Tag Archives: Kansas State Department of Education

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014

Kansas school finance formula explained

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas Policy Institute presents the 2014-15 student weighted funding formula

By David Dorsey

The updated version of the formula that will be used by the Kansas State Department of Education to determine student weighting in the coming school year is presented below. This complex formula is the basis to adjust (increase) the number of “students” in a school district for state funding purposes.

Dissecting this complicated formula reveals those factors the state recognizes that require additional money.

Highlights include:

  • Up to 13 different factors decide what the “real” student count will be for a particular district*.
  • Seven factors (at-risk, vocational ed, bilingual ed, high-density at-risk, new facilities, high enrollment, and virtual students weighting) are calculated using percentages of student enrollment.
  • Four factors apply to all 286 districts. They include:
    • at-risk students (those who qualify for free lunch)
    • low or high student enrollment
    • special education weighting
    • transportation
  • The others vary in applicability from the vocational education weighting (267 districts in 2013-14) to declining enrollment weighting (2 districts in 2013-14).

Once all applicable factors are determined, the total weighted number of students is multiplied by the Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP — $3,838 in 2013-14 and $3,852 in 2014-15) to calculate that part of the amount of state aid a district receives.

These weightings are no small affair. For example, in the Elkhart School District (USD218) last year, the weighting factors increased the student count from 502.6 (actual enrollment) to 1,668. 2, a 231.9% increase. In dollar terms, that increased Elkhart’s BSAPP funding by $4,473,573 from $1,928,979 to $6,402,552. That’s an effective BSAPP of $12,739! And that’s not an isolated case. Nearly half of Kansas’s 286 school districts realized at least a doubling of the effective BSAPP due to weighting.

People in the education establishment are quick to lament that BSAPP is down from the pre-recession figure of $4,400 in 2008-09 to the current $3,852 for the 2015 fiscal year. However, you never hear them speak of the all the weightings that significantly add to the dollars actually received. In fact, when all students statewide are included, the real BSAPP for 2013-14 was $6,640. In a recent Lawrence Journal-World article it was reported that Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said the district is still suffering from cuts in base state aid. According to Doll, “We are operating basically at about 1999 school funding levels.” That’s not even close to being accurate. According to KSDE, state funding per pupil in 1999 was $4,533. That figure rose to an estimated $7,052 per pupil for last school year. Local support has more than doubled since ’99 (from $2,238 to $4,809 per pupil). Likewise for federal support.

It is important to understand what a difference in the level of funding the weighting of students adds. Last school year, the weightings provided $1.3 billion over and above BSAPP to the state’s 286 districts. But some Kansas politicians, particularly those more interested in protecting institutions than serving children, and the education establishment don’t like to talk about that part of state aid to education. Instead, they like to focus only on the BSAPP figure. That’s why we hear statements made like Superintendent Doll’s.

If I were still a math teacher and they were my students, their homework assignment would be learn and understand this formula. And yes, it would be on the test.

*There is one change in the formula from the 2013-14 school year. The low-proficient, non-at-risk factor was removed during the 2014 legislative session.

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014

CBPP on Kansas schools and taxes, part 2

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Debunking CBPP on tax reform and school funding — Part 2

By Dave Trabert

We continue our debunking of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) latest report entitled “Lessons for Other States from Kansas’ Massive Tax Cuts.” Part 1 dealt with state revenues. Today we debunk their claims on school funding and other state services.

CBPP claim #2 — School funding is 17 percent below pre-recession levels and funding for other services is way down and declining.

This is simply an outright fabrication — and not the first time that CBPP has done so. CBPP shows a graph of how they calculate what they claim is a reduction in school funding but, true to form, they provide no supporting data. The only source provided says “CBPP analysis of state budget documents and Kansas Governor’s Budget Reports.” CBPP routinely plays this game and they have refused to give us their data every time we requested it. I’ll get to school funding shortly but let’s start debunking this claim with a total spending review.

Here are the facts from the Governor’s Budget Reports cited by CBPP.[1] General Fund spending would decline a mere 1.8 percent this year (FY 2014) but it is still 6.3% higher than just three years ago. Next year, Kansas will set a new record for General Fund spending without even counting the education money that was just added to next year’s budget. Fiscal year 2013 was the highest level of General Fund spending on record.

The next table breaks total spending down into the primary functions listed in the Governor’s Budget Reports.

Of course, Kansas should have reduced spending last year and this year rather than spend down reserves but the fact remains that spending is not “way down and declining” as claimed by CBPP.

Their bogus claim on school funding may be grounded in an earlier collection of falsehoods published last year — and thoroughly debunked on this blog. CBPP often makes unsubstantiated claims which they attribute to their “analysis of data” but the data is not made available for review — even when requested.

The first thing to understand is that CBPP deliberately misleads readers by only talking about state funding of schools while ignoring the fact that Kansas, like many states, has a foundational funding formula that provides multiple funding sources, including local money that does not flow through the state budget.

But that is just the beginning of the deception. Their statement that “Kansas is still cutting school funding” on page four of their report is an outright lie.

This data provided by the Kansas Department of Education shows that State funding of public education has increased for four consecutive years.[2]  As CBPP is fully aware, one cannot get the full picture of school funding in state budget documents; the money reported as Local funding is provided on state authority but doesn’t run through the state budget.[3] Property taxes (including the 20 mills mandated by the Legislature) are sent directly to school districts by county treasurers.[4] Even the Kansas Supreme Court acknowledged (three weeks before CBPP’s report) that “… funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered” when evaluating school funding.[5]

The following inflation comparisons are based on total school funding from the adjacent chart and shown on a per-pupil basis to also account for enrollment changes. The first comparison shows that actual school funding continues to run well ahead of inflation. Per-pupil funding increased from $6,985 per-pupil in 1998 to $12,781 in 2013; 1998 funding adjusted for inflation would be only $9,768. (Funding for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System was not included in KSDE calculations of school funding until 2005; they provided the data for prior years and we adjusted spending accordingly.)


CBPP claims that school funding has not kept up with inflation since 2008 but that is misleading at best. Again, they provided no data to support their claim but we’ll lay it all out here.

Note that every chart shown above references “spending” instead of “funding.” KSDE arrives at their Local number each by subtracting State and Federal aid from districts’ reports of total expenditures. Total expenditures is different from total funding because districts report on a cash-basis fund accounting method and those figures do not reflect any aid received that was not spent. That information can be obtained by comparing the change in ending unencumbered cash balances of districts’ operating funds (excluding capital and debt).[6]

The above table shows that total inflation-adjusted spending between 2008 and 2013 was $85.3 million greater than actual spending, but districts could have spent $345.9 million more if they had used all of the aid provided during those years.

It should also be noted that school spending is not based on what schools need to meet required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money. To this day, not a single superintendent, legislator, KSDE employee, policy analyst or judge can identify that amount because no such analysis has been performed in Kansas. The cost study upon which previous court rulings were made was found to be deliberately skewed so as to provide the courts with inflated numbers.[7] The Kansas Supreme Court also recently abandoned the “actual cost” method of determining adequate funding in Gannon and substituted new standards (Rose), against which no cost or funding measurement has been conducted.[8]

In conclusion, CBPP’s claims about school funding in particular and state funding of services in general are merely a collection of false, misleading and inconsequential statements.

Kansas does need to reduce spending a bit in the coming years in preparation for the next tranche of tax reduction but there is ample ability to do so without reducing current services. There are tax transfers out of the General Fund that should be reconsidered and there are also multiple opportunities to significantly reduce the cost of providing current services.

The opportunities are there, and we’ll cover them separately in the coming months. The only question is whether Governor Brownback and a majority of legislators will stand up to the bureaucracy and special interests.
Stay tuned for Part 3.


[1] Kansas Division of the Budget, Governor’s Budget Report for FY 2015 published January, 2014, page 22 at http://budget.ks.gov/publications/FY2015/FY2015_GBR_Vol1–UPDATED–01-28-2014.pdf
[2] Kansas Department of Education; school years 2003-04 through 2012-13 located at http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/data_warehouse/total_expenditures/d0Stateexp.pdf. All other years provided by KSDE via email; copies in author’s possession.
[3] CBPP published a response to my September 13, 2013 blog post that provided this explanation. http://www.offthechartsblog.org/the-price-of-kansas-costly-tax-cuts/
[4] Explanation of property tax distribution with a quote from Dale Dennis at http://www.kansaspolicy.org/KPIBlog/Default.aspx?min=2013-01-01&max=2014-01-01.
[5] Gannon v. State of Kansas, page 77 at http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/SupCt/2014/20140307/109335.pdf
[6] See KSDE explanation at the link for Endnote #2.
[7] Caleb Stegall, “Analysis of Montoy v. State of Kansas” published by Kansas Policy Institute in 2009 at http://www.kansaspolicy.org/ResearchCenters/Education/Studies/d65168.aspx?type=view
[8] Ibid, pages 76 and 77.

apple-chalkboard-books-2

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 Flint Hills

Kansas values, applied to schools

A Kansas public policy advocacy group makes an emotional pitch to petition signers, but signers should first be aware of actual facts.

To drum up support for its positions, Kansas Values Institute has started on online petition urging Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to veto HB 2506. Here’s the pitch made to potential petition signers:

“Governor Brownback has had four years to make schools a priority, but all he has to show for it is classrooms that are over crowded, parents paying rising school fees, and his signature achievement: the largest cut to classrooms in the history of Kansas. The Supreme Court’s ruling gave the Governor a chance to correct his course.”

Now, the governor has not necessarily been a friend of education, if by that we mean Kansas schoolchildren and parents. His lack of advocacy for school choice programs stands out from the progress that other Republican governors have made in their states. See The Year of School Choice and 2013: Yet Another ‘Year of School Choice.’

Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.
Kansas school spending, per student, from state, local, and federal sources, adjusted for inflation.
But we ought to hold public discourse like this to a certain standard, and the pitch made by Kansas Values Institute deserves examination.

Kansas school spending, per student, adjusted for inflation. While base state aid per pupil has declined, state and total spending has remained steady after declining during the recession.
Kansas school spending, per student, adjusted for inflation. While base state aid per pupil has declined, state and total spending has remained steady after declining during the recession.
With regard to school funding, cuts were made by Brownback’s predecessors. Since he became governor, funding is pretty level, on a per student basis adjusted for inflation. It’s true that base state aid per pupil has declined due to the cuts made by governors before Brownback. But state and total funding has been steady since then.

Nonetheless, some people insist on using base state aid as the measure of school spending. They make this argument even though total Kansas state spending per pupil the past year was $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid of $3,838. Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Further, as can be seen in the nearby chart, there has been a steady increase in the ratios of state and total school spending to base state aid.

This is important, as the Kansas Supreme Court issued some instructions in the recent Gannon decision when it remanded part the case to the lower court. The Court said all funding sources are to be considered: “In the panel’s assessment, funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered.” This will certainly test the faith in courts that school spending boosters have proclaimed.

So the claims of the present governor being responsible for “the largest cut to classrooms in the history of Kansas” is false.

Then, what about “classrooms that are over crowded”? Kansas State Department of Education has data on this topic, sort of. KSDE provides the number of employees in school districts and the number of students. I obtained and analyzed this data. I found that the situation is not the same in every school 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 pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

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 of these employees to pupils has fallen.

There’s also a video explaining these statistics. Click here to view it at YouTube. Others have noticed discrepancies in school job claims. See Kansas school employment: Mainstream media notices.

In its pitch, Kansas Values Institute complain that class sizes in Kansas schools are rising. The data that we have, which is the ratio of teachers to pupils, is not the same statistic as class size. They measure different things. But if Kansas schools, considered as a whole, have rising teacher and certified employment levels and the pupil to teacher ratio is decreasing, and at the same time class sizes are increasing — we have to wonder about the management of schools. What are schools doing with these new employees?

As far as I know, no one tracks school district fees across the state. I’d welcome learning of such data.

But regarding data we do have, we see that Kansas Values Institute is either not paying attention, or simply doesn’t care about truthfulness.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

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.

chalkboard-portion-800

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.

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-03-03 1200

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

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

Row of lockers in school hallway

Kansas school employment: Mainstream media notices

Row of lockers in school hallwayWhen two liberal newspapers in Kansas notice and report the lies told by a Democratic candidate for governor, we know there’s a problem. (Okay, the Kansas City Star is really a Missouri newspaper, but covers Kansas too.)

Peter Hancock wrote in the Lawrence Journal World: “Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, reportedly claimed again last week that school funding cuts under Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration have led to ‘thousands’ of teacher layoffs, a claim that has already been shown to be greatly exaggerated.” (Davis still exaggerating teacher layoff claims, March 12, 2013)

On the same day Steve Kraske of the Star reported: “Kansas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis appears to be exaggerating the number of teacher layoffs under Gov. Sam Brownback. In an Overland Park forum last week, Davis said said that the governor’s budget cuts to education had resulted in thousands of teacher layoffs. But an annual personnel report from the state Education Department showed that a total of only 201 teachers were the victims of a ‘reduction in force’ in the 2011 and 2012 school years.” (Davis exaggerates teacher layoff figures)

None of this is news, at least to those who have been paying attention and are willing to dig into the Kansas State Department of Education for statistics. Well, the part about Paul Davis telling lies is news, as it is ongoing and contrary to the facts that Rep. Davis must surely know. (If he doesn’t know, what does that tell us?)

Kansas school employment

Last July I obtained, analyzed, and reported on Kansas school employment trends. I found that the situation is not the same in every school 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 pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

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 of these employees to pupils has fallen.

There’s also a video explaining these statistics. View it below, or click here to view in high definition at Youtube.

Davis and others complain that class sizes in Kansas schools are rising. I understand that the ratio of teachers to pupils is not the same statistic as class size. They measure different things. But if Kansas schools, considered as a whole, have rising teacher and certified employment levels that leads to decreasing pupil to teacher ratio, and at the same time class sizes are increasing — we have to wonder about the management of schools.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment: The statistics and the claims

School

Claims made about Kansas schools don’t match the state’s statistics.

Responding to the State of the State Address delivered by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis provided figures regarding Kansas public schools, telling Kansans: “On top of that, public school class sizes are growing, [and] teachers have been laid off by the thousands.”

Statistics from Kansas State Department of Education, however, show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

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 pupil-teacher ratio has fallen. (This ratio is not the same statistic as average class size, but it’s the data we have. Plus, if schools are hiring teachers at a rate higher than the increase in students, we should expect class sizes to fall.)

Kansas school employment ratios

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.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. (The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction)

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

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

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

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

On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.

In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. More on this topic is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

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.

Shownotes

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

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment: The claims compared to statistics

School

Claims made about Kansas schools don’t match the state’s statistics.

Responding to the State of the State Address delivered by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis provided figures regarding Kansas public schools, telling Kansans: “On top of that, public school class sizes are growing, [and] teachers have been laid off by the thousands.”

Statistics from Kansas State Department of Education, however, show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

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 pupil-teacher ratio has fallen. (This ratio is not the same statistic as average class size, but it’s the data we have. Plus, if schools are hiring teachers at a rate higher than the increase in students, we should expect class sizes to fall.)

Kansas school employment ratios

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.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. (The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction)

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

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

The report summarizes the important studies in class size reduction. The upshot is that there is only one study showing positive results from class size reduction, and that effect was found only among the early grades. The effect decreased after a few years, even though small class sizes were still used.

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

On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.

In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. More on this topic is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

LOB property tax increase already in effect

chalkboard-portion-800

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 school test scores, in perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.”

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

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

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

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

Kansas school employment trends de-emphasize classroom teachers

teacher-23304_640

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.

Spinning for fundraising, Kansas-style

Kansas liberals accuse Republicans of “spinning” statistics on school funding. Can we look at some actual numbers?

Candidate for Kansas Governor Paul Davis sent this fundraising email:

paul-davis-facebook-2013-11-20

This weekend another independent advocate for our schools called attention to Sam Brownback’s attempt to mislead Kansans about his real record on education. The fact is, Sam Brownback made the largest cut to our schools in Kansas history — leading to larger class sizes, school closings, and increased fees for parents.

But being the politician that he is, Sam Brownback is trying to spin his record. We won’t be fooled.

Kevin McWhorter of the Goddard School Board said it plainly, “State funding for education will continue to decline, and state officials will continue to twist the numbers to ask you to believe otherwise. Don’t fall for it. It’s just spin.”

Davis is referring to an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle written by a Goddard school board member. (Kevin R. McWhorter: Don’t fall for spin on school funding, November 17, 2013)

In his op-ed, McWhorter complains that present funding from the state is not as high as statute requires. He calls that a cut. He concludes that the “governor’s economic policy is a train wreck” and that “state funding for education will continue to decline.”

goddard-school-spending-2013-11

Nearby you may find charts of data for the Goddard school district. (Click for larger versions.) You may draw your own conclusions. Recall that Sam Brownback became governor in 2011. The charts are derived from visualizations of data obtained from the Kansas State Department of Education. You may click here to access the visualization for school spending. Information about school employment, including a video and interactive visualization is at Kansas school employment trends.

goddard-school-employment-2013-11

Charts for the entire state look similar: Employment going down, then rising. Ratios of employees to students improve correspondingly. This is not the case in every school district, however.

But not everyone believes the statistics. When the Kansas Republican Party posted a chart of statewide school employment on its Facebook page, someone remarked “Where do I find the facts supporting this graft [sic]? Where did the numbers come from? How are these more than 400 additional teachers and 500 certified employees being paid when school funding has been reduced?”

Sounds like someone’s been spun.

Kansas school logic, Goddard-style

Goddard logic school employment

Fiscal 2010, according to figures from Kansas State Department of Education, was the recent low in school funding for Goddard, reflecting spending cuts made during the recession of the Sebelius/Parkinson era. Since then, in actual dollars, this has happened:

State aid per pupil increased from 6,343 to 7,260.
Federal aid per pupil declined from 720 to 269.
Local aid per pupil increased from 3,650 to 4,813.
Total spending increased from 10,713 to 12,342.

Data from KSDE also shows that the Goddard school district has increased the number of teachers and other certified employees in recent years, and the corresponding ratios of these employees to students has fallen.

Kansas school spending, by district

visualization-example-small

There’s new data available from Kansas State Department of Education on school spending. I’ve gathered the data, adjusted it for the consumer price index, and now present it in this interactive visualization.

For each school district (and state totals) you can see the trend in each of the three sources of school funding (state, federal, and local) along with the total. A few observations:

State aid per pupil for 2013 ($6,984) is approximately the same as it was in 2006 ($6,941). (All figures are inflation-adjusted, per pupil.)

Total spending per pupil for 2013 ($12,781) is higher than it was in 2007 ($12,991).

You may use the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work better.

Data is from KSDE; visualizations created by myself using Tableau Public.

Kansas school spending, visualized

kansas-school-spending-example-visualization

Now that Kansas State Department of Education has released spending figures for the 2012-2013 school year, I’ve gathered the data and prepared two interactive visualizations.

One visualization presents total spending, and the other holds per pupil spending. Both hold nominal dollars and inflation-adjusted dollars. Data is from KSDE; visualizations created by myself using Tableau Public.

The visualization for total spending is here. For per pupil spending, the visualization is here.

Shortchanging Kansas schoolchildren, indeed

School blackboardThis month the New York Times published an editorial that advocates for more spending on Kansas public schools. While getting some facts wrong, the piece also overlooks the ways that Kansas schoolchildren are truly being shortchanged.

Here’s evidence supplied by the Times (Shortchanging Kansas Schoolchildren, October 13, 2013): “State spending on education has fallen an estimated 16.5 percent since 2008, including $500 million in cuts under the Brownback administration, resulting in teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.” (Governor Brownback has responded to the editorial; see Kansas Governor responds to the Times.)

The Times editorial board doesn’t say how it calculated the 16.5 percent decline in spending, but it’s likely that it used only base state aid per pupil, which is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. Much more spending is added to that. A nearby table holds spending figures for recent years, and a similar chart with inflation-adjusted figures may be found in Kansas school spending rises.

kansas-school-spending-2013-10-table-02

Perhaps the Times didn’t notice that at the time base state aid was falling, total state spending on schools rose. Base state aid per pupil, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was during the previous decade. Total Kansas state spending on schools, however, has recovered to the same level as 2006, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

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.

Teachers and class sizes

The Times wrote that under Brownback, Kansas experienced “teacher layoffs and larger class sizes.” Figures from the Kansas State Department of Education tell a different story. 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 pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment

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. Pupil-teacher ratio is not the same as class size, but it’s the data we have.

Here’s the question we need to answer: If school districts have been able to hire more teachers and other certified employees, and if the student to teacher ratio is improving at the same time, but there are still high class sizes, what are school districts doing with these teachers and employees?

Kansas school employment ratios

By the way, the Times editorial writers might be interested in learning that the declines in school employment occurred during the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, Democrats both.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

If the Times really wanted to help Kansas schoolchildren from being shortchanged, it might have noticed that at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state weakened its already low standards for schools. This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. More about that can be found in Why are Kansas school standards so low?

Another thing the Times could have done to increase the public’s awareness of the performance of Kansas schools is to investigate why Kansas schools perform relatively well on national tests. I and others have done this; see Kansas school test scores, a hidden story and Kansas and Texas schools and low-income students.

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.

Shownotes

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

Kansas school spending holding steady

(This article has been revised to reflect a data entry error.)

New figures from the Kansas State Department of Education show that spending on public schools in Kansas is rising in actual dollars, and holding steady in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The nearby table presents Kansas school spending figures for recent years. Figures are adjusted for inflation by the consumer price index (CPI), using 2013 as the base year. Charts appear at the end of this article.

kansas-school-spending-2013-10-table-01

Note that base state aid per pupil, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was during the previous decade. Total Kansas state spending on schools, however, has recovered to the same level as 2007.

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.

Base state aid should not be focus

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.

(By the way, when citizens in Kansas and across the nation are asked questions about school spending, we learn they are totally uninformed. Even worse, several recent candidates for the Wichita school board were similarly uninformed. See Wichita school board candidates on spending.)

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.

Also, it’s important to realize 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. See Base state aid is wrong focus for Kansas school spending.

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-01

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-02-bsapp

Kansas schools do not have rigorous standards, despite newspaper editorials

kansas-city-star-2013-10-15A 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.

In its conclusion, the editorial states: “Kansans have always known that rigorous standards and strong, well-funded public school systems are the best routes to an educated work force.” (A decisive time for Kansas schools, October 15, 2013.)

The problem is that Kansas doesn’t have rigorous standards for its schools.

If the Star editorial writers had asked the National Center for Education Statistics about Kansas school standards, that agency might have referred the editorialists to 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. The conclusion of NCES is that Kansas school standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

Kansas should let markets regulate schools

School blackboardWhen markets are not allowed to work, we waste energy fighting over laws and volumes of regulations.

Earlier this year the Wichita Eagle made a state-wide issue (literally) out of something that could self-regulate, if only we would let it.

The issue is what proportion of Kansas school spending finds its way “into the classroom” — whatever that means — and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s use of this statistic.

The front page Sunday article (Governor’s numbers come under question) spent over 1,000 words on the topic. It covers where Brownback got the number he uses, the controversy over how to classify spending as “classroom” or other, and troubles surrounding an advocacy group that pushed for more spending going to the classroom.

Why is this issue important? In Kansas, most children attend government schools that are funded and regulated by government. This means that how schools spend money is a political issue. There will be arguments.

In the private sector, however, we don’t see these types of arguments. Do we argue in public about how much the grocery store spends on administrative overhead compared to other spending? Of course not. The managers and owners of the grocery store are intensely interested in this issue. The public is too, but only in how the management of the grocery store affects their shopping experience.

If shoppers don’t like the way a store is managed, they shop somewhere else. Management may notice this and make changes that customers appreciate. If management doesn’t adapt, the store will likely close and be replaced by other stores that do a better job delivering what customers want.

Or, some shoppers may like a high level of management in a grocery store — one with more personal service. Some like a bare-bones store where you sack your groceries yourself. This variation in customer tastes and needs leads to what we observe: Broad diversity in the types of grocery stores shoppers can choose from.

The point is that in the private sector, people get to choose what they like. They choose what’s best for them. But with our system of public schools funded and regulated by government, there is no choice. (Yes, you can escape the public schools and use others, but you still must pay for the government schools, and many families can’t afford to pay for both.)

There’s a factor that leads to this diversity of grocery stores and self-regulation focused on meeting consumers’ needs. It’s market competition.

But Kansas has no market competition in schools, unless you want to escape the system entirely and still pay for it. We have a very weak charter school law, meaning there are very few charter schools in Kansas. We have no vouchers or tax credit scholarships.

If we had these instruments of school choice in Kansas, government schools would face market competition. They would have to start being responsive to customers. We could allow schools to decide for themselves how much to spend on management and things other than the classroom. Market competition would guide schools in structuring their management and budgets to best meet the needs of schoolchildren and parents.

If we had school choice in Kansas, we would have a more diverse slate of schools for parents to select from. We could rely on the nature of markets to self-regulate schools like we rely on markets to regulate grocery stores.

We could quit arguing about things like how much is spent in the classroom, and we could actually focus on teaching children.

But the Kansas school education establishment doesn’t want that. That establishment fights every attempt to introduce even small elements of choice into Kansas.

WichitaLiberty.TV October 13, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV, a television news and commentary television program covering Wichita and Kansas government and politics.

On this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: First, host Bob Weeks looks back at some issues covered in earlier episodes of WichitaLiberty.TV to see if there’s been progress. Then, Bob uses a little bit of elementary statistics to uncover unfortunate facts about Kansas public schools. Finally, Amanda BillyRock illustrates another chapter of “Economics in One Lesson” about Spread-The-Work Schemes, and Bob illustrates with local applications. Episode 16, broadcast October 13, 2013. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

Kansas school employment trends

SchoolListening to Kansas school officials and some legislators, you’d think that Kansas schools had very few teachers left, and that students were struggling in huge classes. 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. The following video explains. (Click here to view in high definition at YouTube.)

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

It’s little wonder that Kansas government school spending defenders focus on school funding. If they were to talk about Kansas school performance, they’d 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.

Kansas school employment ratios

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee). Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Why are Kansas school standards so low?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

Kansas school standards have changed

At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its standards for schools. This video uses the “Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales” report from the National Center for Education Statistics to show what Kansas has done to its educational standards. View below, or click here to view on YouTube, which may work better in some cases.

For background on this issue, see Kansas has lowered its school standards and More evidence of low Kansas school standards.

Other relevant articles include Kansas needs truth about schools, Kansas school superintendents defend low standards, and Kansas school test scores, in perspective.

Kansas school spending advocates take to Twitter

A few days ago someone sent me a message on Twitter, regarding something I wrote about Kansas schools.

As Tweets are too brief to discuss the issues, I do so here.

It’s true that state education spending — that portion of total school funding provided by the State of Kansas — has fallen. But total school spending per student is different. It has fallen too, but by much less. That’s because at the same time state spending was falling, local spending remained steady, and federal spending rose.

Kansas school spending per student, adjusted for CPI

The nearby chart (click on it for a larger version) shows the totality of Kansas school spending, according to Kansas State Department of Education. Overall school spending per student, adjusted for inflation, fell for two years. It rose a small amount last year. Spending from all sources, individually and collectively, is much higher than ten years ago. Remember, the figures in the chart are adjusted for inflation.

We’ve increased spending on schools, both in Kansas and across the nation, by huge amounts will little to show in the way of results. This actually ought to give us hope, because if we can eliminate our fixation on spending as the cure for all problems, we can start to seek actual solutions.

Kansas school employment

On the topic of class size: Pupil-teacher ratio is not the same as class size, but it’s the data we have. Also, 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 pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

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. This article holds an interactive visualization of this data: Kansas school employment trends are not what you’d expect.

There’s also this to consider about class size. In 2011 the Center for American Progress released a report about class size reduction in schools and the false promise it holds for improving student achievement. While I am normally quite cautious about relying on anything CAP — a prominent left-wing think tank — produces, I’ve read the report, which is titled The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction. It’s accurate.

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

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

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

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

On teacher quality and teacher effectiveness: When Sandi Jacobs of National Council for Teacher Quality appeared in Kansas a few years ago, we learned that Kansas ranks below average on its policies that promote teacher quality.

In the example she illustrated, third graders who had teachers in the top 20 percent of effectiveness for the next three years went from the 50th percentile in performance to the 90th. For students with teachers in the lowest 20 percent for the same period, their performance dropped from the 50th percentile to the 37th percentile. My reporting of that event and an audio recording is at Kansas ranks low in policies on teacher quality.

Kansas Democrats on school spending

Kansas Democrats are circulating a graphic that, while probably superficially accurate, fails to present the larger picture of Kansas school spending.

brownback-education-plan-2013-07

The chart claims that Kansas school funding is down 19 percent since 2008. This is after adjusting for inflation, which is a good thing to do when comparing amounts of money separated in time. The Democrats, however, make calculations based on the inflation rate in fiscal year 2014. Since fiscal year 2014 started just three weeks ago, we really don’t have any idea what the rate of inflation will be.

A larger problem, however, is that Kansas Democrats use only one component of school spending to make their argument. They used base state aid per pupil as though it was the totality of school spending.

What the Kansas Democrats aren’t telling Kansans is this: Base state aid per pupil is just part of school spending, and most schools spend much more than that. Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, which is an additional $3,203 or 84.7 percent more than base state aid. Overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.

It’s true that base state aid per pupil has declined in recent years. That’s 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 among the uninformed over inadequate school spending. They can cite this as an argument for increasing spending, even though spending has been rising.

(By the way, when citizens in Kansas and across the nation are asked questions about school spending, we learn they are totally uninformed. Even worse, several recent candidates for the Wichita school board were similarly uninformed. See Wichita school board candidates on spending.)

Further, citing only base state aid reduces “sticker shock.” Most people are surprised to learn that our schools spend $12,656 per student. It’s much easier to tell taxpayers that only $3,780 was spent. But that’s not a complete picture.

Also, it’s important to realize 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. See Base state aid is wrong focus for Kansas school spending.

kansas-school-spending-2008-2012

Here’s a table that shows the entirety of spending on public schools in Kansas. I use 2012 figures, as they are the most recent numbers that are available. (We know what base state aid per pupil is for next year, but actual spending depends on many factors that aren’t knowable in advance.)

I wonder: Why don’t Kansas Democrats tell you the whole story?

For Kansas progressives, it’s all about school spending, not performance

Once again, Kansans are subjected to a rant by Kansas House of Representatives Democratic Leader Paul Davis. On Facebook, he continually complains about the lack of funding for Kansas schools, recently writing “What do you think is more important: tax cuts for millionaires or funding for your local school?”

paul-davis-facebook-2013-07-14

Here are some concepts I wish Davis would explain to his Facebook fans. This might be good practice as he considers a run for the Kansas governorship.

First, Kansas schools have increased employment.

Second, Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given, and the pile of unspent cash continues to grow far beyond what is needed for cash flow management.

Third, everyone’s taxes have been cut in Kansas.

But here’s the worst thing Kansas has done. It’s a fact that Paul Davis won’t tell you, and it’s something that is very harmful for Kansas schoolchildren: At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its standards for schools.

This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales.

This 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.

naep-reading-changes-2009-kansas

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.

naep-math-changes-2009-kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s important to know is that Kansas school leaders are not being honest with Kansans as a whole, and with parents specifically. In the face of these findings from NCES, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker wrote this in the pages of The Wichita Eagle: “One of the remarkable stories in Kansas education is student achievement. For 10 years straight, Kansas public school students have shown improvement on state reading and math assessments.” (Thank teachers for hard work, dedication, May 27, 2011.)

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

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

These claims made by Kansas school leaders are refuted by the statistics that aren’t under the control of these same leaders.

I wonder why Paul Davis doesn’t write about these topics on Facebook.

More evidence of low Kansas school standards

apple-worm

A study of school testing standards has found that Kansas has low standards compared to other states.

Kansas ranked forty-fourth among the states, meaning that seven states had standards judged to be weaker than Kansas’. The remainder of the states and the District of Columbia have stronger standards.

The study also found that the Kansas standards have become weaker in recent years.

The research was published by Education Next, a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. It may be read at Despite Common Core, States Still Lack Common Standards: Students proficient on state tests but not national.

It’s important to note that this survey compares a state’s own standards to the NAEP test, which is the same for the entire country. It does not measure the performance of the students. Instead, it serves to compare the strength — and honesty — of a state’s test against a common standard:

Note that an A or a B does not indicate a relatively high performance by students in the state. Rather, it indicates that the state’s definition of proficient embodies higher expectations for students. It is best thought of as a high grade for “truth in advertising,” telling citizens frankly how well students are performing on an internationally accepted scale, just as states have pledged to do by joining the CCSS consortium.

The low ranking of Kansas does not come as a surprise. A few voices in Kansas have been raising concern about standards in Kansas, as in my articles Kansas school standards and other states and Kansas has lowered its school standards. Kansas Policy Institute has contributed a policy analysis titled Removing Barriers to Better Public Education: Analyzing the facts about student achievement and school spending.

Recently The Economist reported this in its article Raising the bar: A battle over school standards:

Here’s a multiple-choice question: if the federal government penalises states where pupils do badly in school, but lets the states themselves set the pass mark, will the states a) make the tests harder; or b) dumb them down?

Historically, the answer has been b). The National Centre for Educational Statistics (NCES), a federal body, looked at how the states’ definitions of “proficiency” at maths and reading compared with its own rigorous one. For grade 4 reading in 2009, not one state held its pupils to as high a standard (see map). Fifteen states labelled a child “proficient” when the NCES would have called her skills “basic”; 35 bestowed that honour on children performing at “below basic” level.

Despite this evidence, the Kansas public school establishment says something different. Here’s what a group of Kansas school district superintendents, including Wichita’s John Allison, wrote last year in a newspaper op-ed: “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.”

This claim of “high-performing schools” is based on, as multiple sources have shown, standards that are among the weakest in the nation, and standards that have declined.

Two years ago Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker penned an op-ed that claimed rising student achievement: “One of the remarkable stories in Kansas education is student achievement. For 10 years straight, Kansas public school students have shown improvement on state reading and math assessments.”

As we now know, the tests that DeBacker relies upon are among the weakest in the nation. Under her tenure as commissioner, these standards have become weaker.

It would be one thing for the Kansas public school spending establishment to mislead Kansas voters and taxpayers about the strength of Kansas school standards. That’s bad enough, assuming that these education leaders are aware of this information. (If they’re not aware, that’s an entirely different problem.)

But when Kansans are given a false impression of the performance of Kansas schools, it’s the children that are harmed most.

Kansas school employment trends are not what you’d expect

Listening to Kansas school officials and legislators, you’d think that Kansas schools had very few teachers left, and that students were struggling in huge classes. But statistics from the state show that school employment has rebounded, both in terms of absolute numbers of teachers and certified employees, and the ratios of pupils to these employees.

Kansas school employment

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 pupil-teacher ratio has fallen.

Kansas school employment ratios

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.

By the way, the declines in school employment occurred during the administrations of Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, Democrats both.

Facts like these may not have yet reached those like Kansas House of Representatives Democratic Leader Paul Davis. On Facebook, he continually complains about the lack of funding for Kansas schools.

paul-davis-facebook-2013-04-14

It’s little wonder that Davis and others focus exclusively on Kansas school funding. If they were to talk about Kansas school performance, they’d 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.

I’ve created interactive visualizations that let you examine the employment levels and ratios in Kansas school districts. Click here for the visualization of employment levels. Click here for the visualization of ratios (pupil-teacher and pupil-certified employee).

Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Kansas school fund balances on the rise

School

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.

WichitaLiberty.TV, June 30, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV logo

On this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV, host Bob Weeks discusses trust in government, public choice, logrolling, Kansas school standards, whether we should trust what we’re told about Southwest Airlines and its economic benefit, and whether we should trust the City of Wichita to adhere to its economic development policies. Episode 2, broadcast June 30, 3013. View this episode below, or click here to view it on YouTube.

Kansas has lowered its school standards

At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its standards for schools.

This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales.

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

naep-reading-changes-2009-kansas

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.

naep-math-changes-2009-kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s important to know is that Kansas school leaders are not being honest with Kansans as a whole, and with parents specifically. In the face of these findings from NCES, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker wrote this in the pages of The Wichita Eagle: “One of the remarkable stories in Kansas education is student achievement. For 10 years straight, Kansas public school students have shown improvement on state reading and math assessments.” (Thank teachers for hard work, dedication, May 27, 2011.)

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

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

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

Kansas school standards and other states

Do those who call for more Kansas school spending defend the standards Kansas applies to these schools?

Row of lockers in school hallway

As Kansas attempts to position its economy for growth by reducing taxes, we’re told that Kansas risks letting its public schools decay. Consider the editorial Legislators, Brownback renege on promises to get done with session in the Hutchinson News: “And so Kansas continues down a path to fulfill Brownback’s vision of a no-income-tax state. Meanwhile, we also will accept mediocre public schools and universities and inadequate services to disadvantaged Kansans who at the same time will shoulder more of the tax burden.”

This is typical of the defense of Kansas school spending: Kansas schools have been doing a good job compared to other states, and under difficult circumstances because we don’t spend near enough. We must spend more, we are told by the school spending interests, and soon the Kansas Supreme Court may add its voice.

But before we decide to invest more in our state’s public schools, shouldn’t we learn whether Kansas has been holding its schools to high standards?

Kansas school standards

NAEP scale equivalents of state grade 4 reading standards for proficient performance, by state: 2009

When talking about the quality of Kansas schools, the first thing to realize is that Kansas has set low standards for its schools, compared to other states. The nearby illustration (click for larger version) maps state test scores onto the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. Fourth grade reading is presented in this illustration. States on the right side of the chart have higher standards than those to their left. Note where Kansas appears: Only seven states appear to its left, meaning that Kansas has very low standards for fourth grade reading.

In other subject areas and other grades, Kansas appears a little further to the right. But in no case does Kansas appear above the midpoint.

Despite these facts, last year Kansas school superintendents claimed in an editorial that “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.” Most newspaper editorial writers believe that without looking at the actual situation. See Despite superintendents’ claim, Kansas schools have low standards for more on this topic.

National test scores

It’s often expressed that Kansas ranks well on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. Kansas school administrators take pride in mentioning this.

Consider fourth grading reading, an important benchmark. Kansas ranks 17th among the states, with eight performing significantly better than Kansas, and 21 with no significant difference from Kansas. If you stopped looking at this point, you might conclude, as do most Kansas newspaper editorial writers, that Kansas has good schools.

But consider white students alone. In this case, Kansas ranks 25th among the states, with 11 performing significantly better than Kansas, and 24 not significantly different.

If we look at black students alone, Kansas ranks 26th among the states, with six performing significantly better than Kansas, and 37 not significantly different.

Considering Hispanic students alone, Kansas ranks 17th among the states, with six performing significantly better than Kansas, and 34 not significantly different.

Because different ethnic groups tend to perform at different levels on the NAEP test, and because states have different mixes of ethnic groups, aggregated statistics can hide an important underlying story. In this case, we see that Kansas schools don’t rank as high as naive supporters believe.

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

For another look at how aggregated data can mask important stories, see Kansas school test scores, in perspective, were the statistics show that Kansas students score better than Texas students, as most Kansans probably believe. But, Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups.

Avoiding the truth about Kansas school spending, Tuesday edition

Once again we see the Kansas public school establishment dodging the facts about Kansas school spending. An example from yesterday was provided by Kansas House of Representatives Minority Leader Paul Davis on his Facebook page. Here’s what he posted:

Paul Davis Facebook Posting

Rep. Davis, it’s not the governor that makes claims regarding the level of school spending in Kansas. The Kansas State Department of Education compiles and reports spending numbers. For those who can’t navigate the KSDE website to find spending numbers, I’ve provided them here, and also at the end of this article.

From this table we can see that after peaking in fiscal year 2009, state aid to schools fell in 2010. Since then it has risen each year, in both total dollars spent and dollars spent per pupil. (By the way, who was governor when state aid to schools fell?)

Rep. Davis may be referring to base state aid per pupil when making his argument. That number has fallen. But as you can see, total State of Kansas spending on schools has been rising after falling under a previous governor’s administration. Readers should also note that as Kansas state aid to schools fell, federal aid rose, almost making up the difference.

I would also remind the minority leader that tax cuts do not have a cost that needs to be paid for. It is government that has a cost. Reducing taxes lets people keep more of what is rightfully theirs, and that is always good.

Paul Davis Facebook Posting

Then: A reader left a comment wondering whether the school spending figures included mandatory KPERS payments. These are payments to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. These payments are part of the cost of having employees, as long as schools want to provide a retirement plan to their employees. Rep. Davis’ response is correct. The state sends funds to school districts, which the districts then send to KPERS. These funds, then, are included in total school spending figures.

Which is how it should be. How should the comment “it definitely doesn’t all go to classrooms” and Davis’ response be interpreted? The education spending establishment would like us to ignore that spending. But it’s money that’s spent. It’s part of the expense of having teachers. So does it go to the classroom? You be the judge.

In Kansas, don’t mention the level of school spending

At a meeting of the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation today, it was apparent that facts are either not known — or not important — to public school spending advocates.

The audience for today’s meeting was, apparently, heavily stocked with teachers who were eager to voice approval or displeasure with statements made by either the public speakers or the legislators. At one time the teachers drew a reprimand from Representative Nile Dillmore.

Here’s what Kansas should learn from this meeting — something important that affects actual public policy: We can’t have an honest discussion of school finance unless we recognize and agree on some facts such as the current level of spending. The teachers in today’s audience either don’t know the facts, or don’t want to talk about them.

Teachers react to school spending.

In the nearby audio clip, Representative Gene Suellentrop told the audience the spending figures for USD 259, the Wichita public school district. According to figures available from the Kansas State Department of Education, he was correct to the dollar. The audience reacted with jeers.

So we’re left wondering this: Do Kansas schoolteachers know the correct level of school spending? Or do they know, but don’t believe it? Or do they know, but don’t want to talk about it?

This is particularly troubling for Kansas, as the public school bureaucracy insists on more school spending. But talking about actual school spending is somehow uncouth and deserves to be shouted down.

Newspaper editorial boards aren’t helping Kansans learn about school spending and student achievement. Surveys find that like the general public across the nation, Kansans are uninformed on school spending.

This is the uncomfortable condition of public discourse in Kansas. We are lacking in knowledge and facts. Even worse, we’ve taken something that ought to be noncontroversial (the education of children) and turned it into a shouting match. This is what we get by turning over important things to politics.

Wichita school board candidates on spending

At a forum for candidates for the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, several candidates showed they were not informed on the level of school spending.

A questioner asked specifically for per student spending from all funds.

Wichita school board candidate John Crane.

John Crane answered the question this way: “Last year I believe, and I’m not for sure on this, but it was $3,000 and something that we spent per child. … We’re back down to the 1970s when it comes to cost per children.”

Wichita school board candidate Mike Rodee.

Mike Rodee answered: “I believe the budget for 2012-2013 was $3,808 per student.” He added that “there’s some of the numbers we’re not 100 percent sure on. We’re just getting information now.”

Here are the actual numbers according to the Kansas State Department of Education: For the 2011 – 2012 school year, USD 259 spent $12,734 per student. Of that, $7,501 came from the State of Kansas, $1,531 from the federal government, and $3,702 from local taxes.

The figure Crane and Rodee referred to (the actual number is $3,838) is base state aid per pupil. It is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. It’s often cited for two reasons: It’s a lot less than the actual spending, and it has gone down in recent years. See Wichita school spending: The grain of truth.

But it doesn’t really mean much by itself. As you can see, Wichita schools received $7,501 from the state per student when base aid was $3,838. That’s an additional 95 percent over base aid.

Whether you think school spending is too high or too low, facts are facts. Spending is what it is. If we can’t agree on the level of school spending, we can’t have a reasoned discussion.

While surveys have shown that the average person has little knowledge of the level of school spending, we might ask that candidates for school board have the correct information. Sadly, even school board members and legislators are either uninformed or misinformed.

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

Why don’t Kansas children have options?

School

School choice programs in some states are targeted at children with special needs, as in Oklahoma with its Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.

Children in Kansas don’t have the same opportunity that Oklahoma schoolchildren have.

The following video illustrates the difference school choice can make to special needs students. Visit WhyNotKansas.com to learn more.

Teacher quality report issued; Kansas needs improvement

National Council on Teacher Quality has released its new edition of its State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Kansas doesn’t do well.

Kansas earned a grade of D+, the same as the previous year. That’s also the average state grade.

Under the heading “Critical Attention” the report states “Kansas does not ensure that teacher preparation programs admit candidates with strong academic records.” Also in this category: “Kansas does not ensure that new elementary teachers are ready to teach to the Common Core Standards” and “Kansas does not hold its teacher preparation programs accountable for the effectiveness of the teachers they produce.”

There is some good news: “Kansas is on track to ensure that new middle school teachers will be prepared to teach appropriate grade-level content.”

The full report for Kansas is at Improving Teacher Preparation in Kansas.