(This article has been revised to reflect a data entry error.)
New figures from the Kansas State Department of Education show that spending on public schools in Kansas is rising in actual dollars, and holding steady in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The nearby table presents Kansas school spending figures for recent years. Figures are adjusted for inflation by the consumer price index (CPI), using 2013 as the base year. Charts appear at the end of this article.
Note that base state aid per pupil, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was during the previous decade. Total Kansas state spending on schools, however, has recovered to the same level as 2007.
Total state aid per pupil this past school year was $6,984. Base state aid per pupil was $3,838. Total state spending, therefore, was 1.82 times base state aid.
It’s important to consider the totality of spending and not just base state aid. It’s important because total spending is so much greater than base state aid. Also, total spending accounts for some of the difficulties and expenses that schools cite when asking for higher spending.
For example, advocates for higher school spending often point to non-English speaking students and at-risk students as being expensive to educate. In recognition of this, the Kansas school finance formula makes allowances for this. According to the Kansas Legislator Briefing Book for 2013, the weighting for “full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs” is 0.395. This means that for each such student a school district has, an additional 39.5 percent over base state aid is given to the district.
For at-risk pupils, the weighting is 0.456. At risk students, according to the briefing book, “are determined on the basis of at-risk factors determined by the school district board of education and not by virtue of eligibility for free meals.”
Taken together, bilingual students considered to be at-risk generate an additional 85.1 percent of base state aid to be sent to the district, per student.
Base state aid should not be focus
The decline in base state aid per pupil is a convenient fact for public school spending boosters. They can use a statistic that contains a grain of truth in order to whip up concern over inadequate school spending. They can cite this as an argument for increasing spending, even though spending has been rising.
(By the way, when citizens in Kansas and across the nation are asked questions about school spending, we learn they are totally uninformed. Even worse, several recent candidates for the Wichita school board were similarly uninformed. See Wichita school board candidates on spending.)
Further, citing only base state aid reduces “sticker shock.” Most people are surprised to learn that our schools spend $12,781 per student. It’s much easier to tell taxpayers that only $3,838 was spent. But that’s not a complete picture, not by far.
Also, it’s important to realize that the nature of Kansas school funding has changed in a way that makes base state aid per pupil less important as a measure of school spending. See Base state aid is wrong focus for Kansas school spending.