. The unwillingness of candidates to participate in voter education events is reaching all the way to the local level.” An exception might be the Kansas fourth district. Raj Goyle’s events page lists several past and upcoming forums and debates.

Equity in education? Ken Stephens of the Hutchinson News contributes a story looking at the Kansas school finance formula and the issues involved in its reform. It contains a rare piece of wisdom from school lobbyist Mark Tallman, who advocates for more school spending at any expense to the state. Stephens reports: “Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, once suggested that he would like to lock a group of the smartest superintendents in the state in a room to rewrite the formula. The kicker, though, would be that when they were done, all their names would be placed in a hat and their names would be randomly drawn to determine which district they would serve in the future. ‘So don’t write the formula for the district you’re in now,’ Tallman said. ‘Write a formula you think will work for whatever district.'” This reminds me of the wisdom of Walter E. Williams, who wrote “The kind of rules we should have are the kind that we’d make if our worst enemy were in charge.”

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line: “Thanks to the Sedgwick County commissioners for saving us from another tax-increment financing district. Wish the city had some backbone to do what is right for taxpayers.” … “Did anyone else notice that the Republicans’ Pledge to America didn’t include one word about earmarks and pork-barrel spending? I guess that’s just too much to ask.”

School choice solution to Kansas school funding

In its search to find a solution to the problem of funding its government schools, Kansas is overlooking a sure solution: widespread school choice.

While proponents of public school spending argue that school choice programs drain away dollars from needy, underfunded public schools, this is not the case.

In 2007 The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. According to the executive summary: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.”

How can this be? The public school spending lobby, which in Kansas is primarily the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), would have us believe that educational freedom would kill public education. They say that school choice program drain scarce resources from the public school system.

But when researchers looked at the actual effects, they found this: “In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state’s formula spending per student. This means states are spending the same amount or less on students in school choice programs than they would have spent on the same students if they had attended public schools, producing a fiscal savings.”

So at the state level, school choice programs save money. They don’t cost money to implement; they save money.

At the local level, schools districts have more money, on a per-student basis, when school choice programs are used: “When a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels. Thus, school choice produces a positive fiscal impact for school districts as well as for state budgets.”

According to news reports, no Kansas legislators are proposing school choice programs — not even an expansion of charter schools — as a solution to school finance. Sam Brownback, Republican candidate for governor, does not include school choice in his program to reform Kansas education. Democratic candidate Tom Holland proposes more spending on the current failing system.

Only Libertarian Party candidate Andrew Gray proposes school choice, through the Kansas Education Liberty Act.

Economic competition isn’t a sporting contest

Last week USA Today carried an editorial by an Alexandria, Virginia school teacher that contains an unfortunate misunderstanding of the term competition as it applies to economics and education.

The writer is Patrick Welsh, who is a member of member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors. The article is Schools can’t manage poverty.

In the article, Welsh makes one of the most inept analogies that I’ve ever seen. Here’s the heart of it:

Being an English teacher, I prepared a little analogy to ask him about the rationale for labeling schools on the basis of Adequate Yearly Progress. Duncan’s biographies often mention that he was co-captain of the Harvard basketball team during the 1986-87 season, his senior year. I reminded him that that team won only seven games and lost 17. Such a record, I told Duncan, was the mark of a “persistently low achieving” team, which made no “annual yearly progress.” I meant the analogy to be humorous, but teachers sitting near Duncan said he didn’t seem to take it that way.

I went on to say that I assumed Duncan and his teammates did the best they could with the talent they had, and that no matter what improvements they tried to make, it would be foolish to think their team could ever reach the highest benchmark in college basketball — the Final Four.

The ineptness is this: a basketball game is a competition that is designed to produce a winner and a loser (or maybe a tie in some sports). By definition — except for ties — there can’t be two winners. Someone has to lose.

But learning things in school is not a competition of the same type. When one student learns something (wins, in other words), it doesn’t mean that someone else doesn’t get to learn (loses). In fact, if everyone masters the lesson, then all students are winners, and there are no losers.

But maybe Welsh isn’t writing about that type of competition. He might be speaking of market competition. An example of this might be schools competing with other schools for students.

This type of competition doesn’t necessarily produce a winner and a loser. Explaining competition in the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Wolfgang Kasper explains one of the benefits of market competition:

Discovery. Human well-being can always be improved by new knowledge. Competitive rivalry among suppliers and buyers is a powerful incentive to search for knowledge. Self-interest motivates ceaseless, widespread, and often costly efforts to make the best use of one’s property and skills. Central planning by government and government provision are sometimes advocated as a better means of discovering new products and processes. However, experience has shown that central committees are not sufficiently motivated and simply cannot marshal all the complex, often petty, and widely dispersed knowledge needed for broad-based progress.

Competition inspires people to improve, while central planning is the opposite.

Applying this locally to Kansas: As Kansas has a very weak charter school law that requires charter school approval by local school boards, there are very few charter schools. Combined with the lack of school choice implemented through vouchers or tax credits in Kansas, local school districts face very little competition.

This lack of market competition means that Kansas schools do not benefit from the dynamic discovery process that market competition fosters. The beneficiaries of this are those who favor the status quo in the Kansas education establishment and bureaucracy, including the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). The losers are Kansas schoolchildren.

Americans believe teachers should be paid based on merit

A Gallup poll finds that Americans overwhelmingly believe that teacher salary should be paid “on the basis of the quality of his/her work.” 72 percent of public school parents believe this.

A related question asked “How closely should a teacher’s salary he tied to his/her students’ academic achievement?” 75 percent of public school parents answered either “very” or “somewhat closely tied.”

Then, 78 percent of parents answered “yes” to this question: “Do you have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools?”

Taken together, the responses to these question indicated that Americans like the people who teach their children, but may have a problem with public school administration and unions. After all, it’s administrators and unions that are responsible for the way teachers are paid. The unions vigorously resist any attempt at starting merit pay programs.

President Barack Obama has said that merit pay is important, but doesn’t seem to push it very hard. In Kansas, Republican candidate for governor Sam Brownback has proposed a master teacher program, which is a very weak form of merit pay.

Democratic candidate Tom Holland doesn’t mention teacher merit pay on his website. It would be surprising if he supported any ideas that the education establishment in Kansas opposes.

Libertarian Andrew Gray promotes the Kansas Education Liberty Act. This does not specifically mention teacher merit pay, but it proposes an expansion of school choice in Kansas. This means more charter and private schools, where teachers are usually paid based on merit.

Merit pay is important. Why? Research is conclusive in showing that teacher effects are the most important factor in student achievement that is under the control of schools. The best teachers need to be rewarded, and the worst ushered out of the field or into improvement programs.

The education establishment in Kansas, however, does not believe in this. Their prescription is more of the same: more spending, more buildings, and basing pay on measures that have been shown to have little or no significance to quality teaching: longevity and education credentials gained.

As the Gallup poll shows, Americans like their teachers but believe they should be paid based on merit, just like almost all other workers. It’s the education establishment that stands in the way of meaningful reform. In Kansas the two most prominent faces of the education establishment and maintaining the failing status quo are the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

Kansas ‘pigs at the trough’ award goes to …

Last week the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) made a presentation on Kansas school finance in Wichita. KASB is making similar presentations around the state. Mark Tallman, Assistant Executive Director/Advocacy for KASB, made the Wichita presentation.

At the end of the presentation, Wichita school board member Connie Dietz stepped forward and addressed Tallman. She asked Diane Gjerstad, the Wichita school district’s lobbyist to join them at the front.

Dietz said that earlier this year, an organization had labeled schools as “pigs at the trough.” Saying she is speaking for herself only and not on behalf of any organization, Dietz noted that “Mark is our lead lobbyist for K-12 education, and Diane represents Wichita Public Schools.” She presented both with a memento that had something to do with pigs and oinking.

While most in the audience were amused — it consisted mostly of school spending advocates — Dietz may want to remember that it was Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson who first used the word “pig.” It’s explained in my article Kansas Governor, Wichita Eagle: why ‘pigs’ at the trough? A short version of it appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Schoolchildren, of course, aren’t pigs at the trough, no matter what the governor, the Wichita Eagle, and Connie Dietz say. For one, children don’t make the decision to attend public (government) schools, as their parents make that decision for them. It is the schools themselves, specifically school spending advocates in the form of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union), the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), and school board members like Dietz that are feeding at the through.

Tallman, as Dietz noted, is the chief school spending advocate. (Let’s stop throwing insults like the governor did with the moniker “pig.”) It is his job to obtain as much money as possible for Kansas schools.

If we need any more evidence of the never-ending appetite of schools for money and what spending advocates like Tallman consider this mission, consider a story told by Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) of a conversation he had with Tallman: “During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, ‘Of course, that’s my job.'”

While presenting a humorous award made for a light ending to the meeting, the subject of public schools in Kansas is a serious matter. Tallman’s presentation — as does much of the school spending lobby — makes use of the rapidly rising scores on student achievement tests developed and administered by the State of Kansas. This allows him to present slides titled “Results of Increased Funding,” with one result being “Overall proficiency growth equaled or exceed the real increase in funding.” He cites a Kansas Legislative Post Audit study as authority.

The problem is that these Kansas state achievement tests, as is the case in many states, are almost certainly fraudulent. The rapid rise in scores is not duplicated on tests the state has no control over. Studies like the LPA study that use these misleading test scores are not reliable and should not be believed.

Looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we see a different story that’s in seeming conflict with Tallman’s assessment. On this test, which Kansas school officials can’t control, Kansas scores are largely flat. Sometimes they rise slowly and sometimes they fall.

The ACT college entrance exam provides another look at the performance of Kansas schools. A recent report shows that for the period 2005 to 2009, Kansas ACT scores are up a small amount. For the most recent years, scores are down very slightly. The Kansas scores are slightly higher than the scores for the entire nation, and have mirrored the national trend.

The most shocking part of the report, however, is how few Kansas students graduate from high school ready for college. While Kansas high school students perform slightly better than the nation, only 26 percent of Kansas students that take the ACT test are ready for college-level coursework in all four areas that ACT considers.

For school spending advocates like Tallman and Dietz — to the extent they care to read and believe these figures — this is evidence that schools need even more money. We ought to realize, however, that the system itself is broken. Reforms promoted over the generations by education bureaucrats have failed. We need to look to freedom, competition, entrepreneurship, and choice — rather than a government monopoly — to provide a suitable education for Kansas schoolchildren.

Kansas Governor, Wichita Eagle: why ‘pigs’ at the trough?

When the Kansas Chamber of Commerce recently referred to the need to control Kansas government spending and taxes, a few politicians and newspaper editorial writers embellished what the Chamber actually said in order to make their own political points.

Here’s what the Kansas Chamber said in its press release dated May 8:

“As of today, the legislature has failed to address the needs and wishes of the business community. It has instead catered to the needs of those at the government trough. The Kansas legislature has turned a deaf ear to the hard-working businessmen and women who have made the decision to invest in Kansas and provide jobs for our citizens. Instead of responsibly funding state government without raising taxes, a coalition of liberal House and Senate members have instead chosen to slash crucial services and push for a historic tax hike on Kansas families,” said Kansas Chamber President Kent Beisner.

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson, an advocate for greater government spending and taxing, seized this opportunity for political gamesmanship. His press release on May 10 stated “It is heartbreaking to think that somebody would equate the disabled, the elderly, school children, veterans, law enforcement and the poor to pigs at a trough.”

His message used the “pigs at a trough” symbolism several additional times.

The Governor’s use of the word “pigs” — inflammatory imagry, to say the least — started making the rounds. It was picked up by editorialists and other writers, including the Wichita Eagle’s opinion editor Phillip Brownlee. In his editorial Kids, disabled aren’t pigs at a trough (Wichita Eagle, May 13) Brownlee wrote: “So schoolchildren and individuals with disabilities are akin to pigs at a trough?”

Brownlee’s editorial starts by complaining that the Kansas Chamber used some “over-the-top rhetoric during the state budget debate.”

Well, the Kansas Chamber didn’t use the word “pigs.” That was the governor’s language, then repeated by liberal editorial writers like Brownlee and the Winfield Daily Courier’s David Seaton when he editorialized: “Efforts by the president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to characterize educators, the elderly, the disabled and public safety employees as pigs at ‘the government trough’ did not succeed.”

Since Governor Parkinson brought it up, we ought to think about it for a moment. Schoolchildren, of course, aren’t pigs at the trough, no matter what the governor and Wichita Eagle say. For one, children don’t make the decision to attend public (government) schools, as their parents make that decision for them. It is the schools themselves, specifically school spending advocates in the form of Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) that are the pigs.

If these school spending advocates were truly concerned about the education of Kansas schoolchildren, they would allow for government spending on education to be targeted at the child, to be spent wherever parents feel their children’s needs will best be met. But the school spending lobby in Kansas vigorously resists any challenge to their monopoly on public money for education, which reveals that they’re really more interested in spending on schools by any means, at any cost rather than on education.

If we need any more evidence of the never-ending appetite of schools for money, consider a story told by Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) of a conversation he had with Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards: “During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, ‘Of course, that’s my job.'”

The Eagle editorial mentions a number of local chambers of commerce that have split away from the state chamber. We should recognize that in many cases, local chambers have become boosters for big government taxes and spending. An article titled Tax Chambers by the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore explains the decline of local chambers of commerce: “The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda — but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They’re becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.”

This was certainly the case with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. Under its president Brian Derreberry, it had been in favor of increased government interventionism instead of free markets. An example was its support of proven fiscal conservative Karl Peterjohn’s opponent in the campaign for Sedgwick County Commissioner in 2008. In that campaign, the Wichita Chamber spent some $19,000 — 44% of all it spent on campaigns that year — on Peterjohn’s opponent, a small town mayor who had just increased taxes.

Last year the Wichita Chamber hired former Kansas House Member Jason Watkins to be its lobbyist. The hiring of Watkins, a fiscal conservative, seemed to signal a possible shift in the Wichita Chamber’s direction. The fact that the Wichita Chamber did not break away from the Kansas Chamber’s opposition to tax increases validates that perception.

We should also note that many of the goals of the Kansas Chamber, such as efficient government, reducing taxes, encouraging business investment and growth, and promoting economic growth in Kansas, are good for all Kansans, not just business. Even government employees — and the governor himself — must realize that government does not create wealth. Instead, it is business that creates wealth that provides for our standard of living. It is business that creates the economic activity that generates the tax revenue that makes government spending possible.

The Eagle’s repetition of the governor’s attack on the Kansas Chamber fits right in with its pro-government, anti-economic freedom agenda.

Andover schools label opponents ‘anti-education’

Are those who question or oppose the need for additional spending on Kansas schools opposed to education? Melinda Fritze, who is chair of the Andover Parent Legislative Council, says so. A recent email from her started like this:

Friends of Andover Schools,

The Legislature went back into session yesterday and the outcome of the state budget and school finance is still very much an unknown. The anti-education voices are strong and extremely well funded. These anti-education groups focus on the increases to school spending in Kansas since 2005.

In three sentences she manages to use the term “anti-education” twice.

One of the problems we have is that public school spending proponents are not able to distinguish between “education” and “government schools.” Lots of education happens outside the public school system. And let’s be clear: they are government schools, funded and regulated by government.

The government schools have also morphed into a government jobs program, with public-sector union organizers proud of their efforts in recruiting spending supporters to legislative forums. The fact that a union organizer would crow about this to the Wichita school board is evidence of this.

Fritze’s email talks about the “extremely well-funded” opponents of higher school spending. That’s quite ironic, as the opponents consist of a few individuals and two think tanks with a handful of employees each. The school spending lobby, usually considered the most powerful of all special interest groups at the Kansas Capitol, is able to employ several lobbyists who work full-time to increase school spending. The lobby has millions at its disposal, some of it provided by taxpayers.

The school spending lobby — composed primarily of Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) and Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) — will never be satisfied, either, as the following story shows:

So the rumors of school funding wars persist, with legislators and taxpayers asking “how much is enough?” and schools pressing for more money with no real end in sight. Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) shared with me a conversation he had with Mark Tallman, Assistant Executive Director/Advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), which illuminates the dynamics at play:

Early last session Mark Tallman and I engaged in a conversation about the budget and school spending. During the conversation the difficulty of increasing school spending as ‘required’ by Montoy was juxtaposed against the need to cut school spending by the same percentage as other portions of the State budget. During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, “Of course, that’s my job.”

Kansas school spending lobby impossible to satisfy

A new report by the Kansas Policy Institute provides some insight into the voracious appetite of the Kansas school spending lobby for taxpayer dollars: There’s never enough.

In A Kansas Primer on Education Funding, Volume III: Analysis of K-12 Spending in Kansas this story is told:

So the rumors of school funding wars persist, with legislators and taxpayers asking “how much is enough?” and schools pressing for more money with no real end in sight. Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) shared with me a conversation he had with Mark Tallman, Assistant Executive Director/Advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), which illuminates the dynamics at play:

Early last session Mark Tallman and I engaged in a conversation about the budget and school spending. During the conversation the difficulty of increasing school spending as ‘required’ by Montoy was juxtaposed against the need to cut school spending by the same percentage as other portions of the State budget. During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, “Of course, that’s my job.”

We’ve known for some time that the appetite for money by the school spending lobby can’t be satisfied. In 2007, when the Wichita school board voted to raise taxes I wrote this:

Lynn Rogers, then the USD 259 (the Wichita public school district) school board president, and Connie Dietz, then vice-president of the same body, attended. There had been a proposal to spend an additional $415 million over the next three years on schools. Asked if this would be enough to meet their needs, the Wichita school board members replied, “No.”

At least Rogers was not lying. Much more Kansas state spending than that was approved, and true to his word, the Wichita Board of Education still found it necessary this week to raise taxes so the public schools could have even more money.

Kansas school district consolidation, reorganization testimony heard

Last week the Kansas House Education Budget Committee heard testimony on HB 2728. The key provision of this bill is that Kansas school districts would be required to have a minimum of 10,000 students. It also requires conforming to a common chart of accounts, and that school finance information be placed on the internet.

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, a Democrat from Kansas City, testified as neutral on the bill. He said that Kansas is “bottom-heavy” in terms of the number of governmental units, and school districts are part of these. He said that in the business world, mergers and consolidations take place every day as companies seek to become stronger and more competitive. Voluntary consolidation can be haphazard. He advocated for a business-like approach.

Kansas State Board of Education Member Walt Chappell testified as a proponent of the bill. He said this is a time to “think outside the box.” We need to make good use of the limited resources we have, he said. This reorganization is not a new concept, he said, as it has been thought through for years.

“We’re in a real financial bind,” Chappell said. After Montoy (the Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2005 that ordered increased spending on schools), he said we’ve been spending more that we have revenue coming in. The Montoy spending amounted to an extra $1 billion, and that’s not sustainable. A second factor is that we’ve hired 6,000 new employees in Kansas school districts, with only 2,000 of those being teachers. He said that $587 million went to non-instructional staff.

Chappell said that the goal of the bill is not to close schools and shut down small towns. “We need to make best uses of the resources we already have.” The goal is to not duplicate administrative services and non-instructional activities and staff. We should reduce those expenses and put more money in the classroom for the teachers and the kids. This bill would would give students an opportunity for a balanced curriculum, with opportunities for vocational education or college prep. Teachers would be able to do just one or two class preparations instead of four or five. “Right now our teachers in small schools, many of them are stretched thin. They have to prepare for several different subjects in each day. It’s very hard for them.”

We’re trying to find a way to optimize instructional and non-instructional resources so that we don’t duplicate services, Chappell said. This could lead to savings of $300 million per year.

Chappell said that based on research from school superintendents who have examined this issue, savings are found not by closing schools, not by shutting down small Kansas towns, but by making sure that you don’t duplicate services and resources for administrative and non-instructional activities.

Chappell said that only about half of school district employees are teachers. By becoming more efficient in administrative tasks, more resources could be spent on teachers. Removing duplication of effort is the key to this goal.

The 10,000 student minimum size of the new school districts is important. There are many small school districts in Kansas, he said. A large district creates a large and sustainable tax base. Small school districts are not able to offer a sustainable curriculum. Large districts are also able to obtain the benefits of the division of labor. Finally, combining two very small districts to create a district that’s still very small doesn’t do much to realize the efficiencies of a larger district.

Chappell’s written testimony is available at Kansas School Reorganization Testimony.

Testifying as an opponent to this bill, Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist Mark Tallman said “School districts are not merely administrative units. They are units of government.” He expressed concern that the administrative office, where school board meetings are held, would be far away from many people.

Tallman showed a map of a hypothetical large district in northwestern Kansas, which he said would encompass 16,000 square miles. This district would lose $21 million in low-enrollment weighting. He presented evidence that the savings in administrative costs would not be large. He also said that since teachers in larger school districts are paid more, the teachers in the new, large districts would need to be paid more. He also said there’s no evidence that these larger districts would improve students achievement.

Linda Kenne, superintendent of the Victoria school system, said that the bill does not mention the word “child.” She urged the committee to replace the word “school district” with the word “children” in the proposed legislation, saying that this changes the connotation of the bill. She said that education is not an expense, it is an investment.

Bill Bohne, vice president of USD 449 school board (Easton, in Leavenworth County), said that the goal of consolidation is to save money, not improve education. He said that consolidation, in fact, will cost money. He referenced a Kansas Association of School Boards document that said that teacher pay will move to that of the highest district. Differences in the textbooks used will result in more cost.

He also claimed that the regional education service centers created by this bill would violate the Kansas Constitution, going so far as to say this bill makes local boards of education a “sham.” He also said that the accounting provisions of the bill would violate the Kansas Constitution. He said this about the changes: “In effect, you have removed us from the general supervision of the state board.”

Bohne said that his district has no desire to join with USD 453 (Leavenworth) schools, which he said has much lower performance.

In conclusion, Bohne stated: “Kansas public education has a national ranking many other states are envious of — we are ranked seventh in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) scores. And if we compare ourselves internationally, Kansas is ranked sixth in the world in fourth grade math and eighth in the world in 8th grade math.” He said that the future of our education is sacrificed by this bill.

In questions, Representative Gene Rardin asked Chappell about how his claimed savings of $300 million is more than a legislative post audit study said might be achieved. Chappell replied that the study looked at smaller levels of consolidation that what this current bill provides for. He also reiterated that the bill is not about closing schools. He said that the savings are in the areas of bus scheduling, payroll, food service, and maintenance of buildings, for example. He referred to the Kennedy and Little study, which found savings of $1,000 to $2,000 per student.

Chappell also said that the NAEP scores tell us that only one in three students are proficient, notwithstanding Bohne’s claim.

KASB’s Tallman backed up Bohne’s claim of the ranking of Kansas schools by citing an analysis that showed Kansas students doing very well compared to international students. Committee member Arlen Siegfreid made this remark about this claimed lofty performance of Kansas schools on the international stage: “I’m also a little amazed that we managed to lose a lawsuit on the suitability of funding of education while we’re hitting those numbers.”

Written testimony in support of this bill was provided by two former Kansas school officials, and is available at Morris L. Reeves testimony on Kansas School Reorganization and Gary W. Norris Testimony on Kansas School Reorganization .

Analysis

Tallman’s contention that school districts are “units of government” is at odds with most public school officials, who bristle at the use of the term “government schools.” This hearing also lets us know that KASB uses NAEP scores when it suits their cause. Otherwise, it dismisses them as not meaningful. The biggest problem for Kansas schools spending advocates is the discrepancy between the rapidly rising Kansas state assessment scores and the flat or slowly rising NAEP scores.

Bohne — the Easton school board member — made some claims about the constitutionality of the bill that are not reasonable, in my opinion. His claims that consolidation will increase cost instead of reducing it are not based on actual evidence.

Consolidation is a controversial issue, no doubt about it. The school spending lobby, lead by KASB’s Tallman and Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) resists any change, no matter how beneficial it might be. In the issue of KNEA’s Under the Dome Today that covered this hearing, we see the appeal to emotion instead of reason: “in northwest Kansas, 18 counties would need to merge together as one district!” The newsletter also asks: “which towns will die? How many hours will kids spend on buses? How many miles will our high school students have to drive to reach the new high school?”

Kansas advocates for disabled face well-funded challenger

Friday’s press event held by ACT (Advocates in Communities Team) of South Central Kansas provided an opportunity to learn about disabled Kansans and their families, and the challenges they face from reduced spending by the state.

The stories told at the event and in supplementary materials are compelling. If there is a role for government-provided services to those who can’t help themselves, these are the people.

But a problem that advocates for the disabled face is that the major recipient of Kansas general fund spending — that’s the K through 12 public school spending lobby — has enormous resources at its disposal. And it doesn’t like to share.

Legislators tell me that the budget this year is a battle between the school spending lobby and everyone else. I spoke to several advocates for the disabled, and they assured me that it’s not a battle between these two competing interests. But the schools have, so far, fared very well. Figures I obtained in December from the Kansas State Department of Education indicate that spending, on a per pupil basis, is estimated to drop by 3.43% for the current school year. That’s not a lot, despite the claims of the school spending lobby.

The school lobby is well-funded and the most powerful in the statehouse. The Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) has a political action committee, which spent, according to IRS filings, $344,941 on political activity in 2008. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. KNEA itself has revenue of over $8 million annually, and can afford to pay at least four employees salaries over $100,000.

KNEA’s sister organization — they share a well-paid lobbyist — the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) had revenues of $4,167,025 in 2007. It can afford to pay its executive director $201,927 in salary and benefits in 2007, along with an expense account of $11,331.

In addition, some school districts like Wichita USD 259 employ full-time lobbyists.

The primary purpose of these organizations and lobbyists is to keep the river of taxpayer money flowing to the government schools at the expense of everyone else, including disabled people and taxpayers. Even if a “revenue solution” (that’s a euphemism for a tax increase) is found, schools will be out front arguing that they should get the largest share.

Cuts to schools mean that parents might have to pay for schoolchildren to participate in athletics. It might mean that class sizes grow a little, which is not a bad thing, despite schools’ claims. The school districts that have passed bond issues might consider delaying their building booms a few years.

None of these things seem as important as care for the disabled in Kansas.

Kansas school spending advocates exaggerate employment losses

Yesterday I reported how Kansas school spending advocates lie about facts in order to score political points with their constituencies. Today we again see how the school spending lobby distorts facts, this time in a very substantial way concerning an important matter.

The Kansas Watchdog piece Debunking Education Employment Claims uncovers a significant gap between numbers self-reported by Kansas schools and numbers gathered by a different source.

The Kansas State Department of Education asked school districts how many employees they will cut for the current school year. The answer — 3,701 employees to be cut across the state — is widely cited by school spending advocates like the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) as evidence that public schools are making their share of cuts along with everyone else. Further, they say, more cuts will be harmful to the education of Kansas schoolchildren.

But evidence gathered by the Kansas Legislative Research Department finds that the actual decline in employment is only 875 jobs. That’s a lot different from 3,701.

The magnitude of this gap — the self-reported number is over four times the actual number — gives us yet another reason to carefully examine the facts that the school spending lobby produces and cites.

To Kansas school spending advocates, criticism comes fast and loose

As the debate over the funding of Kansas public schools goes on, sometimes facts get lost in the shuffle, and school spending advocates sometimes invent “facts” in order to score political points by criticizing those working to bring inconvenient facts to light.

Besides spending advocates, journalists can get caught up in this. In a recent news story in the Hays Daily News, the paper reported a claim made by Linda Kenne, Victoria USD 432 superintendent. Here it is:

One particular corporation seems to drive the efforts. Kenne said, “Koch Industries’ address is the same as the Kansas Policy Institute.” “Do you want the state to be owned by Koch Industries?” she asked.

The reporter of this story, Dawne Leiker, quoted a government official who said something. I guess that constitutes news. But responsible reporting and journalism requires that there be at least some factual basis underlying the statement, or the reporter needs to say so. In this case, the facts are that the two organizations do not share the same address.

It’s worth noting that Leiker writes for the leftist blogs Everyday Citizen and Kansas Free Press. At Everyday Citizen you may read her poem Ode to Conservatism, in which she likens conservatives to “pit bulls, bedecked with luscious lips” who are offended by the existence of poor people, and that opportunity goes to those who beg for it, presumably from rich conservatives.

It’s tempting to feel a little empathy for school spending advocates like superintendent Kenne, as Kansas Policy Institute has uncovered and given publicity to large fund balances that schools could be using if they want to. And it’s not just KPI that says so. Kansas Deputy Commissioner of Schools Dale Dennis agrees.

But that’s not an excuse for playing fast and loose with facts.

Kenne may be taking her cue from the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union). It, along with the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), is at the forefront of defending the status quo in Kansas public school spending — that being a rapid rise. Their lobbyists and publications also show little regard for facts when scoring political points by criticizing those who uncover facts inconvenient for them.

As an example, a recent edition of “Under the Dome Today” referred to the “Kansas Policy Institute whose board of directors includes Koch Industries executives.” The facts are that of the members of the KPI Board of Trustees, two are former Koch industries employees. Neither has worked there for many years.

Misreporting simple facts like this should give us reason to question the facts used to support their larger and more important arguments.

Underlying this is the puzzle as to why Wichita-based Koch Industries is the subject of so much criticism from Kansas school spending advocates. With some 2,100 employees in Wichita and owning a large amount of property, Koch Industries and its employees pay many millions in taxes that go to school districts and other functions of government.

The company is involved in other ways, too. In 1991, Charles and Elizabeth Koch founded (and a Koch Family Foundation continues to fund) Youth Entrepreneurs Kansas, which “teaches free enterprise fundamentals through hands-on experiences and encourages students to start their own business, enhance their business skills for future career opportunities and continue into higher education.” YEK is present in many Wichita and surrounding area public schools.

As another example of Koch Foundation generosity, a page on the Wichita public school website tells of Education EDGE Koch Focus mini-grants given to support classroom projects in several areas.

Further, a recent letter appearing in the Wichita Eagle told of this: “Thanks to the support of USD 259’s administration, the financial generosity of the Koch foundation, and the expertise of Gilder Lehrman and the Bill of Rights Institute, programs such as these are having a profound positive impact on history and civics education.”

We need to carefully examine the facts and arguments advanced by school spending advocates. They could also learn to say “thank you” now and then.

For Kansas teachers union, fund balances are an illusion, not a solution

Today’s edition of Under the Dome Today — that’s the house organ of the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) — contains a story with the headline “Anti-Government Group launches another attack on public education.”

A more accurate headline might read “School spending advocacy group refuses to acknowledge budget solution that Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis says could be used.” But that’s a tad wordy.

The headline is over a story reporting on Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert’s testimony to the Kansas House Appropriations Committee. In this testimony, according to the writer for the teachers union, Trabert “gave a presentation attacking the K-12 education system.”

KPI has found that Kansas schools are sitting on fund balances of some $700 million that could be used to make it through a tough budget year. Using these funds could let schools operate without making cuts to their budgets, and without increasing taxes or finding “revenue enhancements.”

School spending advocates dispute this. But Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis agrees with Trabert that these fund balances could be used — if the schools wanted to.

Schools, however, would rather find additional sources of revenues. Everyone else calls these taxes.

Chief school spending lobbyist Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) argued, according to the report, “many of the funds Trabert labels reserves are restricted or necessary to cover costs before government payments are received.”

That’s true. But this argument, just like a faulty op-ed written by Kansas school board member David Dennis, says nothing about whether the balances in these funds are too high, too low, or just right.

The evidence we do have — uncovered by KPI — tells us that the balances in these funds are more than needed. That’s because they’ve been growing rapidly, by 53 percent over the last four years. The only way the fund balances can grow is if schools aren’t spending the money as fast as it’s going in the funds.

Mentioning facts like this somehow, according to the Kansas teachers union, constitutes an attack on public schools.

Here’s a question that Kansans should insist that school spending advocates like the Kansas teachers union and the Kansas Association of School Boards answer: Why did all school districts in Kansas except four declined to participate in efficiency audits last year? That’s an attack on the Kansas taxpayer, and also on Kansas schoolchildren who aren’t benefiting from the inefficiencies these audits could reveal.

Kansas school spending advocates: no alternative views welcome

On Monday and Tuesday, the Kansas House Appropriations Committee held hearings, and big topics were Kansas school funding and the Kansas budget. The reaction by school spending advocates to two speakers is illustrative of the highly divisive nature of public school operation and funding in Kansas.

We need to label them school spending advocates — and government schools at that — because it is increasingly apparent that increasing school spending (or avoiding necessary reductions in spending) at the expense of all reason is their goal. Suggestions that schools should operate more efficiently or learn to live with a little less — as many Kansas families and businesses are doing — will result in attacks on the messenger, sometimes unnecessarily personal in nature.

Monday’s education-related testimony started with Kansas State Board of Education member Walt Chappell, followed by former Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins. My reporting of their testimony is at At House Appropriations, Chappell presents Kansas school funding ideas and Corkins testifies on school finance history, recommendations.

An example of the criticism made by government school spending advocates is that of Kathy Cook of Kansas Families for Education. In her newsletter she spoke of “Black Monday in Topeka,” writing “From House Appropriations to the Governor’s press briefing, it was nothing but bad news for our schools and our students. It was the longest drive home, and not without tears for all that is about to be lost for our kids.”

She made personal attacks on both Chappell and Corkins without making substantive criticism about their testimony.

At the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union), the “Under the Dome Today” newsletter carried a heading reading “Walt Chappell, Bob Corkins attack public education.” I heard no such attack from either speaker. They suggested ways that schools could operate differently to save money (Chappell) and to organize their reporting and accounting to better track spending and results (Corkins).

To the Kansas education establishment, evidently, these suggestions represent unwanted meddling in school affairs.

Reacting to the testimony of Chappell and Corkins, one leftist Kansas blog took the committee and its chairman to task for holding “a hearing that was lopsided even by Adolf Eichmann’s standards.” I was there for the entire afternoon, and after these two spoke, I heard three school district superintendents plea for more funds. Then, topping off the day was chief school spending and taxing advocate Mark Tallman, the lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). There was, believe me, much pleading for more school funding.

Some of the testimony was difficult to listen to. Fred Kaufman, superintendent of the Hays school system, said twice that there is no advocacy group for school administrators. I wonder if he has heard of United School Administrators of Kansas. This organization’s website describes itself as “a statewide ‘umbrella’ organization comprised of members of ten school administrator associations. We represent more than 2,000 individual administrators statewide.”

The backdrop of all this is that the actual decrease in Kansas school funding, when considering all sources of funding, is quite small. As of August — before the governor’s cuts on Monday — estimated Kansas school spending per pupil for the 2009 to 2010 school year, when considering all sources of school revenue, fell by only 0.64%. That’s quite a bit less than one percent. It’s a rounding error, a fluctuation that could also have been caused by events such as, say, a cold winter causing higher utility bills. It’s an event that should have no affect on the ability of the schools to educate children.

The reductions the governor made on Monday will increase the cut that schools will have to absorb. When considering this, it’s important to remember that schools fared much better than many state agencies this year. Schools still have a tremendous amount of money to work with, a fact that schools work hard to hide.

Strong evidence that schools have plenty of money is that fund balances have been increasing. The way that these funds — and we’re talking about nearly $700 million in operating funds, not capital funds — increase their balances is by more money going in than is spent.

The uncovering of the existence of these balances is strongly attacked by school spending advocates. Despite many school administrator’s claims, sunlight and transparency is not their goal.