Tag Archives: Kansas National Education Association

Class size reduction not effective

Recently the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. While I am normally quite cautious about relying on anything CAP — a prominent left-wing think tank — produces, I’ve read the report, which is titled The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction. It’s accurate.

It’s quite astonishing to see CAP cite evidence from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Hoover. These two researchers are usually condemned by the public education establishment and bureaucracy, including teachers unions. These are some of the key constituents CAP usually caters to.

In a nutshell, class size reduction produces very little benefit for students. (It benefits others greatly. More in a moment.) It’s also very expensive, and there are other things we should be doing instead if we really want to increase student achievement.

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction, and it’s accurate, based on the reading I’ve done over the years. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

The report also notes that class size reduction is very expensive to implement. Because it is, the report says we should look to other ways to increase student achievement, such as policies relating to teacher effectiveness: “The emerging consensus that teacher effectiveness is the single most important in-school determinant of student achievement suggests that teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation policies ought to rank high on the list.”

Recently the Kansas Policy Institute sponsored a trip to Wichita by Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality. My reporting of that event and an audio recording is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality. The importance of teacher quality is this: “In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile.” Kansas ranks below average among the states in its policies that promote teacher quality.

Who benefits from class size reduction?

If class size reduction doesn’t work, why is it so popular? The answer is it benefits many special interest groups. The first group is the parents who send their children to public schools. While class size reduction doesn’t help their children (except in limited circumstances), they think it does. Intuitively, it seems like small class size should help. More individual attention to their kids, the parents are told. And what parent doesn’t want the best for their child? This leads to an effective tactic that school spending supporters use: Any reduction in school funding, no matter how small, will cause class sizes to “explode” or “balloon” out of control, causing student achievement to “plummet.”

Then, there’s the teachers union. Small class size means more teachers and more union members. Fewer students means an easier job for teachers, too, with less papers to grade, etc. The unions also oppose nearly all the policies that would improve teacher quality. For example, this year the Kansas Legislature spent quite a bit of time on a policy where the period before teachers are awarded tenure could be increased from three to five years in certain circumstances. This is what qualifies as “school reform” in Kansas. Remember, Kansas ranks very low in policies that promote teacher quality. Tinkering with the policy on teacher tenure is not going to improve our teacher quality, as tenure is a system that ought to be eliminated. In Kansas the teachers union is Kansas National Education Association (KNEA).

Public school administrators benefit from class size reduction. With more classrooms and more employees, their budgets and power swell. In Wichita, one of the main reasons USD 259, the Wichita public school district gave for the necessity of passing a bond issue in 2008 was the need for more classrooms to implement class size reduction.

Architects and construction companies. In my experience sitting in education committee hearing rooms in the Kansas statehouse, whenever there is any proposal that would reduce spending on school construction, a representative of architects is there to offer testimony in opposition. In the campaign for the Wichita school bond in 2008, an architectural firm headed the campaign, and construction companies contributed heavily. They also contribute to the campaign of school board candidates who are in favor of building more classrooms. Most of this is to support class size reduction, which is politically appealing, but we know doesn’t work. But the motivation of architects and construction companies is to build something, whether it is useful or not.

Politiciansliberals and most conservatives — promote small class sizes. Any politician who promotes policies other than small class size has to overcome the forces listed above. Therefore, most don’t try.

The rut we’re in

The perceived desirability of small class sizes by parents and politicians coupled with the powerful motivations of special interests like school administrators, teachers unions, and the construction industry have placed us in a rut. It’s going to be difficult to escape, and it’s refreshing to see the Center for American Progress on the right side of this issue.

The fact that such a well-known liberal think tank is promoting this issue provides a context other than the typical liberal vs. conservative dichotomy. We are now able to more clearly see the motivations of the special interests that benefit from high school spending and the incorrect evidence they rely on.

The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

By Matthew M. Chingos, Center for American Progress

Class-size reduction, or CSR, is enormously popular with parents, teachers, and the public in general. The latest poll results indicate that 77 percent of Americans think that additional educational dollars should be spent on smaller classes rather than higher teacher salaries. Many parents believe that their children will benefit from more individualized attention in a smaller class and many teachers find smaller classes easier to manage. The pupil-teacher ratio is an easy statistic for the public to monitor as a measure of educational quality, especially before test-score data became widely available in the last decade. …

Parents, teachers, and policymakers have all embraced CSR as a strategy to improve the quality of public education. There is surprisingly little high-quality research, however, on the effects of class size on student achievement in the United States. The credible evidence that does exist is not consistent, and there are many low-quality studies with results all over the map.

Continue reading at The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction.

Kansas school spending: the deception

At a September rally at the Kansas Capitol, Mark Desetti presented a picture of Kansas school spending that is accurate but deceptive, all at the same time.

Desetti is Director, Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union. In other words, he’s a lobbyist whose job is to try and garner as much money as possible for the members of his union — all in the name of “the kids,” of course.

In video of the rally, he told the audience that “Base funding for education in Kansas has dropped to the 1999 level for 2012, and that’s not adjusted for inflation.”

Desetti is correct — nearly so — in this assertion. But “base funding,” also known as base state aid per pupil, tells only part of the school spending story. And a small part, at that.

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, BSAPP for the school year starting in 1999 was $3,770. For the school year starting in 2011 (fiscal year 2012), the figure is $3,780. (Let’s not quibble over the $10 difference.)

Listening to school spending advocates like Desetti, you might think that BSAPP is the only funding that schools receive. But BSAPP is only part of the funds that schools receive.

For the 1999 school year, Kansas spent $1,815,684,144 on state aid to schools. For the 2009 school year, the most recent year for which KSDE supplies data, state aid was $2,867,835,438 — an increase of over one billion dollars, or 58 percent.

Looking at total Kansas school spending for the same years, spending increased from $3,063,233,269 to $5,589,549,135 — an increase of about 2.5 billion dollars, or 82 percent.

These are the types of figures that school spending advocates don’t like to talk about. Instead, they focus on a small portion of total spending — one that has gone down quite a bit from its recent peak — and use it as a surrogate for total school spending.

Is this telling a lie? No. Desetti is correct — as much as he wanted to be. But if we look at the entire spectrum of school spending in Kansas, we see that Desetti — like most of the school spending advocacy and bureaucracy in Kansas — is deceptive in focusing on only one component of school spending.

It’s no wonder that Desetti and others won’t appear in public forums where they don’t control the message.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday September 9, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

KNEA: Let’s just raise taxes

Recently Blake West, who is president of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, penned a piece defending his union and attacking critics of public school spending and results achieved in Kansas.

Titled Fighting for education, it starts off with a reminder of what is wrong with public education in Kansas: It’s a government program. It’s funded through taxation. It’s managed by bureaucrats spending someone else’s money. It incubates the well-known problems that exist when there’s a disconnect between receiving something that other pay for. It caters to a union that pretends to still be the professional association it once was, but now has all the harmful characteristics of modern labor unions and the government employee unions modeled after them.

In a civil society, we shouldn’t have to fight over the education of children. This is a matter that once was handled very well in America through markets, that is, through voluntary cooperation. But now, as Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert aptly notes, “KNEA wants to raise taxes.”

Beyond that, KNEA and the public school spending machine block all attempts at reforms, except those that come from university colleges of education, and the evidence is that those don’t work very well.

Interestingly, West criticizes accountability accomplished through “useless questions that oversimplify student achievement as a list of things that are easy to ask, easy to grade, easy to quantify.” Undoubtedly referring to the federal No Child Left Behind law, it’s confusing to see West criticize government at the same time he defends government schools. But the teachers unions and the school spending bureaucracy reject market-based accountability, too.

West, in his piece, stands up for teachers and defends them against the criticism he says is leveled at them. But his defense is misplaced. Most critics of public schools criticize the system, of which the teachers union that West heads is part. And with the dismal results that schools turn in, year after year, West — his union machinery and the system he defends — justly deserves criticism.

Kansas education officials refuse to discuss better learning opportunities

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only a third of Kansas students are proficient in reading and roughly one out of four are functionally illiterate. You might expect that education officials would welcome an opportunity to examine what other states are doing to address these unacceptably low achievement levels, but sadly they refuse to even have a discussion.

Some are even deliberately mischaracterizing efforts to do so. A recent editorial by Kansas National Education Association president Blake West falsely described the premise of Kansas Policy Institute’s proposing public forums as: “Since we can’t afford great schools in tight budget times, what would you be most willing to cut from public education?”

Mr. West and the KNEA know that’s not true. Earlier this year KPI asked KNEA, the Department of Education, State Board of Education and the Kansas Association of School Boards if they “… would be willing to participate in some type of open, public discussion of all the issues.” The invitation was prompted by their public ridicule of public forums KPI held to share Florida’s remarkable progress on raising achievement levels, which many attribute to a broad array of reforms.

This group met but KPI couldn’t agree to their insistence on excluding education experts from outside the state, so we moved forward with our own event and invited them all to participate. The Why Not Kansas Education Summit is on September 15 in Overland Park. National experts on charter schools, vouchers and tax credit scholarships for the underprivileged and special needs students, expanding online learning and retaining and rewarding effective teachers will talk about how many states are using these learning opportunities to raise achievement levels. Kansas education officials are invited to participate in a panel discussion about these opportunities; most have declined, but the discussion will still be held with legislators.

The KNEA solution is essentially “just spend more.” Mr. West writes, “The most important question is: ‘What educational opportunities for our children do we believe are so important that we WANT to pay taxes to fund our schools?’”

And there you have it. KPI wants to talk about expanding learning opportunities. KNEA wants to raise taxes.

We’ve already tried the “just spend more” solution but it’s been a miserable failure. Proficiency levels are relatively unchanged since 1998 while total funding for Kansas public schools increased by $2.5 billion. Thank goodness spending isn’t the answer, because if $2.5 billion barely moves the needle, we’d never have enough money to provide students with the effective education they deserve.

This isn’t about hating kids, attempting to destroy public education or the other false accusations thrown at those who dare to question the status quo. We have to acknowledge the disappointing truth about student achievement levels and find new approaches. Some students certainly get a good education, but pretending most students have high achievement levels only hurts them in the long run.

States all around the country are stepping up to the challenge and adopting a combination of student-focused reforms. We hope education officials reconsider our invitation and join us to discuss how new approaches can help more students reach their full potential.

For more information on the event mentioned, click on Why Not Kansas Education Summit.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday May 2, 2011

Shale gas to be topic in Wichita. This Friday (May 6) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Malcolm C. Harris, Sr., Ph.D., Professor of Finance, Division of Business and Information Technology, Friends University, speaking on the topic: “Shale gas: Our energy future?” Harris also blogs at Mammon Among Friends. … “Shale gas” refers to a relatively new method of extracting natural gas, as reported in the Wall Street Journal: “We’ve always known the potential of shale; we just didn’t have the technology to get to it at a low enough cost. Now new techniques have driven down the price tag — and set the stage for shale gas to become what will be the game-changing resource of the decade. I have been studying the energy markets for 30 years, and I am convinced that shale gas will revolutionize the industry — and change the world — in the coming decades. It will prevent the rise of any new cartels. It will alter geopolitics. And it will slow the transition to renewable energy.” … Critics like the Center for American Progress warn of the dangers: “The process, which involves injecting huge volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture rock formations and release trapped gas, is becoming increasingly controversial, with concerns about possible contamination of underground drinking water supplies alongside revelations of surface water contamination by the wastewater that is a byproduct of drilling.” … Upcoming speakers: On May 13, Craig Burns and Glenn Edwards of Security 1st Title Co. on the topic “Real Estate Transactions, Ownership, Title, and Tales From the Trenches.” On May 20, Rob Siedleckie, Secretary, Kansas Social Rehabilitation Services (SRS) on the topic “The SRS and Initiatives.” On May 27, Todd Tiahrt, Former 4th District Congressman on the topic “Outsourcing our National Security — How the Pentagon is Working Against Us”.

Wichita City Council this week. On Tuesday the Wichita City Council will decide whether to spend $316,000 on capital improvements to the Wichita Ice Center. Improvements will include “HVAC system upgrades, new flooring, signage, interior and exterior painting, upgrades to the locker room facilities, ice skates, and a new point of sale system that will track program revenues and attendance.” This spending was already agreed to in a contract with the new managers of the facility, so approval seems certain. … On the consent agendas one item proposes to spend $36,087 on study, design and bid services to replace the passenger loading bridges at the Wichita airport. In 2003 the city budgeted $4 million for this project, but it was put on hold due to plans for a new terminal building. Now the city wants to go ahead and replace the existing bridges. Being on a consent agenda, this item will receive no discussion unless a council members wants to “pull” it for individual discussion.

Williams on the role of race in economics. Thomas Sowell reviewing a new book by Walter E. Williams, Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?: “Walter Williams fans are in for a treat — and people who are not Walter Williams fans are in for a shock – when they read his latest book, Race and Economics. It is a demolition derby on paper, as Professor Williams destroys one after another of the popular fallacies about the role of race in the American economy. … In recent times, we have gotten so used to young blacks having sky-high unemployment rates that it will be a shock to many readers of Walter Williams’ Race and Economics to discover that the unemployment rate of young blacks was once only a fraction of what it has been in recent decades. And, in earlier times, it was not very different from the unemployment rate of young whites. The factors that cause the most noise in the media are not the ones that have the most impact on minorities. This book will be eye-opening for those who want their eyes opened. But those with the liberal vision of the world are unlikely to read it at all.” … An interview with the author is available at Lew Rockwell interviews Walter Williams on his two new books.

Spending cuts preferred to taxes. A survey of Kansas voters conducted on behalf of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce found widespread support for cutting spending rather than raising taxes as the way to balance the Kansas budget. Support was also found for cutting state worker salaries, or reducing the number of state employees. See Kansas Chamber finds voters favor cuts, not tax increases to balance budget.

Except some prefer taxes. A coalition of groups is advocating for more revenue so that Kansas government can spend more. Some of the groups in the coalition advocate for those who truly can’t help themselves. But it’s no coincidence that the spokesman for the group is Mark Desetti, who is the lobbyist for Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the state’s teachers union. Other school spending advocacy groups are prominent members of this coalition. Fortunately, many are starting to realize that the aims of school spending advocates like the teachers unions are not in the best interest of students, as shown below.

Teacher evaluation systems. Brookings Institution: “Of all the things that are under the control of policymakers and schools, teacher quality is at the top of the list in terms of impact on student achievement, and so there is a great interest in evaluating teacher performance.” Says Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy: “If you’re unlucky enough to get a bad teacher three years in a row, you’re basically ruined — that’s 30 percentile points, it’s hard to recover from that. So we know that teachers are important, and we know that for the first time for reasons other than intuition.” Brookings is working on systems to evaluate the systems that school districts use to evaluate teachers, so that state and federal money can be distributed fairly, as a way to incentivize good teacher evaluation systems. … According to National Council on Teacher Quality, Kansas ranks very low among the states in policies relating to teacher effectiveness. For example, the report states: “Fails to make evidence of student learning the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations.” … The prospects for reform in teacher evaluation and quality in Kansas are not good. Proposals that would improve Kansas in this regard have not been discussed — at least meaningfully — in this year’s session of the Kansas legislature. For example, this year the Legislature spent quite a bit of time on a policy where the period before teachers are awarded tenure could be increased from three to five years in certain circumstances. This is what qualifies as “school reform” in Kansas. Remember, Kansas ranks very low in policies that promote teacher quality. Tinkering with the policy on teacher tenure is not going to improve our teacher quality, as tenure is a system that ought to be eliminated. In Kansas the teachers union is Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), and it works overtime to block meaningful reform of our state’s schools.

Misguided efforts to improve capitalism. From Eamonn Butler: Ludwig von Mises — A Primer on how efforts by government to intervene in markets fail: Indeed, our efforts to manipulate the market economy, and make it conform to a particular vision, are invariably damaging. Capitalism is superbly good at boosting the general standard of living by encouraging people to specialise and build up the capital goods that raise the productivity of human effort. But when we tax or regulate this system, and make it less worthwhile to invest in and own capital goods, then capitalism can falter. But that is not a “crisis of capitalism,” explains Mises. It is a crisis of interventionism: a failure of policies that are intended to “improve” capitalism but in fact strangle it. One common political ideal, for example, is “economic democracy” — the idea that everyone should count in the production and allocation of economic goods, not just a few capitalist producers. But according to Mises, we already have economic democracy. In competitive markets, producers are necessarily ruled by the wishes of consumers. Unless they satisfy the demands of consumers, they will lose trade and go out of business. If we interfere in this popular choice, we will end up satisfying only the agenda of some particular political group. A more modest notion is that producers’ profits should be taxed so that they can be distributed more widely throughout the population. But while this shares out the rewards of success, says Mises, it leaves business burdened with the whole cost of failure. That is an imbalance that can only depress people’s willingness to take business risks and must thereby depress economic life itself.

CAP: Class size reduction not effective

Last week the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. While I am normally quite cautious about relying on anything CAP — a prominent left-wing think tank — produces, I’ve read the report, which is titled The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction. It’s accurate.

It’s quite astonishing to see CAP cite evidence from Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Hoover. These two researchers are usually condemned by the public education establishment and bureaucracy, including teachers unions. These are some of the key constituents CAP usually caters to.

In a nutshell, class size reduction produces very little benefit for students. (It benefits others greatly. More in a moment.) It’s also very expensive, and there are other things we should be doing instead if we really want to increase student achievement.

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction, and it’s accurate, based on the reading I’ve done over the years. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

The report also notes that class size reduction is very expensive to implement. Because it is, the report says we should look to other ways to increase student achievement, such as policies relating to teacher effectiveness: “The emerging consensus that teacher effectiveness is the single most important in-school determinant of student achievement suggests that teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation policies ought to rank high on the list.”

Recently the Kansas Policy Institute sponsored a trip to Wichita by Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality. My reporting of that event and an audio recording is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality. The importance of teacher quality is this: “In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile.” Kansas ranks below average among the states in its policies that promote teacher quality.

Who benefits from class size reduction?

If class size reduction doesn’t work, why is it so popular? The answer is it benefits many special interest groups. The first group is the parents who send their children to public schools. While class size reduction doesn’t help their children (except in limited circumstances), they think it does. Intuitively, it seems like small class size should help. More individual attention to their kids, the parents are told. And what parent doesn’t want the best for their child? This leads to an effective tactic that school spending supporters use: Any reduction in school funding, no matter how small, will cause class sizes to “explode” or “balloon” out of control, causing student achievement to “plummet.”

Then, there’s the teachers union. Small class size means more teachers and more union members. Fewer students means an easier job for teachers, too, with less papers to grade, etc. The unions also oppose nearly all the policies that would improve teacher quality. For example, this year the Kansas Legislature spent quite a bit of time on a policy where the period before teachers are awarded tenure could be increased from three to five years in certain circumstances. This is what qualifies as “school reform” in Kansas. Remember, Kansas ranks very low in policies that promote teacher quality. Tinkering with the policy on teacher tenure is not going to improve our teacher quality, as tenure is a system that ought to be eliminated. In Kansas the teachers union is Kansas National Education Association (KNEA).

Public school administrators benefit from class size reduction. With more classrooms and more employees, their budgets and power swell. In Wichita, one of the main reasons USD 259, the Wichita public school district gave for the necessity of passing a bond issue in 2008 was the need for more classrooms to implement class size reduction. Now progress is in a “pause and study” phase, as the district has realized that funding to run the new schools and classrooms on an ongoing basis may not be available. (The bond issue pays for construction, but not operation, of new schools and expansion of existing schools.)

Architects and construction companies. In my experience sitting in education committee hearing rooms in the Kansas statehouse, whenever there is any proposal that would reduce spending on school construction, a representative of architects is there to offer testimony in opposition. In the campaign for the Wichita school bond in 2008, an architectural firm headed the campaign, and construction companies contributed heavily. They also contribute to the campaign of school board candidates who are in favor of building more classrooms. Most of this is to support class size reduction, which is politically appealing, but we know doesn’t work. But the motivation of architects and construction companies is to build something, whether it is useful or not.

Politiciansliberals and most conservatives — promote small class sizes. Any politician who promotes policies other than small class size has to overcome the forces listed above. Therefore, most don’t try.

The rut we’re in

The perceived desirability of small class sizes by parents and politicians coupled with the powerful motivations of special interests like school administrators, teachers unions, and the construction industry have placed us in a rut. It’s going to be difficult to escape, and it’s refreshing to see the Center for American Progress on the right side of this issue.

The fact that such a well-known liberal think tank is promoting this issue provides a context other than the typical liberal vs. conservative dichotomy. We are now able to more clearly see the motivations of the special interests that benefit from high school spending and the incorrect evidence they rely on.

The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

By Matthew M. Chingos, Center for American Progress

Class-size reduction, or CSR, is enormously popular with parents, teachers, and the public in general. The latest poll results indicate that 77 percent of Americans think that additional educational dollars should be spent on smaller classes rather than higher teacher salaries. Many parents believe that their children will benefit from more individualized attention in a smaller class and many teachers find smaller classes easier to manage. The pupil-teacher ratio is an easy statistic for the public to monitor as a measure of educational quality, especially before test-score data became widely available in the last decade. …

Parents, teachers, and policymakers have all embraced CSR as a strategy to improve the quality of public education. There is surprisingly little high-quality research, however, on the effects of class size on student achievement in the United States. The credible evidence that does exist is not consistent, and there are many low-quality studies with results all over the map.

Continue reading at The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction.

KPERS problems must be confronted

This week the Kansas Legislature may work on the problems facing the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, or KPERS. Past legislatures have failed to enact reforms necessary to put this system on a sound financial footing, and the legislature has shown itself incapable of managing a system where it’s easy to pass on the problem to future generations. Now Kansas faces an unfunded liability of some $9.3 billion in KPERS. The most important thing the state can do is to stop enrolling new employees in this failing system.

When confronted with the realities of the finances of KPERS, the response of state government employee representatives is first, attack the messenger. This is taking place now in response to a report released by the Kansas Policy Institute (A Comprehensive Reform of Kansas Public Employees Retirement System). It also happened in 2009 when Art Hall and Barry Poulson released their research in The Funding Crisis in the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System.

The second response of state government employee representatives is to attack the only solution (short of massive tax increases) to providing for workers’ retirements: the defined-contribution plan. These plans, often called 401(k)-style plans, allow workers to contribute into a special type of tax-advantaged retirement account. Usually employers, in this case the State of Kansas, make additional contributions on employees’ behalf. Employees generally have a variety of investments to choose from. Employees also own their retirement accounts and their assets. The value of the account — and therefore the benefits available to retirees — depends on the performance of the investments.

KPERS is a defined-benefit plan, sometimes called a traditional pension plan. When employees retire, they are paid a benefit based on their final average salary, number of years of service, and a multiplier. KPERS funding relies on employee contributions, employer contributions (these are the state’s taxpayers), and investment returns.

The main problem is that the legislature has not provided enough funding to KPERS to keep it in balance. That’s easy to do, as retirement systems like KPERS operate on time horizons of decades, and it’s easy to say let’s deal with the problem next year. It’s also easy for legislators to promise and write into law a higher level of benefits than they’re willing to fund. Problems with lack of funding may not show up until long after the legislators who voted for them are out of office. With defined-contribution plans this isn’t possible. Each party — worker and employer — funds the plan each pay period, and that is the extent of the obligation of each party.

Misinformation spread

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

There’s quite a bit of misinformation here. But before that, a huge irony is that this information is aimed at Kansas schoolteachers, and their union assumes they are not intelligent enough to plan for their own retirement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in KPERS, all members are invested in the mix of investments that the KPERS trustees decide on. (When Jane Carter of Kansas Organization of State Employees asks “Do you really want to take your retirement security and gamble it on the stock market?” she may not be aware that KPERS is invested in the stock market, and those returns are essential to funding KPERS benefits.) The investments that the trustees choose may not be suitable for each individual member. But KPERS members have no choice.

By the way, the KPERS investment fund has proven irresistible to politicians seeking to invest in Kansas for various reasons. In the 1980s a series of bad investments were made in Kansas companies. As reported in the Wichita Eagle on October 16, 1989: “For many Kansas legislators, the lure of using KPERS money for economic development was tempting. So KPERS, under considerable legislative pressure, agreed to target nearly 10 percent of its fund for business expansions in Kansas.” Many of these investments lost money, and lawsuits went on for years.

The point is that the worker is in control, not the KPERS trustees or the legislature. That’s important, as the legislature, over the years, has not made sufficient contributions to KPERS. They keep pushing the decision down the road to future legislatures, and the burden on future taxpayers who will need to make the necessary contributions. But in a defined benefit plan, employees, through their employers, make contributions each pay period. If for some reason the employer fails to make the contribution, it’s easy to notice it before years go by.

New members needed to prop up existing

Reading the material put out by KPERS defined-benefit supporters, it becomes clear that KPERS depends on the contributions of new members to pay for the benefits of those already in the system. Here’s a claim made by KNEA, the teachers union: “If all new employees came in under a defined contribution or 401(k) plan, their investments would be essentially personal investments and not used to contribute to benefit payments to current or future defined benefit members. This means that each person who retires will be replaced by someone who is not paying into the defined benefit system.” (emphasis added)

The KNEA has also written to its members: “The state would have the obligation to continue funding the defined benefit (DB) plan since it depends on new employees contributing to fund at least a portion of the benefits to retirees. (emphasis added)

This claim was echoed in testimony given by Coalition for Keeping the Kansas Promise, which states: “In fact, the creation of a defined contribution plan for KPERS, which will remove revenues used to reduce the unfunded actuarial liability, will only accelerate the insolvency of the KPERS fund for current KPERS members and retirees from FY 2033 to an uncertain, though more immediate, date in the future, and place the entire KPERS funding obligation upon Kansas taxpayers.”

There could be no clearer admission that the KPERS contributions of young workers are used to fund the benefits of retirees. Instead of the new members’ contributions being invested and growing to provide for their own retirement, their contributions are needed to pay for current retirees. This is a system that guarantees being perpetually under-funded.

Who is the employer?

The Kansas Policy Institute report states: “Employers in the state/school plan currently contribute 9.37 percent of payroll. To fully fund that part of the plan at the market value of assets employers would have to contribute 15.26 percent of payroll. Employer contributions into the state/school plan would have to increase from $393 million to $640 million annually, a 63 percent increase.”

Now when most people read this and other information about KPERS they probably don’t associate “employer contributions” with what this term means. Since KPERS covers government employees, the employer is the state’s taxpayers.

That’s right. It is the taxpayers who will be called upon to correct the unfunded KPERS liability. The KPI report is accurate but understates the political reality when it concludes: “Kansas legislators are not likely to find an additional $247 million in the current budget to fully fund the KPERS pension plan; and they are even less likely to find the money to fully fund the plan in future years as unfunded liabilities accumulate, especially if the plan fails to generate the projected 8 percent rate of return on assets.”

Most Kansans realize that KPERS is part of the cost of having state employees. Citizens pay taxes so that these employees can be paid, and KPERS is part of their package of pay. The problem is that citizens expect that the cost of paying employees be paid each year. But now we learn that the legislature has not been doing this. The legislature has not been paying all that is required into the KPERS system. Essentially, taxpayers will be asked to pay now for payments not made in years past for work that was performed years ago.

Investors or combatants

The current system of retirement for state employees creates a situation where there is conflict. We see it right now, where state employees and their lobbying groups insist that the state make good on its promise to its workers. The pushback comes from those who realize that taxpayers are tired of ever-increasing spending. This is especially true when taxpayers are being asked to make up for the deficits of legislatures past. So there’s conflict. One class is trying to extract payment from another. It isn’t pretty, and it’s not productive. It’s the political system at its worst.

Advocates for state employees say there’s nothing wrong with KPERS that can’t be fixed by funding it properly. In other words, more taxes and more spending: more conflict. We need to find a way out of this trap, and enrolling new state employees in defined-contribution retirement plans is the way.

The benefit of defined-contribution plans is that people, including state employees, become investors. They own something. They have a rooting interest in the success of the economies of Kansas, America, and the world.

Kansas state employees have a choice to make. Do they want to become investors in America and own their retirement funds, or do they want to continue to rely on the political system for their retirement?

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday March 13, 2011

Wichita city council this week. There is no meeting of the Wichita City Council this week, as most members will be attending a meeting of the National League of Cities in Washington, DC. These conferences are designed to help council members be more effective. But for three of the council members that will be attending, their future service on the council is measured in days, not years. These three lame duck members — Sue Schlapp, Paul Gray, and Roger Smith — will be leaving the council in April when their terms end. Their participation in this conference, at taxpayer expense, is nothing more than a junket — for lame ducks.

How attitudes can differ. At a recent forum of city council candidates, one candidate mentioned the five or six police officers conducting security screening of visitors seeking to enter Wichita city hall, recognizing that this doesn’t create a welcoming atmosphere for citizens. Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell said he thought the officers are “accommodating and welcoming.” It should be noted that Longwell carries a card that allows him to effortlessly enter city hall through turnstiles that bypass the screening that citizens endure. Further, it’s natural that the police officers are deferential to Longwell, just as most employees are to their bosses. … This attitude of Longwell is an example of just how removed elected officials can be from the citizens — and reality, too. Coupled with the closing of the city hall parking garage to citizens and the junket for lame ducks described above, the people of Wichita sense city hall elected officials and bureaucrats becoming increasingly removed from the concerns of the average person.

Private property and the price system. In The Science of Success, Charles Koch succinctly explains the importance of private property and prices to market economies and prosperity, how government planning can’t benefit from these factors, and the tragedy of the commons: “Private property is essential for both a market economy and prosperity. There cannot be a market economy without private property, and a society without private property cannot have prosperity. To ensure ongoing innovation in satisfying people’s needs, there must be a robust and evolving system of private property rights. Without a market system based on private property, no one can know how to effectively allocate resources. This is because they lack the information that comes from market prices. Those prices depend on voluntary exchanges by owners of private property. Prices and the resulting profit and loss guide entrepreneurs toward satisfying the needs of consumers. Through this system, consumers are able to direct entrepreneurs in efficiently allocating resources through knowledge and incentives in a way no central authority can. … The biggest problems in society have occurred in those areas thought to be best controlled in common: the atmosphere, bodies of water, air, streets, the body politic and human virtue. They all reflect aspects of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ and function much better when methods are devised to give them characteristics of private property.”

Toward a free market in education. From The Objective Standard: “More and more Americans are coming to recognize the superiority of private schools over government-run or ‘public’ schools. Accordingly, many Americans are looking for ways to transform our government-laden education system into a thriving free market. As the laws of economics dictate, and as the better economists have demonstrated, under a free market the quality of education would soar, the range of options would expand, competition would abound, and prices would plummet. The question is: How do we get there from here?” Read more at Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits?. … This week in Kansas a committee will hold a hearing on HB 2367, known as the Kansas Education Liberty Act. This bill would implement a system of tax credits to support school choice, much like explained in the article.

Are lottery tickets like a state-owned casino? This week a committee in the Kansas House of Representatives will hear testimony regarding HB 2340, which would, according to its fiscal note, “exempt from the statewide smoking ban any bar that is authorized to sell lottery tickets under the Kansas Lottery Act.” The reasoning is that since the statewide smoking ban doesn’t apply to casinos because it would lessen revenue flowing to the state from gaming, the state ought to allow smoking where lottery tickets are sold, as they too generate revenue for the state.

Money, Banking and the Federal Reserve. This month’s meeting of the Wichita chapter of Americans for Prosperity, Kansas features a DVD presentation from the Ludwig von Mises Institute titled “Money, Banking and the Federal Reserve.” About the presentation: “Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson understood “The Monster.” But to most Americans today, Federal Reserve is just a name on the dollar bill. They have no idea of what the central bank does to the economy, or to their own economic lives; of how and why it was founded and operates; or of the sound money and banking that could end the statism, inflation, and business cycles that the Fed generates.” The event is Monday (March 14) at 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Wichita-area legislators to meet public. Saturday (March 19th) members of the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation will meet with the public. The meeting will be at Derby City Hall, 611 Mulberry Road (click for map), starting at 9:00 am. Generally these meetings last for two hours. Then on April 23 — right before the “wrap-up session” — there will be another meeting at the Wichita State University Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th Street (at Oliver).

Pompeo to meet with public. If you don’t get your fill of politics for the day after the meeting with state legislators, come meet with United States Representative Mike Pompeo, who is just completing two months in office. Pompeo will be holding a town hall meeting at Maize City Hall, 10100 W. Grady (click for map) starting at 1:00 pm on Saturday March 19th.

Losing the brains race. Veronique de Rugy writing in Reason: “In November the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its Program for International Student Assessment scores, measuring educational achievement in 65 countries. The results are depressingly familiar: While students in many developed nations have been learning more and more over time, American 15-year-olds are stuck in the middle of the pack in many fundamental areas, including reading and math. Yet the United States is near the top in education spending.” … A solution is to introduce competition through markets in education: “Because of the lack of competition in the K–12 education system. Schooling in the United States is still based largely on residency; students remain tied to the neighborhood school regardless of how bad its performance may be. … With no need to convince students and parents to stay, schools in most districts lack the incentive to serve student needs or differentiate their product. To make matters worse, this lack of competition continues at the school level, where teacher hiring and firing decisions are stubbornly divorced from student performance, tied instead to funding levels and tenure.” The author notes that wealthy families already have school choice, as they can afford private schools or can afford to move to areas with public schools they think are better than the schools in most urban districts.

Teachers unions explained. A supporter of the teachers unions is questioned about her belief that the unions need more money and power. In Kansas, the teachers union in the form of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) and its affiliates consistently opposes any attempt at reform.

KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, open to reform?

Do the teachers unions in Kansas, particularly Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), have the best interests of schoolchildren as their primary goal? Are teachers unions open to change and reform?

An op-ed written by Claudette Johns, who is executive director for KNEA, claims that the union is open to new ideas, and that the goal of the union is “to make public schools great for every child.” But when we look at what teachers unions in Kansas actually do, we see that the unions are a roadblock to better schools.

There are many ways that teachers unions work against the interests of children. For example, the contract for teachers in USD 259, the Wichita public school district, provides for two ways for teachers to earn a higher salary (besides taking on extra duties like coaching): they can teach more years, and they can gain additional education credentials.

There are several problems with this approach to teacher pay. First, there is compelling research that indicates that beyond the first few years, additional years of experience contribute nothing to teacher effectiveness in the classroom, with one exception.

As to gaining extra education: “The evidence is conclusive that master’s degrees do not make teachers more effective,” according to a summary of research prepared by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Amazingly, some studies have found that as teachers gained more credentials, their effectiveness in the classroom declined. Yet, the contract negotiated by the Wichita teachers union — and most unions across the country — requires that districts pay teachers more as they gain these credentials which do nothing to increase effectiveness.

Even if you discount these studies, are we to believe that all teachers increase in effectiveness in lockstep as they advance in seniority and gaining additional training? Of course not. But the teachers union contract says this is the way teachers are to be paid. Effectiveness in the classroom — which is what children need — is not a consideration.

The teachers unions have created a system where teaching effectiveness — how well someone does their job — means nothing as to how much teachers will be paid. That’s important, as we are becoming aware that there is a very large difference in the learning experiences of students based on teacher effectiveness. Even President Obama recognizes the absurdity of this situation, and he and Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan have advocated merit pay. This is a system where teachers are evaluated on their effectiveness and paid accordingly, just like almost all private sector workers are paid and rewarded.

But the teachers union will vigorously oppose any efforts to implement anything that smells like merit pay. It’s one of the union’s most important reasons for existing, and it perpetuates a system that drives motivated teachers out of the schools.

Another important goal of teachers unions is to protect the policy of granting tenure, after which it is virtually impossible to fire a teacher for poor effectiveness. This is another teachers union policy that works against teacher effectiveness and student learning. In Kansas, the teachers union strongly opposes changing the probationary period before the granting of tenure from three to five years.

The teachers union, when it promotes these policies, has an argument on their side that has some validity. It is said that school administrators — in a system without tenure and rigid salary schedules — would practice “crony” hiring and promotion practices. They would reward their friends and family and punish their enemies or those they simply don’t like.

These things happen in a system insulated from market competition, and institutions don’t suffer when they do. In the private sector, when a manager makes staffing decisions based on cronyism — rather than hiring and retaining the best possible employees — the profitability of the company suffers. If managers’ compensation is tied to profitability, they suffer when making staffing decisions based on cronyism rather than merit. The company could perform so poorly that it goes out of business.

A system of market competition, however, forces each institution — schools, too — to be the best they can possibly be. When schools compete for students and funding, principals might learn to like, promote, and reward their very best teachers.

School administrators also might learn how to evaluate and recognize the best teachers. This is vitally important, because of the factors under the control of schools, teacher quality is by far the most important factor in student success. It’s much more important than class size, which is another thing teachers unions constantly advocate for.

The merits of this argument don’t mean that we should have teachers unions that operate more like industrial unions than a group representing workers that seek to be treated as professionals. Instead, it means we need more ways to hold school administrators accountable for the actions, and in turn, teachers. The best way to do this is to introduce market competition through various forms of school choice. Charter schools in Kansas would be a good start. But school choice and market competition is another reform the teachers unions oppose — again putting their own interests first.

Kansas school reform issues

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

School choice

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

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

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

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

Accountability with teeth

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

Teacher quality policies

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

Fund balances

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on what works

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

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

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

Test scores

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

The cost of a suitable education

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

Alternative remedies

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

Kansas legislative forums should be for citizens

This week’s meeting of the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation with citizens featured a number of speakers who — while citizens, of course — are working for taxpayer-funded agencies. Many of these also have a strong lobbying presence in Topeka. The large-scale presence of these speakers at this meeting was a matter of concern for one legislator who contacted me, suggesting that so many taxpayer-funded speakers crowded out regular citizens, which is who these meetings are designed for.

Government agencies have their own meeting with legislators each year at this time in Wichita. Furthermore, many government agencies like USD 259, the Wichita public school district, have their own year-round, highly-paid lobbyists to represent them.

The taxpayer-funded group that stood out the most was United Methodist Youthville, an agency that contracts with the state to provide a variety of child protective care services. Youthville sent six speakers to this meeting, and they, one after another in tag team fashion, presented their case to the legislators.

One of the speakers for Youthville was Heather Morgan, who is listed at the Secretary of State’s office as a lobbyist for Youthville.

Undoubtedly part of the reason for Youthville’s large presence was to counter criticism of their operations, which is often a topic at the legislative forums. The Youthville representatives, which spoke very near the start of the meeting, left as soon as they had delivered their message to the legislators.

School spending advocates made their appearance. Randy Mousley, who is vice-president of United Teachers of Wichita (the teachers union), spoke in favor of more school spending — at least I think so, as his message to the legislators could be interpreted several ways. But the entire goal of the UTW, which is an affiliate of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), is that there must be more spending on schools, and it lobbies for this quite effectively. Brent Lewis, a board member of UTW, also spoke in favor of government and school spending.

Other taxpayer-funded entities made their appearance in the persons of Mark McCain, general manager of Wichita Public Radio, and Michele Gors, President of Kansas Public Television. These heads of these at least partially taxpayer-funded organizations made their case for more state government funding.

These executives have the time and wherewithal to travel to Topeka to lobby legislators. Citizens — especially if they’re not local to Topeka — don’t have the ability to do this. And when they do, their travel is not paid for by their companies or unions.

As legislators told me, these taxpayer-funded agencies make their case — often at taxpayer expense — very well in Topeka. They shouldn’t be crowding out citizens at legislative forums.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday December 1, 2010

Tax incentives questioned. In a commentary in Site Selection Magazine, Daniel Levine lays out the case that tax incentives that states use to lure or keep jobs are harmful, and the practice should end. In Incentives and the Interstate Competition for Jobs he writes: “Despite overwhelming evidence that state and local tax incentives are having little to no positive effect on promoting real economic growth anywhere in the country, states continue to up the ante with richer and richer incentive programs. … there are real questions as to whether the interstate competition for jobs is a wise use of anyone’s tax dollars and, if not, then what can be done to at least slow down this zero sum game?” As a solution, Levine proposes that the Internal Revenue Service classify some types of incentives as taxable income to the recipient, which would reduce the value and the attractiveness of the offer. Levine also correctly classifies tax credits — like the historical preservation tax credits in Kansas — as spending programs in disguise: “Similarly, when a ‘tax credit’ can be sold or transferred if unutilized it ceases to have a meaningful connection to state tax liability. Instead, in such circumstances the award of tax credit is merely a delivery mechanism for state subsidy.” In the end, the problem — when recognized as such — always lies with the other guy: “Most state policy makers welcome an opportunity to offer large cash incentives to out-of-state companies considering a move to their state but fume with indignation when a neighboring state uses the same techniques against them.”

Yoder: No business as usual. Kansas Watchdog reports on a speech by newly-elected U.S. Congressman Kevin Yoder from the Kansas third district. Said Yoder: “Business as usual has to stop in Washington.” They always say this. Let’s hope Yoder and the other new representatives from Kansas mean it, and can resist the inevitable pressures. Remember the assessment of Trent Lott, a former Senate majority leader and now a powerful lobbyist, as reported in the Washington Examiner: “‘We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,’ Lott told the Washington Post, referring to the conservative South Carolina senator who has been a gadfly for party leadership and a champion for upstart conservative candidates. ‘As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.’”

Kansas revenue outlook was mixed in November . From Kansas Reporter: “Kansas’ economy and the state government’s cash flow continued to struggle in November, preliminary tax revenue numbers indicated Tuesday. A Kansas Department of Revenue calculation of state tax receipts during November showed the state collected $384 million in taxes during the month, a whisker-thin $783,000, or 0.2 percent, less than forecasters calculated just three weeks ago, but nearly $30 million, or 8.5 percent more than in November, 2009.” The 8.5 percent growth from a year ago is partly from the increase in the state’s sales tax. “This suggests that actual retail sales activity, on which state officials are counting to hit future revenue targets, may be trailing year-earlier levels by about 2.4 percent.”

Teacher organization offers alternative to KNEA . “The Kansas Association of American Educators says it offers the benefits of a union membership, but doesn’t involve itself in partisan issues.” More at Kansas Reporter.

Kansas education officials may overstate student performance. Kansas schools claim rapidly rising test scores while other measures of student performance remain largely unchanged, even falling in some years. Kansas Watchdog reports: “There are nagging questions about the validity of claims based on state assessments and the tests are only one measure of the education system’s performance. Several national education watchdogs and the U.S. Department of Education have questioned the rigor of state tests, proficiency standards, graduation rates and graduates preparation for college and the workforce.” The story is Kansas Education Officials May Overstate Student Performance.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas school spending advocates sue; opportunity for reform is overlooked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School choice solution to Kansas school funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic competition isn’t a sporting contest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Americans believe teachers should be paid based on merit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The long reach of teachers unions

At one time teachers unions were professional organizations. Now they have been transformed into the same type industrial trade union that represents autoworkers or steelmakers, with the same political clout and parochial interests. This is at the same time that teachers demand respect for being professionals.

The Education Next article The Long Reach of Teachers Unions: Using money to win friends and influence policy is a must-read for those who think the teacher union is a benign fraternal group looking out for the interests of schoolchildren.

Even those familiar with the teachers union and their political activity may be surprised to learn that the National Education Association (NEA) has become the largest political campaign spender.

(In Kansas, the NEA affiliate is Kansas National Education Association, or KNEA.)

Its spending is mostly on politically liberal organizations and candidates, even though that doesn’t represent the will of all teachers. Internal NEA polls, says the article, show that union members are slightly more conservative than liberal. Other polling show that there is significant support (not majority support) among teachers for charter schools and merit pay. The fight against these two items, both supported by President Obama, consumes much of the union’s energy.

The problem is that the teachers union leadership is liberal and out of step with their members.

According to a Harris poll, Americans like and have respect for teachers, but they don’t trust union leaders. As the article explains, when union leaders can say they’re doing things “for the kids,” they can get a way with a lot. Newspaper reporting doesn’t help: “Press coverage of the teachers unions is usually assigned to an education reporter, which ensures the story will be framed around education issues.”

The article recommends giving the political activities of teachers unions their proper perspective: “Coverage of teachers unions needs to emerge from its current position as an afterthought on the education beat, and assume its place alongside national fiscal and political reporting. Only then will the public see that Big Oil and Big Tobacco have a brother called Big Education.”

The Long Reach of Teachers Unions

By Mike Antonucci

When the Florida legislature, on April 8th, passed a bill that sought to replace teacher tenure with merit pay, the Florida Education Association (FEA) sprang into action, organizing members and community activists to lobby Governor Charlie Crist to veto the measure. FEA, with the help of its parent union, the National Education Association (NEA), generated thousands of e-mails, letters, phone calls, and Internet posts in opposition to the legislation. When Governor Crist delivered his veto on April 15th, the union ran television and Internet ads, thanking him. A few weeks later, FEA gave a much-needed boost to Crist’s independent bid for a U.S. Senate seat by endorsing both Crist and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek.

If you think it’s far-fetched to suggest that a teachers union could play the role of political kingmaker, think again. The largest political campaign spender in America is not a megacorporation, such as Wal-Mart, Microsoft, or ExxonMobil. It isn’t an industry association, like the American Bankers Association or the National Association of Realtors. It’s not even a labor federation, like the AFL-CIO. If you combine the campaign spending of all those entities it does not match the amount spent by the National Education Association, the public-sector labor union that represents some 2.3 million K–12 public school teachers and nearly a million education support workers (bus drivers, custodians, food service employees), retirees, and college student members. NEA members alone make up more than half of union members working for local governments, by far the most unionized segment of the U.S. economy.

Continue reading at Education Next

KNEA, Kansas teachers union, makes endorsements

The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) has released the list of candidates it is endorsing in the August 3rd Kansas primary election.

If you’re thinking about using the teachers union as a source of voting recommendations, you ought to familiarize yourself with the union and its activities. Then you can decide whether an organization with such a noble-sounding name is, in fact, working for the quality education of all Kansas schoolchildren.

If you read much material put out by the teachers union, you quickly realize a few things. First, the union promotes public schools. Education taking place outside the public schools is of no concern to this organization. The simple reason for this is that private schools aren’t unionized.

Second, all forms of competition for public dollars in education are vigorously opposed. Innovations that are taking place in many states across the country — charter schools, tying teacher pay to job performance, elimination of tenure, vouchers, tax credits — are not present to any significant measure in Kansas. While some innovations like charter schools are not perfect, they are a threat to the teachers union, and that is why the KNEA opposes them.

Third, taxes can never be high enough to fund schools with as much money as the union wants. In an editorial written by KNEA President Blake West earlier this year, we see the plea laid bare: “Every member needs to let legislators know that we NEED whatever tax increases it takes to fund public schools and crucial services.” The union presses every year for tax increases to funnel more taxpayer funds into schools.

Fourth, all alternative solutions are opposed with campaigns of misinformation. For example, a public policy institute found that schools have money socked away in various funds that could be spent, if the schools wanted to. This finding spurred the school spending advocates, of which KNEA is at the forefront, to launch a informational campaign against these findings. They and school spending allies insisted that these funds, to the extent they existed, could not be spent in a way that would help schools cope with revenue shortfalls.

But the Kansas State Department of Education published figures that showed schools had been spending these funds, the funds they said didn’t exist and couldn’t be used. See Kansas schools have used funds to increase spending.

Further, this institute — the Kansas Policy Institute — commissioned a study that found that Kansans are very poorly informed about the level of school spending and its direction in recent years.

A startling finding was that parents of schoolchildren had more misconceptions about school funding than other Kansans.

This finding should not really be a surprise, as the school spending lobby and the KNEA are quite effective in their spreading of misinformation, and parents of schoolchildren are fed a steady stream.

Now it would be one thing if the only harm the KNEA caused was higher taxes that aren’t needed to provide a quality education. But their campaign of misinformation is harmful to students. West, the union president, makes this claim, as do other Kansas school bureaucrats: “Increased school funding in the past few years helped improve student achievement.”

The union — as do other school spending advocates — relies on test scores produced by the state of Kansas. And yes, these scores show rapid increases.

The problem, however, is these test scores are almost certainly fraudulent.

Looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we see a different story that is contradictory to the teacher union president’s claim. On this test, which Kansas school officials can’t control, Kansas scores are largely flat. Sometimes they rise slowly and sometimes they fall. But they don’t mirror the trend that Kansas school spending advocates trumpet as evidence of the greatness of Kansas schools, and as proof that the increased spending in recent years has paid off.

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

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

The NAEP score trends and the ACT college readiness results are evidence that the Kansas school bureaucracy, including the KNEA, is unwilling to confront the reality of the performance of public schools. While promoting the importance of education — and yes, it is vitally important — they at the same time work overtime to preserve a government monopoly that is harmful to Kansas schoolchildren.

We need less government involvement in schools. We need more of the innovations that the KNEA opposes. Keep that in mind as you make your primary election choices.

Kansas ‘pigs at the trough’ award goes to …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andover schools label opponents ‘anti-education’

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

Friends of Andover Schools,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American education in 2030: teacher pay

The Hoover Institution’s K–12 Education Task Force has produced a series of thirteen lectures on the subject American Education in 2030. These lectures take a look at what American education might look like in 20 years.

In one lecture, Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford University economics professor who studies the economics of education, looks at the future of teacher pay and teaching. While her vision of what might happen is positive for both teachers and schoolchildren, substantial change will need to take place for this vision to be realized. Specifically, the nation will have to overcome the harmful effects of our nation’s teachers unions.

(In Kansas, the teachers union is Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA). Locally in Wichita, the union is United Teachers of Wichita. It should be noted that Barb Fuller, the current president of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, is a former president of the teachers union.)

In the future, Hoxby said teachers will be paid and managed as true professionals. Teachers will be paid based on what they contribute to student learning. This encourages productive teachers to stay in education, while unproductive teachers are encouraged to improve their skills or find other work. This is the same dynamic that is in effect in almost all fields of work.

In the future, good teachers will be paid well not because of union contracts, but because they are worth their high salaries. In 2010, at the present, Hoxby says that teacher pay, hiring, and training has more in common with auto industry workers than professional workers. Pay is based solely on seniority and educational credentials, not on how well teachers teach students.

“Schools paid more to teachers with education certificates even if everyone knew that the credentials were worthless.” She criticizes the present-day schools of education that she says are more interested in “inculcating social philosophy” instead of training effective teachers.

Factors that will work to increase our understanding of what works include longitudinal databases, which track individual students over time. These database have been helpful in understanding the effects of teacher performance on student learning. Teacher quality has been found to be a powerful effect, with the best teachers producing learning gains of half a grade equivalent per year. Some teachers consistently produced learning losses.

Once past the first year of teaching, these teacher effects did not depend on credentials or experience, the two factors that teachers unions insist must be the only basis for teacher pay.

A second factor that will change teaching is technology, allowing students to interact with expert teachers who are remote.

The third factor is choice and competition among schools. With parents able to choose among schools, there is a reason for principals to seek out and reward the best teachers.

Wichita schools, despite claims, find cost savings

Despite claims that school spending has been “cut to the bone,” USD 259, the Wichita public school district, found a way to save $2.5 million per year by adjusting school starting times, thereby saving on transportation costs.

School spending advocates have claimed that it is not possible to cut spending without affecting students. It starts at the top with Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson’s repeated claims that spending has been “cut to the bone.” He says it’s not possible to make more cuts.

Other school spending advocates repeat this theme of having cut as much as possible, repeating the “bone” theme. An issue of the Kansas National Education Association newsletter Under the Dome for March 30, 2009 claims that spending has “already been cut to the bone.”

Kansas Board of Education Chair Janet Waugh said “Districts have already cut to the bone,” according to a Kansas Reporter article.

Last year Representative Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, former Wichita school board member, and Assistant Minority Leader of the Kansas House of Representatives, stated in a KAKE Television news story “If you cut $10 million, you’re now cutting into the bone, the marrow, and you’re going to have a significant impact on the ability to deliver education.”

The Wichita Eagle editorial board has said several times that cuts to Wichita school spending will hurt students. Referring to the possible need to cut $25 million from the Wichita school budget, Philip Brownlee in March wrote “Cutting that much money — or even a third as much — could cause great harm.”

Despite these claims, by adjusting school starting times and transportation schedules, the Wichita school system was able to save a great deal of money without impacting the classroom. The $2.5 million savings just discovered by the Wichita school district is 30% of the “one-third of $25 million” that Brownlee says cutting would cause great harm. It represents 25% of the amount that Ward claimed would have a significant impact.

We should now ask these questions:

First, are there other cuts like this that can be made? It seems unlikely that this change is the only cost savings the Wichita school district — and other districts — can find.

Second, the Wichita school district did not participate in a voluntary school audit program. What other costs savings might have been found if Wichita had participated?

Third, why wasn’t this savings discovered and implemented in past years? Does it take a budget crisis to force public schools to seek ways in which to operate more efficiently?

Finally, private sector businesses face the never-ending discipline of market competition and seek ways to operate more efficiently even in good times. Government institutions such as public schools, however, don’t face this discipline. Should Kansas find a way to introduce market discipline to our state’s schools?

Tax cuts are a cost, says Kansas teachers union

For those who believe in the principle of self-ownership, taxes are a violation of that principle. But to those who depend on government for their funding, taxes are viewed differently. To them, any move to reduce taxes is viewed as a cost to government. People who value economic freedom, however, view tax cuts as the government allowing citizens to keep more of what is rightfully theirs.

The Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) is one such organization that believes that cutting taxes is a cost to Kansas state government instead of a benefit to citizens. Yesterday’s issue of KNEA’s “Under the Dome Today” provides an example of this type of thinking:

The most interesting statement of the day came from Rep. Richard Carlson (R-St Mary’s) who told the committee, “In six and a half hours of debate on the House floor yesterday, not one motion was made to increase taxes so this is where we are.” Carlson himself did offer a tax amendment during that six and a half hours of debate. Carlson’s motion was to eliminate the corporate income tax — a motion which, had it passed, have cost the state in the neighborhood of $250 million!

Kansans, including governor, rally for school spending, taxes

Kansas long-term debt per person

Today in Topeka supporters of more taxes for Kansas public school spending marched from the headquarters of Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union), to the Kansas Capitol, where they heard from speakers including Governor Parkinson. The crowd, braving the windy and cold weather, was estimated at 1,000 by the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The theme of the rally — besides more taxes and more spending — was the chant “We want what’s right, not what’s left!” I don’t think the participants detected the irony.

Kansas Senator Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and a schoolteacher, said that keeping class sizes small, keeping quality teachers, and making sure that all children have an equal opportunity to succeed are the right things to do. Early childhood education and more technology are needed. He advocated for increasing state funding of Kansas schools instead of reliance on local property taxes.

He said that investment in education is less expensive than paying to house prisoners.

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson acted as cheerleader for the crowd. He said that the outcome of the school funding battle will define the type of state we want to be: “Do we want to be a state that tears down our schools and refuses to fund education for our schoolchildren, or do we want to be a state that lifts up our schools, lifts up our teachers, and provides an education for every kid?”

He asked whether we wanted to be a state where only the children of the wealthy can get a good education. He urged the group to go into action by emailing, writing, and calling legislators. He said the message to give them is not only to support education, as all legislators say they support education. Instead, Parkinson said to ask them: “Will you raise taxes to save schools?”

He said we can do this — saving schools, presumably — with just a one cent increase in the sales tax. He said that the “so-called economists” on the right will say that a one cent sales tax will tear down our economy. He referred to the Sedgwick County sales tax used to build the Intrust Bank Arena, saying that people told him they didn’t know when the tax went on and off, claiming that no one noticed it. “Where are our priorities? If we can raise taxes one cent to build an arena, surely we can raise taxes on cent to help every schoolchild.”

Several speakers stressed the importance of education for the future well-being of our economy and country.

Analysis

The Kansas teachers union’s role in this rally is ironic to the point of absurdity, as it has been one of the major impediments to improving public schools. A recent letter in the Wall Street Journal described how the teachers union and its rules has harmed Topeka schools.

School spending supporters spend a lot of time talking about investing in education. But spending on public education is not really investing. It’s simply government spending on government schools. It results in jobs being transferred from the productive private sector to the unproductive public sector.

We must also disagree with the governor when he minimizes the impact of a sales tax on the economy. Despite the governor’s contention — I’ll chalk it up to rhetorical excess — I certainly noticed when the Sedgwick County sales tax started and stopped. A sales tax increase does result in lost private sector jobs. It results in lost economic freedom, as explained in Tax increases will cost Kansas jobs, economic freedom.

If a sales tax increase could be used to fund increased spending on schools without harming the economy, why stop at a one cent increase? Why not three or four cents? Or ten cents on the dollar? As we’ve seen, no amount of increased spending will satisfy the school spending lobby, at least not until all private sector wealth is transferred to the government.

Finally, for those who are willing to cast the lot of Kansas schoolchildren with the current system, consider the Adequate Yearly Funding website created to support this rally. The creator of this site, apparently Noah Slay, a third grade teacher and one of the rally organizers and speakers, evidently doesn’t know how to correctly form the plural of a word like “logo.” Twice the site erroneously creates the plural form of this noun using the greengrocer’s apostrophe: “If you’re creative and enjoy creating interesting and catchy slogans and logo’s …”

Related: Kansas school spending rally examined in video, story.

As Kansas teachers union rallies, schools stagnate under its rules

Today in Topeka about one thousand supporters of higher taxes for more Kansas public school spending rallied at the Kansas Capitol. Their march on the statehouse started at the headquarters of the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union), and KNEA president Blake West spoke at the rally. It’s quite ironic that the teachers union would be so involved in a rally for the improvement of Kansas schools, for as the following letter from the March 12 Wall Street Journal tells us, the teachers union has been a primary factor in the destruction of public education, in this case, the Topeka public schools.

Early on in my 42-year career teaching in public schools, my principals actually took reading groups, helped with math, were present in classrooms, halls, lunch rooms and on playgrounds. They came into one’s classroom unannounced and stayed sometimes for half a day, and they were taking notes. Their background was in teaching and they knew what they were looking for. By the time I retired, the union had required an administrator to give three to four days advance notice, right down to which period he’d be observing. Yearly evaluations became nothing more than a check sheet, and everyone got about the same score.

Our nation has some of the finest teachers in the world, and a goodly number of the worst. Unless and until teachers are evaluated based on what they accomplish, nothing will change.

Cherrie Wiese
Topeka, Kan.

Kansas school district consolidation, reorganization testimony heard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

Kansas schools fail to make cut for grants

Last year Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created a program named “Race to the Top” which would make grants to states that are willing to make certain reforms. Two such reforms prominently mentioned by Duncan and President Barack Obama are charter schools and merit pay for teachers.

We now know that Kansas was not selected to receive a grant, at least not in the first round. Kansas had applied for $166 million.

Kansas is falling behind the rest of the states in the types of innovation that Race to the Top was designed to promote. Specifically, the Kansas charter school law is weak. Anyone wishing to start a charter school must seek approval of the local school district. Most school districts in Kansas, especially the Wichita district, are hostile towards any lessening of the government school monopoly. As a result, there are very few charter schools in Kansas. It is likely that this played a role in the decision not to award a grant to Kansas.

Kansas is also unlikely to implement any sort of merit pay for teachers. As I reported last year in Kansas school establishment rejects reform: “In particular, the document Teaching in Kansas Commission: Final report, makes it clear that teacher merit pay in Kansas is not desired unless it is so watered-down as to be meaningless.”

Besides resisting merit pay, the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) is also opposed to charter schools. The national teachers union is too, as the Wall Street Journal reported last year: “NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility.”

It turns out that the prediction of Secretary Duncan was fulfilled. Kansas, with a teachers union that blocks reform at every step, is failing to keep up with innovations in education. Kansas should implement these reforms for their own good.

Kansas advocates for disabled face well-funded challenger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas school spending advocates exaggerate employment losses

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

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

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

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

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

To Kansas school spending advocates, criticism comes fast and loose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas teachers union makes it easy to ask for money

Thanks for Kansas Liberty for uncovering an effort of the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) to make it easy for school spending advocates to ask for more tax money.

This is part of the effort by the Kansas school spending lobby to pass tax increases on Kansans so that schools won’t have to face the same tough choices that businesses and families have to make.

The KNEA effort makes it easy to solicit legislators with just a few clicks of the mouse. There is a list of talking points with red arrows. By clicking on the arrows, folks who want to tax their fellow Kansans can include boilerplate text in their message to legislators.

Here are the teachers union talking points:

  • Kansas is in serious trouble. And it is not trouble caused by overspending; it is caused by over cutting.

  • Cuts made by the state in Medicaid have caused Kansans with disabilities to lose services and low-paid care-givers have seen their pay decline.
  • Our schools have cut employees and for the first time in generations, the educational opportunities available to our children are at risk of being cut and lost.
  • The safety of our communities is at risk as you approve cuts that will turn prisoners lose and close down correctional facilities.
  • Repairs and reconstruction on our highways will come to a halt if the state doesn’t get serious about these funding challenges.
  • For too long the legislature has been handing out corporate tax cuts while vulnerable programs have to cope with fewer and fewer resources. A legislature that is more interested in protecting corporate tax cuts than the vulnerable citizens of this state is a legislature that has lost its moral compass.
  • We have long enjoyed life in a state that knew how take care of its people, educate its children, and build great roads and highways. That quality of life is being eroded right now.
  • But you, as a state legislature, can turn things around. I urge you to pass a tax bill that will stop these cuts and protect our quality of life. House Bill 2475 will do that. And I for one am willing to pay a few pennies more for a loaf of bread if it means our schools stay open, our seniors have access to home-based care, the disabled are given a helping hand, our roads remain top quality, and our communities are kept safe.
  • Please support a revenue increase to protect the lives of Kansas citizens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for December 21, 2009.

KNEA uses incomplete funding data to argue for tax hikes

(Kansas Liberty) “Kansas State Department of Education Deputy Commissioner says a common practice of legislators and school advocates is only citing the base state aid K-12 receives for gauging funding levels.”

Democrat drops out of governor’s race

(Kansas Liberty) “Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wiggans announced yesterday that he was dropping out of the race amid allegations that he had acted in an ethically questionable manner at a previous job.”

Economist calls for scrapping state income tax

(Kansas Reporter) “Kansas’ economy — and its taxpayers — would be a lot better off if the state scrapped its current income tax system and replaced it with a single, 8 percent sales tax, says University of Kansas economist Art Hall. Hall, executive director of the university’s Center for Applied Economics, said a proposed 8 percent retail sales tax would replace 36 other state level taxes, including personal and corporate income taxes and would help make Kansas one of the most growth oriented state tax environments in the nation. Kansans would still pay local school district and property taxes, however.”

State executives line up to detail budget cuts

(Kansas Reporter) Kansas budget cuts mean state highways will stay snowpacked longer and wear out faster, the state’s transportation secretary, Deb Miller, told state Senate Ways and Means Committee members Tuesday. … Miller was one of 10 state executives or other officials who spoke to the Senate’s top budget writing panel about some of the challenges that an estimated $5.3 billion in Kansas tax revenues this year will present to their departments.”

Schools for Fair Funding to sue state for more education funding

(Kansas Watchdog) “The Schools for Fair Funding group met in Salina today and voted to sue the state for more funding for education. A number of Kansas media sources reported about this meeting. … None of these news sources ask questions that must be answered.”

Ethics Commission Approves Advisory Opinion

(Kansas Watchdog) “An assistant state attorney general received permission Wednesday to work for a private tobacco ‘Master Settlement Agreement’ clearinghouse as long as he doesn’t deal with Kansas matters.”

Letter From The Newsroom — Holiday Edition

(State of the State, Kansas) “This week we look at 6 people who served as the Governor of Kansas. We also visit the Kansas Historical Society to find out about Christmas Past in Kansas.”

Governor says ‘no’ to more Medicaid or education cuts

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “The state needs a higher levy on tobacco and a new nursing home tax would help the industry, the governor said today in an interview with KHI News Service. Other taxes also should be explored to help balance the budget because cuts to needed services over the past two years have gone too deep already, he said.”

KNEA uses incomplete funding data to argue for tax hikes

In a story illustrated with several charts, Kansas Liberty shows that the Kansas National Education Association or (KNEA, the teachers union), is not to be trusted when talking about Kansas school finance.

Why?

School spending advocates claim that spending on schools in Kansas is declining rapidly. It’s true that base state aid per pupil, the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula, has been cut.

But when considering the total spending by schools, a quite different picture emerges. From the Kansas Liberty story:

Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of education for the Kansas State Department of Education, said the discrepancy in reports is a result of the common practice of legislators and school advocates only citing the base state aid K-12 receives for gauging funding levels.

“They use general state aid, which is the primary operating fund,” Dennis told Kansas Liberty. “But they don’t use the total.”

The complete story is at KNEA uses incomplete funding data to argue for tax hikes.

Related stories are at Kansas school funding email confuses, misleads and Wichita and Kansas schools.

Kansas school spending advocates: no alternative views welcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas news digest

News from around Kansas for October 12, 2009

Professors, university officials flunk ethics homework assignment

(Kansas Watchdog) Many State of Kansas officials, including university professors, are required by law to file conflict of interest statements, called “statements of substantial interest (SSIs),” with their institutions and the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. But 33 university employees are simply ignoring their legal requirements.

Star Parker in Wichita

(Kansas Watchdog) Star Parker, founder and president of the Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), told the Wichita Rotary Club during a Monday luncheon that freedom and personal responsibility, though under attack from Washington, are the cure for poverty. She went on to say that poverty in the black community was made worse by government dependency

What we learned after school about the KNEA

(Kansas Liberty) But in fact the state’s teachers’ union is a key partner in a coalition of far-left groups — including ACORN — who are demanding a ‘public option’ in health care.

The National Education Association has a reputation for supporting a liberal agenda, from its advocacy of gay marriage to its most recent position, supporting the health care plan being pushed by Democrats, including a public insurance option.

Letter from the Newsroom — Ethanol Edition

(State of the State Kansas) This week we focus on ethanol. It seems strange that something as simple as a kernel of corn is where farming, science, money and politics intersect. Over the course of the week, someone told me that it all came down to Iowa Primary politics. Iowa is in the corn belt and as the first state to cast the primary vote with their December caucus, the speaker speculated that no aspiring politician would ever cross a corn farmer.

Interview with the Kansas Libertarian Party

(State of the State Kansas) Andrew Gray, President of the Kansas Libertarian Party discusses the party goals for 2010.

Kansas 2010 Budget in Crisis

(Kansas Watchdog) The Kansas 2010 budget is headed for a serious shortfall with two of the three most important revenue sources down significantly through September and the third poised to come up short in the coming months.

KPERS report sparks backlash from Wichita SEIU

Recently Kansas University professor Art Hall, along with a co-author, published a study explaining the funding crisis in KPERS, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement system. In summary, the report states: “The key finding of the study is that the KPERS system will not be in actuarial balance over the thirty year amortization period set in GASB standards. This means that KPERS will continue to accumulate unfunded liabilities for the foreseeable future. It is highly likely that KPERS will continue to impose a heavy tax burden on future generations.”

This finding has raised quite a protest from those who expect to receive a benefit from KPERS in retirement. It may be the school districts and teachers that are protesting the loudest. What’s really strange is that they’re protesting what appear to be facts based on solid research.

An example of the blowback to this report is when Harold Schlechtweg, business representative of Service Employees International Union Local (SEIU) 513 in Wichita, addressed the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district regarding the KPERS report. He advocated for raising taxes earlier this year in front of the Wichita City Council so that employees he represents wouldn’t lose their jobs to less expensive outsourcing.

To the school board, he said that when “people make a political intervention — and that’s exactly what that report was — I think that some requirement should be placed on them that they consider the impact of that.”

This is a puzzling statement. Is Schlechtweg asking for some sort of censorship or approval to be obtained before think tanks or advocacy groups publish their articles? I don’t think he would consent to this requirement being placed on himself, as many of his arguments wouldn’t pass any sort of sanity test.

For example, in a Wichita Eagle op-ed earlier this year, Schlechtweg said that if wages and benefits paid to Wichita parks workers were cut, the community would suffer. Let’s remind him who pays the wages and benefits he tried to protect: the taxpayers of the city of Wichita. The interests of the workers he represents are in direct opposition to that of the Wichita taxpayer.

Schlechtweg (and others) object to use of the word bankrupt, but if that accurately describes the financial condition of KPERS, why should we gloss over it?

He also mentioned the large losses in 401k plans. That’s not true for everyone. If a person’s funds were invested in, say, money market funds, there would have been no losses.

Employing the tactics often used by the left when faced with issues not favorable to their cause, Schlechtweg attacks personalities. He slams the authors of the study as “not friends of public education,” naming Americans for Prosperity, the tea party groups, and the Kochs specifically.

He praised the Kansas National Education Association or KNEA, the teachers union), for their work in providing information on this issue. Mr. Schlechtweg, if you’re going to discount the arguments of certain advocacy groups, can we agree that the teachers union is one of the most single-sided, uncompromising, and untruthful advocacy groups?

And while bashing the political motives of others, doesn’t Schlechtweg realize that the KNEA is all about politics, if about anything at all?

The fix for KPERS, he said, is to fund it. A problem, of course, is that taxes will likely have to be raised, and people don’t like to pay taxes. But to advocates like Schlechtweg and the SEIU, that’s not a problem. The taxpayer, it seems, is both their source of funds and focus of their scorn.

Kansas needs education for prosperity

Mark Tallman, assistant executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), is arguing that spending on education is more important to a state than moderate tax rates. He makes this case in a recent Topeka Capital-Journal article Education a key to prosperity.

As reported: “Tallman said action next year by Kansas lawmakers to cut spending rather than increase investment in education through tax hikes would weaken student instruction and damage prospects of long term growth in the economy.”

There are several problems with Tallman’s reasoning. First, high-tax states are suffering compared to low-tax states. A recent report by the American Legislative Exchange Council reports on what’s happening to high-tax states. Citing California, the report states:

Defenders of the high-tax and high-spending conditions that precipitated this fall into the economic cellar argue that big government policies and taxes on the wealthy are necessary to protect the poor and the disadvantaged. Yet when flight occurs away from an area, it is always the highest achievers and those with the most wealth, capital and entrepreneurial drive who tend to “get out of Dodge” first, leaving the middle class, and then eventually only the poor and disadvantaged behind. In fact, it is only those individuals with wealth who have the means and thus the ability to choose where they will reside. Consequently, the poor are left victims of the misguided liberal policies that were enacted to assist them.

Tallman is one of these defenders of high taxes and high spending. As the Capital-Journal article reported: “Nationally, [Tallman] said, high income states were more likely to be high tax states — not the reverse.”

The problem is that Tallman has the chain of events backwards. Wealthy states like New York were wealthy before they became high tax states. Now, as taxes rise in these states — and many of these are looking to raise taxes even more to combat budget deficits — the wealthy in these states are leaving, taking their tax payments with them.

We must avoid this flight of wealth in Kansas. We should be enacting policies that will attract high-tax state refugees. But when they read special interest lobbyists like Tallman calling for higher taxes, well, it doesn’t do much to attract people and capital to Kansas.

I might not be so harsh on Tallman’s advocacy if what he wants — dramatically increased spending on public schools in Kansas — was a worthwhile goal. But it’s becoming apparent that in Kansas, that after years of rapidly rising spending on schools, we have little to show for it. This is important to recognize, because one thing Tallman says is true: Education is vitally important.

Yes, our education commissioner and many local school districts claim rising test scores. This is at the same time that Kansas scores on the federal tests are flat, or rising only slowly. See Are Kansas school test scores believable? for an explanation.

If Mr. Tallman was truly concerned about the education of Kansas children rather than the special interests of the groups he lobbies for (the above-mentioned KASB and Kansas National Education Association or KNEA, the teachers union), he could do a few things that would absolutely make a difference.

First: These rising test scores, are they real? If the KASB and KNEA would call for an independent audit or investigation of these tests, we could then have some confidence that the claimed rise in performance is valid.

Then, he could realize that what would give vitality to education in Kansas is what’s working in other states: charter schools and other school choice programs. Tallman and his groups consistently and ferociously beat down any attempt to introduce these innovations in Kansas. Even President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are promoting charter schools.

Also, differential pay for teachers — another idea that Obama and Duncan promote — would accomplish several things, such as giving truly accomplished and effective teachers recognition for their achievements. It also would give credence to the idea that teachers are professionals, recognition that teachers ask for at the same time they are represented by a labor union that strips away the responsibilities that accompany professionalism.

Kansas Action for Children calls for tax increase

Reporting by Paul Soutar of the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy shows Kansas Action for Children (KAC) calling for higher taxes on Kansans.

Soutar cites a KAC report: “The long-term solution to avoid increasing budget gaps is to update and modernize the Kansas tax system in a way that accurately reflects the current economy and generates sufficient revenues for state funding needs.”

This guarded language is similar to that issued by the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union). A recent communique to its members contained this: “You see, the Kansas revenue system has something that tax folks call a ‘structural deficit.’ Structural deficits result when spending increases outpace revenue collections. … When the revenue system is not structured to keep up with the cost drivers, you get a structural deficit. You can cut your way out of it temporarily but unless you address the revenue system, eventually the deficit will return. … To get Kansas out of this mess, the legislature simply must modernize the Kansas tax system! … It is long past time to overhaul the Kansas tax system.”

Modernize. It’s something everyone can agree on — until you realize that the goal of this modernization is to increase the revenue flowing to the state. Rarely is cutting spending or programs considered. Instead, more tax revenue is the solution.

According to Soutar’s reporting, Gary Brunk, president of Kansas Action for Children, said that there are programs that are “ineffective and should be defunded.” But not his program, of course: “I don’t think that process would reduce our need for funding though.”

I’ll bet the heads of all programs in Kansas feel that way.

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Kansas Action for Children Calls for Tax Increase – Paul Soutar – Flint Hills Center