Tag Archives: Kansas National Education Association

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 school finance lawsuit reaction

apple-chalkboard-booksFollowing is news coverage and reaction to the Kansas school finance lawsuit Luke Gannon, et al v. State of Kansas.

Press release from Kansas Supreme Court
The court declared certain school funding laws fail to provide equity in public education as required by the Kansas Constitution and returned the case to Shawnee County District Court to enforce the court’s holdings. The court further ordered the three-judge panel that presided over the trial of the case to reconsider whether school funding laws provide adequacy in public education — as also required by the constitution. … The court set a July 1, 2014, deadline to give the Legislature an opportunity to provide for equitable funding for public education. If by then the Legislature fully funds capital outlay state aid and supplemental general state aid as contemplated by present statutes, i.e., without withholding or prorating payments, the panel will not be required to take additional action on those issues. But if the Legislature takes no action by July 1, 2014, or otherwise fails to eliminate the inequity, the panel must take appropriate action to ensure the inequities are cured.

The full opinion

Court Orders Kansas Legislature to Spend More on Schools New York Times
Kansas’s highest court ruled on Friday that funding disparities between school districts violated the state’s Constitution and ordered the Legislature to bridge the gap, setting the stage for a messy budget battle in the capital this year. … Most of the attention in the case, Gannon v. Kansas, had been focused on the trial court’s order to raise base aid per student to $4,492, a 17 percent increase over the current level, to provide an adequate education for all Kansas students. On Friday, the Supreme Court held that the district court had not applied the proper standard to determine what constituted an adequate funding level and asked the lower court to re-examine that issue. “Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education” under the State Constitution, the decision read.

Kansas must heed court’s call for fairer school funding Kansas City Star.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling Friday cast a bright light on the Legislature’s willful failure to meet its funding obligations to poorer school districts and their students. The state’s duty to promote equity in public education is well established. A previous court ruling ordered legislators to provide payments to districts with low tax bases to help lessen the gap between them and districts that can more easily raise money through property taxes. But in 2010 the Legislature cut off equalization money meant to help poorer districts with capital needs. A year later, lawmakers even amended a statute to excuse themselves from providing money for that purpose through 2017. They also reduced and prorated supplemental payments to help less wealthy districts meet day-to-day needs.

Court declares Kansas’ school funding levels unconstitutional Los Angeles Times
The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s current levels of school funding are unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to provide for “equitable funding for education” by July 1. The long-anticipated ruling was a victory for education advocates in the state, but it may be a short-lived one as the Legislature has vowed to defy court orders on the subject. … According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kansas is spending 16.5% less per student, or $950 per pupil, on education in 2014 than it did in 2008.

Kansas Supreme Court finds inequities in school funding, sends case back to trial court Wichita Eagle
The Kansas Supreme Court found some unfairness — but not necessarily too few dollars — in the state’s funding of schools and sent a mammoth school-finance case back to a lower court for further action. The court found disparities between districts to be unconstitutional and set a July 1 deadline for lawmakers to address that. But it stopped short of saying the state is putting too few dollars in the pot, leaving that issue for another day. … Both school advocates and Republican lawmakers declared partial victory in the wake of the ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Wichita school district and others against the state. But they offered strikingly different interpretations of the decision.

Kansas Supreme Court on school finance: A summary of the ruling Lawrence Journal-World

Court decision gives little clarity on adequacy of K-12 funding Topeka Capital-Journal
Plaintiffs and interested third parties articulated different interpretations of Friday’s school finance ruling, with some saying it is a call for more K-12 funds and conservative groups saying there is no rush.

KS Supreme Court: Legislators made ‘unconstitutional’ school funding choices Kansas Watchdog
In a long-awaited decision, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that state lawmakers created “unconstitutional” and “unreasonable wealth-based disparities” by withholding certain state aid payments to public schools. … While the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision regarding the state’s failure to equitably disburse capital outlay and supplemental general payments to Sunflower State schools, it stopped short of issuing a decree for specific funding to meet the Legislature’s constitutional requirement to provide an “adequate” education.

Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leadership outline opportunity for progress following Kansas Supreme Court Ruling on Education Funding (full press release)
Today Governor Sam Brownback, joined by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick and other legislators responded to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the Gannon vs Kansas case. “We have an opportunity for progress,” Governor Brownback said. “My commitment is to work with legislative leadership to address the allocation issue identified by the court. We will fix this.” The court has set out steps for the legislature to end the lawsuit by July 1, 2014. It affirms the Constitutional requirement for education to be “adequate” and “equitable.” “Our task is to come to resolution on capital outlay funding and local option budgets before July 1,” said Senate President Wagle. “We now have some clarity as we work toward resolution of issues that began years ago under prior administrations.”

Davis comments on Gannon ruling
The court today made it clear that the state has not met its obligation to fund Kansas schools in equitable way. It is time to set it right and fund our classrooms.

Kansas Policy Institute
Statement from Dave Trabert, the president of Kansas Policy Institute, in response to Gannon v. State of Kansas:
“We’re encouraged that the Court ruled that total spending cannot be used to measure adequacy. This is especially important because spending is currently based on deliberately-inflated numbers in the old Augenblick & Myers report. To this day, no one knows what it costs for schools to achieve required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money. “The next step in helping each student succeed while acting responsibly with taxpayer money is to model a K-12 Finance Commission on the KPERS Study Commission. The Legislature and Governor Brownback should determine what schools need to achieve required outcomes while organized and operating in a cost-effective manner, including appropriate equity measures, and fund schools accordingly.”

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas
The Kansas chapter of the grassroots group Americans for Prosperity released the following statement in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance decision handed down today:
“For years, those demanding more education spending have ignored anything other than the base state aid per pupil which is only part of overall education funding,” said AFP-Kansas State Director Jeff Glendening. “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has specifically directed that ‘funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered,’ and that ‘total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.’
“In light of the Court’s ruling that ‘adequacy’ of education is determined by student outcomes rather than spending, and adopted standards similar to those adopted by the legislature in 2005, now is the time to consider how we are spending education dollars.
“Kansans are spending more than an average of $12,700 per student, and K-12 education currently makes up more than half of our state budget. Despite that, less than 60 percent of education dollars actually make it into the classroom. To meet the educational standards set out by the Legislature and Supreme Court, and give every Kansas child the opportunity they deserve, we must do better.
“We know that the discussion of school finance is not over, and will continue to play out in the courts as the Supreme Court sent the issue of ‘adequacy’ back to the District Court. It’s our hope that the lower court will carefully look at student outcomes and local spending decisions, rather than automatically demanding more state spending, and recognize its role in the constitutionally-defined separation of powers.”

Kansas National Education Association
We are disappointed that today’s announcement by the Kansas State Supreme Court prolongs a resolution of the school finance issue. It didn’t deal directly with the current critical need in Kansas public schools. Together, the citizens of Kansas made sacrifices at a time when the state and national economy were in crisis. During that time Kansans came together and dealt with staggering cuts to education, believing the promise of full restoration to public school funding once the state economy had rebounded.

Kansas Supreme Court rules in school finance case Kansas Health Institute
Kansas’ top court today released its long-awaited decision in the school finance case and while the ruling settled little for now, both sides in the litigation said they found things to like about it.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose office defended the state in Gannon v. State of Kansas, said he didn’t believe the mixed decision would necessarily require the Legislature to spend more on K-12 schools, though that would be one option for making the state’s school finance formula constitutional again. … But representatives of the school districts that took to court claiming state aid dollars have been unequal and inadequate said they felt confident they would win the remainder of their points at retrial and that the Legislature would need to authorize an added $129 million in K-12 spending by July 1 to meet the standards spelled out in the unanimous decision. “We are not concerned about this. All of our proof at trial was presented using the correct standard that the court now directs to be used,” at retrial, said John Robb an attorney for the four public school districts that sued the state.

Kansas Supreme Court issues ruling on school finance Wichita Public Schools
The Kansas Supreme Court issued its ruling on the school finance lawsuit on March 7. It upholds the concept that the legislature must adequately fund schools in Kansas and that the funding must be distributed equitably. It requires the Kansas Legislature to fund capital outlay and Local Option Budget equalization by July 1, 2014. That means immediate increases in some state funding for education. … “Overall, we think this is a great ruling for Wichita and Kansas kids,” said Lynn Rogers, BOE member. “It upholds the concept that the State of Kansas is responsible for adequately and equitably funding our students’ education.” Rogers said that the lawsuit is for all Kansas students and that they deserve a quality education regardless of where they live in the state. “The education we provide is the foundation for our workforce and the future of Kansas,” said Superintendent John Allison. “If we don’t give our students a quality education now, we will pay for it in the future.”

We can predict the loser in the Kansas school lawsuit

The Kansas Supreme Court will hand down the school finance decision Friday.
The Kansas Supreme Court will hand down the school finance decision Friday.

No matter which side wins the Kansas school finance lawsuit, we already know who loses: Kansas schoolchildren. The last time schools won a suit, the state lowered its standards for schools.

Talking about school spending is easy, even though most Kansas public school spending advocates refuse to acknowledge the totality of spending. (Or if they acknowledge the total level, they may make excuses for the spending not being effective.) Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools. Parents want more spending, and so do teachers, public employee unions, and children. It’s easy to support more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is demonized as anti-child, anti-education, and even anti-human.

But the focus on school spending lets the Kansas public school establishment off the hook too easily. Any and all shortcomings of Kansas schools can be blamed on inadequate funding. That’s what the establishment does.

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. If the court orders more spending and the legislature complies, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

The focus on spending

First, citizens are generally misinformed on Kansas school spending. In surveys, most people usually guess that schools spend less than half of the correct amount. It’s a problem not only in Kansas; it’s a nationwide issue.

Then, there is a tenuous connection between increased school spending and better student outcomes. Many studies point out the rapid rise in school spending over the decades, but test scores are flat.

Even liberal think tanks realize the school class size is not an important factor.
Even liberal think tanks realize the school class size is not an important factor.

Public school spending advocates say that increased spending will allow smaller class sizes. But class size reduction is very expensive and produces only marginal benefits compared to other strategies. The Center for American Progress — normally in favor of anything that increases government spending — wrote this in its 2011 report The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

The evidence on class size indicates that smaller classes can, in some circumstances, improve student achievement if implemented in a focused way. But CSR [class size reduction] policies generally take exactly the opposite approach by pursuing across-the-board reductions in class size at the state or federal level. These large-scale, untargeted policies are also extremely expensive and represent wasted opportunities to make smarter educational investments. Large-scale CSR policies clearly fail any cost-benefit test because they entail steep costs and produce benefits that are modest at best.

The CAP report tells readers what does work to improve student outcomes:

Researchers agree that teacher quality is the single most important in-school determinant of how much students learn. Stanford economist Eric A. Hanushek has estimated that replacing the worst 5 percent to 8 percent of teachers with average teachers would dramatically boost achievement in the United States.

KNEA: There are no bad teachers.
KNEA: There are no bad teachers.

But Kansas ranks low in policies regarding teacher quality. The current lawsuit doesn’t address issues like teacher quality or other specific reforms that will actually help Kansas schoolchildren. By the way, the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) believes there are no bad teachers.

What Kansas did after the last lawsuit

Consider what Kansas did the last time schools won a lawsuit: The state lowered its school standards. Simply put, Kansas didn’t have rigorous standards for its schools, and it lowered them after the last court decision.

national-center-education-statistics-state-mapping-naep

The National Center for Education Statistics produces a report titled 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. The conclusion of NCES is that Kansas school 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.

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

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

WichitaLiberty.TV February 23, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: There are efforts to have the Kansas Legislature expand the open records law to include the spending records of several taxpayer-funded agencies, but the City of Wichita wants to keep the records secret. Then, did you know the Kansas teachers union has a media response team? Finally, Arthur Brooks makes the moral case for free enterprise. Episode 32, broadcast February 23, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Our Kansas grassroots teachers union

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Letters to the editor in your hometown newspaper may have the air of being written by a concerned parent of Kansas schoolchildren, but they might not be what they seem.

It’s fashionable for school advocacy groups to bash their critics as mere lackeys of a top-down driven power structure. It is the advocates for school spending — teachers, parents, children, school principals — that are the true grassroots, they say.

So it might be surprising to learn that Kansas’ largest teachers union has a plan and mechanism for distributing its message. It’s called the KNEA Media Response Team, and it says it is “responsible for promoting KNEA and public education in the print and electronic media.”

kansas-national-education-assocation-knea-media-response-team-logo-01The team’s web page holds language like: “The KNEA Media Response Team builds on existing KNEA media outreach efforts and is a sanctioned KNEA Board Task Force.”

Task Force. Sounds like a military organization, not a grassroots advocacy group. Sanctioned. Sounds like someone had to obtain official permission. Obtaining permission from a central authority isn’t characteristic of grassroots activism.

The page also says: “Because we’re seeking fresh voices, board members, council presidents and local presidents are not encouraged to apply.”

It’s a detailed plan: “During the first year, there will be only one per media market. To participate, members must attend the initial MRT training or have taken Cyndi’s message framing session within the last two years.”

There are pre-determined talking points on a secret web page: “Refer to KNEA member only Web page for basic messages on key education issues (https://ks.nea.org/membersonly/talkingpoints.html), or contact KNEA Communications for help with other issues. Use these to write your response.”

It’s encouraged, although not mandatory, to get pre-approval for the communiques team members have developed: “Submit your letter to the editor or guest column to the newspaper via e-mail. Send a copy to Cyndi. Initially, members may send their letter to Cyndi first before submitting it to a news organization.”

If the union leaders have a message they want to promulgate, you may be asked to help: “At certain times, you may be asked to write letters promoting KNEA’s positive goals for public education, instead of responding to what others write.”

There’s a contract team members must agree to: “I agree to become a KNEA Media Response Team writer for 2009-2010. I understand and support the goals and guidelines of the KNEA Media Response Team. I will work with KNEA Communications to write letters to the editor and engage in other media activity that helps promote public education.”

All this would be less objectionable if KNEA was truly working for the good of Kansas schoolchildren. But notice that KNEA is concerned with public education only, not education in general. That’s because teachers in private schools, religious schools, and homeschooling parents aren’t union members. Then, when you learn that KNEA opposes nearly all forms of education reform — especially measures that would bring greater accountability to teachers and schools — the target of the union’s concern is obvious: Not the children. See Kansas reasonable: The education candidates.

Kansas school test scores, in perspective

School blackboardWhen comparing Kansas school test scores to those of other states, it’s important to consider disaggregated data. Otherwise we may — figuratively speaking — let the forest obscure the trees.

Kansas school leaders are 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, or at the end of this article.

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.

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.”

The Wikipedia article explains: “A paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data. … Many statisticians believe that the mainstream public should be informed of the counter-intuitive results in statistics such as Simpson’s paradox.”

In this case, the confounding factor (“lurking” variable) is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. For example, in Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores? It’s important to know that aggregated data can mask or hide underlying trends.

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this?

KNEA: supporting institutions at children’s expense

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)From Kansas Policy Institute.

KNEA: supporting institutions at children’s expense

By Dave Trabert
The Kansas National Education Association’s slogan is “Making public schools great for every child.”  It may be a coincidence that their slogan seems to emphasize institutions over students, but many of their actions quite deliberately put institutional interests first.  My belief has nothing to do with individual teachers.  Kansas is blessed with thousands of dedicated teachers who get up every morning thinking of ways to help students and they deserve citizens’ gratitude and support for everything they do.  My comments are not directed at teachers, but at the institution of the KNEA.

The most recent example of this teacher union (the organization) putting institutional interests ahead of student needs was in an email blast they sent last week about hearings held by the Special Committee on Education.  It began with their usual vitriolic put-downs of people with whom they disagree and concluded by saying, “…that everything we know from student assessment – … Kansas continues to improve and that Kansas continues to perform in the top tier of states….”

KNEA knows that that is a deliberately misleading statement.  In fact, they wrote it following a detailed presentation for the Committee showing that, while many Kansas students do quite well and likely are very competitive internationally, roughly half of Kansas students (those who qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch) are two to three years’ worth of learning behind.  Even more disheartening is the fact that those achievement gaps are getting wider.

The National Center for Education Statistics says that 10 points on NAEP is the equivalent of a year’s worth of learning.  The gap was 24 points (roughly 2.4 years) in 1998 when Kansas first participated in NAEP.  It was 22 points in 2005 before funding was dramatically increased.  But now, after nearly $3 billion in targeted At Risk spending, the gap is wider than ever at 28 points.  The gap for 8thgrade students in Reading is 24 points…three points wider than it was in 2005.  The gaps for 4th grade and 8th grade Math are 18 points and 24 points, respectively.  FYI, the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) is on record saying that NAEP is the “gold standard.”

Similar patterns exist on the state assessment.  the gaps between 2006 and 2012 for Reading and Math both grew slightly.  Unfortunately, performance for low income students declined in 2013.  (We’ve submitted a request for the 2013 data on students who are not eligible for Free & Reduced Lunch.)

 

These performance statistics reflect students who are at Exceeds Standard and above.  You see, KSDE doesn’t require students to be able to read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension (as defined by KSDE) to Meet the Kansas Reading standard.  Students are not required to usually be accurate on all grade-level Math tasks to be Proficient and Meet the Kansas Math standard.  KSDE and the State Board of Education reduced performance standards to the point where the U.S. Department of Education says Kansas has some of the lowest performance standards in the nation.

By the way, if you’re disturbed by the alarmingly low achievement levels of All Students who are low income, you’ll be appalled by the results for 11th grade students.  One year away from entering the workforce or going on the post-secondary work, only 37 percent of low income 11th grade students can read grade appropriate material with full comprehension.  Math drops off to 29 percent.

As is often the case with institutional interests, it’s all about the money.  This little gem was included in the KNEA email.

“Spalding’s [Friedman Foundation] conclusion to his presentation comparing school finance formulas from our regional states is that there is no way to compare effectiveness of the various formulas except by looking at their results. So that begs the question, since Kansas’ results are among the highest in the nation, doesn’t that mean we have an effective school finance formula? What would happen if we actually funded our system?!”

Yep…it’s all about the money with this teacher union.

As for the claim that “…Kansas’ results are among the highest in the nation,” KNEA also knows that to be falsely driven by demographics.  Simply put, there are two-to-three-year achievement gaps between White students and those of color…and Kansas is Whiter than many states.  Here are the actual 2013 national rankings and scores showing that Kansas is actually just slightly above average overall (although White and Black students are slightly below average).

 

Pretending to have high achievement based on low performance standards and demographic skews is harmful to students, and ignoring that tens of thousands of students are falling farther behind is downright shameful.  But that’s what happens when institutional interests prevail over student needs.

 

P.S. I shared this information and our school staffing data with KNEA leadership and offered to get together in a public or private setting to discuss the facts.  I thought they would at least be interested to explore the fact that regular classroom teachers have only increased 7 percent over the last twenty years, while students increased 6 percent and non-teachers increased 40 percent.   So far…crickets.

 

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

Kansas teachers reject union representation in one district

Rejection of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) by teachers in a small Kansas school district could start a trend. From Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry.

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

By James Sherk and Michael Cirrotti.

Teachers in Deerfield, Kansas, just did something unusual — they voted to decertify their union. The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) no longer represents them.

Teachers disliking their union representation do not make news, but teachers actually leaving their union do: The law makes it very difficult for teachers to remove unwanted unions.

Unlike most public officials, unions do not stand for re-election, so their members cannot regularly hold them accountable. Workers can remove an unwanted union only by filing for decertification. But bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult to hold a vote on decertification. The hoops Deerfield’s teachers had to jump through illustrate this problem.

Joel McClure, the teacher who led the effort, submitted the appropriate paperwork to the Kansas Department of Labor in November 2012. But Kansas teachers can request a vote only in a two-month window every three years. KNEA officials contested the petition by claiming that the teachers missed the December 1 deadline. (The Department of Labor had misplaced the initial petition paperwork.) Then the KNEA objected that the teachers’ attorney was not certified in Kansas and that they did not have enough signatures. However, the teachers prevailed and voted out their union—in June, just eight months after the initial submission.

When asked why they went through such protracted effort, the teachers said their union ignored their concerns. They wanted instead to be actively involved in negotiations and work collaboratively with the school district. “The desire is for teachers to participate at the [bargaining] table, to have free access to information,” McClure said. “In our little school district, there’s no reason we can’t sit down at the table and work out our issues.”

Now they can. But most other teachers never get to choose their bargaining representatives. Their unions formed in the 1970s and have never stood for re-election since. In some of Kansas’s largest school districts, not one teacher voted for the current union. Teachers who do not want a prolonged legal battle get stuck with their union by default.

The law should give workers more choice about who represents them. Kansas legislators are reviewing Kansas HB 2027, which would require teachers unions to stand for re-election every two years and allow individual teachers to negotiate separate contracts. This would make unions more accountable to their members while allowing great teachers to negotiate for even better pay.

Americans trust teachers to educate our children. We should also trust them to choose who should represent them.

Michael Cirrotti is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.

Teachers union members to be proud of

Critics of public schools usually explain that they’re not faulting individual teachers. Instead, they target their criticism at the teachers union, bureaucratic school administration, or “the system” in general.

So when we observe the actions of teachers, we’re correct to wonder if they’re acting as citizens, or as teachers representing their school districts, or as union members, or in some other role. This issue is important when we take notice of the actions of teachers at a recent meeting of the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation in Wichita.

Here’s a message tweeted during that meeting from Judy Loganbill, a Wichita school teacher and until this year, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives:

This salty language inspired by political conflict: Is that Judy Loganbill citizen, teacher of young children, or union member speaking?

This glee spilled over to Facebook:

Wichita teachers on Facebook

Randy Mousley is president of United Teachers of Wichita, the Wichita teachers union. Parents of Wichita schoolchildren might be interested in knowing which role he’s assuming when taking credit for his invention: Citizen, union leader, teacher, or something else?

The real war on Kansas workers

“What workers decide to do with their paychecks is none of the Government’s business.”

Isn’t that a wonderful statement? It succinctly states the libertarian principle of self-ownership, which is that each person owns themselves and the fruits of their labor. Their paychecks, in this case. The author says that government has no business deciding how workers spend their pay, which I would interpret as meaning that government has no business levying taxes on income.

End the War on Kansas Workers Petition

But I don’t think that’s what the author of this sentence meant.

Instead, the author of this statement wants more of Kansas workers’ paychecks diverted to government though taxation. That’s how the groups he’s represented are paid, and they always want more.

This statement comes from a petition at SignOn.org started by Colin Curtis, a Kansas political activist who has worked for public employee organizations. It’s in response to a bill that provides, in part, “It shall be unlawful for any professional employees’ organization, as defined in K.S.A. 72-5413, and amendments thereto, to use any dues, fees, assessments or any periodic payments deducted from a member’s paycheck for the purpose of engaging in political activities as defined in subsection (c).”

If this bill becomes law, public employee unions won’t be able to have government deduct these payments for them. They’ll have to fundraise like everyone else.

But if all you read was the petition that Curtis started, you’d think the bill does much more: “It’s time for the Government to get off of workers backs, out of their paychecks, and to end these outrageous attempt to strip workers of their First Amendment rights simply because they chose to join a union.”

A paycheck deduction isn’t a first amendment right. Not even close.

But I do understand why public employee unions like Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, are worried about this legislation. If their members had to consciously make donations for political purposes (instead of automatic deduction), teachers might start wondering if the union is really worthwhile.

And I do agree with Curtis when he writes “It’s time for the Government to get off of workers backs.”

I wish he and Kansas public employee union leadership really meant this.

More about HB 2023
In her newsletter, Kansas State Representative Amanda Grosserode explains this bill:

I received a great deal of correspondence on this issue with most of it coming from outside the district. There was some confusion and misinformation about the legislation’s contents, which is to simply ban state or other units of government from making payroll deductions for members of public sector unions for the purpose of contributing to the union’s political action committee. For purpose of simple clarification:

  • Dues for membership in an employee organization (union) will still be able to be processed through a paycheck deduction.
  • Contributions to a political action committee (PAC) will not be allowed through a paycheck deduction.
  • The language that restrains political activity for a public employee organization is not new law. That language was expanded.
  • Political activity such as endorsements and contributions would be prohibited from the public employee organization which it is already prohibited from doing.
  • Endorsements, political contributions to candidates, and other participation in engaging in ballot measures are to be from the Political Action Committee arm and not the organization arm.

Some misinformation that I have seen:

  • The bill does not stop any employee organization from being involved in lobbying for or against legislation. It does not stop individual employees from advocating for or against legislation.
  • Other organizations are unable to contribute to candidates or endorse candidates except through a PAC. This is very common. It is usually a federal tax issue that is involved. Most organizations have an educational and lobbying wing which is separate financially and by tax filings from the political action committee wing which endorses and financially supports candidate.
  • No individual’s first amendment right is restricted. Individuals always can speak out.

My husband is a member of a public employee organization. This bill will not stop his dues being paid by paycheck deduction. This bill does not impact in any way his ability to advocate for or against an issue or legislation. It does not stop his organization from lobbying on legislation before the Legislature. It will only stop our family from contributing to a political action committee by way of a paycheck deduction.

I voted Yes on 2023. It is inappropriate for the state or any unit of government to be in the business of making payroll deductions for political purposes.

It’s not the teachers, it’s the union

Can there be a point where demagoguery has been spread so deep and thick that no one believes it?

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, advises teachers “Be prepared for a long hard ride — they are indeed out to get you.”

The union also wrote: “But beyond this, you need to ask your legislator if he or she has any respect for teachers at all. The war now being waged against public school teachers by the House is offensive and disrespectful. Within weeks of witnessing teachers in Newtown, Connecticut die for their students and a teacher in Taft, California put himself between his student and a gunman, the Kansas legislature seeks to de-professionalize the teachers of Kansas.”

In another email, KNEA wrote: “It gets worse! This is Day 11 in the War on Kansas teachers and the dawn was greeted with the introduction of HB 2123 — the Scott Walker Act of Kansas. … All of these bills are political payback for the public sector workers who, through their unions, tried to present an alternative view of Kansas’ future.”

In another: “Battle for free speech continues — HB 2032 — ‘silence the teachers‘ — heads for the full House.”

KNEA, can we talk? It’s not teachers that Kansans dislike. It’s you — the union and its leadership — that citizens recognize is a harmful force: First, to Kansas schoolchildren, and second, to Kansas taxpayers.

Kansas teachers union: No competition for us

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, is an effective force that denies Kansas parents the choice as to where to send their children to school. The union also works hard to deny teachers choice in representation.

In Bullying Teachers: How Teachers Unions Secretly Push Teachers and Competitors Around, Joy Pullmann states the problem: “In routine tracking of education-related legislation, The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News has uncovered evidence that teachers unions across the country routinely inhibit teachers from joining or speaking out about competing, nonunion teachers associations.”

Pullmann explains legislation from 2011 when Garry Sigle, who is Executive Director at Kansas Association of American Educators, supported equal access to teachers.

In 2011, House Bill 2229 would have given the state an equal access law regarding teacher associations. It stalled in the Senate and found no sponsors this year. In the meantime, public school principals in Kansas have refused to let Garry Sigle, executive director of the state’s AAE affiliate, even enter their schools because the local union affiliate would file a labor grievance against the schools if they did. Similar and repeated instances in the state are documented below.

The legislative page for this bill is Substitute HB 2229 by Committee on Federal and State Affairs — Teachers; professional employees association; equal access act. The last notation on the calendar is “Died in Senate Committee.” The bill would do these things, according to the supplemental note prepared by Kansas Legislative Research:

To give equal access for all professional employees’ associations to the professional employees physical or electronic school mailboxes;
To allow equal access for all professional employees’ associations to attend new teacher or employee school orientations and other meetings; and
To not designate any day or breaks in a school year by naming or referring to the name of any professional employees’ association.

KNEA opposed this legislation. The committee in which it died was chaired by Pete Brungardt. Brungardt’s campaign was supported by KNEA, but he was defeated in the August 2012 primary election.

Reporting more about Kansas, Pullmann writes:

Many superintendents and principals in Kansas will not even let Garry Sigle give teachers information about his nonunion teacher organization. One superintendent told Sigle, “Why would I want to [let you talk to teachers in my district] if I knew that would create an issue between me and a union I have to negotiate with?” Sigle said. He asked the superintendent how many of his district’s teachers were in the NEA. Thirty or 40 percent, the superintendent said. So Sigle asked to speak to the others. The superintendent wouldn’t allow Sigle to speak to even nonunionized teachers. In one school, Sigle had an appointment to speak at a teacher in-service. “When the local NEA found out, they raised such a ruckus that [the principal] had to call and cancel me.”

Sigle’s alma mater, Fort Hays State University, would not let him speak to students in their teaching program “because they have a student NEA group and just can’t seem to find time in their schedule.” Smith also highlighted access difficulties with student teacher programs in Utah. “I don’t think, as a school of higher education, it’s your job to limit the information your students get,” Sigle said. “It baffles me that a school would do that.”

A principal has told Sigle if he stepped foot into her school she would have to report him or the school’s NEA chapter would file a contract grievance against her. “She said, ‘I can’t even let you come into the building,’” Sigle said in astonishment.

Sigle’s op-ed in the Topeka Capital-Journal explained the problem in a different way, opening with:

As employees in a right-to-work state, teachers in Kansas have a choice about which employee association, if any, they wish to join. However, current state law does not treat all employee associations the same way.

In fact, the Kansas National Education Association has an unfair advantage, having state-sanctioned monopoly access to public school employees.

Kansas schools are lacking choice: none for students, little for teachers, topped off with coercion for taxpayers.

Public employee unions should be a non-partisan issue

Writing in Hoover Institution Policy Review, John O. McGinnis and Max Schanzenbach state what few seem to recognize: Everyone would be better off without public employee unions:

For conservatives, taking on public employee unions provides a way to eliminate inefficient spending and create a polity of low taxes and lean government. For liberals, it provides a way to redirect spending to effective public goods, like better educational outputs, that public employee unions frustrate.

The authors explain how teachers unions, in particular, are harmful to taxpayers and — most importantly — children in public schools:

Public employee unions impose even more substantial costs on states beyond the unjustified direct benefits their workers receive. Their worst consequence is the distortions they create in the public policy arena. Because of their concentrated influence, they are able to substantially direct — indeed sometimes dictate — the shape of public policy in the area in which they are employed.

The most notorious example is public education. Teachers’ unions are the single greatest obstacle to improving education in this country. Unions are almost universally associated with seniority pay, job tenure (including layoffs based on seniority), inflexible work rules, and lack of productivity-based pay. Teachers’ unions are no exception: They make it difficult or impossible to fire bad teachers, pay good teachers more, or conduct layoffs in a rational fashion. Media reports have recently highlighted the difficulties in New York City. There, teachers earn tenure after only three years on the job, and a hearing to dismiss a teacher take years and costs hundreds of thousand dollars (teachers are paid in full for the duration of such hearings, although they don’t actually do any work). Although the city has stepped up its effort at dismissals, very few teachers are fired for incompetence. In many places, union rules on teacher assignments make it more difficult to match teachers with the pupils for whom they would make the most difference. The unions also make it harder to create flexible schedules that would make more efficient use of school facilities. In some states, such as Minnesota, unions have made it impossible for their educational systems to participate in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. In short, the teachers’ unions make the public school rigid, unproductive, and hidebound at great monetary cost to taxpayers and at educational cost to the children that they are supposed to teach.

In addition, because government controls the vast majority of education spending, teachers’ unions can use political power to throttle competition. Because private schools and charter schools do not necessarily employ union members, teachers’ unions see the growth of such schools as a danger to their size and resulting political power. As a consequence, they have tried to obstruct such initiatives at every turn. A recent shocking example is their ability to exert influence over the Democratic Congress in order to end the small-scale school voucher program for low-income students in the District of Columbia.

One does not have to believe that vouchers or charter schools are the solution to problems in education to see the influence of teachers’ unions as pernicious. The nation simply does not have full information about the most efficient way to educate its children or the best way to address a host of social problems. Democracy works through informal experiments. But teachers’ unions make it hard to conduct the necessary experiments, because their focus is simply on protecting the perquisites of their members. And teachers’ unions are extremely powerful. As Steven Brill pointed out in a recent New York Times Magazine article, they have contributed $57 million over the last 30 years to federal campaigns — more than any other union or corporation. And their contributions at the state level are even larger.

Teachers unions wrap themselves around an unimpeachable issue: the welfare of schoolchildren. The unions’ actual conduct, however, harms schoolchildren.

Full article at The Case Against Public Sector Unions.

Kansas teachers union rallies members

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Under the email subject heading “Special edition! Action needed!” Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, rallies its members to take action against legislation under consideration by the Kansas Legislature. Kansans ought to be aware of the faulty arguments the union makes.

The legislation is HB 2023. The fiscal note for the bill summarizes it as follows: “HB 2023 relates to professional employees’ organizations (PEOs). The bill makes it unlawful for any PEO to use any dues, fees, assessments or any period payment deducted from a member’s paycheck for the purpose of engaging in political activities. If a member wishes to donate money for political activity by the PEO, a specific donation must be made to a separate fund so designated. The bill defines political activity for the purpose of enforcement of its provisions. The bill amends the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act (PEERA) to make it unlawful for a public employee organization to spend any of its income to engage in public activities.”

Here are some of the claims and arguments KNEA uses.

KNEA: HB 2023 takes away a worker’s control over his or her own paycheck.

It’s laughable that an organization whose primary purpose is to garner as much tax revenue as possible would complain about control over paychecks. KNEA, where is your concern for taxpayers’ paychecks?

KNEA: Aren’t Republicans all about keeping government OUT of our personal lives?

No. Many — okay, most — Republicans support all sorts of intrusions into our personal lives.

KNEA: Why does this bill restrict union political activity while corporate political activity is entirely unregulated even if the corporation derives much of its income from government contracts?

This argument fails to recognize the difference between government and the private sector. The public schools are the embodiment of government, even though they hate the term “government schools.” Their revenue is conscripted from unwilling taxpayers. While taxpayers might also dislike paying for everything the government purchases from corporations, most government contracts are put for competitive bid. I wonder: Would public schools be willing to compete for students, like corporations must compete for government contracts? The answer can be found in the KNEA’s attitude towards school choice, which is absolutely not.

KNEA: Why does this bill restrict union political activity while corporate political activity is entirely unregulated even without the consent of stockholders?

In most situations stockholders are able to voluntarily select the corporations whose shares they want to own. But taxpayers are not able to choose whether to support public schools and their unions.

By the way, in defined benefit pension plans like KPERS, which teachers belong to, there is no choice in the investments the plan makes on your behalf.

Kansas public employee unions overreact

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Response to a bill being considered in the Kansas Legislature has triggered strong reaction from public employee unions. Kansas taxpayers should take notice of this extraordinary hyperbole, and hope legislators can enact this legislation for the good of Kansas.

The legislation is HB 2023. The fiscal note for the bill summarizes it as follows: “HB 2023 relates to professional employees’ organizations (PEOs). The bill makes it unlawful for any PEO to use any dues, fees, assessments or any period payment deducted from a member’s paycheck for the purpose of engaging in political activities. If a member wishes to donate money for political activity by the PEO, a specific donation must be made to a separate fund so designated. The bill defines political activity for the purpose of enforcement of its provisions. The bill amends the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act (PEERA) to make it unlawful for a public employee organization to spend any of its income to engage in public activities.”

The meaning is that if teachers unions want to fund political activity, their members must make contributions specifically for that purpose. Presently these contributions are automatically deducted from members’ paychecks. If these organizations want to engage in political activity, they may still do so, as is their right. They’ll simply have to raise the funds differently.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Eminently reasonable, to most people.

That is, unless you represent the unions this law would affect. In that case, you brand this as “paycheck deception,” as does the Kansas Democratic Party.

Or, you might say this bill is an “attack on the free speech rights of working Kansans.”

Or: “Republican legislators seek to limit fundamental constitutional rights.”

The group Working Kansans Alliance makes these claims. Really.

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union weighed in on this issue, too. Its email to its members was headlined “Legislature seeks legislation to silence teachers.”

The first paragraph ratchets up the rhetoric: “We’ve been expecting something and here it comes — the first official salvo in a possible war on teachers.”

The next day KNEA reported on the testimony of David Schauner, the union’s general counsel:

Schauner began his testimony by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about the things that matter”.

He went on to explain why this bill is such an onerous idea:

“Participation in the political process is a thing that matters. The right to act collectively matters, the expression of dissenting political points of view matters. It matters that we as a democracy have decided that our political dissent is the bedrock of our continued success as a nation. When those in power decide to punish those who have publically [sic] disagreed then we are lost as a democracy. It matters that the right to act in concert with those who hold shared values. It matters that the nation’s founding fathers demanded the first and fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It matters that those who teach our children participate in politics. It matters that all citizens be treated equally in the eyes of the law.”

I wonder: If the existence of the unions is dependent upon automatic paycheck deductions, how valuable are they to members?

How public employee unions are different

Public employee unions contribute to political campaigns. They then sit across the bargaining table from those officeholders they elected (or their representatives). Is there a conflict of interest here? Absolutely there is.

Who is going to prevail in these negotiations? Who represents the public?

The big difference between public employee unions and other unions is the discipline that markets impose on private sector companies. Government doesn’t face this powerful force.

If private business firm X is overly generous to its workers in terms of pay and benefits, it will probably suffer in performance compared to its stingy competitor firm Y. Firm X may go out of business.

(If firm X is General Motors or Chrysler, however, the federal government will perform a bailout at the expense of everyone but unions. This is a good reason why government should not intervene in matters like this.)

An alternative, of course, is that firm X — by being generous in pay — becomes more efficient and competitive in the market. Firm Y workers then benefit, by either going to work for X, or Y realizing that it needs to pay workers like X does.

These scenarios require market competition to work. Without that, it’s a one-sided game, and the taxpaying public loses.

Here’s some excerpts from today’s Joseph Ashby Show on this topic:

Kansas school efficiency task force report

In an effort to spur greater efficiency in Kansas public schools, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback created a school efficiency task force. The task force has released its report, which may be viewed here.

While some of the recommendations are very useful and should be implemented, some are minor in nature, and some — especially the ones that would reduce the power of the teachers union — will be very difficult to implement. There is also a list of mostly generic “best practices,” such as “Look for savings on utilities.” The task force also solicited anonymous suggestions from the public, and a representative sample is included.

Two specific recommendations relate to the issue of the various funds schools use and their balances. This has been a contentious issue, with schools defending the need for large (and increasing) fund balances. See Kansas schools have used funds to increase spending for background.

School districts have complained that the state has been late in making its payments. School districts use this as an argument for the need for high fund balances. So it’s not surprising to see this recommendation: “Place a priority emphasis on the timely transfer of state payments to school districts in June and January.”

There’s also this recommendation: “Legislatively eliminate, reduce, and consolidate the statutory cash reserve accounts and separate fund accounts that currently exist, thereby ending the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ policy and allowing the funding contained in each fund category to be more broadly spent across the full variety of educational requirements. Accounts that remain, including the General Fund, should be allowed a modest amount of carryover from year to year.”

The explanation tells us that the current system of accounts restricts school districts’ ability to effectively use funding. And obviously, “use-it-or-lose-it” is a bad policy.

There is also the recommendation to form a definition of what counts as “instructional” spending, and whether the current target of 65 percent instruction spending is the best goal.

In school bond issue campaigns, a popular selling point made to voters is that the state will pay for some of the bond payments. It’s pitched as free money, or at least as a way to get back the money the taxpayers have been sending to Topeka to pay for other school districts’ bonds. So another recommendation is to consider reevaluating this program.

The issue of accounting and data management is addressed, with examples of the state requiring reports that are “cumbersome, inefficient, and time-consuming” to provide. The reports calls for data to be trackable down to the building level, and made more readily available to the public.

There are also recommendations that are sure to be opposed by Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union. These include a review of teacher tenure, seen as limiting administrators’ ability to efficiently allocate resources. Instead of the strict salary schedule that is currently used, the report recommends a salary range, which could include factors like experience and area of expertise.

There is also recommended a reduction in the matters that are subject to negotiation with the union, specifically mentioning “work hours, amount of work, insurance benefits, force reductions, professional evaluation procedures, etc.” as no longer subject to mandatory negotiation.

Missing from the dialog

Perhaps it was not included in the mandate given to this task force, but missing from the recommendations is using the power of markets to improve the education of Kansas schoolchildren.

For example: Private sector firms don’t need to be told to “Look for savings on utilities.” The profit motive induces them to do things like this, either to earn a better return on investment, or in the case of non-profit institutions, to better serve more customers (students).

While public education spending advocates insist that schools shouldn’t be subject to the same competitive market forces that rule the business world, competition works wonders in states where it is allowed to exist. Since Kansas has a very weak charter school law (and therefore very few charter schools) and no school choice through vouchers or tax credit scholarships, Kansas schoolchildren don’t benefit from the dynamism that we see in other states.

We also don’t experience the cost savings that states with school choice see. The The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has found — over and over — that school choice programs save money.

Unfortunately, Governor Brownback has not expressed support for school choice programs, or even for charter schools.

Schools are sure to oppose most of the recommendations, even those that are the hallmark of good government. An example is a KSN Television news story which reported that Newton school superintendent John Morton thinks it is “a real concern” when citizens have access to data about government spending. This is a common reaction by government bureaucrats and officials. They prefer to operate without citizen scrutiny.

Finally, there is this irony: The Kansas school bureaucracy says that everything they do “is for the kids.” You might think that they would already be doing everything they can to increase school efficiency in order to benefit students. They have much of the power they need to do this. It’s time to see whether they’re actually willing to act in the best interests of Kansas schoolchildren, and for taxpayers, too.

Kansas Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force Recommendations

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.

Reaction to Kansas school lawsuit decision

Following are several reactions to the decision in Gannon vs. Kansas, the school funding lawsuit. The court ruled the state must spend more on schools.

An important observation on the true size of the court-ordered tax increase was offered by Kansas Policy Institute:

“Today’s mandate of a $654 Base State Aid Per-Pupil (BSAPP) increase forces the state to raise annual spending and taxes by $440 million and, because of the way the Local Option Budget is written, local property taxes will automatically increase by $154 million. In total, the Shawnee District Court would take an additional $594 million out of the Kansas economy every year.”

See KPI on Gannon: Extremely Unfortunate $600 Million Annual Tax Hike more, including:

“It is extremely unfortunate for citizens of Kansas that the court has effectively ordered an annual $594 million tax hike. This is even more shocking given that there is no evidence that the billions in increased spending have raised student achievement on independent national exams. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), less than half of Kansas’ 4th and 8th grade students are proficient in math and only about one third are proficient in reading – this is essentially unchanged over the past decade despite billions in increased taxpayer support.

“It costs a lot of money to operate our schools, but its how the money is spent that matters, not simply how much. Just this week, Education Week gave Kansas a D+ for student achievement; among other things, this was a result of low rankings for achievement gains and that we are below the national average for gains in each subject and grade level. They also pointed out that per-pupil spending in Kansas is above the national average and that State expenditures on K-12 schooling, as a percent of state taxable resources, are the 12th highest in the nation.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued this statement:

“The ruling by the district court is disappointing but not unexpected given the Kansas Supreme Court’s previous ruling in the Montoy case in 2005. Through today’s ruling, the courts are drastically increasing the property tax burden on every Kansan. The Kansas Legislature, not the courts, has the power of the purse and has, in fact, increased total state funding for schools every year during my administration. The legislative process is the appropriate venue for debating and resolving issues of taxation and spending.”

From Senate President Susan Wagle:

“Once again, Kansas judges have overstepped their constitutional bounds and defied the will of Kansas voters and their elected representatives and senators. With today’s decision, this judicial panel ignored the system of checks and balances that every Kansas student is taught in school and decided that they alone, not the people via the legislature, would determine how the people’s money should be spent, by imposing a specific dollar amount that Kansas must spend for education.

“These judges have made themselves the sole arbiters of spending — and by extension, taxation — in Kansas. They have demonstrated no regard for the ability of struggling Kansas families to pay higher taxes, if necessary, to meet their demands. This also disregards the will of Kansas voters, who overwhelmingly elected a House and Senate that supports the existing school funding policy — one that maintains educational quality while also being sensitive to the very real difficulties being faced by Kansas taxpayers.

“I am committed to upholding the will of the majority of Kansans who want their elected leaders to maintain high-quality public education. I am committed to restoring to Kansas the fundamental American principle that only the elected representatives of the people of Kansas — accountable to them at the ballot box — may enact laws regarding spending and taxation.”

In a press release titled “District Court decision supports a quality education” Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union said:

Once again a Kansas Court has found that the Legislature has failed to fully fund an appropriate public education for Kansas students. …

As to the issue of property taxes, this decision has no effect on property taxes whatsoever. Whether or not property taxes increase will be a matter of how the Legislature decides to react. Since the Legislature last year chose to enact massive cuts to the state income tax, they will need to look to some tax source to overcome first the shortfall of nearly $300 million created by the tax cut and then the projected $440 million necessary to fund the school finance formula. If property taxes go up, the decision will rest entirely with the Legislature. There are many options available to them; they have so far chosen to use scare tactics in reaction to being held accountable.

There is no greater economic development tool than a well-trained, well-educated citizenry. Kansas has long delivered on that promise. This ruling reasserts the State’s commitment to the children, families, and businesses of Kansas.

USD 259, the Wichita public school district:

The District Court of Kansas issued its opinion on the school finance lawsuit on January 11. The ruling, which is in excess of 250 pages, requires adequate funding for schools. The court ordered that the base state aid per pupil should be funded at $4,492, up from $3,838. If funded, the base increase would restore most of the cuts the district has made since 2009. The increase could be at least $45 million. To read the ruling, click here. To watch BOE President Lynn Rogers’ news conference about the opinion, click here.

“This is a win for Kansas students,” said BOE President Lynn Rogers. “The lawsuit is about our children and the Kansas of tomorrow, so we can prepare Wichita students for the high-wage, high skill jobs of the future.”

BOE President Rogers said that the lawsuit was about adequate funding for all Kansas students and that they deserve a quality education regardless of where they live in the state. He also said it is about creating a highly-skilled workforce for the future, which starts with students receiving a quality education.”

“The education we provide is the foundation for our workforce and the future of Kansas. If we don’t give our students a quality education now, we will pay for it in the future,” he added.

The school districts involved in the lawsuit represent about one-third of the students across the state.

President Lynn Rogers said that school districts must collaborate with the Kansas State Legislature to work towards school funding solutions.

Citizens 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.

These are some of the findings of a survey commissioned by Kansas Policy Institute and conducted by SurveyUSA, a national opinion research firm.

In a press release, KPI president Dave Trabert said “As Kansans consider how to deal with the potential fallout from another school lawsuit, pressure to expand Medicaid, ballooning pension deficits and concerns about rising property taxes, we wanted to check again to see how perceptions of the facts influences opinions. Good information is essential to informed opinions and it is clear that when given the facts, Kansans offer much different responses than what is typically reported from overly-simplistic public surveys.”

Here’s the first question of the survey, asking about Kansas state spending on schools: “How much state funding do you think Kansas school districts currently receive per pupil each year from JUST the state of Kansas? Less than $4,000 per pupil? Between $4,000 and $5,000? Between $5,000 and $6,000? Or more than $6,000 per pupil?”

The correct answer is the last category, according to Kansas State Department of Education. State spending on Kansas schools, on a per-pupil basis, is $6,984 for the most recent school year. That’s total state-funded spending of $3,184,163,559 divided by 456,000.50 full time equivalent students. 13 percent of survey respondents chose the correct category. 44 percent thought the correct answer was less than $4,000.

To get a reading about respondents’ level of knowledge regarding total school spending, the survey asked “How much funding per pupil do you think Kansas school districts currently receive from ALL taxpayer sources per year, including State, Federal and Local taxpayers? Less than $6,000 per pupil? Between $6,000 and $9,000? Between $9,000 and $12,000? Or more than $12,000 per pupil?”

According to KSDE, the spending per pupil from all sources of funding is $12,656. On the survey, seven percent chose the correct category. 39 percent thought the answer was less than $6,000, which is less than half the actual spending.

What the trend in school spending? The survey asked: “Over the last 5 years, do you think per-pupil school district funding from the State, Federal Government and local property taxes has gone down by more than 10%? Has remained about the same? Has gone up by less than 5%? Or has gone up by about 10%?”

Here are the figures: For 2011-2012, spending per pupil was $12,656. Five years ago, the 2006-2007 school year, spending was $11,558. That’s 9.5 percent. Only 15 percent chose the correct answer, “up by about 10%.” Fully 61 percent thought spending had declined.

The level of knowledge revealed in this survey is not a surprise. In 2010 KPI commissioned a survey that asked similar questions, with similar results.

A national survey, Is the Price Right? Probing American’s knowledge of school spending, a 2007 project produced by EducationNext, a project of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, produced similar results:

How well informed is the public about these financial commitments? Not very. Among those asked without the prompt listing possible expenses, the median response was $2,000, or less than 20 percent of the true amount being spent in their districts. Over 90 percent of the public offered an amount less than the amount actually spent in their district, and more than 40 percent of the sample claimed that annual spending was $1,000 per pupil or less. The average estimate of $4,231 reflects the influence of a small percentage of individuals who offered extremely high figures. Even so, the average respondent’s estimate was just 42 percent of actual spending levels in their district.

Why the low level of correct information?

Given that citizens have a consistent record of underestimating the amount spend on schools, we might ask why. There are several answers.

First, school officials lie to the public. That’s unfortunate, but there’s no other way to characterize comparisons between their statements and the facts.

In July, a Wichita Eagle news story quoted John Allison, superintendent of USD 259, the Wichita public school district thusly: “We’re still at 2001 funding levels. If only our costs were at 2001.”

In March, Wichita school board member Connie Dietz wrote in an Eagle op-ed: “But what neither I nor any of my fellow board members planned on was building a fiscal year 2012 budget based on 1999 funding levels.”

Looking at the facts, these claims are demonstrably false. Considering Allison’s claim specifically: From the 2001-2002 school year to the 2011-2012 year, spending per pupil from state sources increased from $4,812 to $7,501, an increase of 55.8 percent. Spending per pupil from all sources grew from $8,393 to $12,734, an increase of 51.7 percent.

During the same time, the Consumer Price Index, the primary measure of inflation, rose about 27 percent, about half the rate that Wichita school spending increased.

I don’t know why these school leaders makes these claims that are so divergent from the facts. I do know, however, that our opinion leaders aren’t doing any better. A Lawrence Journal-World editorial that was repeated in the Wichita Eagle made several claims about Kansas schools that don’t hold up under scrutiny. The editorial made this claim: “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. Districts have cut the fat in their budgets and then some. It’s time to correct this dangerous trend.”

This statement about “base state aid per pupil” is true. But using only that figure to describe spending on schools in Kansas is disingenuous. It hides facts that are contrary.

School spending advocates present base state aid per pupil as the primary benchmark or indicator of school spending, despite the fact that it is only part of the Kansas school spending formula and disguises the overall level of spending.

Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, which is an additional $3,203 or 84.7 percent more than base state aid. Overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.

As can be seen in the chart, base state aid has declined, but total state spending has increased.

Why do school spending supporters focus only on base state aid? Its decline provides the grain of truth for their larger and false argument about school spending. As explained in Kansas school spending: the deception this grain of truth enables school spending advocates like Mark Desetti (Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union) to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

Finally, people want schools and students to succeed. Our future depends on it. A good education is a valuable investment. So there’s a built-in bias in favor of schools, and school spending advocates use this to their advantage. Anyone who simply brings attention to the facts — not to mention criticism — is blasted as “anti-education” or “anti-child.”

People are shocked when they learn the level of spending by schools. When they — either through their own observations or measures of student achievement — compare that spending to the product produced by public schools, citizens become truly alarmed — and they should be.

Base state aid compared to Kansas state spending and total spending. State and total spending has risen even though base state aid is mostly flat.

Kansas school test scores haven’t declined, despite early reports

In the wake of news stories reporting a decline in scores on Kansas school assessment tests, a decline in school funding is said to be the cause, as “funding was reduced to the 1992 level,” according to an op-ed penned by Karen Godfrey. She is president of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union.

In her op-ed, titled “Why is this a surprise?” Godfrey makes several claims that deserve examination before Kansas considers implementing the fix she wants, which is, as always, more spending.

First, there are mistakes in the scores released in September. The revised scores, according to a press release from the Kansas State Department of Education, “show a leveling out of performance on reading and math assessments.” Not the “slight decline,” as a previous press release stated.

So those who claim a reduction in funding caused a drop in test scores are operating on a false premise. It may have been unknowing, but it conveniently fit their narrative that more spending is needed.

What’s troubling is this: Godfrey, in her article, can hardly contain her glee in the apparent finding that with declining funding, there were declining test scores. Therefore, there is the proof that the teachers union and school spending establishment needs: Spending less money equals lower achievement, and vice versa.

Instead, we should be relieved that the test scores are not as bad as first believed.

Godfrey also claims that school funding is back to the 1992 level, after accounting for inflation. Like most of the school spending establishment, this argument is based on only a small portion of state spending: base state aid per pupil. This figure has gone down. But at the same time, overall school spending has increased.

Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, and overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.

It is a happy accident for the Kansas school spending establishment that base state aid per pupil has fallen at the same time that overall spending on schools has increased in almost every year. It allows the school spending lobby to make an argument that is superficially true, but deceptive at the same time.

Base state aid compared to Kansas state spending and total spending. State and total spending has risen even though base state aid is mostly flat.

Money flows to Kansas elections

Kansas Watchdog, in its article Tracking the PACs — big money flowing into crucial Senate contests, lays out the action of political action committees seeking to influence Kansas voters in the August primary election.

The issue of third-party money involvement has been a concern to many, with Democrats and moderate Republicans railing against “special interest” money, frequently referring to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity. The claim is that these organizations are attempting to buy an election.

Thanks to Earl Glynn’s reporting in Kansas Watchdog, we see that both sides have PACs that funnel money to, or advocate in favor of, candidates. In the case of moderate Republicans, we see that the Senate Leadership Committee PAC has received contributions from special interest groups, and then funneled that money in favor of moderate Republicans. Senate President Steve Morris controls this PAC.

A large contributor to Morris’ PAC is Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the teachers union. This is a special interest groups that advocates for the interests of teachers, not students and taxpayers.

Another contributor is Kansas Contractors PAC. Its job is to get the state to spend as much as possible on roads and highways, without regard to whether these are needed or wanted.

Casino money makes its way to the PAC, too. The existing casinos in Kansas would like to see competition prohibited.

There are more special interest groups contributing in favor of moderate candidates, including labor unions, perhaps the most highly specialized interest group of all.

Contrast these special interests with groups like Americans for Prosperity. I have supported AFP for many years because AFP promotes economic freedom, which is good for everyone, not just for certain groups. While the Kansas Chamber is more focused on business, a thriving business climate in Kansas is good for everyone — consumers, workers, taxpayers, and government coffers. We don’t have this now in Kansas. Instead, we have low private sector job creation at the expense of government jobs.

Some are concerned about the influence of PAC spending, and also that of third parties that spend in favor of, or in opposition to, candidates. These are independent expenditures. They’re not supposed to be coordinated with the candidate or campaigns. Some of the most misleading and harshly negative ads come from these groups, instead of from the candidates’ campaigns.

This level of separation allows candidates to disavow or distance themselves from these ads. A solution is to allow larger donations to be made directly to the candidates. In this way, the campaign is responsible for the advertisements and can’t shift blame to someone else.

Kansas reasonable: The education candidates

As the Kansas primary election nears, candidates vie to see who is the “education candidate.” It’s part of the theme of the so-called “moderate” Republicans — that they follow a tradition of “reasonableness” that, they say, is characteristic of successful Kansas politicians — the “traditional” Republicans.

Others call for a “balanced” approach to government and “responsible tax reform.” Senate President Steve Morris contributes an op-ed in support of “incumbent senators who put their local communities above the agendas of these special interest groups.”

But when we look at Kansas schools, we find that most of the debate centers on school funding, with some candidates forecasting that public schools will be “devastated” as a result of recent Kansas tax reform.

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the state’s teachers union, is a large player in determining who are the “education candidates.” But when examined closely, anyone can see that the union’s concern is money and teachers, not the schoolchildren of Kansas. KNEA is precisely the type of special interest group that Morris warns against, but Morris and the Republicans branding themselves as “reasonable” aren’t able to see that.

An example of how KNEA functions as a special interest group is its public relations campaign titled “Behind Every Great Student is a Great Public School Teacher.” But what about the great Kansas students who go to private or church schools, or who are homeschooled? The answer is that KNEA cares nothing about these students, as they are taught by teachers who aren’t union members.

A look at KNEA endorsements tells us that the union endorses and supports candidates who will increase spending on schools while at the same time blocking accountability measures and spreading misinformation about Kansas school spending and student achievement. When we consider the effects on Kansas schoolchildren, we start to realize the impact of this special interest group and the politicians and bureaucrats that enable it.

Kansas school spending

The union’s raison d’etre is to increase spending of tax dollars on public schools, insisting that there have been huge cuts in school funding that will lead to diminished student achievement. Kansas school district spending, however, has been rising rapidly for decades. From 1997 to 2010, for example, after accounting for inflation, Kansas state spending per pupil on schools increased by 18 percent. When all sources of funding are included, spending per pupil was up by 32 percent, again after inflation is taken into consideration.

If more money is the answer, the problem would have been solved long ago.

KNEA and many of the purported education candidates won’t even admit to the amount of spending on schools in Kansas. Their focus is on base state aid per pupil, which has declined in recent years. But that’s just part of the spectrum of total spending on schools, and the total has been increasing. The focus solely on base state aid is misleading — a statistical accident that is convenient for KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti and school spending boosters. It lets them present a picture of Kansas school spending that is accurate but deceptive, both at the same time. Other school leaders like Wichita superintendent John Allison do the same.

Voters need to ask those who claim to be education candidates why it is so difficult to recognize the entirety of public school spending.

Kansas student achievement

The education candidates promote the success of Kansas public schools. Scores on Kansas tests are rising — “jumping,” in the recent words of Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker. But scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for Kansas students don’t reflect the same trend. Scores on this test, which is given every two years, aren’t rising like the Kansas-controlled test scores.

Voters need to ask those who claim to be education candidates why we don’t have an accurate state assessment of students.

Kansas “education candidates” will point to Kansas’ overall high scores on the NAEP. It’s true: 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 why Kansas ranks well.

Compare Kansas with Texas, a state that Kansas school spending boosters like to deride as a state with low-performing schools. 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. Texas does this with much less spending per pupil than Kansas.

Kansas voters need to ask those who claim to be education candidates if they are aware of these facts.

Kansas school accountability

The Kansas teachers union its stable of education candidates have also been successful in shielding teachers from meaningful evaluation and accountability for on-the-job performance. As part of the waiver from the No Child Left Behind ACT that Kansas recently received, evaluations of teachers will be changing. The Kansas State Department of Education announced: “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).”

KEEP is an evaluation system that was first used in the last school year on a pilot basis. But according to Peter Hancock of Kansas Education Policy Report, KEEP does not currently have a component that includes student achievement.

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.

Again, voters need to ask those who claim to be education candidates why student achievement has not been a component of teacher evaluation.

Kansas school standards

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has analyzed state standards. 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.

The conclusion by NCES is “… most states’ proficiency standards are at or below NAEP’s definition of Basic performance.” An analysis of the NCES data found that 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.

Voters need to ask those who claim to be education candidates if they are aware of this poor showing by Kansas, and if so, why have they allowed it to persist.

There’s more: Opposing charter schools and school choice, opposition to improving teacher quality policies, insisting that schools fund balances can’t be used, insisting on lockstep salary scales that pay teachers more for things that don’t help students, opposing merit pay, opposing alternative certification — these are all hallmark of teachers unions and, generally speaking, the candidates they support.

Kansas schoolchildren need school reform. KNEA — the teachers union — and the candidates it supports are there to block every reform. Ask yourself: Who are the education candidates?

Wichita school spending

Talking about Wichita school funding this week, district superintendent John Allison was quoted in Wichita Eagle reporting as saying “We’re still at 2001 funding levels.” This claim is part of an ongoing campaign of misinformation spread by school spending advocates in Wichita and across Kansas.

Mr. Allison may have been referring to a component of the Kansas school finance formula called base state aid per pupil. It has been cut, as shown in this chart that the Kansas school spending establishment uses.

Kansas school spending, as presented by the Wichita public school district.

But base state aid is only the starting point. When we look closely at all spending by USD 259, the Wichita public school district, we see a picture vastly different from that described by the Wichita superintendent.

Considering all sources of funding, the Wichita school district has been able to spend more money each year for many years, despite the claims of cuts. What cuts have been made to base state aid per pupil have been more than compensated for by weighted state aid, federal aid, and local aid, as shown in the following chart.

Wichita school spending, as reported by Kansas State Department of Education.

Focusing on base state aid misses the larger picture. As an example, for the 2010-2011 school year, base state aid was $3,937. Yet the Wichita school district received $7,092 per pupil from the state, 80 percent more than the base aid number. Focusing only on base state aid per pupil also fails to recognize the federal and local sources of revenue to schools. For this year the Wichita district received $2,123 per pupil from the federal government and $3,855 per pupil from local taxpayers, for a total of $13,069 per pupil. The same figure for the previous year was $12,526.

There are also other issues to consider when analyzing Kansas base state aid per pupil spending. Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute wrote this is response to Allison’s statement:

Superintendents sometimes talk about base state aid as though it was total aid, so let’s take a look at those facts. Kansas State Department of Education broke out the components of state aid back to 1997, when total state aid was $4,047 per pupil (base was $3,670, KPERS was $157, bond was $42 and all other aid was $178). Back in the days before a lot of weightings were added/expanded, districts had to cover At Risk and other weighting-funding costs out of the base.

State aid in 2012 was estimated by KSDE to be $6,931 per-pupil … base was $3,780 … KPERS was $804 … bond was $230 … and all other aid was $2,116. More than a ten-fold increase in other state aid, most of which is in those weightings that formerly had to come out of the base.

By the way, KSDE says 2012 was estimated to be a record-setting spending year.

More information about the changing nature of base state aid is at Base state aid is wrong focus for Kansas school spending.

Why do school spending supporters focus only on base state aid? Its decline provides the grain of truth for their larger and false argument about school spending. As explained in Kansas school spending: the deception this grain of truth enables school spending advocates like Mark Desetti (Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union) to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

We ought to demand more truth from school districts and school officials regarding school finance.

Sedgwick County voter registration changes: Impact on senate races

During the Kansas primary election season, there have been efforts to recruit Democratic party voters to change their voter registration to Republican in order to participate in Republican party primary races. Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) has asked teachers union members to switch their voter registration in order to vote in Republican primaries. KNEA has asked this on its website and in an email that has received widespread attention.

Former Wichita Mayor Elma Broadfoot has recorded telephone calls urging Democrats to switch party registration so they may vote for moderate Republicans, reports the Wichita Eagle.

Whether this effort will be successful is unknown. But we now know, for Sedgwick County, how many people have changed their voter registration to Republican in recent months.

I took a Sedgwick County voter file obtained in May and compared it to one current as of Friday, which is after the deadline for changing voter registration. In the accompanying table, I counted voters who switched to Republican registration from some other party. I grouped the data by Kansas Senate district, as this is where much of the focus has been. I also present totals for Sedgwick County, as some county-wide races may also be impacted.

Voter registration party changes in Sedgwick County

It’s important to remember that some of these senate districts are not totally within Sedgwick County, and this table includes only Sedgwick County voters. Districts 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30 are entirely within the county, and all voters in these districts are represented in the table.

Numbers in context

Now that we know the number of voters who switched to Republican registration, are these numbers large enough to affect any races? The answer is we simply don’t know. We don’t know why these voters switched to Republican registration. Their motive may be to vote for the moderate candidate, but there could be other reasons, too.

To place these numbers in context, consider the race for senate district 25, which pits incumbent Jean Schodorf against Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell. In this district, 230 voters switched to Republican registration.

In the 2008 primary, 2,435 people voted for Schodorf, but there was no opponent. About 4,000 voted for Les Donovan in his primary, and about the same for Susan Wagle in her district, but again these races were uncontested. In the 2008 general election, 16,016 voted for Schodorf over 9,530 cast for her opponent, for a total of 25,546 votes cast, plus a few write-ins. But general elections, by their nature, have a much higher turnout than primaries.

A better election to compare is the 2004 Republican primary for senate district 30 in east Wichita, when former Wichita Mayor Bob Knight challenged incumbent Susan Wagle in a race that received much attention. Knight received 3,140 votes to Wagle’s 5,624, for a total of 8,764 votes cast.

230 voters switching registration out of a potential vote total of 8,764 is 2.6 percent. Many races are decided by less than that margin. But again, we don’t know the intent of these 230 voters, and while these voters are probably more motivated than most, some may not vote.

We should also note that district 27 had 223 voters switch to Republican affiliation during the same period. Incumbent Les Donovan has no primary opponent. He will face a Democrat in the general election, but party registration doesn’t matter at that time. In district 30, 160 voters switched to Republican registration. Incumbent Susan Wagle has no primary opponent.

It’s also noteworthy that switching to Republican registration is not the only action I observed. For example, in District 25, while 230 voters switched to Republican, 51 Democratic voters switched to Unaffiliated registration, 42 Republicans switched to Unaffiliated, and seven voters became Libertarian party voters. On election day Unaffiliated voters can switch their registration to Republican and vote in the primary.

Finally, there are new voters of all parties, including Republican. The analysis above counts only voters who changed party registration to Republican.

Overall, 2,001 voters in Sedgwick County switched party registration during this two-month period, with 1,126 switching to Republican.

Kansas teachers union email: who is reasonable?

Kansas progressives in both major political parties who want larger state government are promoting themselves as “reasonable.” Another email from an official of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) asking union members to switch their voter registration in order to vote in Republican primaries provides additional insight into the true motivations of the union, and a look at who is reasonable.

The email, printed in its entirety below, is from Tony White, Director of UniServ Southeast. UniServs are regional offices that provide services to teachers union members.

In this email, White mentions students, writing “Stand up for yourself, for your profession, and Yes, for your students.” Mention of students was absent from a previous email White sent.

White also uses words that we see progressives — including progressive Republicans — commonly use: “reasonable people” and “ideologues.” The mantra these days is that the Kansas Senate is the last bastion of a reasonable approach to government, and that hard-right ideologues have occupied the House of Representatives and the governor’s mansion.

Kansans, however, ought to take a look at what “reasonable” has meant for Kansas schools, since that is purportedly the concern of White and the teachers union.

While the Kansas school establishment touts rising test scores, this improved performance is only on tests managed by that very same establishment. On the national NAEP tests that Kansas school officials don’t control, Kansas scores are unchanged or falling. Despite this, Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker says scores on Kansas tests are rising — “jumping,” in her own words. See Kansas school test scores.

Compare Kansas with Texas, a state that Kansas school spending boosters like to deride as a state with low-performing schools. 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. Texas does this with much less spending per pupil than Kansas.

We also know 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. See Despite superintendents’ claim, Kansas schools have low standards.

White and his education spending establishment allies want more spending on schools, and they claim that school spending has been dramatically cut in recent years. Their focus on base state aid contains a grain of truth about school spending. But despite that figure having been cut, total spending on schools in Kansas this year is likely to set a record high. See Base state aid is wrong focus for Kansas school spending and Wichita school spending: The grain of truth.

The teachers union and school establishment are opposed to, and generally successful in opposing other reforms that would help Kansas schools, such as improving teacher quality and implementing school choice. See In Kansas, school reform not on the plate.

Kansas is falling behind other states in implementing meaningful reforms. That’s the way the teachers union likes it. Kansas students and taxpayers suffer for their benefit.

This ought to cause us to reconsider who is reasonable.

Following is the email from White:

One last time, just for the procrastinators out there (which I will admit includes Member #1 – I think she’s resisting just to mess with me). Just like you, she’ll come through.

So I’m sending this to all KNEA members in UniServ Southeast, even though many of you have told me you have your registration all squared away. You can feel quietly superior and totally prepared while I go on.

Here’s the online link to register/switch to the important Republican party: https://www.kdor.org/voterregistration/Default.aspx

THIS MUST BE DONE BY NEXT TUESDAY, JULY 17TH IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY REGISTERED AS A DEMOCRAT.

If you have a valid driver’s license, you can do it online. However, make sure it “went through” (sorry for the tech talk J).

You should get a wallet size voting card back from your county clerk, or at least that’s how it worked for me in Crawford County. It took about 10 calendar days and it shows my updated registration, including the polling place. Now I’m ready if there are any hiccups at the polls when I go to vote.

If you do not receive a confirmation, you should check with your county clerk’s office to see if the change was received. There have been some instances where the clerk had no record of the update. You don’t want that when you go to vote.

Finally, it seems my emails to you all have created a bit of a stir among the radical conservatives. They have been forwarded some of them, I guess. In turn, I have received several offensive emails lambasting me for encouraging you all to register and to vote, to have a say in the type of state in which we live and the quality of school system in which we work.

They have blathered about it and me on the internet as well and in some news articles. They are greatly outraged, I tell you.

Called me lots of names. Demanded I stop asking you to register and to vote, and that I apologize for doing so.

Ain’t a gonna happen.

Their reaction does demonstrate they are worried, worried that reasonable people are exerting their own right to vote.

Maybe they know that less than 20% of the registered voters in SEK voted in the primary 2 years ago. That’s typical.

Maybe they understand how every vote counts, and that goes double for a primary with low turnout.

Maybe they want only the ideologues like them to make these decisions that will affect all of us so profoundly.

Well, we also know those numbers, and we know the ideologues will turn out to vote 100%.

The rest is up to you. Stand up for yourself, for your profession, and Yes, for your students. There are more of us than them, if we’ll do it.

Get registered, and influence any like-minded person to do likewise. And then vote on August 7.

Want to do more? For the primary:

· Yards signs – and even highway signs if you have a good location. Let me know.

· Walking as teacher/KNEA members to leaflet. We will just go to the doors of registered Republicans and hand out campaign pieces. It’s easy and fun, and the candidates love local teachers helping out. Nothing gives them more credibility than teachers helping in their own town. Help as little or as much as you can. Let me know – we’re quickly organizing things.

· We have helped walk Erie and have Independence, Baxter Springs, and Columbus set for this Saturday. Parsons, Chanute, and the rest will soon follow.

· In Cherokee, Crawford, and Bourbon counties, Bob Marshall needs you.

· In Montgomery, Labette, and Neosho counties, it’s Dwayne Umbarger. (and Rich Proehl and Ed Bideau, too.)

Thanks for reading this far. I really wouldn’t be such a pest if it wasn’t this important. We are fighting for the future of our state and the quality of life we enjoy. So I’ll risk being annoying.

Thanks for everything you do for your students and for your colleagues. See you at the polls.

KNEA email a window into teachers union

An email from an official of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) asks union members to switch their voter registration party in order to vote in Republican party primaries.

The fear of the teachers union is that control of the Kansas Senate may fall into hands of conservative members instead of the coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans that forms the working majority in that chamber. If that happens, it would not be good for union members’ “professional interests,” says the email.

The email, printed in its entirety below, is from Tony White, Director of UniServ Southeast. UniServs are regional offices that provide services to teachers union members.

In the email, White tells union members that state revenues will be reduced by 40 to 50 percent as a result of the recent Kansas tax reform legislation. This is a great exaggeration. Projections by Kansas Legislative Research indicate a decline of revenue of about 12 percent from 2013 to 2014. After that year revenue rises each year, and by 2018 revenue is projected to rise to nearly the level of 2012.

White also writes that due process — tenure, in other words — and bargaining for salaries may be lost. While both of these reforms would be good for Kansas schoolchildren and taxpayers, they don’t seem likely very soon in Kansas.

Surprisingly, the email never mentions what the Kansas school establishment and the teachers union fears most: accountability through market-based competition. This could happen through charter schools, vouchers, or tax credit scholarships. It is this accountability that teachers unions fear most. So far Governor Sam Brownback has not forcefully advocated for these reforms that would greatly help Kansas children.

The tone of the email, overall, is that it is teachers that are important. Never once are schoolchildren mentioned. This email is another example of how the Kansas school spending establishment, of which KNEA is a prime member and political force, exists for the benefit of adults, not children and parents.

Subject: KNEA Email
Tony.White@KNEA.ORG 6/16/2012 6:13 PM
Although this might seem like a rather personal request, I’d like you to register to vote, and more specifically, to register to vote as a Republican.

That way you can vote for a supporter of public schools in the August 7 primary in either Senate 13 (Marshall v LaTurner) or new Senate 15 (Umbarger v King). The winner of those primaries will undoubtedly be the winner in November, and if you’re not a registered Republican, you don’t get to help make that decision.

Here’s the email I sent to our members, and the links to change one’s registration.

AND TELL ANYONE ELSE YOU KNOW THAT CAN HELP OUT. It’s no time for being shy. We’ll regret losing this next election for a long, long time.

Subject: Registration and Voting

I am sending this information (and a few opinions, too) to you as a KNEA member in SEK.

I realize about every election we tell you how important this one is. Those elections sure did seem important at the time. But this summer in the Republican primary Senate races and then this fall in some of the House races, the stakes simply could not be higher for teachers and for schools.

And right out of the gate, when I talk elections and politics, I means our Kansas races for Kansas House and especially the Kansas Senate.

With the electoral college system and our current Congresswoman, there’s no point spending any time or energy on the national level. It’s a lost cause. But when it comes to teachers and schools, it matters more what happens in Topeka anyway, and we can affect those!

If we don’t retain the moderate majority in the State Senate, we will be in a world of hurt. The tax cuts signed this spring by Governor Brownback – if unchecked — will reduce state revenue by 40-50%, and the deep cuts to schools and every other state service or function — will inevitably follow. Teacher protections like due process and the right to bargain salaries will probably be lost. Our current public school system will be unrecognizable.

That’s if we lose this election. So, let’s win it.

How can you help?

Vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday August 7. Vote for our moderate Republican incumbent friends, for 4-term Senator Dwayne Umbarger and for Senator Bob Marshall. They have supported us, and it’s time to step up and help them.

1. If you’re already a registered Republican, you’re ready to go. Make sure you vote.

2. If you’re registered to vote, but not registered as a Republican, you need to switch. Otherwise, you can’t vote in the primary, and frankly, these two critical races will be settled in the primary in
August. The primary winner will cruise in November.

3. If you’re now a Democrat, you need to switch to a Republican. I know, I know, but otherwise you can’t vote in the election that counts, and that’s the Republican primary. I did it today, just like we have over the years to vote for Jana Shaver or Val DeFever for State Board. You can switch right back after the election, and we promise not to tease you about it.

How does one register in the first place? Or change registration to a Republican? It’s the same form, and you can even do it online. Here’s the online link: https://www.kdor.org/voterregistration/Default.aspx

You use your driver’s license. I just tried the link and it worked fine. It’s submitted to the Clerk in Crawford County and they’ll mail me a confirmation. I’m a Republican!

But if the site gives you trouble, there is also the old-fashioned paper form: http://www.kssos.org/forms/elections/voterregistration.pdf

One prints it, fills it out and takes it in to the county clerk or mails it in. The addresses for all 105 counties are right there on the back of the form.

Registration has to be done by July 17 – or you’re locked out of the primary. So get your paperwork right so you can vote to protect our profession and our schools.

And print off extra copies of the form for spouses, adult kids, neighbors, friends, or kindred spirits. If they will vote to support public schools, we want them and need them on August 7. It’s the same form all across Kansas – it just goes to the appropriate clerk of the county where the person lives. Or use the online link.

And if you want to get involved in either the Umbarger or Marshall campaign, from planting yard signs to letters to the editor to walking with the candidates – just let me know. They both are clearly better for our professional interests than their primary opponent.

In Kansas, phony tax cut debate

Some who oppose cutting income tax rates in Kansas are using slight of hand to make the case that Kansas can’t afford to cut taxes.

An example comes from the Kansas Economic Progress Council. Last week this group said that the tax cut bill passed by the House of Representatives would create a budget gap of $2,475,100,000 by fiscal year 2018. KEPC then compared that to what the state general fund might be at that time — perhaps around $6,500,000,000 — and marveled at how large the deficit would be to one year’s general fund spending.

This analysis was then picked up by groups like Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and perhaps a few gullible newspaper editorial writers, and people in Kansas become concerned.

Projections surrounding the tax plan have been shifting. But the problem with the KEPC story, and where the slight of hand comes in, is that the deficit figure cited is the cumulative deficit over a period of four (or maybe five) years. But the general fund spending this cumulative number is compared to is for a single year.

There’s no valid basis for making this comparison. In the vernacular of the teachers union, it’s comparing apples to oranges.

It is simply a scare tactic used by special interest groups that benefit from government spending. It’s not truthful.

Where’s the multiplier?

KEPC also formulated an illustration as to how many jobs the state would need to create to overcome this purported budget gap. This might be a reasonable thing to do, as the stated purpose of the tax reduction plan is to create an environment in Kansas where job creation accelerates.

In its analysis, KEPC didn’t make use of the multiplier. This is a standard argument made by those who like KEPC want a government spending program started or expanded, or perhaps a sales tax increase. Each job created by the government spending, it is said, spawns spending that creates other jobs.

So why didn’t KEPC use the multiplier in this analysis? Is this a technique used only when it produces the results that special interest spending groups like KEPC desire?

On top of that, KEPC makes the same time series mistake as before, where the accumulated deficit over a period of years is treated as though it needs to be solved in one year.

Wichita school spending: The grain of truth

Reporting on USD 259, the Wichita public school district teacher contract negotiations provides another example of how schools are not being truthful regarding school spending.

According to Wichita Eagle reporting, the district’s attorney used “repeated cuts in state funding” as a reason why the district can’t raise teacher salaries. He also referred to “the state and the cuts that have been made to school finance” and also said “I think it’s the state legislature and all the cuts that have occurred that have put us in this position.”

These statements contain a grain of truth, but in a wider context, they are not truthful. It’s not just the Wichita school district attorney that makes these claims of large cuts to school funding. So do the Kansas school spending establishment and their allies such as the editorial boards of most Kansas newspapers.

The grain of truth is base state aid per pupil, which is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. It has been cut, as shown in this chart that the school spending establishment uses.

Kansas school spending, as presented by the Wichita public school district.

Focusing on base state aid misses the larger picture. As an example, for the 2010-2011 school year, base state aid was $3,937. Yet the Wichita school district received $7,092 per pupil from the state, 80 percent more than base aid. Focusing only on base state aid per pupil also misses the federal and local sources of revenue to schools. For this year the Wichita district received $2,132 per pupil from the federal government, and $3,855 per pupil from local taxpayers, for a total of $13,069 per pupil. The same figure for the previous year was $12,526.

As it turns out, when you consider all sources of funding, the Wichita school district has been able to spend more money each year for many years, despite the claims of cuts. What cuts have been made to base state aid per pupil have been more than compensated for by weighted state spending, federal aid, and local aid, as shown in the following chart.

Wichita school spending, as reported by Kansas State Department of Education.

Why do school spending supporters focus only on base state aid? Its decline provides the grain of truth for their larger and false argument about school spending. As explained in Kansas school spending: the deception this grain of truth enables school spending advocates like Mark Desetti (Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union) to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

We expect this behavior from union officials. Their job — as advocates for a special interest group — is to direct more spending to schools, without regard to need or cost to taxpayers.

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.

Similarly, we ought to expect more truth from school districts and school officials regarding school finance. Then, we can ask for truth on Kansas school test scores.

Wichita pension plan report

First, the good news: The condition of Wichita Employees’ Retirement System is nowhere near as dire as Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, or KPERS. But the city is having to make much higher contributions to keep the plan funded. These contribution rates are likely to increase, as the plan relies on unrealistic assumptions.

Wichita has two employee retirement plans, one for police and fire, and another for other employees. The two plans are nearly equal in size, and both experience the same problems.

As a result of low investment returns, the city finds itself saddled with higher retirement plan costs. In 2009, the city’s contribution to Wichita Employees’ Retirement System was $3,887,085. For 2011, it is $7,695,317, an increase of 98 percent in two years. In reality this increase, as large as it is, is not nearly enough to fund the plan if realistic assumptions and accounting was used.

In the words of report authors, the Wichita Employees’ Retirement System plan experienced a “large increase to the unfunded actuarial liability.” In plain language, the plan’s investments did not earn enough in 2011 to meet expected future expenses. This is termed, again by plan authors, an “unfavorable experience.”

The reality is worse than reported, as Wichita uses a valuation method called “asset smoothing.” This technique smooths out uneven investment returns. It means that the recent years of investment losses are not fully incorporated into the official statistics. Again, from the report authors: “Under the asset smoothing method used in the valuation process, a portion of this investment loss is deferred to future years.” Private sector pension plans can’t do this.

As of December 31, 2011, the actuarial value of the plan’s assets — determined using the asset smoothing technique — was $513.3 million. The market value was $458.8 million, or 10.6 percent less. Also, a measure called “Portion of Actuarial Liabilities Covered by Reported Assets” has declined from 90.1 percent in 2009 to 73.9 percent in 2011.

The effect of this unrealized loss on the plan is severe. If these losses were recognized, the city would have to increase its contributions to the plan by a large amount, write the authors: “If the deferred losses were recognized immediately in the actuarial value of assets, the funded percentage would decrease from 93% to 83% and the actuarially determined contribution rate would increase from 12.6% to 17.9%.” (It’s important to remember who pays for these contributions: Wichita taxpayers.)

A chart in the report shows the expected city contribution rate for future years. It rises rapidly, from about 10 percent now to over 16 percent in 2015. This assumes that the plan earns 7.75 percent investment returns.

The ongoing problem

The Wichita retirement plan uses an assumed rate of return of 7.75 percent. Calculations as to how much the city needs to contribute are based on this assumption. The problem is that this rate is simply too high.

In the private sector, pension plans use much lower assumed rates, such as the rate of return on high quality corporate bonds. This might be somewhere between five percent and six percent. If the Wichita retirement plans were re-evaluated using this assumption, the unfunded liability would explode, and the contributions the city would need to make would be much greater, perhaps by one-third. That’s because of the long time frame of pension fund investments, where small changes in rates of return have a large dollar impact.

Solution going forward

The ongoing problem is that city and state pension plans operate under unrealistic assumptions. This means that Wichita is taking on too much risk in the form of future promised benefits that it isn’t presently paying for.

It’s also easy for cities and states to promise generous retirement benefits without paying for them. The solution is to simply stop this practice and adopt what most of the private sector has: Defined contribution plans like 401k plans.

The city has done this, partially, as new employees (not police and fire) are initially in a defined contribution plan. But employees can later decide to move to the defined benefit plan — the type that causes so much trouble for state and local governments. As it turns out, almost all eligible Wichita employees choose to enter the defined benefit plan.

Government employee representation groups are strongly in favor of defined contribution plans. Last year, in its message to its followers, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) wrote this about defined-contribution plans: “First, they claim that a DC plan gives the employee control over their own retirement. And if you have lots to invest and have the time and knowledge to do so effectively, that might be true. Of course, even if you do, you can end up like the folks who found Enron to be a great investment or trusted Mr. Madoff. The fact is most of us are not prepared to do our own analysis and investment.”

(While KNEA is writing about KPERS, the state employee retirement plan, the principles apply to the Wichita plan.) There’s quite a bit of misinformation here. But before that, a huge irony is that this information is aimed at Kansas schoolteachers, and their union assumes they are not intelligent enough to plan for their own retirement.

In fact, planning for retirement is quite easy and simple. All one needs to do is select low-cost index stock and bond mutual funds, of which there are many. These funds, over the long time horizon appropriate for retirement investing, beat the performance of all managed funds, meaning funds managed by professionals who attempt to analyze markets and earn greater than average returns through an active trading strategy. This is not disputed by anyone except by those who sell actively-managed mutual funds.

“The evidence is clear. Low-cost index funds regularly outperform two-thirds of actively managed funds, and the one-third of actively managed funds that outperform changes from period to period. Even the very few professional investors who have beaten the market over long periods of time — Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and Yale University’s David Swensen, for instance — are quick to advise that investors are likely to be much better off with simple low-cost index funds than with expensive actively managed funds.” (Burton G. Malkiel, ‘Buy and Hold’ Is Still a Winner. Also, see the author’s book The random walk guide to investing: ten rules for financial success.)

Generally, most investors would select just one or two funds in which to place their contributions. Over time, investors may want to change the balance or characteristics of the funds they invest in. This again is easy to do. In fact, large mutual fund companies like Vanguard have index funds that automatically shift the balance between stocks and bonds as investors move along towards retirement.

The idea that the teachers union believes that professionals like schoolteachers are not capable of becoming informed and making these decisions is laughable if it weren’t the actual belief of the union. Suggestion: An actually useful and productive role for the teachers union would be to help their members learn to invest for their retirement. Cities like Wichita could do the same.

The problem cited about Enron and Madoff is that some people placed all or nearly all their investments with these two firms. That’s a bad strategy for anyone to follow with their retirement investments. Using index funds will not expose investors to the risk of losing all their money.

The claim by the KNEA that “lots to invest” is required is false. The companies that manage defined-contribution retirement plans accept new employees into the plan no matter how little they have to invest, and they accept their periodic contributions each pay period no matter how small. Scale — the amount available to invest — is not an issue, contrary to the assertions of the teachers union.

One claim made by KNEA is true: defined contribution plans give workers control over their retirement savings. This is a benefit. If a worker has a low tolerance for risk, they can keep their contributions in cash (actually treasury bonds would be the choice for these people). Others who wish to take an active role in the retirement investing can do so, as most plans offer funds that have targeted goals such as real estate, growth stocks, short-term bonds, long-term bonds, etc.

But in KPERS — and the Wichita plan — all members are invested in the mix of investments that the plan trustees decide on. These investments are largely in stocks and bonds, a fact possibly lost upon Jane Carter of Kansas Organization of State Employees. She asked her members “Do you really want to take your retirement security and gamble it on the stock market?” The reality is that KPERS is invested in the stock market, and those returns are essential to funding KPERS benefits. The investments that the trustees choose may not be suitable for each individual member. But KPERS members have no choice.

The point is that the individual is in control, and can choose investments that match their goals.

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.

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.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday January 11, 2012

A legislator would do this? In his At The Rail column, Kansas statehouse reporter Martin Hawver speculates that even routine procedural votes, as well as votes in committee, may be material for campaign ads and mailers in this election year. “You’ve seen the mailings in election years, you know, the ones with a photo of a few lines apparently ripped from the official journal of the House or Senate. The scrap is always tilted a bit to make it more visually interesting. And, by gosh, that bit of an official document almost always shows — usually with a swipe of yellow highlighter — that a candidate voted for or against something that the rest of the brochure deems politically or fiscally or culturally important. … So, we’re going to be watching closely, to see whether a vote in a committee on something relatively unimportant becomes the theme of a campaign or two out there, and whether the public will be much moved by a vote even when it is dramatically presented as a fact ‘ripped from the official record’ of some committee or another. Key might be that it’s the final votes, not necessarily some little acting-out behavior in a committee, that is the real indication of just where a legislator is on legislation that you care about.” … I should tell you this: I’m more than a little shocked to learn this goes on in Topeka.

Where to see, listen to State of State Address. Tonight’s 6:30 pm address by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback can see seen on television by tuning in to KTPS (Wichita), KTWU (Topeka), or Smoky Hills Public Television. Radio coverage is on Kansas Information Network, KSAL-Salina 1150 AM, KANU-Lawrence/Topeka/Kansas City FM 91.5, KANH-Emporia FM 89.7, KANV-Olsburg/Junction City FM 91.3 and in Manhattan on FM 99.5, KANZ- Garden City FM 91.1, KZNA-Hill City FM 90.5, KHCC-Hutchinson/Wichita FM 90.1, KHCD-Salina/Manhattan FM 89.5, KHCT-Great Bend/Hays FM 90.9, KMUW-Wichita FM 89.1, KRPS-Pittsburg KS FM 89.9, KCUR-Kansas City Missouri FM 89.3, and online at www.KWCH.com, kslegislature.org, www.khi.org, and www.am580wibw.com.

Kansas Policy Institute launches blog. In its newsletter, the Kansas Policy Institute announces the start of a blog: “We believe this will be a venue to have an open discussion on the challenges facing our state and advancing liberty and freedom. Of course, we will continue the work we’ve been doing, but this is an opportunity to provide more real time analysis, share videos and stories from around the web, and allow concerned Kansans can debate the issues of the day.” The blog is located at KPI Blog. … KPI’s primary communications with Kansans have been through policy analysis and reports, and through newspaper op-ed columns. The blog should make KPI a more familiar source of news and information.

Kansas House Speaker criticized. “Continuous abuse of power and nepotism” along with his role in a lawsuit against the State of Kansas are the charges leveled against Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal. The writer of the letter with the charges is Kansas Representative Owen Donohoe of the 39th district, which covers parts of Johnson, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte counties. … In 2010 O’Neal faced an legislative ethics panel investigation into his role as attorney for clients suing the state. The panel decided that O’Neal broke no rules, but that the legislature’s ethics rules should prohibit what O’Neal was doing, citing the “appearance of impropriety” such actions create. … In 2009, O’Neal faced a complaint relating to nepotism, and a panel found there was insufficient evidence to support the charges. … Last year O’Neal made several committee reassignments that were seen as motivated by a desire to silence critics of policies that O’Neal supported. These included Rep. Charlotte O’Hara for her position on health care issues, Rep. Kasha Kelly for her position on state spending, and Donohoe himself. Coverage is at More trouble brewing for House Speaker O’Neal and Kansas Republican legislator blasts House Speaker Mike O’Neal. … The public policy issue is this: Does legislative leadership — Speaker of the House, Senate President, Committee Chairs — have too much power? From my observation of the Kansas Legislature over the past few years, my answer is: Yes.

Kansas presidential caucus. Kansas Republicans will hold their presidential nominating caucus on Saturday, March 10th. Participants must be registered as Republicans to participate, and the last day to register as such is February 17th. Photo ID will be required for admission.

Democrats urged to help Republicans. In an email, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the teachers union, urges Kansas Democrats to help Republican select their nominees in the August primary elections. Writes the union to its minions: “Given the registration advantage that Republicans have over Democrats in Kansas, it is not surprising that many elections are decided in the August primaries. In many districts the Republican nominee will likely win. This means that unaffiliated and Democratic voters are very limited in the influence they can have on who will be their Representative or Senator. The reality is that, while it might feel good to register your disgust with both parties by registering as an unaffiliated voter, it dramatically reduces the influence of your vote in the election. … If you want your vote to have a greater influence this year, then we would urge you to consider your registration and participation in the primary election in August. If you live in a district that will likely elect a Republican in the general election, wouldn’t it be nice to have a say in which Republican that will be? If you want that voice, you will need to be a registered Republican by July 16, 2012.”

Kansas health issues. The Kansas Health Institute News Service has identified the issues related to health that are important in this year’s legislative session. Medicaid reform and health care exchanges are the first two mentioned, with Medicaid reform a very large and important issue. The article is Health issues facing the 2012 Legislature.

Separation of art and state. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback may be wavering on his opposition to state funding for the arts in Kansas, according to Lawrence Journal-World reporting. I recently urged legislators — borrowing a term from David Boaz — to respect the separation of art and state. In his book The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties, Boaz explained why this is important: “It is precisely because art has power, because it deals with basic human truths, that it must be kept separate from government. Government, as I noted earlier, involves the organization of coercion. In a free society coercion should be reserved only for such essential functions of government as protecting rights and punishing criminals. People should not be forced to contribute money to artistic endeavors that they may not approve, nor should artists be forced to trim their sails to meet government standards. Government funding of anything involves government control.”

Numbers trouble Americans. “Many Americans have strong opinions about policy issues shaping the presidential campaign, from immigration to Social Security. But their grasp of numbers that underlie those issues can be tenuous.” The Wall Street Journal article Americans Stumble on Math of Big Issues covers this topic. “‘It’s pretty apparent that Americans routinely don’t know objective facts about the government,’ says Joshua Clinton, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University. Americans’ numerical misapprehension can be traced to a range of factors, including where they live, the news they consume, the political rhetoric they hear and even the challenges of numbers themselves. And it isn’t even clear how much this matters: Telling people the right numbers often doesn’t change their views.”

Capitalism. “The Occupy Wall Street movement expresses valid frustrations, but do the protesters aim their accusations in the wrong direction? Economics Professor Chris Coyne draws the distinction between crony capitalism and legitimate capitalism. Crony capitalism is government favoritism fueled by handouts and is responsible for the plight of the 99%. Legitimate capitalism, on the other hand, uses competition to align consumer and producer interests and serves to improve everyone’s standard of living. … Coyne says: “What we need is constraints on government … The minute you open the floodgates of government handouts, people are going to start lining up to grab them. And the people that are going to tend to get those handout are those that have money and political connections. So the solution to this is simple. Instead of spreading out losses, we need to do is to allow people to earn profits when they produce things that people value, and suffer losses when the fail to do so. When you have that type of system, the only way to earn wealth is to improve peoples’ standards of living.”… This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday December 16, 2011

Kansas school finance. Reactions to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s school finance plan are coming in. Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute gives it a grade of “incomplete.” “It’s good to give districts more flexibility in deciding how to spend aid dollars and the formula may be easier to understand, but there is nothing in this plan to substantively address his laudable goals of raising student achievement. Excellence in Education requires laser-like focus on outcomes and those elements are missing from this plan. … Funding is important but that’s not what drives achievement. Total aid to Kansas schools increased from $3.1 billion in 1998 to $5.6 billion in 2011. Yet reading proficiency levels according to the U.S. Department of Education remain relatively unchanged at about 35%.” … Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the teachers union, notes the good points: It anticipates no further cuts to K-12 Education funding. It allows maximum flexibility in addressing student needs by removing restrictions on spending on at-risk or bilingual students. It counts kindergartners as full time students. But, the bad, according to the union: It has a TABOR-like effect that permanently locks in school funding at the current inadequate level. TABOR refers to taxpayer bill of rights, plans that some states have to limit the rate of growth of government. … While the Brownback administration believes the plan should settle lawsuits aimed at forcing more spending on education, lawyers suing the state say “Without addressing the costs of what schools need to spend in order to get the kind of performance the 21st Century demands, it is a system doomed to failure. It doesn’t do what the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Constitution requires and that is fund education based on its costs.”

No school choice for Kansas. The Brownback plan contains no mention of school choice programs of any kind, not even charter schools. The latter are possible in Kansas, but the law is stacked against their formation. School choice programs are increasing in popularity in many states, because they hold the strong possibility of better results for students and parents. Plus, as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has found in its study Education by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006, school choice programs save money: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.” Governor Brownback could have integrated a small school choice program into the school financing plan as a way to save money and provide greater freedom for students and parents. … In what the Wall Street Journal dubbed the The Year of School Choice, Republican governors across the nation have founded or expanded school choice programs. Wrote the Journal: “But choice is essential to driving reform because it erodes the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live. Unions defend the monopoly to protect jobs for their members, but education should above all serve students and the larger goal of a society in which everyone has an opportunity to prosper. This year’s choice gains are a major step forward, and they are due in large part to Republican gains in last fall’s elections combined with growing recognition by many Democrats that the unions are a reactionary force that is denying opportunity to millions. The ultimate goal should be to let the money follow the children to whatever school their parents want them to attend.” … But under governor Brownback’s leadership, this is not happening in Kansas.

Federal budget transparency. U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, this week expressed frustration with transparency involving the federal budget. “I appreciate the Congressman from Utah talking about transparency. The idea that just because we’re only shining some light on a particular aspect — on not on the whole process — to me that’s an argument we need more transparency on the whole process. I totally agree with that. The experience in my office in the last three days has been to make an attempt to find out what is in this Conference Committee report. It’s been three days, and at 12:37 am this morning that was posted online — 1,219 pages, not quite 11 hours ago. I’m a Member of Congress and I’m going to be expected to vote on that very quickly. There was an interesting quote in The Hill this morning. I don’t know who said it, but it quoted: ‘… [A]ppropriators are worried that the tactic could leave the omnibus text out in the public for too long, giving time for K Street lobbyists to attack it before it gets approved.’ I don’t care about the lobbyists. It’s my job. It’s a responsibility to my constituents. We need more transparency not less. We need more discussions of the tyranny of debt, not less. This type of legislation gives us that opportunity. It gives the American people more appropriately the opportunity to see what we are doing.” There is video of Huelskamp’s remarks.

Open records in Wichita. “A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to A Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” That’s James Madison, framer of the First Amendment, 1822. Six of seven Wichita City Council members seem not to agree with Madison, and we have a city attorney who goes out of his way to block access to information that the public has a right to know. The City of Wichita’s attitude towards open records and government transparency will be a topic of discussion on this week’s edition of the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas. That program airs in Wichita and western Kansas at 9:00 am Sundays on KAKE channel 10, and at 5:00 am Saturdays on WIBW channel 13 in Topeka.

Cell phone ban while driving. Sometimes regulating a behavior, even though it is dangerous, makes things even worse. “A news release from the Highway Loss Data Institute summarizes the finding of a new study: “It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.” More at Texting bans haven’t worked.

Myths of the Great Depression. “Historian Stephen Davies names three persistent myths about the Great Depression. Myth #1: Herbert Hoover was a laissez-faire president, and it was his lack of action that lead to an economic collapse. Davies argues that in fact, Hoover was a very interventionist president, and it was his intervening in the economy that made matters worse. Myth #2: The New Deal ended the Great Depression. Davies argues that the New Deal actually made matters worse. In other countries, the Great Depression ended much sooner and more quickly than it did in the United States. Myth #3: World War II ended the Great Depression. Davies explains that military production is not real wealth; wars destroy wealth, they do not create wealth. In fact, examination of the historical data reveals that the U.S. economy did not really start to recover until after WWII was over.” This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas school spending facts ignored by many

A recent Lawrence Journal-World editorial that was repeated in the Wichita Eagle made several claims about Kansas schools that don’t hold up under scrutiny. Unfortunately, the editorial is an example of how difficult it is to have a reasoned discussion of Kansas school issues.

School spending

The editorial makes this claim: “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. Districts have cut the fat in their budgets and then some. It’s time to correct this dangerous trend.”

This statement about base state aid per pupil is true. But using only that figure to describe spending on schools in Kansas is disingenuous. It hides facts that are contrary. The truth is that Kansas school spending has fallen only slightly in recent years. Charts at the end of this article that are based on figures from Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) tell the story.

The first chart shows total spending per student in Kansas schools. Statewide, spending has declined the past two years. But while school spending advocates describe spending cuts in terms like “falling off a cliff,” the actual decline is quite mild. Using figures adjusted for inflation, per-pupil spending is $331 higher than in the 2005 – 2006 school year.

A second chart shows spending on Kansas schools considering state aid only. The drop in spending, considering only state aid, is more pronounced than when looking at funding from all sources. School spending advocates emphasize this fact, but state aid is only part of total school spending. Note also that for the most recent school year, spending per pupil rose.

The third chart illustrates the relationship between base state aid per pupil and total spending. This is important to realize, as the Journal-World editorial notes the large drop. It’s true. Base state aid has decreased. But total state spending, as noted in the previous chart, has not fallen by near as much, and rose for the most recent year. And the line for total school spending has declined only slightly.

Because base state aid has fallen, school spending advocates concentrate on this number. As reported in Kansas school spending: the deception, Mark Desetti, the lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, uses this argument when he makes the case for more school spending. He’s not alone in using deception to argue for more school spending. The Lawrence Journal-World, only of our state’s largest newspapers, is helping.

Teacher quality

The Journal-World editorial also states: “There is no higher priority than recruiting and retaining high quality teachers and giving them classes that are small enough to manage and teach effectively.”

This sentence is partially correct. It’s becoming clear that teacher quality is the most important factor that schools have under their control that influences student achievement. Unfortunately, Kansas schools have policies that work against teacher quality. An example are union pay scales that pay all teachers the same regardless of how good a job they do.

Class size

The Journal-World editorial also makes the case for small class sizes: “How can Kansas schools preserve the quality of instruction they offer students with so many fewer teachers in the classrooms? Research has repeatedly documented the positive effect that smaller class size has on educational achievement. There is no doubt that the classroom teachers who have direct contact with students on a day-to-day basis are a critical part of individual students’ academic success.”

The editorial doesn’t cite the research it relies on. If it had to produce a citation, it might find that difficult. Research shows that class size makes a difference for very young children (below third grade), when class size can be reduced to 11 or 12 students. For everyone else, there is no evidence that class size makes a difference. Even the left-wing Center for America progress agrees that small class size is not effective, and summarizes the current research in its article The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction.

But class size reduction remains popular, mostly because it has an intuitive appeal. It seems like it should work. We can understand parents being seduced by its appeal, and we can understand politicians pandering for their votes by supporting class size reduction. We can understand the teachers union advocating for more teachers at any cost, not matter how ineffective they may be. But newspaper editorial writers ought to know better.

Total spending per student in Kansas schools. Spending has increased much faster than inflation.
Kansas school spending, state aid only.
Kansas school spending and base state aid per pupil. While bsapp has declined, other spending has not declined as much, or has held nearly steady. Focusing only on bsapp is misleading, and school spending advocates do just that.

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.