Tag Archives: Kansas National Education Association

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.