Kansas school test scores haven’t declined, despite early reports

In the wake of news stories reporting a decline in scores on Kansas school assessment tests, a decline in school funding is said to be the cause, as “funding was reduced to the 1992 level,” according to an op-ed penned by Karen Godfrey. She is president of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union.

In her op-ed, titled “Why is this a surprise?” Godfrey makes several claims that deserve examination before Kansas considers implementing the fix she wants, which is, as always, more spending.

First, there are mistakes in the scores released in September. The revised scores, according to a press release from the Kansas State Department of Education, “show a leveling out of performance on reading and math assessments.” Not the “slight decline,” as a previous press release stated.

So those who claim a reduction in funding caused a drop in test scores are operating on a false premise. It may have been unknowing, but it conveniently fit their narrative that more spending is needed.

What’s troubling is this: Godfrey, in her article, can hardly contain her glee in the apparent finding that with declining funding, there were declining test scores. Therefore, there is the proof that the teachers union and school spending establishment needs: Spending less money equals lower achievement, and vice versa.

Instead, we should be relieved that the test scores are not as bad as first believed.

Godfrey also claims that school funding is back to the 1992 level, after accounting for inflation. Like most of the school spending establishment, this argument is based on only a small portion of state spending: base state aid per pupil. This figure has gone down. But at the same time, overall school spending has increased.

Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, and overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.

It is a happy accident for the Kansas school spending establishment that base state aid per pupil has fallen at the same time that overall spending on schools has increased in almost every year. It allows the school spending lobby to make an argument that is superficially true, but deceptive at the same time.

Base state aid compared to Kansas state spending and total spending. State and total spending has risen even though base state aid is mostly flat.

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