Tag Archives: Kansas Policy Institute

Seal of the State of Kansas

Two versions of the Kansas income tax cuts

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Two Versions of the Income Tax Cuts: The Media’s Story and Reality

By Steve Anderson

In January 2011, when I was first appointed State Budget Director, the state was on the verge of what appeared to be a financial meltdown. Under the previous administration, the first negative ending balance in state history had been allowed exist. Kansas was $27.6 million “in the hole” and this headline was on the front page of the Wichita Eagle “Shortfall for ’11 State Budget Tops $500 million.” Much of the first six months was spent trying to not bounce checks and finding areas to cut spending immediately. We also spent considerable time giving agencies more flexibility to spend down unencumbered funds as agencies had previously been allowed to overspend available funding, a typical policy of Gov. Mark Parkinson and his Budget Director Duane Goosen. However, even as I was using the power the Budget Director holds to operationally limit spending I realized the media’s claim of a $500 million shortfall was an exaggeration.

At the end of the first six months Kansas had $188 million in the bank and within eighteen months the state ended fiscal year 2012 with a $502.9 Million ending balance. This would have been lost to citizens who weren’t doing their own research. They never would have known that the “budget” crisis had passed because the media had moved onto their next “crisis” without revisiting the initial headlines and, in the process, calling into question their first reports.

The media’s next “crisis” was centered on the individual income tax cuts that were passed in 2012. The bill to reduce the tax burden on citizens “would slash income taxes and is expected to produce a $2 billion deficit within five years” according to theWichita Eagle’s articleThe Kansas City Star led with this quote of “state fiscal analysts projecting budget deficits reaching $2.5 billion in 2018.” Just to further emphasize the dire situation the Star added this scare from a representative of a special interest group with no known expertise on the economic impact of lower tax burdens by saying that the tax cuts, “have an enormous impact on everything from public education to public health coverage to infrastructure to other vital social safety-net services.”

Who are these “state fiscal analysts” that the media used to fan the flames and how did this version of a looming fiscal crisis occur? The state fiscal analysts are staff of the Kansas Legislative Research Division (KLRD) which presents their projection of the impact on the state’s finances of any change in tax regulations. Here are the numbers from KLRD’s analysis of Senate Bill Substitute for House Bill 2117 — the tax cut bill — and the impact on the state’s budget:***

The approach used by KLRD to generate these numbers is not consistent with the realities of state finances. There are three fundamental problems with KLRD’s analytic techniques which create these illusions of fiscal crises where none exists.

  1. It is impossible for the state to have a negative ending balance of this size because the state cannot print money (unlike Washington) which precludes the ability to carry such huge imbalances forward year after year.
  2. The projection of spending growth the KLRD staff uses ignores the reality of the first issue. Spending cannot continue at a rate that exceeds revenue once the first negative balance occurs. KLRD’s analysis ignores options to control spending that are available to the state’s elected officials and instead shows increasing negative balances. In reality shortfalls and surpluses are dealt with each year through a multitude of available options.
  3. KLRD uses a static view of what will happen to revenues when money is returned to the state’s citizens. For example, the assumption is that if a tax cut is $500 million there will be $500 million less in revenues that come into the state coffers the next year. To believe that one of two things would have to happen, 1) either the money would be buried in a jar in the back yard, or 2) every dollar would have to be spent out of state. In reality, that $500 million in tax cuts means that business owners will reinvest some part of that money and wage earners will spend some of it in the local economy.

A more realistic view of Senate Bill Substitute for House Bill 2117 puts things in perspective. The following chart shows what has transpired, to date, based on the effects of the tax cuts. It is very good example of why citizens should take media accounts based on KLRD’s numbers with a full shaker of salt.


The net difference between KRLD’s ending balance and what the current actual receipts show is $913.4 million. The crisis of the “enormous impact on everything from public education to public health coverage to infrastructure to other vital social safety-net services” that the Kansas City Star’s “expert” on the tax cuts predicted hasn’t occurred. But, we have not yet heard the Eagle or the Star report these facts.

Kansans simply haven’t heard that, after returning $231.2 million to taxpayers in FY-2013 and ANOTHER $802.8 million in fiscal year 2014, ending balances were actually up nearly a billion dollars over the estimates! Estimates that directly led to some dire headlines upon their initial release. Returning nearly a billion dollars to Kansans’ pocket books while ending balances have been steady or increasing is an incredible story of success that media would want to share with readers.

Citizens of Kansas have a right to hear forecasts of disasters but they also deserve to be told by those same media outlets that those forecasts didn’t match what actually took place and that things are going well. Citizen should insist that their legislators request that KLRD begin a policy of only producing projections for a reasonable number of future years based on the realities of the Kansas Constitution. This would limit the use of statistically flawed data being used to fuel for the fire of those who are playing politics under the guise of “news reporting.”

I will follow up shortly with part two of this story on where the state’s finances are headed including commentary and possible adjustments to April 2014 Consensus Revenue Estimates.

*** Kansas Legislative Research Division Senate Tax Plan with Adjusted Severance Tax Receipts 2/15/2012 — full version on file. Expenditures and Revenues Totaled in order to fit the page

Kansas school finance reporting and opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-03-03 1200

WichitaLiberty.TV: Schools and the nature of competition and cooperation, Wind power and taxes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A Kansas newspaper editorial is terribly confused about schools and the nature of competition in markets. Then, we already knew that the wind power industry in Kansas enjoys tax credits and mandates. Now we learn that the industry largely escapes paying property taxes. Episode 38, broadcast April 6, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.


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

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Education is all about money and politics for UMEEA

By Dave Trabert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kansas not good on spending visibility

For more about this issue, see Open Records in Kansas.

The results are in, and the news isn’t good: Kansas continues to plummet in state spending transparency rankings, and it barely squeaked by with a grade of D-minus, according to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Kansas Capitol

Kansas Policy Institute at work

Kansas CapitolA letter in the Wichita Eagle accused Kansas Policy Institute of the “destruction of K-12 education.” Following is part of the comment KPI president Dave Trabert wrote in response to the letter. It’s a good recap of what KPI has done the past few years. I’m left to wonder how anyone who cares about Kansas schoolchildren could be opposed to the work KPI has done.

We are showing citizens and legislators the facts about student achievement. Contrary to claims of nation-leading achievement, Kansas students scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and ACT are just about average. Overall averages are distorted by demographic differences but scores for each student cohort (White, Low Income, etc.) are actually about average across the nation.

We are showing citizens and legislators that the achievement gaps for low income students in Kansas are large and growing. Even [Kansas Education Commissioner] Diane DeBacker had to agree with that statement in front of the House and Senate Education Committees.

We proved that Kansas State Department of Education and the State Board of Education reduced performance standards to some of the lowest in the nation (according to the US Dept. of Ed.).

We are giving people the truth about school spending and showing that very large spending increases did very little to improve achievement.

We are showing people that school spending continues to set records, even though districts are not even spending all of the money they are given to run schools.


In Kansas, base state aid is only a small part of spending

chalkboard-portion-800Considering only base state aid per pupil leads to an incomplete understanding of school spending in Kansas. The Gannon school finance decision reinforces this.

Much of the discussion surrounding school funding in Kansas has centered around base state aid per pupil. It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula, and therefore an important number.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.

Base state aid per pupil has fallen in recent years. Because of this, public school spending advocates claim that spending has been cut. But that’s not the case. As shown in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in measures of school spending when compared to base state aid.

Considering Kansas state spending only, the ratio of state spending to base state aid was 1.10 in 1998. By 2013 that ratio had risen to 1.82, an increase of 65 percent for the ratio.

For total spending, the ratio rose from 1.86 to 3.33 over the same period, an increase of 79 percent.

What’s important to realize is that the nature of Kansas school funding has changed in a way that makes base state aid per pupil less important as a measure of school spending. Research from Kansas Policy Institute has shown that while base state aid per pupil has not grown, total state spending on schools has grown. Two reasons are rising spending on KPERS pension contributions and aid to schools for bond construction projects. The largest factor is rapid growth in the spending produced by the school finance formula’s various weightings.

A chart is available from KPI at Simple Comparisons of Base State Aid are Deceptive.

Kansas wind turbines

Rural Kansans’ billion-dollar subsidy of wind farms

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Rural Kansans’ Billion-Dollar Subsidy of Wind Farms

By Dave Trabert

Kansas wind turbinesNo, I’m not talking about any federal tax subsidies or mandates to buy high-cost wind energy that have forced higher taxes and electricity prices on every citizen. This billion-dollar gift comes in the form of local property tax exemptions. In some ways, this handout is even more insidious because the cost is borne by a relatively small number of Kansas homeowners and employers in the rural counties where wind farms exist.

Under current law, renewable energy producers enjoy a lifetime exemption from property taxes in Kansas. I testified last week in support of SB 435 to limit their property tax exemption to ten years.  As shown on an attachment to my testimony, the Kansas Legislative Research Department says there is a $108.4 million annual difference between the small fees paid in lieu of taxes and the taxes that would be due if taxed at the regular rates within each county. So technically, the legislation would only “limit” the property tax gift to $1.1 billion over ten years on existing wind farms; more tax gifts would still be done on new wind farms and other renewable energy facilities.

And while renewable energy producers were basically getting a free ride, property taxes on everyone else where going through the roof!

Giving property tax exemptions to private companies, regardless of the rationale, only increases everyone else’s property tax. Local government spending is not curtailed to absorb the exemption; cities and counties just raise taxes on everyone else. We encouraged the Legislature to also require that local mill rates be reduced proportionately if these property tax gifts are limited to ten years so that the new revenue from renewable energy producers’ property tax is used to reduce the burden on everyone else. (You should have seen the stink-eye this produced from the tax-and-spend crowd.)

Predictably, wind farm lobbyists lined up to protest that this legislation would increase their property taxes and send a bad message to the wind industry. Even local governments are opposed to taking away the exemption — after all, they can get their money from everyone else and take credit for bringing jobs and investment to their communities. They refuse to acknowledge that any economic benefit enjoyed by the green energy industry (and their own political benefit) comes out of the pockets of everyone else.

P.S. Remember this billion-dollar gift the next time you’re angered by cronyism in Washington, DC. Bad players in Washington often learn their craft at the state level; fending off bad policy at the state level has many long term benefits.


In Kansas, the Blob is worked up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reform in Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Blob won’t tell you

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

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas school standards

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

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1960

During Sunshine Week, here are a few things Wichita could do

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1960The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government, but the city could improve several areas of providing information and records to citizens.

The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer often speaks in favor of government transparency. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, he listed as an important goal for the city this: “And we must provide transparency in all that we do.” When the city received an award for transparency in 2013, a city news release quoted Wichita City Manager Robert Layton:

“The City Council has stressed the importance of transparency for this organization,” City Manager Robert Layton said. “We’re honored to receive a Sunny Award and we will continue to empower and engage citizens by providing information necessary to keep them informed on the actions their government is taking on their behalf.”


Despite the proclamations of the mayor and manager, the city needs a change of attitude towards government transparency. Here’s perhaps the most glaring example of how the city goes out of its way to conduct public business in secret.

Citizen watchdogs need access to records and data. The City of Wichita, however, has created several not-for-profit organizations that are controlled by the city and largely funded by tax money. The three I am concerned with are the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Each of these agencies refuses to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act, using the reasoning that they are not “public agencies” as defined in the Kansas law that’s designed to provide citizen access to records.

The city backs this interpretation. When legislation was introduced to bring these agencies under the umbrella of the Kansas Open Records Act, cities — including Wichita — protested vigorously, and the legislation went nowhere. Now, just this week the City of Wichita added a new tax to hotel bills that may generate $3 million per year for the convention and visitors bureau to spend. Unless the city changes its attitude towards citizens’ right to know, this money will be spent in secret.

Another example of the City of Wichita’s attitude towards citizens and open government took place at a Kansas Legislature committee hearing last year. I had asked for email to or from a certain official for a certain period of time. The response from the city was that my request would encompass some 19,000 email messages, and the city denied the request as too burdensome. Fair enough.

But the city’s lobbyist told legislators that my request for 19,000 emails was an example of abuse of the Kansas Open Records Act, and cited it as evidence as to why reform was not needed. But I did not request 19,000 email messages. I made a request for messages meeting a certain criteria, and I had no way of knowing in advance how many email messages this would entail. The City of Wichita denied this request as burdensome, so there was either no cost or very little cost for the city. No harm, no foul.

But the City of Wichita used this incident and a similar incident involving the Kansas Policy Institute as reasons that the Kansas Open Records Act needs no reform. This illustrates a problem with the attitude of Wichita city government towards citizens’ right to know.

This attitude may be noticed by the citizenry at large. Survey respondents were asked to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart created from data in the most recent version of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question.

Citizens rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement."

Citizens rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.”

The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center National Citizen Survey.


An important way governments can communicate with their subjects is through their websites. Wichita moved to a new website early in 2013. With the launching of the new City of Wichita website, the city has actually taken a step backwards in providing information to citizens.

From the former version of the City of Wichita website, showing budgets available for many years.

From the former version of the City of Wichita website, showing budgets available for many years.

Here’s an example. The old city website had budgets going back a long way, back to the budget for 1960 — 1961. The oldest budget I can find on the present website is for 2006.

Looking for minutes of important boards such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, we find similar results. On the old website, minutes of MAPC were available back to 1999. The new version of the website seems to have minutes back to only 2012.

Also, something that had been very useful is missing, and hasn’t been replaced: MyWichita.


As described here, MyWichita was a useful service. By using it, you could receive by email notices of new press releases, city council agendas and minutes, district advisory board agenda and minutes, agendas and minutes of other boards, and other items. Using MyWichita was much easier than having to check multiple sections of the city’s website looking for newly-released agendas, minutes, etc.

This email reminder service was very valuable. It’s a basic customer service feature of many commercial and governmental websites. But MyWichita didn’t survive the conversion to the new website, and there’s nothing that replaces its function. When I asked about this missing functionality, the city said it was working on a replacement that should be available in a month or two. It’s been almost a year since I asked.

Spending data

Many governmental agencies post their checkbooks on their websites. Sedgwick County does, and also the Wichita school district. Not so the City of Wichita.

Wichita spending data.

Wichita spending data.

Even after asking for checkbook spending data, Wichita can supply data of only limited utility. What was supplied to me was data in pdf form, and as images, not text. It would be difficult and beyond the capability of most citizens to translate the data to useful format. Even if someone translated the reports to computer-readable format, I don’t think it would be very useful. This is a serious defect in the city’s transparency efforts.

Legal notices

Kansas law requires that local government agencies publish legal notices for a variety of topics. Presently these are published in the Wichita Eagle at great cost to taxpayers. These notices could also be published on the city’s website, where they could be searched and archived. This would increase the usability of these documents at very little cost to the city.

Publish requests

When governmental agencies like the City of Wichita fulfill records requests, they could also publish the records on their websites. Most of the time the records are supplied electronically, so this is an additional simple (and low cost) step that would leverage the value of the city’s effort.

Leveraging our lobbyists

What do lobbyists, including taxpayer-funded lobbyists, do in Topeka? One thing they do is testify before committees, in both verbal and written form. Another thing they do is to prepare reports for the clients, advising them on upcoming legislation, analyzing how it affects them, and what the prospects for the bill might be. They also meet with legislators and their clients, which are your elected officials.

Here’s a proposal that will help citizens make best use of their taxpayer-funded lobbyists:

I see nothing in the Kansas Open Records Act that allows local governmental units in Kansas to refuse to disclose these documents: testimony, reports by lobbyists to their government clients, and the lobbyists’ calendars (or billing records for contract lobbyists). Instead of making citizens ask for these records, possibly paying fees to obtain what they’re already paying for, why don’t local governments post these documents immediately on their websites?

Citizens could then benefit from the activities of the lobbyists they’re paying for. They could learn more about legislation as it works its way through the process. Citizens could judge whether the positions taken by the government lobbyists they’re paying for are aligned with their policy preferences.

If the actions taken by taxpayer-funded lobbyists are truly in the public interest, you’d think that cities, counties, and school boards would already be making this information easily available. In any case, there should be no resistance to starting this program.

Rally for school choice, Topeka, 2014-02-11

Rally for school choice in Kansas

Rally for school choice, Topeka, 2014-02-11A grassroots coalition of educators, advocates, parents, and Kansans came together to make the case for school choice in the Kansas State Capitol on 11 February 2014. This was the first capitol rally in Kansas’ history focused on school choice.

Participants included
- Andrea Hillebert of Mater Dei Catholic School in Topeka
- Becky Elder of The Northfield School for the Liberal Arts in Wichita
- James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute
- Jeff Glendening of Americans for Prosperity
- Cristina Fischer of the Kansas Education Freedom Movement
- Chiquita Coggs, co-founder of Holman Academy in Kansas City, KS
- Tammy Hope, Decoding Dyslexia-Kansas
- Derrell Bradford, Better Education for Kids in New Jersey
- Pastor Wade Moore, Christian Faith Centre in Wichita

There is also a podcast holding audio from some of the speakers. View the video below, or click here to view at YouTube.


Kansas school finance lawsuit reaction

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

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

The full opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medicaid expansion: The impact on the federal budget and deficit

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Medicaid Expansion: The Impact on the Federal Budget and Deficit

By Steve Anderson

Medicaid.gov Keeping America HealthyThe problem with the uninsured is not going to be solved by expanding Medicaid. Even amongst Medicaid’s staunchest proponents you’ll be hard pressed to find any who will claim it to be the equivalent of high quality private health insurance coverage. The number of federal senators and representatives that choose to exclude their staffers from Obamacare shows that many Washington politicians understand the quality of government insurance plans Medicaid and Obamacare represent. The simple fact is, that health insurance is not to be confused with health care.

Medicaid’s proponents can only claim anecdotal claims of improving health outcomes of recipients. Even in pre-ObamaCare Medicaid, beneficiaries largely do not access available preventable care services. In fact, a Harvard University study shows that emergency room visits actually increased by 40 percent for Medicaid recipients in Oregon after their expansion. Citizens would do well to remember, a “decrease in ER visits” was a key selling point of ObamaCare generally and Medicaid expansion specifically. ER visits are the most expensive form of care. When these increased visits are paid for by Medicaid, the taxpayers are picking up BOTH the state and federal portion of the high cost of emergency room visits. This flies in the face of the Obama Administration’s claim that Medicaid expansion would actually save money by limiting this sort of behavior.

It doesn’t stop there and this is the part that hardly anyone has mentioned, and what the Obama Administration would rather you not know — a staggering number of those enrolling in ObamaCare will actually be sent to Medicaid and not be in the private market. And by “private market” we mean one established and controlled by government.

The following charts are the pre-Medicaid expansion projection of revenues versus expenditures from the Congressional Budget Office. They were completed before the decision by 25 states and the District of Columbia to expand eligibility.i

The three lines with the steepest slopes and therefore the fastest growing expenditures are Medicaid, Unemployment payments (called Income Security) and Other Programs. The U.S. House of Representatives has addressed the unemployment expense growth by bringing the program back to its original intent – to provide a safety net between jobs. Other Programs will be largely controlled if current trends hold and extension of the various “stimulus” programs are curtailed. However, the one that is going to accelerate with expansion and is larger than the other two combined in total state and federal expenditures is Medicaid. At least 3.9 million of Obamacare participants are expected to be enrolled in Medicaid and 19 million nationwide overall will be added to Medicaid in the next year. A 35 percent increase in Medicaid participants.ii Picture these two charts with 35 percent greater additional costs for the Medicaid entitlement and you have an idea how problematic this is for the federal budget and deficit. Is it any wonder that President Obama has started to back track from the claim that the federal government—which let’s not forget, is funded by you the taxpayer — will pay all the costs for 3 years and 90 percent thereafter. Instead, his administration and he himself talk about blended rates that will transfer a sizeable portion of the cost to state budgets.iii Despite his promises to the contrary.

The Impact on the Kansas State Budget

Even the leftist Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which typically finds spending citizens’ tax dollars an event to celebrate, is cautioning that the “blended rate” shift by the President will “likely prompt states to cut payments to health care providers and to scale back the health services that Medicaid covers for low-income children, parents, people with disabilities, and/or senior citizens (including those in nursing homes). Reductions in provider payments would likely exacerbate the problem that Medicaid beneficiaries already face regarding access to physician care, particularly from specialists.”iv This analysis actually left out the administrative cost of expansion that is largely being absorbed by the states. If anything, this suggests that reality will be more dire than CBPP’s predictions.

KPI’s own cost study of Medicaid expansion, conducted by a sitting member of the Social Security Advisory Board and former chief economist at the Federal Reserve in Cleveland, shows that Kansas taxpayers can expect to pick a $600 million tab if Medicaid is expanded. Hardly the “free money” that the Kansas Hospital Association has tried to foist on your family. They’ve even hired a former George W. Bush cabinet secretary to aggressively lobby for this “free money.” They’ve also yet to explain what services they recommend the state cut to fund the expansion and if their members are willing to pick up the additional costs when “blended rates” almost certainly take effect.

As a taxpayer you are going to pay for this on both the federal and state level and you deserve answers when any special interest groups come asking for more of your money.

ii http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-02/obamacare-s-medicaid-expansion-may-create-oregon-like-er-strain.htm
iii http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3521
iv Ibid

Voice for Liberty Radio: David Boaz of Cato Institute

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: David Boaz spoke at the annual Kansas Policy Institute Dinner. David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is a provocative commentator and a leading authority on domestic issues such as education choice, drug legalization, the growth of government, and the rise of libertarianism. Boaz is the former editor of New Guard magazine and was executive director of the Council for a Competitive Economy prior to joining Cato in 1981. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas,” the editor of The Libertarian Reader, and coeditor of the Cato Handbook For Policymakers. His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Slate. He is a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, and has appeared on ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, CNN’s Crossfire, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, John McLaughlin’s One on One, Fox News Channel, BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other media. His latest book is The Politics of Freedom.

This is an excerpt of David Boaz speaking in Wichita, October 15, 2013.


Cato Institute
David Boaz at Cato Institute
David Boaz: Independent Thinking in a Red-Blue Town
Books by David Boaz
Kansas Policy Institute

College costs in Kansas: Rising by more than a tad


Have college costs exceeded the rate of inflation by just a “tad,” as claimed by a Kansas college professor?

Washburn University Political Science Professor Mark Peterson wrote in a recent op-ed that “The actual cost of obtaining postsecondary education has, like everything else, continued to rise — mostly at the rate of inflation plus a tad.”(Mark Peterson: State sends wrong higher-ed message, Wichita Eagle, Sunday, January 26, 2014.)

The College Board keeps track of college costs and publishes its findings at Trends in College Pricing. Of particular interest is a table titled “Figure 5. Inflation-Adjusted Published Tuition and Fees Relative to 1983-84, 1983-84 to 2013-14 (1983-84 = 100).” This table assigns the cost of tuition and fees for the 1983-1984 school year to be 100, and tracks changes from that level. These numbers are adjusted for inflation.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the values of this index are this:
Private non-profit four-year college: 253
Public four-year college: 331
Public two-year college: 264

The interpretation of these numbers is this: For private non-profit four-year colleges, the cost of tuition and fees is 2.53 times the level in 1983-1984. Or, since these values are inflation-adjusted, the cost rose 2.53 times as fast as inflation.

For public four-year colleges, the rate of increase was higher: 3.31 times the rate of inflation over the past 30 years.

Turning our attention to Kansas: Kansas Policy Institute has examined college costs. Its findings can be found in A Historical Perspective of State Aid, Tuition and Spending for State Universities in Kansas. Nearby is a table from that report. Note that over the ten-year period covered, inflation rose by 25.3 percent. For the six Regents Institutions in Kansas, all except for Fort Hays State had costs increasing by over 100 percent. That’s over four times the ate of inflation. University of Kansas costs rose by 193.6 percent, or 7.6 times the rate of inflation.


Remember, Professor Peterson wrote that college costs had risen “mostly at the rate of inflation plus a tad.” His language leaves him a little wiggle room, as “mostly” and “tad” don’t have precise meanings. But evidently the product of the two is a pretty large number.

Peterson also wrote regarding public postsecondary education that “its price continues to climb and the Kansas general fund contributes less.” Note that the KPI table shows that state aid has declined by one-tenth of one percent over ten years. That, I think, qualifies as a “tad.”

Voice for Liberty Radio: Mike O’Neal, Kansas Chamber of Commerce

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Podcasts: Mike O’Neal, who is president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, spoke yesterday to the Wichita Pachyderm Club. A large part of his talk was on the topic of Kansas school finance and other education topics. This podcast contains that portion of his speech.

O’Neal graduated from Kansas University and also its law school. He served in the Kansas House of Representatives for 28 years, with his final four years as Speaker of the House. He joined the Kansas Chamber as President and CEO in 2012 as he retired from the legislature.

This is podcast episode number 4, released on January 18, 2014.


Kansas Chamber of Commerce
Mike O’Neal at Wikipedia
Mike O’Neal at LinkedIn
Mike O’Neal biography at Kansas Chamber
The Gannon opinion
Kansas school topics from Voice for Liberty
Kansas State Department of Education
Kansas Policy Institute

New York Times on Kansas schools, again


The New York Times — again — intervenes in Kansas schools. As it did last October, the newspaper makes serious errors in its facts and recommendations.

An op-ed in the New York Times is being used by the Kansas public school spending establishment as evidence for the need to increase school spending in Kansas. (What’s the Matter With Kansas’ Schools?, January 8, 2014) The authors are David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, and Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Before Kansas schoolchildren celebrate that the nation’s newspaper of record has taken up their case, let’s examine some of the claims and reasoning used by these authors.


The op-ed makes this claim: “Overall, the Legislature slashed public education funding to 16.5 percent below the 2008 level.” Claims like this look only at base state aid per pupil funding, which is just part of total spending. Total state aid per pupil this past school year was $6,984. Base state aid per pupil was $3,838. Total state spending, therefore, was 1.82 times base state aid.

It’s important to consider the totality of spending and not just base state aid. It’s important because total spending is so much greater than base state aid. Also, total spending accounts for some of the difficulties and expenses that schools cite when asking for higher spending. For example, advocates for higher school spending often point to non-English speaking students and at-risk students as being expensive to educate. In recognition of this, the Kansas school finance formula makes allowances for this. According to the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book for 2013, the weighting for “full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs” is 0.395. This means that for each such student a school district has, an additional 39.5 percent over base state aid is given to the district.

For at-risk pupils, the weighting is 0.456. At risk students, according to the briefing book, “are determined on the basis of at-risk factors determined by the school district board of education and not by virtue of eligibility for free meals.” Taken together, bilingual students considered to be at-risk generate an additional 85.1 percent of base state aid to be sent to the district, per student.

The decline in base state aid per pupil is a convenient fact for public school spending boosters. They can use a statistic that contains a grain of truth in order to whip up concern over inadequate school spending. They can cite this as an argument for increasing spending, even though spending has been rising.

Further, citing only base state aid reduces “sticker shock.” Most people are surprised to learn that our schools spend $12,781 per student. It’s much easier to tell taxpayers that only $3,838 was spent. But that’s not a complete picture, not by far. For more on this, see Kansas school spending holding steady and Kansas school spending, by district.

The Times op-ed also states “Class sizes have increased, teachers and staff members have been laid off.” But statistics show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and also in the ratios of students to these employees. This video explains.

The story is not the same in every district. But considering the entire state, two trends emerge. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the student-teacher ratio has fallen. The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

Kansas school employment

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts.

Kansas school employment ratios

Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

The Times continues: “The judges also found that the Legislature was not meeting even the basic funding amounts set in its own education cost studies.” We shouldn’t rely on these documents. See Suitable education in Kansas. The primary study that Kansas relies upon is defective in this way, according to testimony from Kansas Policy Institute: “Augenblick & Myers (A&M) openly admitted that they deliberately deviated from their own Successful Schools methodology and delivered artificially high spending numbers by ignoring efficient use of taxpayer money. Amazingly, the Montoy courts still based their rulings on ‘evidence’ that was known to be worthless. And now the Shawnee County District Court is following that legal precedent in its ruling on Gannon.

The Times also writes “A victory for the parents would be heartening” and “Kansans rightfully take pride in their strong public school system.”

Talking about school spending is easy, although the Times, like most Kansas newspapers, doesn’t tell its readers the full story on spending. Advocating for more spending is easy. It’s easy because the Kansas Constitution says the state must spend on schools, parents want more spending, teachers want it, public employee unions want it. It’s easy to want more spending on schools because anyone who doesn’t is branded as anti-child, anti-education, anti-human.

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

The focus on school spending also keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools that the establishment would rather not talk about. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. Editorials like this in the New York Times are very harmful to Kansas schoolchildren, because if the editorial’s recommendation is taken, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment will say that everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

Here’s what Kansas needs to confront. Regarding Kansas school performance, we have to confront two unpleasant realities. First, Kansas has set low standards for its schools, compared to other states. Then, when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered more spending in 2005, the state responded by lowering school standards further. Kansas school superintendents defend these standards.

When referring to “strong public school system,” here’s what Kansans need to know. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Kansas and National NAEP Scores, 2011, by Ethnicity and Race

If we compare Kansas NAEP scores to those of Texas, we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

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

What explains this paradox is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of students in ethnic groups. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.

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

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this? Does the New York Times editorial board know this?

Kansas trails surrounding states in economic freedom

Kansas trails surrounding states in economic freedom

By , Kansas Watchdog

AVERAGE: In a recent study of economic freedom in North America, Kansas ranked in the middle of the pack nationwide, but trails most surrounding states.

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — The Sunflower State scored middle of the pack in a recent study of economic freedom in North America, and while policy analysts sayKansas is trending in the right direction, the state still has some ground to cover.

Breaking down the data released last month by the Canada-based Fraser Institute, an independent, nonpartisan research and educational organization, Dave Trabert, president of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, said the state’s black eye is starkly presented in the numbers.

“In terms of what Kansas needs to do to improve, it’s pretty clear, you start from the bottom,” Trabert said. “The biggest thing it can do is deal with the fact that we have a lot more government in Kansas than we need, and this is just one of the latest (studies) to point that out.”

The Fraser report looked at things such as how much the government contributes to the overall state economy and workforce, levels of tax revenue, minimum wage laws and labor union density, among other factors.

Kansas ranked in the second-highest quartile in terms of economic freedom based on data collected from 2011. While that’s encouraging, the fact loses some of its luster when you consider that the only surrounding state to rank lower was Missouri Oklahoma ranked 17th out of all states, compared to Kansas’ 23rd place ranking. Nebraska and Colorado joined Delaware, Texas, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, Georgia, Utah and Illinois to be named the 10 “most free” states.

Trabert said based on a review of census data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kansas saw a 21.5 percent increase in population between 1980 and 2011, while at that same time local government employment has increased 62.7 percent.

Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute

“It’s kind of across the board,” he said. “Kansas, the structure itself, we have a lot more government than most states.”

Only looking at cities, counties and townships, Trabert said, nationwide the average is about 8,066 residents per government. In Kansas, that figure is significantly lower, clocking in at around 1,445 state residents per government — and that’s not even counting school districts or numerous other, smaller government entities. Kansas’ figures are five times the national average.

While the study knocks Kansas for its 2011 tax rates, Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan signed into law the following year, which decreases income tax rates, will likely improve the state’s placement in future studies.

Still, the rankings of surrounding states give Trabert cause for concern.

“People have been voting with their feet for a long time, and that’s going to continue to happen,” he told Kansas Watchdog.

It’s a trend that was revealed in even greater clarity last year, when an analysis of IRS and U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that Texas, Florida, Colorado and other low-tax states were veritable magnets for cash exiting Kansas.

“It all comes down to how much you spend,” Trabert said. “The more government you have, the more government spends, the more you have to tax people.”

The least free states, according to the Fraser Institute study, are Vermont, New Mexico, West Virginia, Mississippi, Maine, Kentucky, Montana, Arkansas, Hawaii and Rhode Island.

Related: Texas, Florida are top destinations for Kansas cash

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at@muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Kansas education topic on ‘This Week in Kansas’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample conclusions of this analysis for Kansas include:

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

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

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

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

LOB property tax increase already in effect


From Kansas Policy Institute.

LOB property tax increase already in effect

By Dave Trabert

About a year ago we asked the Kansas Department of Education to verify our calculation of the Local Option Budget (LOB) property tax increase that would result if Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) was increased from $3,838 per-pupil to $4,492 in accordance with a final Gannon ruling in favor of the plaintiffs/against Kansas taxpayers. KSDE verified our calculation but didn’t mention that the Legislature had already authorized districts to calculate LOB based on a hypothetical BSAPP of $4,433. Therefore, our reporting that increasing BSAPP to $4,492 would prompt an LOB increase of $154 million was inadvertently inaccurate, since most of that increase has already taken place. Upon learning of the potential mistake, we immediately contacted KSDE for clarification and issued this correction. We apologize for our role in this inadvertent reporting.

It should also be noted that the authorization to calculate LOB at a hypothetical rate of $4,433 expires on June 30, 2014; if not re-authorized, LOB calculations will be based on the actual amount of BSAPP, which currently is $3,838.

Setting LOB aside, let’s revisit the potential impact on citizens and the state budget if the Gannon ruling is upheld and implemented.

Continue reading

Kansas news reporting questioned

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Media should be a neutral reporter of facts

By Dave Trabert

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.” — Thomas Jefferson

I wonder what Mr. Jefferson would say about the state of today’s media. Television, cable, print and internet media routinely ignore basic journalistic principles and openly choose sides, often ignoring the facts and perpetuating falsehoods to convince citizens that their view is the right one. In some cases, it’s done in support of conservative causes; most often, it’s in support of “progressive” ideals that strip citizens of their personal freedom. It’s bad enough when facts are ignored in editorials but ignoring facts and choosing sides in news stories is tantamount to journalistic malpractice.

Local media gave us two examples of this behavior recently.  A November 22 Kansas City Star report said, “Kansas still had fewer jobs in October 2013 than it did in December 2012, the month before the Brownback tax cuts took effect.” The reporter when on to say, “Put another way: Kansas has actually lost 3,311 jobs since the Brownback tax cuts took effect.”

This is a great example of media looking for ways to inject their support or opposition of policy into news stories while quite deliberately ignoring pertinent facts. The clear purpose in that KC Star story was to show disdain for tax reform and the facts were not allowed to detract from that purpose.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data quoted by the reporter (although certainly not disclosed) was Labor Force Employment, which comes from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and represents employed persons by place of residence. The more commonly-used BLS report of non-farm employment is estimated based on the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey of business establishments, and represents a count of jobs by place of work.

The CPS data chosen by the KC Star is based on where people live, not where they work. There is no way of knowing to what extent the job losses reported in the CPS data are attributable to people who live in Kansas but work in Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado or Oklahoma. Data from the CES survey of businesses, however, avoids that issue because it is based on where people work.

And surprise! This data shows just the opposite of the story told by the KC Star.

Job growth is occurring in Kansas but that inconvenient truth gets in the way of the Star’s opposition to tax reform, so they spin a tale that suits their purpose and pass it off as “news.”

The Topeka-Capital Journal provided another example of journalistic malfeasance on November 24 in a one-sided recitation of school districts’ funding complaints. Not unlike the piece in the Star, its political purpose comes through loud and clear.

“When Gov. Sam Brownback took office, schools like this one were already reeling. The recession had brought what were likely the largest cuts to their operating budgets in state history. But once the recession faded, those funds didn’t rebound as some had hoped. Meanwhile, the governor cut income taxes — reductions meant to bolster the economy.”

That reads like an ad for a made-for-TV fictional movie, with the emphasis on fiction. Not a shred of funding facts were provided, which would of course expose that the claims are crafted to meet the political purpose.

Let’s look at the facts (all of which are readily available from the Kansas Department of Education). First of all, we’ll look at actual spending instead of the misleading reference to “budget.” Individuals and businesses think of “budget cuts” as spending reductions but when government says their budget was cut, it most often means that their plan to spend more was partly stymied.

I’ll make an assumption here that “operating” means current operating costs and excludes capital outlay and debt service (it wasn’t defined in the CJ story).

There was a 2.3 percent reduction in total operating expenditures in 2010, with per-pupil operating spending dipping by 3.5 percent. Portraying reaction to this paltry decline as “reeling” (or allowing school districts to do so) is hardly justifiable. Those small declines in total and per-pupil spending came on the heels of very large spending increases between 2005 and 2009 of 35 percent and 32 percent, respectively. (FYI, in case anyone tries to claim that schools suffered because state funding declined dramatically in 2010, remind them that nearly all of that money was replaced by legislators with federal stimulus money; the funding just temporarily shifted.)

Calling the 2010 minor spending dip the largest cut in state history makes it sound monumental and only feeds the political hype. In reality, 2010 was the only spending reduction that occurred since 1990, which is as far back as KSDE can cite; they tell us that prior years’ data has been archived and isn’t readily available. Details needed to identify operating spending in the KSDE online database only go back to 2004 (KPI has tracked it since 2005) but we do know that total spending did not decline between 1990 and 2010.

Allowing districts to claim they were “reeling” and quoting a legislator as saying districts are in “survival mode” deliberately ignores well-known facts that counter the veracity of those claims. For example, districts haven’t even spent all of the tax money received since 2005; about $420 million was used to increase operating cash reserves. Districts are also wasting a lot of money with inefficient operations.  Every single Legislative Post Audit study on school efficiency has found that schools could operate much more efficiently. If media is going to print “sky-is-falling” claims by school districts and those who support their institutional desires, they have a journalistic obligation to also publish facts that call such claims into question.

The article also perpetuates the myth that Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) is all districts receive to operate schools. The story allows two legislators and others to at least imply that BSAPP is the sole funding source and that the Legislature is deliberately underfunding schools despite a large body of evidence to the contrary.

The story cites no other per-pupil amount and fails to disclose that BSAPP is only about 30 percent of total funding provided by taxpayers. For the record, KSDE reports that per-pupil support of public education set a new record last year at $12,781 and is expected to hit $12,885 this year. District administrators know (and we’ve certainly informed media quite often) that they receive a lot more money than BSAPP to fund general operations. Local Option Budget (LOB) funds, which are provided through legislative authority, have increased 71% between 2005 and 2013, going from $341.7 million to $585.3 million.

Contrary to the claim made by one legislator quoted in the story, BSAPP was not put into statute as what the Legislature deemed to be “… the appropriate number to fund our schools.”  The Legislature made no such declaration. The Legislature increased funding based on a court order and under threat of having the State Supreme Court close schools. But the facts don’t fit the story that some people want to perpetuate, so rhetoric is substituted to fulfill a political purpose.

Kansas Policy Institute and other have published the facts surrounding school funding cases, including a full legal analysis of Montoy vs. State of Kansas.  We most recently published “Student-Focused Funding Solutions for Public Education,” which again cites many facts that explain why every court case on school funding is based on deliberately-inflated figures. Despite all the rhetoric, supposition and claims to the contrary, the simple proven truth is that no one — not a single legislator, superintendent, reporter, policy analyst or judge — knows how much money schools need to achieve required outcomes while operating efficiently. No such study or analysis has ever been conducted in Kansas.

Having spent more than twenty years managing news operations in several states, I have great respect for journalism and those who diligently work to honestly inform citizens. I also know that reporters are sometimes forced to cover stories by editors and managers in ways they find objectionable and have misleading headlines slapped on their stories. But to paraphrase Jefferson, our republic cannot properly function when citizens are deliberately deprived of information. It is not the duty of media (or policy analysts) to make decisions for citizens, but to inform them so they can make their own decisions.

Kansas school employment trends de-emphasize classroom teachers


From Kansas Policy Institute.

School district employment trends de-emphasize classroom teachers

By Dave Trabert

A large body of research shows that nothing benefits students more than having effective teachers in the classroom. With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to see how Kansas school district employment has changed over the years — comparing changes in regular classroom teachers to enrollment and other employment trends. All of the data was provided by the Kansas Department of Education (we appreciate their cooperation in helping to locate historical data) based on reports they receive from school districts.

The results are actually quite surprising and prompt a number of questions that legislators and parents may want to pose to school districts. But first, let’s look at the trends.

The first two tables show the changes in full time equivalent (FTE) employees over several time frames during the last twenty years.

1993 to 2005: These are the pre-Montoy years, during which time KPERS-adjusted school funding increased at a compound annual growth rate of 3.9 percent and FTE employment increased at a compound annual growth rate of 1.3 percent. KPERS retirement money was not included in reported funding until 2005, so we’ve added the annual amounts for 1993 through 2004 as provided by KSDE.

2005 to 2008: Large court-ordered funding increases began in 2006. School funding increased at a compound annual growth rate of 7.9 percent (from the 2005 base year) and FTE employment increased at a compound annual growth rate of 2.9 percent.

2008 to 2013: While the economic impact of the Great Recession began in 2009, school funding actually increased 4.0 percent that year. Total funding per KSDE dipped slightly in 2010 and 2011 (1.4 percent and 0.04 percent, respectively) and then increased in 2012 and 2013 (3.3 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively). We examine this period in total in the first table and then break it out by year in the second table.

Annual employment changes in the second table are compared to total school funding per-pupil as reported by KSDE and our own calculation per-pupil funding provided on state authority with all KPERS amounts removed. The state-provision calculation uses all funding sources provided to school districts through the state legislature’s statutory provision (except for KPERS as noted). This excludes all federal money and property taxes for bond levies that are approved by local voters. We exclude KPERS in this calculation to demonstrate that, contrary to claims in some circles, school funding increases are not totally driven by retirement spending.

Regular teacher employment has generally kept pace with enrollment over the years. Twenty years ago, there were 17.8 students per teacher, compared to 17.7 students per teacher in 2013. But the growth in non-teacher employment (40 percent since 1993) has significantly reduced the student-to-employee ratio from 8.0 to 6.7. Regular classroom teachers comprised 45 percent of school district total employment in 1993 but only represent 38 percent of employment today.

School district employment trends raise a number of thought-provoking questions.

  • Do district hiring practices (aides vs. teachers) indicate that district administrators and local school boards believe aides are more beneficial to students than hiring more teachers — or perhaps using the money to pay teachers a better salary?
  • What do parents and teachers think about this development?
  • Upon what analytical basis are such staffing decisions made?
  • Staff increases in the early Montoy years followed significant increases between 1993 and 2005, which, other than classroom teachers, were much greater than enrollment changes. Upon what analytical basis were decisions made to further increase staffing?
  • Do districts have any historical analysis that shows what necessary staffing levels should be? i.e., have districts been moving toward specific targets or are they just adding staff?

It’s critical to understand how districts resources are being allocated so that student-focused decisions can be made, especially since student achievement is relative stagnant and large, persistent achievement gaps exist for low income kids and students of color.

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


From Kansas Policy Institute.

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

By Dave Trabert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example #2

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

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

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

Example #3

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

Example #4

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

Example #5

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

Example #6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KNEA: supporting institutions at children’s expense

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

KNEA: supporting institutions at children’s expense

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


WichitaLiberty Podcast, episode 2

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150In this episode of WichitaLiberty Podcasts: David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, visits the WichitaLiberty.TV studios and explains the ideas behind libertarianism and its approach to government and society. New figures from the Kansas State Department of Education show that spending on public schools in Kansas is rising, and at a rate higher than the year before. Is Wichita economic development being managed? The problem of overcriminalization. City of Wichita proves Einstein’s definition of insanity. Episode 2, October 25, 2013.


WichitaLiberty.TV October 27, 2013. David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, visits the WichitaLiberty.TV studios and explains the ideas behind libertarianism and its approach to government and society.
Kansas school spending rises
Wichita economic development not being managed
USA versus You: The problem of overcriminalization
City of Wichita proves Einstein’s definition of insanity

WichitaLiberty Podcast, episode 1

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150In this first episode of WichitaLiberty Podcasts: A Kansas City Star editorial makes a case for higher school spending in Kansas, but is based on a premise that doesn’t exist in fact. There’s a new episode of WichitaLiberty.TV. Eureka! Tea partiers know science. The John J. Ingalls Spirit of Freedom Award. Cronyism and other problems in Wichita. Is the City of Wichita concerned that its contracts contain language that seems to be violated even before the contract is signed? Obama’s debt speech, not really a speech. Episode 1, October 20, 2013.


Kansas schools do not have rigorous standards, despite newspaper editorials. A Kansas City Star editorial makes a case for higher school spending in Kansas, but is based on a premise that doesn’t exist in fact.
WichitaLiberty.TV October 20, 2013
Eureka! Tea partiers know science
John J. Ingalls Spirit of Freedom Award
Cronyism and other problems in Wichita
Wichita contracts, their meaning (or not). Is the City of Wichita concerned that its contracts contain language that seems to be violated even before the contract is signed?
Obama’s debt speech, not really a speech

Let’s just ignore this Kansas school spending


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anderson, former Kansas budget director, speaks

Last Friday former Kansas budget director Steve Anderson spoke to members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Two videos are available, a highlights version and full version. View below, or to view on YouTube, click here for highlights or here for full version.

Also, it was announced on Friday that Anderson would be joining Kansas Policy Institute in the role of senior adjunct fiscal policy fellow. For more on this from KPI, see Former state budget director Steve Anderson joins Kansas Policy Institute.

Highlights video

Full speech

Kansas school fund balances on the rise


As the Kansas Supreme Court considers ordering more school spending, and as school spending boosters continue their never-ending mantra that school spending has been slashed, an inconvenient fact remains constant: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given, and the pile of unspent cash continues to grow, although it leveled off in the most recent year for which there is data.

In 2011, the Kansas Policy Institute commented on these funds and the rising balances: “We continue to hear about schools choosing to cut classroom spending, but many districts are not spending all of their state and local tax income. These funds operate much like personal checking accounts; the unencumbered balances only increase when income is greater than spending. It will be interesting to see how Kansas school districts use the new authority they have which makes it easier to spend down these balances.”

School district officials contend that school districts need to maintain fund balances for cash management purposes. That’s true, but it doesn’t explain why the fund balances have risen — and risen rapidly — year after year.

I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds and presented it as an interactive visualization. Explore the data yourself by using the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work better for some people. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Kansas university spending and funding


In response to a small decrease in Kansas university funding in next year’s budget, there’s been a bit of overreaction. Consider this Wichita Eagle editorial: “The higher tuition just forced on state universities by the Legislature effectively is a tax increase that will deepen loan debt for some Kansans and put college out of reach for others. And a $66 million cut to higher education is no way to ‘grow’ an economy.”

Examine the assumptions underlying this:

1. The only possible response to a small cut in state funding is for universities to raise tuition.

2. If students have to pay more of the cost of their college education, it’s a “tax increase.”

3. The response of students to higher tuition will be to increase their student loan borrowing or avoid college.

4. Spending on universities — as opposed to letting people spend and invest their own money — is the better way to grow the Kansas economy.

The most nonsensical of these is the claim of “tax increase.” Taxes are paid involuntarily. Attending college is a decision. Asking working Kansans to pay more for students to attend college: That is taxation.

Aside from this, Kansas regents universities — as is the case almost universally — have been increasing spending and tuition. Analysis by Kansas Policy Institute shows that for most Kansas regents universities, spending and tuition increases rise faster than inflation. Many times faster, in some cases. The KPI study is A Historical Perspective of State Aid, Tuition and Spending for State Universities in Kansas.

Below, Kansas Representative Marc Rhoades, who is Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, explains more about the funding and spending of Kansas regents universities, and recognizes the Washington Monument strategy employed by KU in an effort to shape public opinion on this matter. It worked on the Wichita Eagle editorial board.

Asking Questions of Higher Education

By Kansas Representative Marc Rhoades

Year after year, despite unchanged or increased state funding, the six state-funded Kansas colleges increased tuition far above inflation with little scrutiny. Undergraduate tuition and fees at the six universities increased 137 percent between 2002 and 2012. From 2002 to 2012, KU raised fees and tuition by 194 percent; KSU by 170 percent; and WSU by 117 percent.

Universities’ All Funds spending was $1.814 billion in 2005; $2.186 billion in 2008; and $2.421 billion in 2012 — a 33 percent increase in spending even with a recession.

Since 2003, unencumbered carryover cash balances in two student fee accounts increased by $248 million. In other words, they collected almost a quarter-billion dollars more in fees than they spent on whatever the fees were earmarked to do. General Fees plus interest earned on those accounts can be used for other purposes — say, for example, holding down tuition increases. Instead, students paid more in fees and more in tuition and the fee accounts kept accumulating.

This year the legislature examined the numbers and asked questions with a desire to initiate an open conversation about higher education spending, tuition and student outcomes.

The end result: a 1.5 percent reduction to Regents which hardly qualifies as a slash, but that’s the narrative being used; and since State Aid represents less than half of their General Use Expenditures, a 1.5 percent reduction in their State Aid amounts to a 0.7 percent reduction to that account.

Compare a 1.5 percent State Aid reduction with recent requests from Kansas colleges for increases in tuition up to 8 percent next year, even with inflation below 2 percent.

But the template never changes: Demands for more spending are always “modest and necessary”; reduced spending is always “drastic and draconian” — regardless of the amounts or how the money is used.

The legislature did not set out to reduce funding. We simply had questions.

Why so many unfilled FTE positions perpetually placed on the books with money systematically diverted for other uses?

Even factoring for inflation, why has tuition gone up so much without a correlation to past increases in state funding?

When defaulted on, students’ government-backed loans are paid for, ultimately, by taxpayers, so shouldn’t improved graduation and employment rates be prioritized over even higher salaries to the already-highly-paid?

By the way, the salary cap we requested was not a cut. You will hear it referred to as a cut, even though salaries were held level and not reduced.

I serve as a commissioner with the Midwest Higher Education Compact — a 12-state network of universities. Last week I attended a commissioner’s meeting in Indiana where we heard from current and former chancellors about the future of higher education. Similar to other sectors — healthcare, for example — there are two very different driving forces promoting two very different paths: collective institution-oriented versus individual outcomes-oriented.

College students, many unemployed and underemployed, are buried in debt while universities appear more focused on impressing their peers and expanding their infrastructure.

Indiana colleges, among others around the country, are addressing this disconnect. Indiana University-East, just one example, increased its student numbers and graduation rates while decreasing cost-per-student over 20 percent.

Kansas state-funded colleges have been raising tuition at astronomical rates, but under the radar. The only difference this year is they are vocal about increasing tuition using the legislature’s 1.5 percent budget reduction as a scapegoat.

Early in the session, following a discussion about spending and outcomes, KU’s response was to threaten closure of some of Kansas’ most viable institutions: KU’s medical campuses in Wichita and Salina. It was a classic bully move. Rather than address legitimate financial questions, they made threats to cut something highly valued by all. Think White House tour closures.

In response, the House and Senate conference committees added a proviso to the budget to prevent those closures from happening, even though insiders understood KU’s intention was to stir up angst among constituents in order to intimidate legislators so they would stop asking questions and hand over the money. Think shakedown.

When the endgame shifts to quantifiable student outcomes — retention and graduation rates, realistic employment tracks, greater efficiencies, reduced costs, lower tuition — collaborative conversations can take place and real-world results can be achieved in Kansas. I remain hopeful and open to such a dialogue.

Kansas taxes, the debate

Seal of the State of Kansas

Kansans are not being helped by their stable of newspaper editorial boards. We’ve seen this before (Kansas editorial writers aren’t helping), and the conclusion of the legislative session provides more examples.

An example is the editorial Why are these Kansas politicians celebrating? in the Kansas City Star. A quote is this: “Lawmakers had to go into overtime in the 2013 session trying to figure out how to climb out of the ditch they created last year when they gave away $3.7 billion in income tax cuts without figuring out how to offset them.”

This quotation serves to illustrate much of what’s wrong with Kansas newspaper editorial writing, and also with a large group of Kansas politicians.

A first problem is ideological. When you read words like they gave away income tax cuts, you know the writer believes that a certain portion of your income belongs not to you, but to the state. If the portion going to the state is reduced, the state is giving away something. What the state is giving away must be offset or paid for in some way, according to this ideology.

Private sector job growth, Kansas and selected states

A second problem is the presumption that the Kansas economy has been humming along smoothly, and that efforts to reduce taxes (and therefore government spending) are a change for the worse — the “ditch” that the Star referred to. But I would ask anyone who believes Kansas has been doing well to acquaint themselves with the facts about our economy. An example is the nearby chart (click for larger version) of private sector job growth in Kansas and surrounding states for the past two decades. For most of this period Kansas government has been in the hands of “moderates,” both Republican and Democratic. How would you say cumulative job growth in Kansas compares to our peer states?

Anyone who defends the recent decades of moderation must confront this and similar statistics. If private sector job growth doesn’t convince you, how about personal income growth? An interactive visualization of data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is here. The pre-configured view shows income in Kansas growing slower than our peer states, the Plains states, and the United States.

If people are not aware of the dismal performance of the Kansas economy, ask them why they don’t know the facts. If they know the facts, ask them why they defend the status quo. Ask them why they want to deny Kansans the level of economic opportunity that people in, say, Oklahoma have.

But, editorial writers would rather complain about what the legislature did to “pay for Brownback’s perilous tax experiment.” (H. Edward Flentje : Is Kansas on the right track? Wichita Eagle)

Echoing the sentiment of the left-wing editorial boards, Flentje, a professor at Wichita State University with much practical experience in state and local government, also wrote that the legislature had to “clean up the mess” created by last year’s “financial debacle,” that being the income tax cuts. He also used the “pay for” line of thinking — several times for good measure — as well as tossing in “perilous tax experiment.” (I think I mentioned that earlier, but it bears repeating.)

This left-wing ideology is the prevailing breeze that propels Kansas newspaper editorial boards, along with others like Flentje who ought to know better. For those who disagree, I ask them to defend the record of the Kansas economy under the leadership of coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. (For more background, see Kansas traditional Republicans: The record.)

While it’s good that Kansas reduced income tax rates, it’s bad that on the balance, more tax revenue will flow to Topeka. In particular, raising the sales tax (or preventing its reduction, whichever you prefer) was a bad move, and particularly the sales tax on food. Writing in the Wichita Eagle, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle wrote that Kansas has moved towards more of a “FairTax” model Susan Wagle : Kansas is on the path to prosperity. That’s true in some respects. But an important part of the FairTax model is the “prebate.” This is a monthly advance refund of sales tax on necessities up to the poverty level. Its purpose is to mitigate the regressive nature of consumption, or sales, taxes.

Kansas, however, taxes the sale of food. Furthermore, on July 1 the sales tax on food will be higher than it would be under current law. The new tax law restores a portion of the food sales tax credit program, but this is a clunky measure that will benefit very few people.

The biggest failure of the Kansas legislature this year was that little or nothing was done to reduce spending. In 2011 three bills passed the House that would take a long-term approach to reducing the cost of Kansas government. None of these bills were considered this year. (See In Kansas, there are ways to reduce the cost of government.)

Kansas Policy Institute has also prepared ways that Kansas can save money. See Kansas can cut spending, if we want.

Cutting government spending is important if we want to grow Kansas. See States that Spend Less, Tax Less — and Grow More and To boost jobs and prosperity, Kansas should cut spending.

Wichita and peer GDP growth

Compared to its peers, the government sector in Wichita is growing fairly quickly, but the private sector is growing slowly.

One of the benchmarks used by Visioneering Wichita to gauge the growth of the Wichita-area economy may not be the best measure, and its interpretation requires caution.

The measure is per-capita personal income. Its presentation may be seen here. Some of the issues with per capita measures are explained by Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute:

Per-capita income is a bad measurement because it rewards cities that are losing people due to domestic migration and punishes those who are gaining.

Even without the per-capita issue, personal income is not a clean measure. Personal income can increase because federal transfer payments grew, employers had to spend more to provide health care benefits, and other items that have nothing to do with measuring relative economic growth.

Better measurements would be private sector jobs, private sector GDP and private sector wage and salary disbursements. Unless the point of Visioneering is to grow government, the measurements should only be of private sector elements.

Last year KPI explained how the mathematics of per-capita measures can produce results that seem paradoxical. The current edition of Rich States, Poor States has a section devoted to these problems. Here’s an explanation of a scenario that requires caution to interpret:

Further, the residents of a state can be better off even if that state’s per-capita or median income decreases. If, for example, 50,000 low income agriculture workers move into Texas, those workers’ incomes almost surely rise (or else they would not have moved there). The residents and business owners in Texas who benefit from their labor services are better off, and the final result is that no one is worse off. But the per-capita income in Texas may actually go down if the low income agricultural workers earn less than the state’s average wage.

To help better understand economic growth in Wichita and its peers, I’ve gathered gross domestic product (GDP) figures for the Wichita metropolitan area and the peer metropolitan areas Visioneering has selected. GDP is value of all the finished products and services produced, and is the most comprehensive measure of economic activity. I’ve also looked at private sector GDP and government GDP.


To the left, we see growth in GDP for the government sector. (Click for a larger version.) This data is indexed, so that each area starts at the same relative level and we can compare the relative growth over a period of years. Wichita, the brown line, is not far from the top, meaning that value produced in government jobs has grown faster than in most of our peers.


Next, is a chart of growth in GDP for the private sector. (Click for a larger version.) It is here that we see how poorly the Wichita-area economy has performed. The private sector is growing very slowly in Wichita, compared to our peers.

When we couple slow growth of the private sector with faster growth of government, we’re setting the stage for even slower growth of the type of jobs that produce prosperity. Those are, of course, private sector jobs.

When we compare the per-capita figures with the absolute figures, we see that while Wichita performs poorly on a per-capita basis, it performs even worse on an absolute basis.

Explore the data yourself by using the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work better for some people. Use Ctrl+Click to highlight metropolitan areas for comparison. Data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Kansas has a spending problem, not a tax problem

By Kansas Policy Institute.

The data could not be clearer.  Kansas has higher state taxes than many states because Kansas spends a lot more than those states.  Every state has public schools, highways, social services, safety net programs, etc.  But some states find ways to provide those services at a much better price.  They spend less and therefore tax less (and grow more).

Kansas spends 34 percent more than the states with no income tax, in both the General Fund and All State Spending.  As a result, Kansas has to tax residents at much higher levels than most states.

Opponents of tax reform have tried to claim that oil and gas severance taxes in Texas make up for their lack on income tax, but that clearly isn’t true.  Texas only has a $94 per-capita advantage over Kansas on severance taxes. Texas’ real advantage is that it simply doesn’t spend as much as Kansas.

Our dynamic analysis of Kansas’ 2012 tax reform showed that only a one-time reduction of $186 in General Fund per-capita spending was needed to balance the budget.  Kansas could do that and still be the high-spender in the region.  Instead, many legislators and the administration are trying to make up most of the budget gap by raising the sales tax and other revenue increases.

The argument is that consumption taxes are less damaging to the economy than income taxes.  That’s true, but using a sales tax increase to avoid dealing with the real problem of excess spending is foisting an unnecessary tax on citizens that will damage the economy.

The House and Senate budget proposals do have some small spending reductions, and it is certainly a daunting task for legislators to lead real spending reform; they have to face unending requests for more spending and an entrenched bureaucracy that often makes it difficult for reform-minded legislators to get the information they need.  And the prospect of re-election is ever-present for most.

But even this late in the session, solutions exist that would avoid a sales tax increase without arbitrary spending reductions.  Our Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price (published in February) shows how to use existing cash balances to close the budget gap and ‘buy time’ to implement thoughtful spending reforms.

Even if the current budget is balanced with a tax increase this year (which, at this writing, seems likely), the spending problem isn’t going away.  There are some small spending reductions in the current plans but every plan allows overall spending to continue to increase…while further reducing income taxes in future years.  Simply put, the problem only gets worse the longer it is ignored.

Kansas freedom scorecard released

To help Kansans understand how legislators vote, Kansas Policy Institute has produced the Kansas Freedom Index for 2013.

Legislative scorecards like this are important as they let citizens know how legislators have actually voted, which is sometimes different from their campaign rhetoric, and even different from their current proclamations. Generally, scorecards include a large sampling of votes, so that no single issue paints a member into a corner.

James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute joins Bob Weeks on the Joseph Ashby Show to discuss the Kansas Freedom Index. Then, Bob runs down the scores for Wichita-area legislators.

The Kansas Freedom Index, as produced by KPI this year, is important and significant because it focuses on issues of economic freedom along with education freedom, which was added this year. So far, 45 bills have been included in the scorecard, and as the legislature is still in session and has at least two important bills to pass, there may be additions to the scorecard.

This year’s index is a continuation of the construction of indexes for past years, many of which may be found at Kansas Economic Freedom Index.

In a press release KPI president Dave Trabert said “An informed citizenry is an essential element of maintaining a free society. Having a deeper understanding of how legislation impacts education freedom, economic freedom and the constitutional principles of individual liberty and limited government allows citizens to better understand the known and often unknown consequences of legislative issues.”

He added, “Our 2012 index made clear that support of economic freedom isn’t an issue of political affiliation — the highest and lowest score in the Senate were both held by Republicans. The 2013 results bear out the same as a wide range of scores exists within both parties. Too often votes come down to parochial or personal issues and the idea of freedom is left on the legislature’s cutting room floor. Hopefully, the Kansas Freedom Index can start to recalibrate citizens and legislators towards supporting the freedoms of everyday Kansans and not be driven by politics.”

The importance of economic freedom

Milton Friedman: Capitalism and Freedom

Why is economic freedom important? Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say in the opening chapter of his monumental work Capitalism and Freedom some 50 years ago:

The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom

It is widely believed that politics and economics are separate and largely unconnected; that individual freedom is a political problem and material welfare an economic problem; and that any kind of political arrangements can be combined with any kind of economic arrangements. The chief contemporary manifestation of this idea is the advocacy of “democratic socialism” by many who condemn out of hand the restrictions on individual freedom imposed by “totalitarian socialism” in Russia, and who are persuaded that it is possible for a country to adopt the essential features of Russian economic arrangements and yet to ensure individual freedom through political arrangements. The thesis of this chapter is that such a view is a delusion, that there is an intimate connection between economics and politics, that only certain arrangements are possible and that, in particular, a society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom.

Economic arrangements play a dual role in the promotion of a free society. On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself. In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom.

For more about Friedman and his thoughts on economic freedom, see Milton Friedman, the Father of Economic Freedom.

Economic freedom is the most important factor in determining the well-being of people across the world. Where economic freedom exists, countries become wealthy. In introducing the Economic Freedom of the World report, its authors write: “Economic freedom has been shown in numerous peer-reviewed studies to promote prosperity and other positive outcomes. It is a necessary condition for democratic development. It liberates people from dependence on government in a planned economy, and allows them to make their own economic and political choices.”

One of the authors of the Economic Freedom of the World report, Robert Lawson, expands on the importance of economic freedom: “The big question is: Do countries that exhibit greater degrees of economic freedom perform better than those that do not? Much scholarly research has been and continues to be done to see if the index [of economic freedom] correlates with various measures of the good society: higher incomes, economic growth, income equality, gender equality, life expectancy, and so on. While there is scholarly debate about the exact nature of these relationships, the results are uniform: measures of economic freedom relate positively with these factors.

Governing by extortion destroys freedom

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute.

Government takes and gives

Merriam-Webster defines extortion as the “… exaction of money or property through intimidation or undue exercise of authority.” It’s illegal for individuals or corporations to engage in extortion, but some governments are increasingly using forms of extortion to exact higher taxes, make citizens more dependent upon government and ultimately, strip away economic and political freedom.

Government intimidation may not come with Soprano-like threats of violence. Some government officials may not even realize they are extorting the populous — the practice of presenting the government solution as the only option has become that commonplace. But no matter how politely or subtly phrased, the message is “give us what we want or else …” The “or else” comes in many forms.

The federal government punishes citizens with flight delays and service cuts to senior citizens while continuing to lavish taxpayer money on favored political friends and countless other examples of waste and duplication. The federal government will either get to borrow and spend as much as it wants or innocent citizens will pay the price.

Some state officials in Kansas want to extend a temporary sales tax and/or take away deductions for home mortgage interest and property taxes. They say it’s necessary to avoid massive budget deficits that would de-fund schools and services. The message is that higher taxes are the only alternative, when in fact they could choose to bring down the cost of government services and stop giving out corporate welfare in the name of economic development.

University officials in Kansas say they will raise tuition, eliminate professors, and restrict student admissions if state aid is even slightly reduced. They say nothing of reducing administrative costs that rose three times faster than inflation or using large cash reserves that accumulated from a 137 percent increase in tuition and fees over the last ten years. Give them what they want or students, parents, and staff will suffer.

Local governments routinely tell citizens that taxes must be increased to avoid police and fire layoffs, pool closings and other direct service reductions. Why not consolidate overlapping government programs and bureaucracy instead of raising taxes? Or maybe stop giving taxpayer money away to friendly developers who support the growth of government and help underwrite campaigns for public office?

Our state and nation were founded on the principles of freedom and limited government. Yet those who stand in defense of freedom are often met with ridicule. Carl Brewer, the Mayor of Wichita, recently issued a thinly veiled threat to sue a woman for asking him to recuse himself from a vote to give a $700,000 sales tax exemption to a campaign contributor (and fishing buddy). A columnist for the Hutchinson News falsely blamed those who want less government intrusion in our lives for poverty, high property taxes and other woes as opposed to following his prescription for progressive, big government solutions.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.” Some in our state seems to have forgotten that and are working to prove another of his maxims, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

Citizens must be persistent and vocal in reminding elected officials of the former or we shall continue to suffer the loss of liberty.

Sales tax increase isn’t necessary

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute.


What a difference a year makes. Last May, Governor Brownback signed historic tax reform legislation that would reduce state income taxes by roughly $800 million in its first full year. As the legislature returns this week, the debate is about how much of the last year’s tax reform will be wiped out. Instead of reducing the cost of government to implement tax reform this year, Governor Brownback and the Senate want to make the 6.3 percent sales tax permanent and eliminate the income tax deduction for home mortgage interest; they also propose 0.5 percent reduction in the income tax on the first $15,000 of taxable income in 2014 and a reduction in all marginal rates beginning in 2017 (after a billion dollar increase in sales taxes) with revenue growth above 4 percent being used to reduce rates thereafter and eventually eliminate income taxes.

The House plan isn’t perfect but it’s better. It allows the sales tax rate to drop to 5.7 percent as promised, proportionally reduces income tax deductions, has more spending reductions and a formula that gradually eliminates the income tax altogether, using annual revenue growth above 2 percent to buy down rates.

The goal of tax reform is to reduce the overall tax burden, not shift it. Consumption taxes are better than income taxes, but taxes will still be too high (and economic growth impaired) until we deal with the real problem of excess spending. But even some self-identified fiscal conservatives don’t want to reduce spending.

Part of their resistance is that many people equate spending less with service cuts, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Per-resident spending varies greatly across all fifty states. Yet, every state has schools, highways, social programs, etc.; some simply do so more efficiently. States with an income tax spend 44 percent more per-resident than those without an income tax. States that spend less, tax less (and grow more). Done well, states can spend less and actually deliver the same or better services.

In fact, Kansas would have spent $2.9 billion less last year if spending were at the same level as the average state without an income tax.

Our “Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price” shows legislators how to use existing cash reserves to ‘buy time’ and implement thoughtful efficiency measures to reduce costs over time. It can be done and it can be done now.

The problem with implementing income tax reductions is one of politics, not economics. As Thomas Sowell says, “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”

Here’s hoping legislators make taxpayer-focused decisions based on sound economics when they return to Topeka this week.

A version of this appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

photo credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

Kansas must reform KPERS

New research from Kansas Policy Institute reinforces what some have known but many have discounted: The Kansas Public Employee Retirement System is in poor financial shape, and it’s going to cost Kansans a lot to fix it. It is urgent that we enact substantive and meaningful reforms now, rather than later. KPI writes the following in introducing its new study Preventing Bankruptcy in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Preventing Bankruptcy in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System

It turns out that the $9.2 billion hole found in Kansas’ public pension program will balloon under new accounting standards used by governments across the country.

Under the current standards, Kansas’ pension system (KPERS) is funded at 59.2%, 80% is a generally accepted barometer of pension health. These numbers demonstrate that Kansas has one of the worst funded pension systems in the country.

Unfortunately, the new standards will only make things worse as our funding ratio will drop to 46.1 percent under the new standards.

Each person in Kansas will have to pay $3,285 to fill our KPERS hole under the old standards and things will only get worse.

The executive summary of the study follows.

Recent evidence reveals that the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) is one of the most underfunded pension plans in the country (59 percent funding ratio at the end of 2011) and that there is a high probability the plan will not have sufficient funds to meet pension obligations over the next decade. This funding ratio will deteriorate further under the new accounting standards discussed below. The solution to this funding crises is to bring pension benefits into line with the costs of pension plans for individual employees. A number of states have successfully enacted structural reforms in their state pension plans to accomplish this objective, including defined contribution and hybrid plans.

Unfortunately the recent reforms enacted in KPERS creating a cash balance plan for new employees fails to accomplish that objective. This study provides a roadmap for pension reform in Kansas, the major conclusions of the study are:

1. Use the New GASB Accounting Standard

The new GASB standards to be implemented in 2013 and 2014 will require realistic actuarial assumptions and reporting. It is time for Kansas and other states too incorporate this more realistic data in transparent and timely reporting and to use this data in policy formulation.

2. Enact Structural Reforms

Using more realistic actuarial assumptions, via new GASB standards, most states, including Kansas, will find that they face a funding crises in their state and local pension plans. Kansas legislators must follow the lead of state and local governments that have successfully replaced these defined benefit pension plans with defined contribution or hybrid plans.

3. Bring Public Sector Pension Benefits In Line with Private Pension Benefits

Public sector workers receive wages and salaries equal to or greater than comparable employees in the private sector. The pension and other post employment benefits received by public sector workers are significantly above that received by private sector workers. The outcome of recent pension reforms is to bring convergence of pension benefits in the public and private sector.

4. Legal Challenges to Public Sector Pension Reform

Structural reforms enacted to solve the funding crises in state and local pension plans have been and will continue to be subject to legal challenges, and Kansas is well positioned to meet these legal challenges.

5. Bankruptcy, Not Bailouts

In Kansas there will be tremendous pressure to bailout failed state and local pension systems to avoid bankruptcy. Bailouts of pension plans create all the wrong incentives. If state and local governments cannot manage their pension plans and other financial affairs bankruptcy forces them to address these issues.

6. Launch an Education Campaign

Successful pension reform in other states such as Utah and Rhode Island has required a bi-partisan effort in the legislature and support from all the stakeholders. Generating this support for pension reform in Kansas will require an education campaign. Kansas citizens must understand that the current defined benefit pension plan is not sustainable. Solving the funding crisis in KPERS will require burden sharing by all the stakeholders, including current employees, retirees and new employees.

The full study is at Preventing Bankruptcy in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Low education standards limit Kansas childrens’ dreams


A new video from Kansas Policy Institute highlights the fact that Kansas schools have low standards. Additionally, the standards have been changed so that it appears students are doing better.

For its trouble, KPI will likely be criticized by the Kansas public school education bureaucracy and newspaper editorial writers. They will accuse KPI of branding Kansas students and teachers as failures.

But it’s not the students and teachers who set the standards. It’s the Kansas public school education bureaucracy that does that. Their constituencies — Democrats, moderate Republicans, superintendents, the teachers unions — will defend these bureaucrats.

Or is it those who look to find the truth, and advocate for the necessary reforms?

In Wichita, community needn’t be government

Wichita, Kansas logo

Kansas Policy Institute offers commentary on the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan.

In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Differ on Politics and Religion, renowned psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes how the human mind is dual in nature: “We live most of our lives in the ordinary world, but we achieve our greatest joys in those brief moments of transit to the sacred world, in which we become ‘simply a part of a whole.’”

A recent survey by the City of Wichita capitalized on this innate human tendency by equating community with government. Our natural desire to become “simply a part of a whole” manifests itself in our jobs, churches, softball leagues, clubs, dinner parties and recently pride in WSU’s success in the NCAA tournament. Our citizenship in Wichita is one of many communities that define us as individuals, one of many communities we make sacrifices for, one of many communities we call upon to solve problems.

Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investment Plan

The survey respondents provide a list of wishes, all with the goal of improving our lives, many of which can and should be provided by city and county governments. Allowing businesses to openly compete to build water and street infrastructure, with competitive bidding for contracts, would strengthen the community by precluding any unfairness that weakens trust in the city.

Survey respondents showed a plea for business formation and young talent. The city could promote a sense of community by creating a welcoming culture for all businesses, one that does not pick favorites. 71.8 percent of respondents do not have faith that most people are willing to put community interests above personal interest — perhaps because so often city hall is called upon to hand out special tax treatment.

The survey also tries to identify challenges to the community; respondents were asked one question about Boeing and two questions about political divisions. Overwhelmingly respondents believe political divisions are negatively impacting our community’s ability to respond to global challenges.

We live in the biggest city in the state which brings with it many challenges; solutions to those challenges come in many forms, giving rise to the vast diversity of opinion borne out in the survey. That diversity may be trying but we should not allow the aspiration for political unity to squelch debate. Ultimately it is our ability to engage and debate these issues that unites us as a community.

Bonding KPERS debt is not the solution

Burden of debt, money

The Kansas House has passed, and now the Senate Ways and Means Committee will consider HB 2403, captioned “Issuing $1,500,000,000 of pension obligation bonds to finance a portion of the unfunded actuarial liability of KPERS.”

Borrowing money to shore up the Kansas state employee pension plan is about the worst idea that could come out of Topeka. Legislatures across the country, and counties and cities of all sizes, have shown that government is fundamentally unable to manage the responsibilities of a defined benefit pension plan.

For more about the problems with KPERS, see KPERS problems must be confronted. Newspapers are not helping Kansans grasp the gravity of the problem; see KPERS editorial a disservice to Kansans. Below is a helpful explanation written by Kansas Policy Institute Adjunct Fiscal Policy Fellow Barry Poulson, Ph.D.. He is also Emeritus Professor at the University of Colorado — Boulder.

Public officials in Kansas have proposed using pension obligation bonds to solve the funding crisis in the Kansas Public Employee Pension System (KPERS). In my view this is not a solution to the funding problem and I will discuss what I perceive to be flaws in this proposal.

The rationale for using pension obligation bonds to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan assumes that the state can borrow funds at a low interest rate and then earn a higher rate of return on the proceeds deposited with the pension fund. The flaw in this rationale is the assumption that KPERS will earn a higher rate of return on bond proceeds deposited in the KPERS fund. KPERS assumes an 8 percent return on assets accumulated in the fund. For a number of years, economists and actuaries have questioned this assumed rate of return and the use of this assumed rate to discount liabilities in the plan. The Government Accounting Standards Board has issued new standards, 67 and 68, to be implemented over the next two years, requiring state and local governments to use a lower interest rate, the mortgage bond rate, to discount liabilities in their financial statements.

If we assume that a lower rate of interest, such as the municipal bond rate, is the interest rate relevant in discounting unfunded liabilities in the pension plan then it is not clear that issuing pension obligation bonds will generate returns above the interest cost on those bonds. If the returns fall below the interest cost on the bonds then this introduces an additional risk and could in fact exacerbate the funding problem in KPERS.

A major flaw in the proposed issuance of pension obligation bonds is the lack of nexus between the investment of the bond proceeds and payments for unfunded liabilities in the plan. The experience in other states is that sometimes bond proceeds are earmarked for other state expenditures. The most egregious example of this problem is the state of Illinois which issued $10 billion in pension obligation bonds and then used the proceeds to meet current expenditures rather than to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan.

Even if the state of Kansas would not commit this form of fraud on the taxpayers the fungible nature of state funding makes it impossible to guarantee the nexus between bond proceeds and the payment for unfunded liabilities in the pension plan. If legislators see that additional funds are available to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan they may choose to allocate less general fund money to meet these pension obligations. The state has not allocated the annual required contribution (ARC) to KPERS for several decades and is not projected to do so for the foreseeable future. Legislators continue to promise pension benefits without allocating the funds required to meet these obligations. We should expect this moral hazard to be even greater with the issuance of pension obligation bonds.

Even if the proceeds of pension obligation bonds could be set aside in a lock box and earmarked to pay off unfunded liabilities in the pension plan the state must still address the accumulation of unfunded liabilities in the defined benefit plan. Without fundamental structural change, including shifting public employees to some form of defined contribution pension plan, these unfunded liabilities will continue to accumulate. Legislators should not be diverted from this difficult task by non-reforms, such as the issuance of pension obligation bonds.

Shifting the cost of pension obligations from one generation of employees and taxpayers to the next generation is not a solution to the funding crisis in KPERS. The defined benefit plan offered by KPERS is not sustainable.

I analyze the sources of unfunded liabilities in the plan and explore alternative reforms to solve this problem in an upcoming paper with KPI.

Some of my other work for KPI on KPERS is here and a legal analysis of what can, and cannot, be changed in KPERS is here; the latter piece was done by another scholar.

Legislator’s guide to delivering better service at a better price

Service bell

From Kansas Policy Institute:

How can Kansas get to the point of lowering spending, lowering taxes, and allowing for more job creation? It is not an easy process, but “A Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price” offers an outline. This road map from KPI was recently released and will be updated as new analysis is added and ideas are refined.

A few of the ideas from the guide:

  • Use the $2.5 billion held in cash reserves by state agencies to manage the process of lowering spending (Page 3).
  • Review discretionary spending. For instance, State agencies spent $5.8 million on Advertising in 2012 (Page 6).
  • Set up a privatization panel to deliver higher quality service at lower prices (Page 7).
  • Utilize priority-based budgeting that requires each agency to prioritize every program or service from most to least effective. Those on the bottom of the list can be considered for possible elimination and/or being scaled back (Page 7).

The report is at A Legislator’s Guide to Delivering Better Service at a Better Price: How to reduce government spending and create a better taxpayer experience.