Tag Archives: Wichita and Kansas schools

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Kansas school claims, numbers don’t match

Kansas school spending advocates make claims of exploding class sizes that aren’t reflected in enrollment and employment data.

Mill Creek Elementary class size claim from FacebookOn Facebook, an activist makes a claim that, if accurate, is alarming:

I walked with Paul Davis yesterday. I introduced him to Mrs. Scrutin. She teaches 4th grade at Mill Creek Elementary, here in Lenexa. She has seen class sizes explode from 16, to 23, now for the 2014-2015 school year 30.

I gathered data from the Kansas State Department of Education and created an interactive visualization. (I’m not making the visualization available just yet, as there are some data consistency issues I need to address, and I hope to receive data for additional years.)

Looking at data for Mill Creek Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District, the number of certified employees and K-12 teachers at the school has been falling. In 2014 there were 21 K-12 teachers, down from 27 in 2009.

Enrollment, too, has been on the decline, from 443 students in 2009 to 368 in 2014. The pupil-teacher ratio in 2009 was 16.2. It reached 17.1 two years later, and in another two years it fell to 16.4, and rose to 17.9 for 2014.

Pupil-teacher ratio is not equivalent to class size. It is simply the number of pupils divided by the number of teachers. Class sizes could be larger or smaller, and may vary from room to room. Although the pupil-teacher ratio rose for Mill Creek Elementary, let’s place it in context. For a hypothetical school of 1,000 students, the change that Mill Creek experienced from 2009 to 2014 means going from 62 teachers to 56 teachers.

With Mill Creek’s pupil-teacher ratio remaining almost unchanged, how do class sizes “explode from 16, to 23, now for the 2014-2015 school year 30?”

I don’t have data for the 2014-2015 school year. But if class sizes are “exploding” at the same time the pupil-teacher ratio rose only slightly, what is the explanation?

Remember, K-12 teachers are not the only employees at this school. In 2009 there were also 31 certified employees in addition to K-12 teachers. That number is down to 24 for 2014. In terms of pupil-employee ratios, the change over this time has been from 14.3 pupils per certified employee to 15.3.

Mill Creek Elementary school data

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Kansas base state aid is only a part of spending

Using base state aid per pupil as the only measure of school funding leads to an incomplete understanding of school spending in Kansas.

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.

Base state aid per pupil has fallen in recent years. Public school spending advocates want Kansans to be aware of only this fact. For them, only this number is important.

But Kansas schools have much more to spend than just base state aid.

Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
Ratios of school spending to base state aid.
In the last school year base state aid per pupil was $3,838. But in that year total spending funded by Kansas state sources was $6,984 per pupil, or 1.82 times base state aid. Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

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.

In Wichita, the attitude of some elected officials needs adjustment

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Attitudes of Wichita government leaders towards capitalism reveal a lack of understanding. Is only a government-owned hotel able to make capital improvements? Then, two examples of the disdain elected officials express towards their constituents who don’t agree with them. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Alternatives to raising taxes, how to become involved in politics, and bad behavior by elected officials

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita voters tell pollsters that they prefer alternatives to raising taxes. Then, how can you get involved in politics? A deadline is approaching soon. Finally, some examples of why we need to elect better people to office. Episode 44, broadcast May 25, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

More parents unhappy with treatment by the Wichita school board

apple-chalkboard-booksKAKE Television reports on Wichita parents who are not happy with treatment by the school board, writing “Parents associated with Hyde tell KAKE News it’s not the decision that’s leaving a bad taste in their mouth. They’re unhappy with how the Wichita Board of Education treated them during the process.” Wichita Eagle reporting on this matter is at Wichita school board votes to transfer two teachers from Hyde Elementary.

A contributor to the newspaper’s Opinion Line wrote: “While I’m disappointed in the decision by the Wichita school board, I am simply stunned at the lack of respect Lynn Rogers afforded a fellow board member, Joy Eakins. His condescension toward her was palpable, and his remark to ‘roll your eyes if you like’ was both rude and unprofessional.”

This is not the first time citizens have suffered in this way. When a person like Lynn Rogers and most other school board members believe that they are totally responsible for — and the only reason why — any education takes place in Wichita, superciliousness and insularity are occupational hazards.

Another example is Wichita school board: critics not welcome, where I concluded “This is characteristic of this board and the entire district. They’re willing to accept citizen input when citizens agree with them. Otherwise, watch out.”

This board meeting public Betty ArnoldWhen she was president of the board of USD 259 Betty Arnold let citizens know the real purpose of board meetings, and how citizens should behave. At a meeting, citizens had criticized the board for large and important issues, but also for such mundane things as the amount of the superintendent’s monthly car allowance. Arnold admonished citizens for speaking about things like this in public. It’s not respectful, she said.

Finally, after directing a uniformed security guard to station himself near a citizen speaker, Arnold told the audience: “If we need to clear the room, we will clear the room. This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”

Video of Arnold is below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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Wichita’s benchmark not applicable to overlapping jurisdictions, it seems

Wichita Economic DevelopmentThe City of Wichita insists on a certain level of return on investment for its economic development incentives, but doesn’t apply that criteria to overlapping jurisdictions.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider an economic development incentive to a company. The council requires that incentive projects show a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to one or greater, meaning that the city expects to gain $1.30 or more for every dollar it invests in the incentive program.

For the project the city will consider on May 6, that threshold is met for the city’s general and debt service funds, and also for Sedgwick County and the State of Kansas. But for USD 259, the Wichita public school district, the benefit-cost ratio is 1.23 to one. That’s below the criteria the city requires for itself, although the policy contains many exceptions.

The program used to deliver this incentive is Economic Development Exemption (EDX) . It provides relief from property taxes based on a formula that considers job creation and capital investment. In this case, the company qualifies for a 93.25 percent real property tax exemption for up to ten years. Not 92 percent, and not 94 percent. Instead, the city has determined that precisely 93.25 percent is the correct amount of property tax exemption to be awarded. (Which reminds me of the saying that economists use a decimal point now and then to remind us they have a sense of humor.)

Furthermore, the decision to award the tax exemption is made solely by the City of Wichita. The other taxing jurisdictions have no say in the matter and no ability to object. So while Wichita requires a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to one or better, it’s saddling the Wichita school district with a benefit-cost ratio of 1.23 to one.

This is all the more meaningful when we consider that the Wichita school district is the largest participant in the incentive. The amount of tax revenue the school district is giving up — perhaps against its will — is almost as large as the city, county, and state put together. These are the amounts of foregone tax revenue for each jurisdiction, according to city documents.

City $14,096
State $651
County $12,738
USD 259 $24,810

Perhaps it’s time to consider laws in Kansas that would allow counties, school districts, and the state to opt out of economic development incentive decisions made by cities.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Newspaper editorial writers on how democracy works, Kansas school test scores.

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: An editorial in a Kansas newspaper exposes a dangerously uninformed and simplistic view of politics and democracy. Then, will Kansas school leaders and newspapers tell us the hidden truths about Kansas school test scores? Episode 41, broadcast May 4, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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.

Kansas school spending, contrary to Paul Davis

Claims about school spending made by a Kansas Democratic Party leader don’t quite align with facts.

It is commonplace for liberal Kansas politicians and newspaper editorial pages to complain about severely cut spending on schools in Kansas. A recent example is Paul Davis in the Wichita Eagle.

kansas-school-spending-per-student-2013-10-chart-01Nearby is a chart of Kansas school spending (click it for a larger version). It’s adjusted for inflation. Spending is not as high as it was at its peak, but Davis’ claim of students who “have experienced severe budget cuts” don’t match the facts.

Now, it’s possible that Davis may want readers to consider only a portion of school spending, that being 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.

In the last school year base state aid per pupil was $3,838. That’s the figure often used as the level of school spending. But in that year total Kansas state spending per pupil $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid. Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times 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 an indicator of school spending.

Kansas Judicial Center
Kansas Judicial Center
The Kansas Supreme Court had something to say about this in its recent Gannon opinion that sent part of the case back to the lower court with instructions: 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.”

I wonder: Those who call for a return to the level of base state aid of 20 years ago (adjusted for inflation, of course): Would they also accept returning to the same ratios of total spending to base state aid?

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Kansas news media should report, not spin

kansas-policy-institute-logoA Hutchinson News editorial contained an uninformed opinion of which special interest groups are working for the best interests of Kansans. Following, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute explains that influence may be shifting from media, unions, the education establishment, cities, counties, and school boards to those with different views — those of limited government and economic freedom that empower citizens, not an expansive government and its beneficiaries. The editorial referred to is Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy.

Media spin a threat

By Dave Trabert

Kansans are bombarded with claims that range from innocently incomplete to quite deliberately false. Increasingly, the media perpetrates this bad information. That behavior limits civil discourse and is a serious threat to personal freedom and our democratic republic.

Media should use its powerful voice to provide unbiased information. Instead, we see a growing trend in Kansas media to distort the truth, ignore facts and attack those who disagree with their view of the world. A recent Hutchinson News editorial is an example of this petulant behavior.

The basic premise of “Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy” is that elected officials are chosen and kept in line by special interest groups. The author allows that moneyed interests work both sides of the aisle in Washington and in other states but incredibly asserts that this is not the case in Kansas. He says, “Here, the GOP rules, and the split is between those who labor for their constituents and those who pledge allegiance to their sponsors.”

Even casual political observers know that to be laughably false. Republicans have a paper majority, but even cub reporters know it is meaningless. KPI’s Economic Freedom Index has consistently found Republicans at the top and bottom of rankings based on their votes for economic and educational freedom.

The dividing line is not party affiliations or labels like liberal, moderate or conservative. Rather, it’s a philosophical belief in the role of government and collectivism versus the personal liberty of individuals.

There is no such thing as a “wealthocracy,” but special interest groups do influence politics. Claiming this to be the exclusive province of Kansans with a limited government perspective, however, is a conscious lie.

The behaviors attributed to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity (recruiting and financially supporting friendly candidates for public office and encouraging elected officials to see things their way) are equally attributable to public employee unions, school board associations and others with big-government views. “Laboring for constituents” is a Hutchinson News euphemism for upholding the self-serving ideals of KNEA, KASB, state employee unions and other institutional interests.

There is nothing wrong, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, about special interests attempting to influence government. The difference — and perhaps the real objection of The Hutchinson News — is that their “side” is losing its long-standing monopoly over information and, with it, heavy influence over government and citizens.

The Kansas Policy Institute is perhaps the leading provider in Kansas of factual information on school funding and student achievement. Our information often differs from that published by media, unions and the education establishment, but they are facts nonetheless.

The editorial said, “… few lobbyists dominate like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute.” We’re flattered to be considered a dominant force, but the editorial conveniently didn’t mention other dominant players, including cities, counties, school boards and unions. The objection is not to our dominance; it’s that we don’t share the big-government/collectivist perspective of The Hutchinson News.

We call that hypocrisy.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas school finance and reform, Charles Koch on why he fights for liberty

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Kansas legislature passed a school finance bill that contains reform measures that the education establishment doesn’t want. In response, our state’s newspapers uniformly support the system rather than Kansas schoolchildren. Then, in the Wall Street Journal Charles Koch explains why liberty is important, and why he’s fighting for that. Episode 39, broadcast April 20, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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In Kansas City, private schools seen as ‘a perversion’

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between public schools and private schools, a top Kansas school administrator knows the difference:

David A. Smith, Chief of Staff, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools
David A. Smith, Chief of Staff, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

David Smith, chief of staff for Kansas City, Kan., public schools, said the bill was targeted at students specifically in low-income districts, including his district. Now, he is trying to figure out what this portion of the bill will mean for public schools.

“It is beyond my comprehension how encouraging students to go to a private school serves the public good,” Smith said. “It is such a perversion of what it means to serve the public that I don’t get it.” (Legislators offer tax credits for scholarships to private schools, KU Statehouse Wire Service via Hays Daily News)

Consider these circumstances:

(a) Parents feel that their children are not thriving in Smith’s public school, and
(b) parents find a private school that they feel will help their children, and
(c) taxpayer money for these students is diverted from Smith’s public school to private schools that are teaching the children.

Is the result of these activities a “perversion?” Isn’t the public also served when children are educated in private schools? And if the private schools do a better job than the public schools, hasn’t the public been delivered better service?

Smith may not realize that if private schools are not doing a good job, students are not forced to attend them. They can go to other schools, including the public schools. But students who are not doing well in Smith’s school don’t have many alternatives. Perhaps none.

The attitude expressed by Smith is a opportunity to recognize and understand the real issue in the debate over schools in Kansas: Which is more important — public schools (and unions, teachers, principals, administrators, superintendents, service employees, school architects, school construction companies) or Kansas schoolchildren?

David A. Smith knows the answer that best serves his interests.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Kansas newspapers against the children

apple-wormA Kansas newspaper editorial illustrates that for the establishment, schools — the institution of public schools, that is — are more important than students.

An unsigned editorial in the Garden City Telegram proclaimed “Another attempt to undermine public schools materialized last week in the Kansas Statehouse.” (Legislators turn to ALEC for poor plan on schools, March 25, 2014.)

What was in a bill that so worried the Telegram editorial writers? According to the op-ed, the dangerous provisions are “expansion of charter schools, overhaul of teacher licensing and tax breaks for private school scholarships.”

To the Telegram, these ideas are “radical” and would “undermine” public schools. These ideas are from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), purportedly funded by Charles and David Koch. To low-information newspaper editorialists, the source of an idea alone is sufficient evidence to condemn it. To buttress its argument, the Telegram mentions the Koch Brothers several times along with Americans for Prosperity, the tea party, and other “special interests.”

What’s curious is that the op-ed says “ALEC promotes concepts of free-market enterprise and limited government, which are worthy of discussion in legislative pursuits.” It’s good that the op-ed writers realize this. Very good.

But the next sentence criticizes ALEC’s “one-size-fits-all approach.” That’s a strange claim to make. The education reforms that ALEC supports — and the public school establishment hates — are centered around providing more choices for students and parents. The public schools that the Telegram defends are the “one-size-fits-all approach.” School choice programs foster diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurship in education. Government schools are the opposite.

Further, these school choice programs do not “target” public schools, as claimed in this op-ed. It is true that school choice programs provide competition for public schools. But to say that giving choices to parents and students is targeting public schools assumes a few things: First, it assumes that the institution of public schools is more important than Kansas schoolchildren.

Second, it assumes that public schools are somehow more worthy of taxpayer funds than are charter schools and private schools. But should taxpayer funds be spent where government school bureaucrats want, or where parents believe their children will get the best education?

Third, allowing and encouraging competition is not “targeting.” Proclaiming this reveals lack of understanding of economic competition in markets. In the jungle, the winners kill and eat the losers. But in markets, competition is a discovery process. Competition spurs people to innovate with new products, or become more efficient. As new products and services are discovered and refined through competition, the old products and services must adapt or fall by the wayside. But the old stuff doesn’t die, as do animals in the jungles. People and capital assets from failing enterprises are recycled into the new successful enterprises, and life goes on — except everything is better.

That’s the real problem. Kansas schools are not getting better. Editorials like this are part of the problem. It doesn’t help that the Wichita Eagle excerpted this editorial.

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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.

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After Gannon, will Kansas public school spending boosters still love courts and constitutions?

Will Kansas Progressives’ expressed love for courts and constitutions hold up in light of the school finance decision?

In January Paul Davis, a prominent Kansas Democrat and candidate for governor, tweeted “With the school ruling due any day now, will Brownback comply w/the court order or try & rewrite the KS constitution?” These words were followed by a link to Davis’ website that copies an article from the New York Times. (That article has its own host of problems, explained in New York Times on Kansas schools, again and More about the New York Times on Kansas school finance.)

paul-davis-tweet-comply-court-2014-01-12This mantra — that the Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to spend more on public schools — has been the drumbeat of Kansas Progressives. Their reverence for and deference to the Kansas Constitution is curious in light of their opinion of the United States Constitution.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in Gannon v. Kansas contains something that Kansas Progressives support: A ruling that Kansas schools are not funded equitably. It’s thought by many that $129 million in extra spending is needed to fix the discrepancy.

But the Supreme Court stopped there, sending the issue of adequate funding back to the lower court along with a few instructions. It’s these instructions that will test Kansas Progressives’ belief in the wisdom of courts and their reverence for the Kansas Constitution.

Kansas public school spending supporters — that right there gives away their main motivation — want more school spending. Whatever distortions of facts they make, well, it’s all for the kids, don’t you know?

So right away the public school spending supporters want to deflect attention away from the performance of Kansas schools. Spending is easier to talk about, and the facts about Kansas school performance is not nearly as pretty as the education establishment wants you to believe. Two things to know: When evaluated in the light of the demographic differences between Kansas and other states, the performance advantage of Kansas largely disappears (see Kansas school test scores must be evaluated considering demographics. Further, Kansas has weak standards for its schools, and further weakened them not long ago (see Why are Kansas school standards so low?).

Kansas Judicial Center
Kansas Judicial Center
The Court had something to say about this in its opinion: “Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education required by Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.” So perhaps we will see a court consider the results of Kansas schools rather than just the inputs.

Then, when we consider spending, the public school spending establishment performs a slight of hand, directing attention to only a portion of spending on schools: base state aid per pupil. That measure of spending has declined. But it’s a narrow measure. In the last school year base state aid per pupil was $3,838. That’s the figure often used as the level of school spending. But in that year total Kansas state spending per pupil $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid.

Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.

This is important, as the Court issued some instructions in its remanding of the case to the lower court. 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.”

Also, the public school spending establishment has argued that spending on teacher retirement shouldn’t be included in school spending. It doesn’t make it into the classroom, they say. (One wonders if teachers would continue to work if schools did not provide a retirement program.) But the Court has a different opinion: “Moreover, state monies invested in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) may also be a valid consideration because a stable retirement system is a factor in attracting and retaining quality educators — a key to providing an adequate education.”

The Court gave the public school spending establishment a little hope for relief. Often that establishment says that a multitude of rules and regulations prevent funds from being spent in the way they want. The Court said these restrictions may be considered: “The panel may consider the restrictions on the use of these federal, pension, and other funds and determine that even with the influx of these additional monies the school districts are unable to use them in the manner necessary to provide adequacy under Article 6. But regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.”

There again the Court issued the instruction regarding spending as a measure of an adequate education.

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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.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: For whose benefit are elections, school employment, wind power, unions, unemployment

Wichita City HallIn this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The controversy over the timing of city and school board elections provides an insight into government. Then: Can a candidate for governor’s claims about Kansas school employment be believed? Wind power is expensive electricity, very expensive. A Wichita auto dealer pushes back against union protests. Finally, what is the real rate of unemployment in America? Episode 36, broadcast March 23, 2014. View below, or click here to view at 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.

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

Rally for school choice in Kansas

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

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

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

Kansas Judicial Center

We can predict the loser in the Kansas school lawsuit

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

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

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

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

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

The focus on spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Kansas did after the last lawsuit

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

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The National Center for Education Statistics produces a report titled Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. (NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

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.

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Kansas school test scores must be evaluated considering demographics

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When comparing Kansas school test scores to those of other states, it’s important to consider disaggregated data. Otherwise, we may form an inaccurate and unfounded impression of Kansas schools.

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 by clicking here. 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. This data considers the state as a whole, and ignores important statistical considerations.

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? Or do they present Kansas NAEP test scores without considering the different makeup of the states?

Voice for Liberty radio logo for featured posts 01

Voice for Liberty Radio: Rally for school choice

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In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: This week children and parents rallied for school choice in the Kansas Capitol. This broadcast features two speakers. First is Derrell Bradford, who is Executive Director at Better Education for New Jersey Kids. The second speaker is Chiquita Coggs, who started a charter school in Kansas City, Kansas that had its charter withdrawn.

This is podcast episode number 12, released on February 16, 2014. Here’s selections from a rally for school choice at the Kansas Capitol, February 11, 2014.

Shownotes

Derrell Bradford, Better Education for Kids
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Moving Kansas Schools from Monopoly to Free Choice
Weak Charter School Law Works Against Taxpayers’ Interests

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Our Kansas grassroots teachers union

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas Capitol

Kansas school finance lawsuit deflects from issues that could help schoolchildren

Kansas Capitol

Regardless of which side wins the Kansas school finance lawsuit, we know who loses: Kansas schoolchildren.

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

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

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

The focus on spending

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

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

center-american-progress-false-promise-class-size-reduction

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

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

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

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

But Kansas ranks low in policies regarding teacher quality. The current lawsuit doesn’t address issues like teacher quality or other specific reforms that will actually help Kansas schoolchildren.

What Kansas did after the last lawsuit

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

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

The National Center for Education Statistics produces a report titled Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. (NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas Grade 4 Reading Standards

Kansas Grade 4 Math Standards 01

Kansas school spending, according to the Telegram

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Another Kansas newspaper editorial shows that when writing about Kansas school spending, facts are sometimes not observed.

The Garden City Telegram analyzed the recent State of the State address delivered by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. In an editorial, the newspaper wrote: “In his speech, Brownback mentioned the quest for ‘world-class education’ in Kansas. But during his time in office, he presided over the largest overall cut in public education funding in the state’s history.” (School daze, January 18, 2014)

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

Nearby is a chart of Kansas school spending (click it for a larger version). It’s adjusted for inflation. Spending is not as high as it was at its peak, but the newspaper’s claims of “largest overall cut” don’t match the facts. The Telegram editorial writers might also care to note who was governor when spending did decline.

Those who claim school spending has been cut or is inadequate usually cite only base state aid per pupil, which has fallen. But it’s only the starting point for all the other spending. In totality, spending on schools in Kansas is over three times the level of base state aid. Also, comparisons are often made to what the Kansas Supreme Court said base state aid should be to its actual value. But the court doesn’t know how much should be spent on schools.

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, schools 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.

These weightings are the reason why that while base state aid per pupil was $3,838 last year, total state aid per pupil was $6,984. Total state spending was 1.82 times base state aid.

Kansas school test scores, the subgroups

To understand Kansas school test scores, look at subgroups.

Kansans are proud of their public schools. The public school education establishment refers with pride to top-ten rankings among the states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

In his recent State of the State Address, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback made a similar claim, stating “According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, Kansas fourth graders are in one of the 10 best states for reading proficiency.”

naep-data-explorer-logo
If we’re going to rely on the NAEP test as evidence of the goodness of Kansas public schools, we should take a critical look at the scores. I’ve gathered NAEP test score data from the NAEP Data Explorer at the National Center for Education Statistics and made the data available in an interactive visualization.

competition-ranking-example
This visualization uses “competition” ranking in the way it handles ties. In this example, the first three states have the same score, so they are all ranked “1.” The next state is ranked “4.”

This means that the rank values will always reach to 50, except for instances where there is missing or incomplete data. Actually, this data set extends to rank 52, as it contains the District of Columbia and the national average. I’ve also rounded the reported scores to integer values.

To look at the governor’s claim: For all students in 2013, Kansas ranked 9 in grade 4 math, and 7 in grade 8 math. In reading, Kansas ranked 22 for grade 4, and 26 for grade 8. In his speech, the governor claimed Kansas was top 10 in reading. But it’s in math that Kansas students did that well. Reading scores are more toward the middle of the states.

The importance of subgroups

If we really want to gain understanding of how Kansas compares to other states on the NAEP, we need to take a look at subgroups of students, particularly subgroups based on race/ethnicity. The visualization of NAEP scores lets us do that.

naep-rankings-states-example-2014-01
Start with math for grade 4. We see these rankings for the major subgroups:
All students, 9
Black, 8
Hispanic, 11
White, 17

For math, grade 8:
All students, 7
Black, 10
Hispanic, 13
White, 14

For reading, grade 4:
All students, 22
Black, 20
Hispanic, 26
White, 19

For reading, grade 8:
All students, 26
Black, 24
Hispanic, 37
White, 33

Kansans should not be proud of some of these results. For grade 8 reading, the scores for Hispanic and White students rank lower than the national average.

Another dimension for creating subgroups is based on poverty. NAEP uses eligibility for the national school lunch program as a proxy for poverty. If a student is eligible for the lunch program, the student is considered to be poor.

Starting again with math grade 4, here are the rankings among the states for Kansas:
All students, 9
Eligible, 4
Not eligible, 12

For math, grade 8:
All students, 7
Eligible, 8
Not eligible, 6

For reading, grade 4:
All students, 22
Eligible, 20
Not eligible, 13

For reading, grade 8:
All students, 26
Eligible, 28
Not eligible, 15

Some of the grade 8 reading rankings are lower than the national average.

As you can see, sometimes Kansas ranks very well among the states. In other instances, Kansas ranks much lower, even below the national average. It’s important for Kansans — be they citizens, schoolchildren, parents, education professionals, or (especially) politicians of any party — to understand these scores. If we don’t, we risk failing to recognize both the good things about Kansas schools and the areas that need improvement. Especially for the latter case, it’s Kansas schoolchildren who will suffer if we are not honest.

There are two visualizations that you may use. Click here to open the visualization for race/ethnicity in a new window. Click here to open the visualization for national lunch program eligibility in a new window.

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

WichitaLiberty.TV January 19, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: How much would you pay to visit the Wichita Art Museum? You might be surprised to learn how much each visit really costs. Then: A transparency agenda for Wichita city government and the Kansas Legislature. Finally, a look at public schools wasting money. Episode 28, broadcast January 19, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Voice for Liberty Radio: Jeff Glendening, Americans for Prosperity

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150In this episode of WichitaLiberty Podcasts: The day after Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s State of the State Address, I talk with Jeff Glendening at the Kansas Capitol. He’s Kansas State Director for Americans for Prosperity.

Prior to joining AFP in 2013, Jeff most recently was vice president of political affairs with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, where he worked to expand the Chamber’s grassroots network, and to promote a pro-growth economic climate in Kansas. Aside from his work with the Kansas Chamber, Jeff has been involved in Kansas politics for a number of years, and has worked on the staffs of several members of legislative leadership, including Speaker of the House, House Majority Leader and Speaker Pro Tem. Jeff has also worked on gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and U.S. House campaigns.

This is podcast episode number 3, released on January 17, 2014.

Shownotes

Americans for Prosperity-Kansas
Americans for Prosperity, national site
Americans for Prosperity-Kansas statement on State of the State Address
State of the State address for 2014, by Sam Brownback
Response by House of Representatives Minority Leader Paul Davis

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.

Kansas school efficiency on display

apple-wormWhen you hear that Kansas schools have “cut to the bone,” or are operating at maximum efficiency, or have nowhere else to cut, or there’s no need to audit school district efficiency, think of this.

When Kansas governmental agencies receive requests for records, they must respond to the requester within three business days. Most often this response does not contain the requested records. Instead, it’s either a statement of how much the records will cost, or a denial of the request.

Every agency I have dealt with — federal, state, city, county — has sent this response by email.

That is, except for USD 259, the Wichita public school district.

wichita-school-district-envelope-records-request-example

The Wichita public school district sends the response in the form of a printed letter, mailed using United States Postal Service Priority Mail at a cost of $5.05 for postage. That’s in addition to the cost of preparing a printed letter. This has happened to me several times.

Every governmental agency I have encountered, except for the Wichita Public School district, is content to use email to respond to records requests, at a very low cost.

Within a budget of over $600 million, five dollars isn’t much. Except: This pattern of wasting money on postage must be repeated many times each year.

So when you hear that Kansas schools are grossly underfunded, or that teachers have to spend their personal funds to buy classroom supplies, ask yourself this: “Why does the Wichita public school district spend $5.05 in postage to send something that everyone else sends by email?”

Kansas schoolchildren shortchanged by Kansas City Star

kansas-city-star-opinion

Another newspaper editorialist ignores the facts about Kansas schools. This is starting to be routine.

In a collection of toasts and roasts, Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose criticizes Kansas Governor Sam Brownback on a variety of fronts, especially on school funding:

A ROAST to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who led the charge for the most radical and irresponsible tax cuts in the history of Kansas and, perhaps, the entire country. One of the unfortunate victims of these cuts is education, both K-12 and higher education. The damage will be gradual, but it will be felt to be sure. Brownback says he is investing in more jobs. But he is dis-investing in education. What could be more vital to the Kansas economy and attracting businesses than a high quality educational system? (Roasts and toasts suitable for the new year, January 11, 2014)

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

Dis-investing in education.: Nearby is a chart of Kansas school spending. It’s adjusted for inflation. Spending is not as high as it was at its peak, but claims of “slashing” or “dis-investing” don’t apply, either.

Those who claim school spending is inadequate usually cite only base state aid per pupil, which has fallen. But it’s only the starting point for all the other spending. In totality, spending on schools in Kansas is over three times the level of base state aid. Also, comparisons are often made to what the Kansas Supreme Court said base state aid should be to its actual value. But the court doesn’t know how much should be spent on schools.

Those who make claims of cutting schools should note this: Considering the entire state, two trends have emerged. For the past two years, the number of teachers employed in Kansas public schools has risen. Correspondingly, the student-teacher ratio has fallen. The trend for certified employees is a year behind that of teachers, but for the last year, the number of certified employees has risen, and the ratio to pupils has fallen.

Kansas school employment

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

Kansas school employment ratios

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

What could be more vital to the Kansas economy and attracting businesses than a high quality educational system? Rose is right. Good schools are vital to our future. If only Kansas had them.

The focus on school spending — that’s all writers like Rose write about — keeps attention away from some unfortunate and unpleasant facts about Kansas schools. Kansas needs to confront these facts for the sake of Kansas schoolchildren. Editorials like this are very harmful to Kansas schoolchildren, because if spending is increased, not much is likely to improve, but the public school establishment and editorialists like Steve Rose will say that everything that’s wrong has been fixed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a question for you: Have you heard Kansas school leaders talk about this? Do Steve Rose and the Kansas City Star editorial board know this?

New York Times on Kansas schools, again

new-york-times-logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas school employment

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

Kansas school employment ratios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas education topic on ‘This Week in Kansas’

school-homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample conclusions of this analysis for Kansas include:

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

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

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

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

LOB property tax increase already in effect

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

WichitaLiberty.TV December 29, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV.20

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Are Kansas school leaders being honest with schoolchildren and parents regarding Kansas school test scores? Then: Walter Williams on greed. Finally: Do we have too many laws? A look at the problem of overcriminalization. Episode 24, broadcast December 29, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.