Again, citizens are uninformed on school spending

As has been shown in the past in Kansas and across the country, citizens are grossly uninformed about the amount of money public schools spend.

The August issue of East Wichita News features a story about John Allison, superintendent of USD 259, the Wichita public school district.

As part of the article, a reporter asked Wichitans how much they though the district spent per student per year. The numbers that the school district supplied are calculated differently from what is commonly seen, but in round numbers, the amount spent per student per year is $12,000.

Judging from the citizen responses printed in the story, many people had no idea that schools spent that much.

Those who have been paying attention will not be surprised at this result. Earlier this year the Kansas Policy Institute commissioned a survey that showed just how uninformed Kansans are about school funding.

In that poll, most people underestimated school spending by a huge margin. A large majority also thought that school funding had been decreasing over the last five years, even though it had increased.

Surprisingly, that study found that those with children in the public school system are even more likely to be uninformed regarding accurate figures. More details are at Kansas citizens lack knowledge about school spending.

At the national level, Is the Price Right? Probing American’s knowledge of school spending, a 2007 survey project produced by EducationNext, a project of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, found similar results. In its conclusion, it stated:

In sum, Americans think that far less is being spent on the nation’s public schools than is actually the case. The vast majority of the public thinks we spend amounts that can only be described as minuscule, and almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states. … At this point, though, one matter seems certain: whatever motivates people’s concerns about school finance, it is not sound information about what is actually being spent.

Most people realize the importance of education and want schools and schoolchildren to succeed. They’re even willing to spend a lot of money, as indicated by some of the responses East Wichita News recorded:

“That is fine if we get a good education for our children.”

“I’m not sure, but if it takes $12,000 per student it is worth the money. If you think education is expensive, try estimating the cost of stupidity.”

“Possibly that’s not enough considering all the talk I hear about having to cut programs and teachers.”

The problem, however, is that schools in Wichita, in Kansas, and across the country are doing poorly. Anecdotally, people know this. I had the experience last week where three employees of a grocery store — including the shift supervisor — could not make change for a purchase without using a calculator. Employers tell us that many applicants for jobs can’t read well enough to follow simple instructions.

But at the same time, school systems and newspapers tell us that all is well: We have rapidly rising scores on tests developed and administered by the state.

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

Looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a test which Kansas school officials don’t control, we see that scores for Kansas are largely flat. Sometimes they rise slowly and sometimes they fall. But they don’t show the trend that Kansas school spending advocates trumpet as evidence of the greatness of Kansas schools, and as proof that the increased spending ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court has paid off.

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

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

The NAEP score trends and the ACT college readiness results are evidence that the Kansas school bureaucracy is unwilling to confront the reality of the performance of public schools.


6 thoughts on “Again, citizens are uninformed on school spending”

  1. $12k per pupil per year means it costs approximately $156,000 for K-12 spending at the moment. This is about average for most KS government school districts. If the activist Kansas Supreme Court and government school lobbyists continue to succeed in raising state school spending, this number will continue to grow.

    Yet the drop out problem continues. Bob does a great job in identifying the low functional literacy/numeracy skills for recent graduates. The state and local units (look at the local area technical college and surrounding county’s community colleges) that spend tens of millions more in tax funds.

    A government monopoly that is largely controlled by the politically omnipotent teachers unions is a prescription for high and growing costs, low performance, low accountability, and high levels of student and parental frustration–but the union pac $ keep going to the politicians who make sure that educational choice does not happen. The person who asked about the cost of stupidity without the government schoool process must not be paying much attention to test scores. We are lucky to have the test scores which I will admit is an imperfect form of performance measurement. Sadly, these tests are the only real measurement tool available in the govenrment monopoly system in Kansas k-12.

  2. It’s sad that people don’t understand how much money we could save taxpayers (ourselves) and how much better educated their children could be if only we would phase in vouchers or tax credits AND improve our charter school law in KS. In Wichita, I believe the Cadillac of private K-12 costs about $12K per year (high school tuition; lower grades are probably a bit less). But then, of course, the education establishment couldn’t indoctrinate our children into the America-is-a-bad-country way of thinking. As education goes, so goes the country; and as we all know, the country isn’t doing so well.

  3. If only the taxpayers would pay attention to where the tax money for schools is going. It is not going as much to teachers and other support personnel; it is going to high-paid school administrators. Southeast H.S. has a principal and 4 asst. principals. These asst. principals are for each class and follow that class until they graduate. Then they also have counselors.

  4. When the government controlled school system turns out graduates who don’t enen understand how much they don’t know, including that they don’t know they can’t read, write, and accomplish basic mathematics, you might wonder if that is intentional,

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