Explaining the Kansas budget, in a way

A video explaining the Kansas budget is accurate in many aspects, but portrays a false and harmful myth regarding school spending.

A popular video explaining the Kansas budget deserves scrutiny for some of the data presented. The video is available at the Facebook page of Loud Light.

The presentation makes a few good points. For example, the video is correct in that the sales tax is a regressive tax, affecting low-income households in greater proportion. During the capaign for a Wichita city sales tax in 2014 I analyzed Census Bureau data and found that the lowest income class of families experience an increase nearly four times the magnitude as do the highest income families, as a percentage of after-tax income.1 2

The video also rightly notes that Kansas is now, and it has in the past under other legislatures and governors, inadequately funding KPERS, the state employee pension plan.

Interestingly, the video praises Kansas for its early adoption of “progressive economics.” I think the narrator meant “progressive taxation,” as the video shows Kansas adopting an income tax in 1933. How has that worked for Kansas? There are a variety of ways to look at the progress of Kansas compared to the nation, but here’s a startling fact: For the 73rd Congress (1933 to 1935) Kansas had seven members in the U.S. House of Representatives. (It had eight in the previous session.) Today Kansas has four members, and may be on the verge of losing one after the next census. This is an indication of the growth of Kansas in comparison to the nation.

Kansas Department of Transportation Funding, partial. Click for larger.
The narrator states, “Kansas Department of Transportation is mostly funded by restricted revenue like fuel tax.” This was true at one time. But starting in 2011 KDOT has received more funding from sales tax than motor fuel tax.3 The gap is getting wider, as can be seen in the nearby chart. (By the way, there are proposals to increase the motor fuel tax. This tax is just like the sales tax, affecting low-income households greatest.)

School spending

The greatest problem in this video is its explanation of state spending on K through 12 schools. This is important, as the video correctly notes that this spending is half of the general fund budget. In introducing this section, the narrator notes “budget report gamesmanship that’s created a rhetorical paradox,” conceding it is “technically” true that education spending is at record levels.

The video then shows a chart titled “State Aid Per Pupil.” The chart starts with a value a little over $6,000 in 1993, declining to about $4,000 in 2013, then staying at that level. The citation is “Governor’s Budget Report” from the Kansas Division of Budget, and at the end of the video there is the explanation, “All financial data in this video is inflation adjusted to January 2017.”

A more accurate title for the chart is “Base State Aid Per Pupil.” That’s the actual name for the component of school spending that the video displays. This is important because base state aid is only the starting point for determining spending. Actual state aid to schools is much higher.

Kansas school spending, showing base state aid and total state aid. See article for notes about 2015. Click for larger.
Base state aid per pupil — the statistic the video presents — is an important number.4 It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula used before the 2015-2016 (fiscal 2016) school year, and something like it may be used in a new formula. 5

Base state aid, however, is not the only important number. To calculate the funding a school district receives, weightings are added. If students fall into certain categories, weightings for that category are added to determine a weighted enrollment. That is multiplied by base state aid to determine total state aid to the district. 6

While this may seem like a technical discussion that doesn’t make a difference, it’s very important. Some of the weightings are large and have increased by large amounts. The at-risk weighting, intended to cover the additional costs of teaching students from low-income families, started at five percent in 1993. In other words, for every student in this category, a school district received an extra five percent of base state aid. The value of this weighting has risen by a factor of nine, reaching 45.6 percent starting with the 2008-2009 school year.7

So in the nearby chart that I prepared using data adjusted for inflation in 2016, we see base state aid per pupil on a downward trend, just as the video shows. But I also plotted total state aid per pupil, which includes weightings. This number is on a mostly upward trend.

Kansas school spending, showing ratio of total state aid to base state aid. See article for notes about 2015. Click for larger.
Kansas school spending. See article for notes about 2015. Click for larger.
The weightings have a large effect on school funding. For example: During the 2004-2005 school year, base state aid was $3,863 and the at-risk weighting was ten percent. An at-risk student, therefore, generated $4,249 in state funding. (Other weightings might also apply.)

Ten years later base state aid was $3,852 — almost exactly the same — and the at-risk weighting was up to 45.6 percent. This generates funding of $5,609. For a district that qualified for the maximum high-density at-risk weighting, an additional $404 in funding was generated. (These numbers are not adjusted for inflation.)

So even though base state aid remained (almost) unchanged, funding targeted at certain students rose, and by a large amount.

Over time, values for the various weightings grew until by 2014 they added 85 percent to base state aid. A nearby chart shows the growth of total state aid as compared to base state aid. (Starting in fiscal 2015 the state changed the way local tax dollars are counted. That accounts for the large rise for the last year of data in the chart. For school years 2016 and 2017, block grants have replaced the funding formula, so base aid and weightings do not apply in the same way.)

All this determines state aid to schools only. There is also local aid and federal aid.

The questions Kansans should ask are these: Why doesn’t this video explain that “base state aid per pupil” is not the same as “state aid per pupil?” And why not explain that total state aid per pupil is much higher than base state aid, and has been rising over the long term?


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita sales tax hike would hit low income families hardest. Analysis of household expenditure data shows that a proposed sales tax in Wichita affects low income families in greatest proportion, confirming the regressive nature of sales taxes. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-sales-tax-hike-hit-low-income-families-hardest/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Kansas sales tax has disproportionate harmful effects. Kansas legislative and executive leaders must realize that a shift to consumption taxes must be accompanied by relief from its disproportionate harm to low-income households. https://wichitaliberty.org/taxation/kansas-sales-tax-has-disproportionate-harmful-effects/.
  3. Kansas Department of Transportation. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2016.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school weightings and effects on state aid. In making the case for more Kansas school spending, the focus on base state aid per pupil leaves out important considerations. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-weightings-and-effects-on-state-aid/.
  5. For the fiscal 2016 and 2017 school years, the formula was replaced by block grants.
  6. Amendments to the 1992 School District Finance And Quality Performance Act and the 1992 School District Capital Improvements State Aid Program (Finance Formula Components), Kansas Legislative Research Department, May 20, 2014
    http://ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/amends_to_sdfandqpa_2015.pdf
  7. There’s also the high-density at-risk weighting. Starting with the 2006-2007 school year districts with a high concentration of at-risk students could receive an extra weighting of four percent or eight percent. Two years later the weightings were raised to six percent and ten percent. (This formula was revised again in 2012 in a way that may have slightly increased the weightings.)

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