Kansas school spending, or concern for students?

From Kansas Policy Institute.

“Game On” group ignores facts in pursuit of institutional interests

game-on-kansas-schools-logoA Kansan’s letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal is a good example of what is really wrong with Kansas’ schools — false and misleading information is used to prioritize institutional wants over student needs.

Game On For Kansas Schools’ Executive Director Judith Deedy’e claim that “…overall increases in school funding in our state have largely been for makeup payments for an underfunded employees retirement program and bond and interest payments for capital expenditures” is simply not true. Spending on the retirement program has increased, but most of the increase is for the current portion of employee benefits rather than paying down unfunded liabilities. Still, even if one subtracts pension, bond and interest payments, the legislature’s full provision for finance increased each of the last three years and total taxpayer support continues to set new records.

She says operating budgets are down, while ignoring that operating (total less capital and debt) spending continues to rise– and set a new record in 2013. Budgets are just plans to spend more money. Government and institutional interests prefer to talk about their plans to spend more money rather than actual spending.

Local school boards and administrators may be making decisions with which parents and teachers disagree on the hiring of teachers or money available for supplies, but here are the facts. Districts used $430 million of taxpayer money to increase their operating cash reserves since 2005; that means they aren’t even spending all of the money they receive! Districts may have chosen to lay off some teachers, but classroom teacher employment is still growing faster than enrollment. Enrollment increased 3.8% since 2005, classroom teachers increased 4.5% but non-teacher employment increased 11.5%. (FYI, hiring more employees causes pension costs to rise.)

Ms. Deedy and other institutional interests also refuse to acknowledge that no school funding study has ever taken efficient use of taxpayer money into account. She claims funding levels were established by a study funded by the Legislature while ignoring that those numbers are deliberately inflated. As we explained in “Student Focused Funding Solutions for Public Education,” not a single funding decision in the courts or the legislature has been based on efficient use of taxpayer money.

Their explanation of student achievement is also misleading. The truth is that Kansas has a two-tiered education system. About half the students are doing pretty well but the other half — those considered economically disadvantaged — are not improving and are several years’ worth of learning behind. Results from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that only 22% of low income 4th graders (based on eligibility for free or reduced lunch) are Proficient in Reading, while 54% of those who are not low income are Proficient.

And despite a seven-fold increase in aid intended to close achievement gaps for low income students, their NAEP scores are flat while the achievement gap is getting wider.

There are viable solutions for these problems but Kansas needs a major culture shift first. Student needs, not institutional “wants,” must be the focus of every decision.


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