Talking about Wichita school funding this week, district superintendent John Allison was quoted in Wichita Eagle reporting as saying “We’re still at 2001 funding levels.” This claim is part of an ongoing campaign of misinformation spread by school spending advocates in Wichita and across Kansas.
Mr. Allison may have been referring to a component of the Kansas school finance formula called base state aid per pupil. It has been cut, as shown in this chart that the Kansas school spending establishment uses.
But base state aid is only the starting point. When we look closely at all spending by USD 259, the Wichita public school district, we see a picture vastly different from that described by the Wichita superintendent.
Considering all sources of funding, the Wichita school district has been able to spend more money each year for many years, despite the claims of cuts. What cuts have been made to base state aid per pupil have been more than compensated for by weighted state aid, federal aid, and local aid, as shown in the following chart.
Focusing on base state aid misses the larger picture. As an example, for the 2010-2011 school year, base state aid was $3,937. Yet the Wichita school district received $7,092 per pupil from the state, 80 percent more than the base aid number. Focusing only on base state aid per pupil also fails to recognize the federal and local sources of revenue to schools. For this year the Wichita district received $2,123 per pupil from the federal government and $3,855 per pupil from local taxpayers, for a total of $13,069 per pupil. The same figure for the previous year was $12,526.
There are also other issues to consider when analyzing Kansas base state aid per pupil spending. Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute wrote this is response to Allison’s statement:
Superintendents sometimes talk about base state aid as though it was total aid, so let’s take a look at those facts. Kansas State Department of Education broke out the components of state aid back to 1997, when total state aid was $4,047 per pupil (base was $3,670, KPERS was $157, bond was $42 and all other aid was $178). Back in the days before a lot of weightings were added/expanded, districts had to cover At Risk and other weighting-funding costs out of the base.
State aid in 2012 was estimated by KSDE to be $6,931 per-pupil … base was $3,780 … KPERS was $804 … bond was $230 … and all other aid was $2,116. More than a ten-fold increase in other state aid, most of which is in those weightings that formerly had to come out of the base.
By the way, KSDE says 2012 was estimated to be a record-setting spending year.
More information about the changing nature of base state aid is at Base state aid is wrong focus for Kansas school spending.
Why do school spending supporters focus only on base state aid? Its decline provides the grain of truth for their larger and false argument about school spending. As explained in Kansas school spending: the deception this grain of truth enables school spending advocates like Mark Desetti (Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union) to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.
We ought to demand more truth from school districts and school officials regarding school finance.