Tag Archives: Charter schools

Accountability in Kansas public schools

Critics of school choice say there is no accountability outside the traditional public schools. Here are the standards Kansas used to hold its schools accountable.

Are non-traditional public schools held properly accountable? Do charter schools and private schools escape the accountability standards states use for their traditional public schools, particularly in Kansas?

A standard argument against school choice is that charter schools and private schools are not held accountable. Underlying this argument is the assumption that parents have neither the time nor technical expertise to properly evaluate the schools their children attend. Only those with special training can do this, goes the argument.

This argument is troubling because it is often directed at parents of minority children, or parents who are from low-income households, or parents who may not be highly educated. Besides being elitist and bigoted, it doesn’t recognize the poor job that Kansas state education officials have done holding public schools accountable. Fortunately, Kansas school officials have corrected this, but it doesn’t make up for the years that Kansas purposefully used low standards to evaluate students, and told us students were doing well.

The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states. Click for larger.
For years Kansas schools have used low standards to evaluate students. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. Worse than that, during the 2005 to 2009 time period, Kansas actually weakened its standards.1 Coincidentally, this was during the time that Kansas courts ordered more spending in Kansas schools, and the legislature generally complied.

The new Kansas standards, however, are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren.

This is the finding of the EducationNext report After Common Core, States Set Rigorous Standards.2 EducationNext is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.

The report compares the proportion of students considered “proficient” on states’ own exams with that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” The EducationNext report explains:

Data from both the NAEP and state tests allow for periodic assessments of the rigor of each state’s proficiency standards. If the percentage of students identified as proficient in any given year is essentially the same for both the NAEP and the state exams, we can infer that the state has established as strict a proficiency standard as that of the NAEP. But if the state identifies a higher percentage of students as proficient than the NAEP, we can conclude that the state has set its proficiency bar lower than that of the NAEP.

From 2003 to 2013 the Kansas standards were weak, earning letter grades ranging from “C” to “D” in the EducationNext reports. In another similar study, the Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales series from National Center for Education Statistics, Kansas standards were also found to be low compared to other states. NCES is part of the United States Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. It has not yet examined the 2015 NAEP and state exam scores.

Now, after comparing Kansas state assessments to the 2015 NAEP exam, Kansas earns a grade of “A” from EducationNext for the strength of its standards.

This grade of “A” does not reflect the performance of Kansas schoolchildren on tests. Instead, it means that the state has raised the definition of proficient to a higher level. A presentation by Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explains the relationship of the new standards to the former:

The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards. The Mathematics test is more demanding than even the ACT and taken a year earlier. The assessment is also more demanding than the NAEP assessment. Kansas takes seriously the current issues of college dropout and remediation rates and feels higher standards are necessary to help remedy the problem.3 4

Kansas is not alone in making a change, according to the EducationNext report:

The results are striking: The last two years have witnessed the largest jump in state standards since they were established as part of the federal accountability program. Overall, 36 states have strengthened their standards since 2013, while just 5 have loosened them, and 7 have left their standards essentially unchanged.

This is a refreshing change for Kansas. It means that after many years of evaluating students with weak standards and low expectations, Kansas now has reasonable standards.

But who do we hold accountable for the years of having low standards and further weakening them, while at the same time telling us Kansas students were performing well on tests?


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Kansas has lowered its school standards. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-has-lowered-its-school-standards/.
  2. http://educationnext.org/after-common-core-states-set-rigorous-standards/.
  3. Kansas State Department of Education. Cut Scores for the Kansas Assessment Program. Archived at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MdTJhRVBEeEg3NTA/view.
  4. Also, see Kansas State Department of Education, Office of the Commissioner. Kansas College and Career Academic Readiness Asessment. http://www.ksde.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=KCpy0dXYuzc%3D&tabid=561&portalid=0&mid=3121.

Year in Review: 2016

Here are highlights from Voice for Liberty for 2016. Was it a good year for the principles of individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas?

Also be sure to view the programs on WichitaLiberty.TV for guests like journalist, novelist, and blogger Bud Norman; Radio talk show host Joseph Ashby; David Bobb, President of Bill of Rights Institute; Heritage Foundation trade expert Bryan Riley; Radio talk show host Andy Hooser; Keen Umbehr; John Chisholm on entrepreneurship; James Rosebush, author of “True Reagan,” Jonathan Williams of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Gidget Southway, or Danedri Herbert; Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education; and Congressman Mike Pompeo.

January

Kansas legislative resources. Citizens who want to be informed of the happenings of the Kansas Legislature have these resources available.

School choice in Kansas: The haves and have-nots. Kansas non-profit executives work to deny low-income families the school choice opportunities that executive salaries can afford.

Kansas efficiency study released. An interim version of a report presents possibilities of saving the state $2 billion over five years.

Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly. Wichita Eagle Publisher Roy Heatherly spoke to the Wichita Pachyderm Club on January 15, 2016. This is an audio presentation.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states. Kansas ranks near the top of the states in having a low pupil-teacher ratio.

Kansas highway conditions. Has continually “robbing the bank of KDOT” harmed Kansas highways?

Property rights in Wichita: Your roof. The Wichita City Council will attempt to settle a dispute concerning whether a new roof should be allowed to have a vertical appearance rather than the horizontal appearance of the old.

Must it be public schools? A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association exposes the attitudes of the Kansas public school establishment.

Kansas schools and other states. A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association makes claims about Kansas public schools that aren’t factual.

After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. In a refreshing change, Kansas schools have adopted realistic standards for students, but only after many years of evaluating students using low standards.

Brownback and Obama stimulus plans. There are useful lessons we can learn from the criticism of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, including how easy it is to ignore inconvenient lessons of history.

February

Spending and taxing in Kansas. Difficulty balancing the Kansas budget is different from, and has not caused, widespread spending cuts.

In Sedgwick County, choosing your own benchmarks. The Sedgwick County Commission makes a bid for accountability with an economic development agency, but will likely fall short of anything meaningful.

This is why we must eliminate defined-benefit public pensions. Actions considered by the Kansas Legislature demonstrate — again — that governments are not capable of managing defined-benefit pension plans.

Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. The economic details of a semi-secret sale of bonds by the State of Kansas are worse than what’s been reported.

Massage business regulations likely to be ineffective, but will be onerous. The Wichita City Council is likely to create a new regulatory regime for massage businesses in response to a problem that is already addressed by strict laws.

Inspector General evaluates Obamacare website. The HHS Inspector General has released an evaluation of the Obamacare website HealthCare.gov, shedding light on the performance of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Kansas highway spending. An op-ed by an advocate for more highway spending in Kansas needs context and correction.

Brookings Metro Monitor and Wichita. A research project by The Brookings Institution illustrates the poor performance of the Wichita-area economy.

March

Wichita: A conversation for a positive community and city agenda. Wichita City Manager Robert Layton held a discussion titled “What are Wichita’s Strengths and Weaknesses: A Conversation for a Positive Community and City Agenda” at the February 26, 2016 luncheon of the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

In Kansas, teachers unions should stand for retention. A bill requiring teachers unions to stand for retention elections each year would be good for teachers, students, and taxpayers.

In Kansas, doctors may “learn” just by doing their jobs. A proposed bill in Kansas should make us question the rationale of continuing medical education requirements for physicians.

Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded. A bill working its way through the Kansas Legislature will give cities additional means to seize property.

Wichita TIF district disbands; taxpayers on the hook. A real estate development in College Hill was not successful. What does this mean for city taxpayers?

Kansas and Colorado, compared. News that a Wichita-based company is moving to Colorado sparked a round of Kansas-bashing, most not based on facts.

In Wichita, the phased approach to water supply can save a bundle. In 2014 the City of Wichita recommended voters spend $250 million on a new water supply. But since voters rejected the tax to support that spending, the cost of providing adequate water has dropped, and dropped a lot.

Wichita Eagle, where are you? The state’s largest newspaper has no good reason to avoid reporting and editorializing on an important issue. But that’s what the Wichita Eagle has done.

April

Wichita on verge of new regulatory regime. The Wichita City Council is likely to create a new regulatory regime for massage businesses in response to a problem that is already addressed by strict laws.

Wichita economic development and capacity. An expansion fueled by incentives is welcome, but illustrates a larger problem with Wichita-area economic development.

Rich States, Poor States, 2106 edition. In Rich States, Poor States, Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance, and fell sharply in the forward-looking forecast.

In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. Reaction to the veto of a bill in Kansas reveals the instincts of many government officials, which is to grab more power whenever possible.

‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ … oops! An event in Wichita that made national headlines has so far turned out to be not the story news media enthusiastically promoted.

Wichita doesn’t have this. A small Kansas city provides an example of what Wichita should do.

Kansas continues to snub school choice reform that helps the most vulnerable schoolchildren. Charter schools benefit minority and poor children, yet Kansas does not leverage their benefits, despite having a pressing need to boost the prospects of these children.

Wichita property tax rate: Up again. The City of Wichita says it hasn’t raised its property mill levy in many years. But data shows the mill levy has risen, and its use has shifted from debt service to current consumption.

AFP Foundation wins a battle for free speech for everyone. Americans for Prosperity Foundation achieves a victory for free speech and free association.

Kansas Center for Economic Growth. Kansas Center for Economic Growth, often cited as an authority by Kansas news media and politicians, is not the independent and unbiased source it claims to be.

Under Goossen, Left’s favorite expert, Kansas was admonished by Securities and Exchange Commission. The State of Kansas was ordered to take remedial action to correct material omissions in the state’s financial statements prepared under the leadership of Duane Goossen.

May

Spirit Aerosystems tax relief. Wichita’s largest employer asks to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

Wichita mayor’s counterfactual op-ed. Wichita’s mayor pens an op-ed that is counter to facts that he knows, or should know.

Electioneering in Kansas?. An op-ed written under the banner of a non-profit organization appears to violate the ban on electioneering.

Wichita city council campaign finance reform. Some citizen activists and Wichita city council members believe that a single $500 campaign contribution from a corporation has a corrupting influence. But stacking dozens of the same $500 contributions from executives and spouses of the same corporation? Not a problem.

In Wichita, more sales tax hypocrisy. Another Wichita company that paid to persuade you to vote for higher taxes now seeks to avoid paying those taxes.

Wichita student/teacher ratios. Despite years of purported budget cuts, the Wichita public school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios.

June

KPERS payments and Kansas schools. There is a claim that a recent change in the handling of KPERS payments falsely inflates school spending. The Kansas State Department of Education says otherwise.

Regulation in Wichita, a ‘labyrinth of city processes’. Wichita offers special regulatory treatment for special circumstances, widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

They really are government schools. What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”

July

Kansas City Star as critic, or apologist. An editorial in the Kansas City Star criticizes a Kansas free-market think tank.

State and local government employee and payroll. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

Kansas government ‘hollowed-out’. Considering all state and local government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many, compared to other states, and especially so in education.

In Wichita, Meitzner, Clendenin sow seeds of distrust. Comments by two Wichita city council members give citizens more reasons to be cynical and distrusting of politicians.

David Dennis, gleeful regulatory revisionist. David Dennis, candidate for Sedgwick County Commission, rewrites his history of service on the Kansas State Board of Education.

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning. Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.

Roger Marshall campaign setting new standards. Attacks on Tim Huelskamp reveal the worst in political campaigning.

Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce on the campaign trail. We want to believe that The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and its PAC are a force for good. Why does the PAC need to be deceptive and untruthful?

August

Which Kansas Governor made these proposals?. Cutting spending for higher education, holding K through 12 public school spending steady, sweeping highway money to the general fund, reducing aid to local governments, spending down state reserves, and a huge projected budget gap. Who and when is the following newspaper report referencing?

Wichita Business Journal editorial missed the news on the Wichita economy. A Wichita business newspaper’s editorial ignores the history of our local economy. Even the history that it reported in its own pages.

Sedgwick County Health Department: Services provided. Sedgwick County government trimmed spending on health. What has been the result so far?

School staffing and students. Trends for the nation and each state in teachers, administrators, and students, presented in an interactive visualization.

Intrust Bank Arena loss for 2015 is $4.1 million. The depreciation expense of Intrust Bank Arena in downtown Wichita recognizes and accounts for the sacrifices of the people of Sedgwick County and its visitors to pay for the arena.

School spending in the states. School spending in the states, presented in an interactive visualization.

September

Kansas construction employment. Tip to the Wichita Eagle editorial board: When a lobbying group feeds you statistics, try to learn what they really mean.

Wichita has no city sales tax, except for these. There is no Wichita city retail sales tax, but the city collects tax revenue from citizens when they buy utilities, just like a sales tax.

CID and other incentives approved in downtown Wichita. The Wichita City Council approves economic development incentives, but citizens should not be proud of the discussion and deliberation.

Cost per visitor to Wichita cultural attractions. Wichitans might be surprised to learn the cost of cultural attractions.

GetTheFactsKansas launched. From Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a new website with facts about the Kansas budget, economy, and schools.

The nation’s report card and charter schools.
* An interactive table of NAEP scores for the states and races, broken down by charter school and traditional public school.
* Some states have few or no charter schools.
* In many states, minority students perform better on the NAEP test when in charter schools.

School choice and funding. Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm traditional public schools, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.

October

Public school experts. Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?

Kansas and Arizona schools. Arizona shows that Kansas is missing out on an opportunity to provide better education at lower cost.

Video in the Kansas Senate. A plan to increase visibility of the Kansas Senate is a good start, and needs to go just one or two steps farther.

Kansas, a frugal state?. Is Kansas a frugal state, compared to others?

Topeka Capital-Journal falls for a story. The editorial boards of two large Kansas newspapers have shown how little effort goes into forming the opinions they foist upon our state.

Kansas revenue estimates. Kansas revenue estimates are frequently in the news and have become a political issue. Here’s a look at them over the past decades.

Kansas school fund balances.
* Kansas school fund balances rose significantly this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.
* Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.
* The interactive visualization holds data for each district since 2008.

In Wichita, developer welfare under a cloud. A downtown Wichita project receives a small benefit from the city, with no mention of the really big money.

Wichita, give back the Hyatt proceeds. Instead of spending the proceeds of the Hyatt hotel sale, the city should honor those who paid for the hotel — the city’s taxpayers.

Kansas Democrats: They don’t add it up — or they don’t tell us. Kansas Democrats (and some Republicans) are campaigning on some very expensive programs, and they’re aren’t adding it up for us.

November

How would higher Kansas taxes help?. Candidates in Kansas who promise more spending ought to explain just how higher taxes will — purportedly — help the Kansas economy.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union. Explaining to Kansans what the teachers union really means in its public communications.

Kansas school spending: Visualization. An interactive visualization of revenue and spending data for Kansas school districts.

Decoding Duane Goossen. The writing of Duane Goossen, a former Kansas budget director, requires decoding and explanation. This time, his vehicle is “Rise Up, Kansas.”

Decoding the Kansas teachers union. Decoding and deconstructing communications from KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, lets us discover the true purpose of the union.

Government schools’ entitlement mentality. If the Kansas personal income grows, should school spending also rise?

December

Wichita bridges, well memorialized. Drivers on East Twenty-First Street in Wichita are happy that the work on a small bridge is complete, but may not be pleased with one aspect of the project.

Gary Sherrer and Kansas Policy Institute. A former Kansas government official criticizes Kansas Policy Institute.

Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Several large employers in Wichita ask to avoid paying millions in taxes, which increases the cost of government for everyone else, including young companies struggling to break through.

Economic development incentives at the margin. The evaluation of economic development incentives in Wichita and Kansas requires thinking at the margin, not the entirety.

The Wichita economy, according to Milken Institute. The performance of the Wichita-area economy, compared to other large cities, is on a downward trend.

State pension cronyism. A new report details the way state pension funds harm workers and taxpayers through cronyism.

In Wichita, converting a hotel into street repairs. In Wichita, it turns out we have to sell a hotel in order to fix our streets.

In Wichita, we’ll not know how this tax money is spent. Despite claims to the contrary, the attitude of the City of Wichita towards citizens’ right to know is poor, and its attitude will likely be reaffirmed this week.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union

Decoding and deconstructing communications from KNEA, the Kansas teachers union, lets us discover the true purpose of the union.

Here, we look at a dispatch from Kansas National Education Association’s “Under the Dome” newsletter from March 14, 2013. It may be found here. The topic of this day was a charter school bill. Kansas has a law that allows charter schools, which are public schools that operate outside many of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools. But the Kansas law is written in a way that makes it difficult to form a charter school, and as a result, Kansas has very few charter schools.

KNEA, the teacher union in Kansas, says: Rep. Ed Trimmer noted that a study provided by the proponents (anti-public school “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute) reported that the worst performing charter schools are in states that have multiple charter school “authorizers” — just like this bill.

This sentence holds much of the key to understanding the motives of the teachers union, and the rest of the public school spending lobby. First, they use the term “anti-public school.” This lets us know that for all the bluster coming from the teachers union and its allies about the importance of education and Kansas schoolchildren, it is only public schools that interest them. The simple reason is that in private schools and charter schools, the teachers aren’t union members. It is those union members that the union cares about. Other schools where teachers can work free of the union and its influence are competition to the union.

The use of “think tank” lets us know that the union doesn’t think Kansas Policy Institute is deserving of respect. KPI uses government data to show the true state of Kansas public education, so naturally the teachers union needs to suppress the tellers of truth.

By the way, I don’t think KPI is “anti-public school.” KPI advocates for school choice, to be sure, but school choice programs comfortably co-exist with public schools in many states. And — let’s remind the teachers union that charter schools are public schools.

Then the use of “authorizers” in quotes: Charter school authorizers oversee the charter schools they authorized. In Kansas, the only charter school authorizers are local school boards, and they have shown very little willingness to authorize charters. Here’s what is interesting: In some states with good charter school laws, authorizers must hold their charter schools accountable. In Denver, for the 2011 school year, 25 percent of the charters seeking renewal were closed.1 (There, charters are reauthorized every third year.) That type of accountability is rarely seen in the traditional public schools, where poor-performing schools live on, year after year.

The teachers union says: The Committee reconvened at 1:30 to get a special presentation by anti-public school zealot Dave Trabert of the “think tank” Kansas Policy Institute. Trabert sold his usual snake oil denouncing Kansas public schools as failing most students and thoroughly confused the committee with his talk of NAEP, NCLB, RTTT, state assessments, cut scores and the performance of Texas schools compared to Kansas.

See? The teachers union doesn’t like to talk about the performance of Kansas schools. Anyone who presents the data is denounced. It’s easy to see why. The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), conducts the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year. Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” it is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”2 The important thing to remember is that the test is not under the control of states. It is the same in all states, and allows for state-to-state comparisons. (More about this in a moment.)

Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Click for larger.
Nearby is a chart showing performance on the NAEP test. It presents data for grade four reading over time, divided by major categories of race. It shows the percent of students scoring at the level of Basic or better, and on a separate scale, at Proficient or better.

Looking at the first column of data, labeled “All Students,” we can see that Kansas performs better than Texas in every year. It is this finding that the teachers union and its allies use to promote the goodness of Kansas schools.

Aggregated data like this can hide some underlying truths. Look at the third column, reporting scores for black students. For “At or above Proficient,” Kansas and Texas students perform nearly the same. For Basic or better, Texas has the clear advantage in most years.

Similar investigation reveals that for Hispanic students, Texas and Kansas score nearly the same. For white students, Texas scores better than Kansas in each year.

So which schools are better in fourth grade reading, Kansas or Texas? If you were the parent of a young black child learning to read, Texas is doing a better job. For that matter, if you were the parent of a young white child learning to read, Texas has been doing a better job than has Kansas.

(By the way, Texas spends less on its schools than Kansas, on a per-pupil basis.3)

(These charts are derived from an interactive visualization of NAEP scores that I developed. You may access it here to conduct your own investigations.)

We can see why the teachers union demeans and demonizes those who present data like this.

The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
The former Kansas school standards for grade four reading, showing Kansas ranking low among the states.
Why are NAEP scores important? Doesn’t the State of Kansas have its own tests? The answer is yes, Kansas has its own tests. And until recently these tests — the standards that the state used to measure achievement — were very weak. That is, Kansas was willing to say students are “proficient” at a much lower level of performance than most other states. In some cases, just a handful of states had lower standards than Kansas. But now the new Kansas standards are more in line with those of other states, and present a more truthful assessment of Kansas schoolchildren. Not surprisingly, scores on the new tests are lower.4

In the past, the teachers union and its allies used the (generally good) performance on these very weak Kansas tests to conclude that Kansas schools were performing well. But that was a lie.

The teachers union says: He was joined via Skype by noted ideological researcher Matthew Ladner. Ladner, who greatly admires Jeb Bush and Florida schools was brought to Kansas by Trabert and KPI once before. Only back then his presentation was colored by the fact that he won a “Bunkum Award” from the National Educational [sic] Policy Center (NEPC). The NEPC, located at the University of Colorado is a national consortium of education researchers and academicians who review the reports of think tanks to make sure it is based on sound research standards.

First, Florida schools perform well on the NAEP, relative to Kansas. If you need convincing, use the visualization of NAEP scores referenced above to compare Florida and Kansas. You’ll find many cases where Florida does better than Kansas.

(By the way, Florida spends less than Kansas on schools, on a per-pupil base.3 This is the real problem the teachers union and its allies have with Florida and Texas: These states spend less than Kansas.)

Now: What is the National Education Policy Center (NEPC)? Just like the Kansas teachers union says, it reviews the reports of think tanks. And when it does, its criticisms are routinely shredded when placed under scrutiny. (Example criticism of one NEPC writer: “His review is deeply flawed and significantly misrepresents our data and findings.6) Almost all the reports it finds to be faulty are published by conservative/libertarian think tanks, although I did see a Brookings Institute report criticized.

Here’s something else: The Kansas teachers union and its allies vigorously attempt to discredit KPI because of its purported funders. If that is a valid concern or criticism, consider this. NEPC’s funders include the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.7 Teachers unions funding research to discredit non-union schools. Who could have figured?

Now we ask this: Should we hold the Kansas teachers union to the same standards it expects of others?


Notes

  1. Colorado League of Charter Schools.
  2. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  4. Weeks, Bob. After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/after-years-of-low-standards-kansas-schools-adopt-truthful-standards/.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/SSF/2014/00A08.
  6. Jim Kessler, Tess Stovall, and Dee Dee Dolan. A Response to the National Education Policy Center: “NEPC review is fatally flawed.” http://www.thirdway.org/memo/a-response-to-the-national-education-policy-center-nepc-review-is-fatally-flawed.
  7. National Education Policy Center. Support. http://nepc.colorado.edu/support.

Decoding the Kansas teachers union

Explaining to Kansans what the teachers union really means in its public communications.

After the November 2016 election, the Kansas National Education Association — our state’s teachers union — wants to explain to Kansas the meaning of the results. But it takes a seasoned eye to recognize the subterfuge the union uses to advance its interests. The message from the union may be read at It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Following, quotes from the union missive and interpretation.

“But at KNEA, we are focusing on what the 2016 election means for public education.” Here the writer — lobbyist Mark Desetti — correctly identifies the concern of the teachers union: Public education. Not education, but only public education. Why? Teachers in private schools are not union members. Neither are teachers in charter schools, even though these schools are public schools. So you can see the concern of the union is more precisely only the public schools where there are union members.

“And here in Kansas, our legislative races look more like the best of times.” The public schools really hate being called government schools. But when the outcome of elections affects your outlook, well, that sounds like a government institution.

“At least for those of us who advocate for children, schools, and teachers.” The teachers union’s only concern is teachers. Do not be persuaded otherwise. If the union really cared about children, it would stop opposing school choice programs.

“Combined with moderate Republican victories, this creates a pro-public education block of as many as 75 votes.” Again, public education is the union’s concern.

“The people of Kansas, regardless of party affiliation have let it be known that they are done with the Brownback ‘experiment’ and want to go in a new direction. That direction includes funding our schools and taking care of our children and families.” Governor Brownback was ill-advised to liken cutting taxes to an experiment. As adults, we ought to recognize the boasting of politicians. This doesn’t mean that cutting taxes was wrong. Cutting taxes is the right thing to do, as it means government leaves more resources in the hands of those who earned it. It leaves more money in the productive private sector, instead of in the wasteful public sector, Also, the union should have ended the last sentence at “funding our schools.” If the union truly cared about children and families, it would stop opposing giving parents the power of school choice.

“Kansans also rejected the governor’s attempt to politicize our Supreme Court.” But, the court is already politicized, and in a direction the union favors. So, the union appears to be taking the high ground.

“This vote ensures that our courts will stay free of political and ideological tampering.” If the court really wanted to stay out of politics, it would rule that the level of school spending is a legislative decision, not a judicial decision. But since most of the justices were nominated by a committee overstocked with political liberals, then appointed by liberal governors, the union is pleased with the court.

“Justice should never be for sale.” Well, when you already own the justices on the Kansas Supreme Court, it’s easy to float such high-minded, but transparent, proclamations.

Do not be persuaded by the claims of the Kansas teachers union. The union continually opposes reform measures that would help students simply because reform would mean fewer union members. That — and only that — is the job of the teachers union.

Trump and school choice

Could a President Trump bring more school choice to Kansas?

One of the campaign planks of President-Elect Donald J. Trump is support for school choice. Specifically, his campaign page states: “Immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by reprioritizing existing federal dollars.”1

In the next point: “Give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice, magnet schools and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.”

Normally I would not be in favor of adding to federal spending, but Trump proposes to “reprioritize” existing funds. He is not specific on details.

What could this mean to Kansas? If these funds were allocated to the states proportionally by population — as good a guess as any — Kansas would receive about $182 million. If students were awarded — for example — $5,000, this means 36,400 students could receive this benefit. This amount pays for tuition in some private schools, and goes a long way for paying for others.2 Nationally, charter schools operated on a budget of $7,131 per student in 2014.3 The State of Kansas should be happy to make up the difference, as that is far less than what the state spends now.

The problem with this initiative is that it is targeted towards states that already have school choice programs. Kansas has a small private school scholarship whose existence may be in peril. Kansas has a law that allows for charter schools, but it is limited and designed to make charters very difficult to form.

Targeting these funds towards states with existing school choice program is precisely backwards of what should be done. The funds should go to states that have no — or little — school choice. This will help students overcome the objection of the education establishment that hates school choice, which is that school choice drains money from traditional public schools. That argument is false, but funding from the federal government would help counter that argument.4

Undoubtedly the public school spending lobby will develop other arguments against school choice in Kansas.

Offsetting the increased federal spending would be reduced public school by the states, as most school funding formulas are based on the number of students.


Notes

  1. Donald J. Trump for President. Education. November 9, 2016. http://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/education/
  2. For example, see Classical School of Wichita at around $6,000 per year, Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka at around $7,000 to $8,000 per year, and the Independent School in Wichita from $10,000 to $10,600 per year.
  3. Center for Education Reform. Survey of America’s Charter Schools. http://www.edreform.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014CharterSchoolSurveyFINAL.pdf.
  4. Weeks, Bob. School choice and funding. https://wichitaliberty.org/education/school-choice-funding/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita and Kansas economics, and government investment

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita sells a hotel, more subsidy for downtown, Kansas newspaper editorialists fall for a lobbyist’s tale, how Kansas can learn from Arizona schools, and government investment. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 131, broadcast October 30, 2016.

Shownotes

Kansas and Arizona schools

Arizona shows that Kansas is missing out on an opportunity to provide better education at lower cost.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau tells us this:1

Total Spending Per Pupil:
Arizona: $7,528. Kansas: $9,972.

Spending on Instruction Per Pupil:
Arizona: $4,091. Kansas $6,112.

This data is from the school year ending in 2014, which is the most recent data from the Census Bureau that includes data from all states in a comparable fashion.

So how do Arizona and Kansas Students compare? A nearby table holds data from the 2015 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” This is a snapshot of a larger interactive visualization.2

For each state, I show the data for traditional public schools and for charter schools. (As Kansas has very few charter schools, there is no data for this category.) Kansas scores exceed Arizona scores in only one instance.

Arizona embraces charter schools and other forms of school choice. In 2014, 17.8 percent of Arizona public schools were in charter schools. Kansas has a law that allows for charter schools, but it is designed to make charters difficult to form and run. Plus, the Kansas public school community fights against charter schools. As a result, only 0.5 percent of Kansas students are in charter schools.3

Can Kansas learn from Arizona with its lower costs and higher student achievement?

Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.
Kansas and Arizona test scores. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Public Education Finances: 2014. Table 8: Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2014. Available at census.gov/library/publications/2016/econ/g14-aspef.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. The nation’s report card and charter schools. Available at wichitaliberty.org/education/nations-report-card-charter-schools/.
  3. Author’s compilation of data from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD). Available here.

School choice and funding

Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm traditional public schools, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.

The prevalent argument is that charter schools and other school choice programs drain funds from public schools. That is, if a public school student chooses to attend a charter or private school, and if the money follows the student to the other school, the public school district loses money that it otherwise would have received. Therefore, the public school district is worse off, and so too are its students.

A rebuttal is that since a public school has shed the responsibility for schooling the student, its costs should fall correspondingly. This would be true if all the costs of a public school are variable. Some costs are fixed, however, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly — in the short run, that is. An example is the cost to maintain a classroom. If a school has one less student than the year before, it still requires the same support for utilities. One or several fewer students doesn’t mean that fewer teachers are needed.

Public schools and their lobbyists, therefore, argue that school choice programs are a financial burden to public schools. Under school choice programs, they say, public schools lose students and their accompanying funding, but the public schools retain their fixed costs.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts (cover)The question, then, is what portion of a school’s costs are variable, meaning costs that schools can adjust quickly, and what portion are fixed, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly? Benjamin Scafidi, professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, has examined schools looking for the answer to this question. His paper The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts, published by EdChoice (formerly The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), holds answers to these questions.

The first question is this: What is the relation of school choice programs to school districts’ variable costs? Scafidi has endeavored to determine the breakdown between variable and fixed costs in each state. In Kansas, for the 2008 – 2009 school year, total spending per student was $11,441. Of that, Scafidi estimates $3,749, or 32.8 percent, were fixed costs. Variable costs were $7,692, or 67.2 percent. Since then spending has risen, but there’s no reason to think the allocation of costs between fixed and variable has changed materially. For the school year ending in 2015 total spending per student was $13,1241. That implies fixed costs per student of $4,305 and variable costs per student of $8,819.

Now, how much money would a public school lose if a student chose to attend a school other than the traditional public schools? For Kansas this question is complicated by recent changes in the way public schools are funded. Prior to the school year ending in 2016, Kansas used a school funding formula that started with a figure called “base state aid per pupil.” For 2015 the value was $3,852, and that is the starting point for calculating state spending per student.

In a recent presentation on this topic, Scafidi said: “Any school choice program where about $8,000 per student or less, on average, follows the child to the school of his or her choice, improves the fiscal situation of the public school district, on average, and students who remain in public schools have more resources available for their education.” Considering only base state aid per pupil, a typical Kansas school district, which has variable costs of $8,819 per student, has its fiscal situation improved when it loses a student and the accompanying $3,852 in state funding.

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Many Kansas students, however, trigger much more funding due to weightings that compensate for the purported higher costs of some situations. The largest weighting in Kansas, based magnitude, is the “at-risk” weighting. It adds 45.6 percent to base state aid. So if a Kansas public school loses such a student and weighting, it loses $5,608 in funding. That is far less than its variable costs of $8,819. State funding for Kansas schools in the school year ending in 2015 was $8,5672 per student, still less than school districts’ variable costs.

I asked Scafidi what is the dividing line between variable and fixed costs? The answer is that within two or three years, schools should be able to adjust their fixed costs to be in line with their needs. This is in line with the economic and accounting reality that says in the long run, all costs are variable.

Can school districts adjust their costs quickly in response to changing enrollments? This may be a problem for the very smallest districts, those with just one or two teachers per grade, Scadifi concedes. In his paper, Scafidi illustrates two examples of districts in Georgia with just over 1,000 students making adjustments. In Kansas, there are 286 school districts. Of these, 207 have enrollment of less than 1,000 students, but only 20 percent if the state’s students are in these small districts.

School districts often dispute the contention that they are able to reduce their variable costs rapidly in response to enrollment changes. Scafidi notes that if school districts say they cannot reduce costs when they lose students, the implication is that all of their costs are fixed. If that is true, then schools should not receive additional funding when enrollment rises. If all their costs truly are fixed, the total cost of running a school district does not change with enrollment — either up or down.

Going forward in Kansas

Kansas is in the process of formulating a new school financing method. For the school years ending in 2016 and 2017 the state has used a block grant method, whereby state funding to school districts was frozen at the 2015 level with some increases programmed into the law. Current law anticipates a new funding formula being passed in the 2017 legislative session and applied to the school year ending in 2018.

One of the most important goals for the new funding method should be transparency and flexibility. The prior school finance formula was criticized as being complex and difficult to understand. For example, in June the Kansas Legislature held a special session in order to increase school funding in response to a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court. But, more than half of the higher funding the Wichita school district received went to property tax reduction, rather than being spent on schools.3 Citizens have trouble understanding how increasing state school funding means a reduction in property tax instead of more teachers or schoolbooks. This illustrates a problem with transparency in the prior funding formula.

Remaining students

We have seen that school choice programs do not harm the finances of local school districts. The second question concerns the quality of education for the students who remain in public schools.

To answer this question, we must recognize the wide variation of teacher efficacy. Some are very good, and some very poor. Further, the difference between good and bad is large. Eric A. Hanushek and others have found that very good teachers routinely produce 1.5 years of gain in achievement during an academic year. Bad teachers produce 0.5 years of gain.4 If a student is unfortunate enough to experience ineffective teachers two or three years in a row, the student may be so far behind as to never catch up.

What does this have to do with school choice programs? If public schools have to downsize due to students lost for any reason — including school choice programs — this gives public schools an opportunity to shed their least effective teachers. This means that students who remain in public schools have a higher likelihood of experiencing the most effective teachers.


Notes

  1. Kansas State Department of Education. Total Expenditures by District. Available at www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/School-Finance/Budget-Information/Total-Expenditures-by-District.
  2. ibid.
  3. Lowry, Brian. Kansas schools will stay open as court OKs funding fix. Wichita Eagle, June 28, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/local/education/article86508017.html.
  4. Hanushek and Rivkin. Teacher Quality. Available here.

The nation’s report card and charter schools

  • An interactive table of NAEP scores for the states and races, broken down by charter school and traditional public school.
  • Some states have few or no charter schools.
  • In many states, minority students perform better on the NAEP test when in charter schools.

The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), conducts the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year. Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” it is “the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.”1

NAEP is useful because the test is created and administered independently of the states: “Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same sets of test booklets across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts.”2 This is important because studies have shown that states vary widely in the rigor of the tests they create themselves: “The key finding is that the variation among state achievement standards continues to be wide.”3

The NAEP tests are administered at several grade levels and for a variety of subjects, but the primary focus is on math and reading, at grades four and eight. I’ve gathered test scores from NCES for the 2015 test cycle, for these two subjects and two grade levels, with the results broken down by race and whether the school is a charter school. I gathered the data using the NAEP Data Explorer available at NCES4 and used Tableau Public to present the data. The data includes the scale score for each state, grade, and subject, along with the percentage of students scoring “Below Basic,” “At or above basic,” “At or above proficient,” and “At Advanced.”

There are two visualization dashboards. Each starts by breaking down the data by state, race, and school type (charter school or not). One visualization shows the data at this level, while a second continues to break down the data by subject and grade. There are many missing values, usually meaning there is no data, or not enough data to be a reliable sample. You may access the visualization here.

NAEP scores for national public schools. Click for larger.
NAEP scores for national public schools. Click for larger.
At the national public school level, when looking at all students, charter schools are outscored by traditional public schools (TPS). Looking at subgroups by race, we find that charter schools score higher than TPS.

NAEP scores for Colorado. Click for larger.
NAEP scores for Colorado. Click for larger.
Colorado is an example of a state where charter schools have broad success. When considering all students, Colorado charter schools have better scores than the traditional public schools. For the subgroups of white and Hispanic students, charter schools have higher scores. The data is not available for black students. Overall, 10.9 percent of Colorado student are in charter schools (2014 data).5

NAEP scores forIllinois. Click for larger.
NAEP scores forIllinois. Click for larger.
Illinois is an example of how it is important to look at subgroups of data instead of simply considering all students in a state. For Illinois, considering all students, traditional public schools score better than charter schools 252 to 243, which is a substantial margin. But considering only black students, charter schools do better than TPS, 240 to 230. For Hispanic students the gap is larger, with charter schools outperforming TPS, 278 to 242.

The Illinois results are in line with what the oft-cited CREDO study has found: “Looking back to the demographics of the charter school sector in the 27 states, charter school enrollment has expanded among students in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students. These are precisely the students that, on average, find better outcomes in charter schools.”6

A companion to this visualization is an interactive table showing charter school prevalence and enrollment in the states. Click here to use this visualization.


Notes

  1. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  2. ibid.
  3. National Center for Education Statistics. About the NAEP State Mapping Analyses. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/statemapping/about.aspx.
  4. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/dataset.aspx.
  5. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), Table 216.90. Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey. 1999-2000 through 2013-14.
  6. Center for Research on Education Outcomes. National Charter School Study 2013. Available at credo.stanford.edu/research-reports.html.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Cost of Kansas schools, government schools, and understanding Kansas school outcomes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Is it true that some Kansas schoolchildren have no hope of attending a private school? What’s wrong with government schools? Then a talk on “Rethinking Education Tomorrow Starts with Understanding Outcomes Today.” View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 122, broadcast June 19, 2016.

The talk by Dave Trabert is located at youtu.be/4h_bM6QPKeI. If it does not play, please click here.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: Charter schools in Kansas, and a victory for speech and association

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas has essentially no charter schools. Here’s why we need them. AFP Foundation scores a victory for free speech and association. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 120, broadcast June 5, 2016.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: Trump and the Wichita Eagle, property rights and blight, teachers union, and capitalism

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Was it “Trump” or “Bernie” that incited a fight, and how does the Wichita Eagle opine? Economic development in Wichita. Blight and property rights. Teachers unions. Explaining capitalism. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 117, broadcast April 24, 2016.

Kansas continues to snub school choice reform that helps the most vulnerable schoolchildren

Charter schools benefit minority and poor children, yet Kansas does not leverage their benefits, despite having a pressing need to boost the prospects of these children.

The CREDO studies at Stanford University are often cited as the most comprehensive and reliable research on charter schools. Opponents of charter school focus on a finding that some charter schools are worse than local traditional public schools, the figures being 19 percent for reading and 31 percent for math. Because of this, opponents of charter schools feel justified in keeping them out of Kansas. (Kansas does allow charter schools, but the law is so stacked against charter schools that there are very few, effectively none.)

The findings from the Stanford CREDO National Charter School Study from 2013 contain much more information than this simple conclusion. In particular, here is a partial quote from its executive summary: “Enrollment and persistence in charter schools is especially helpful for some students, particularly students in poverty [and] black students …”

Why would we not want to experience these benefits, especially for poor and minority students?

This is important. While the Kansas public education establishment touts the state’s relatively high performance on national tests, when results are analyzed closely, we see some things that should cause all Kansans to embrace whatever we can do to correct this.

Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Kansas students compared to national. Click for larger.
Nearby is a chart of NAEP scores for Kansas and national public schools. It is an example from a visualization of NAEP scores that you may use yourself. I’ve circled some troubling results. An example of something that must be changed is this: For grade four math, 14 percent of Kansas black students are at the level “proficient” or better. For national public schools, the figure for the same population subgroup is 19 percent.

Following, some findings from the CREDO study that show how charter schools help precisely the students that need the most help. But the Kansas school establishment does not want charter schools, and so far Kansas Republicans — including Governor Brownback and legislative leaders — have been unwilling to help the most vulnerable Kansas schoolchildren.

“The 27 states in our study provide the widest angle view of the charter school sector to date. Across multiple measures, the students in these charter schools have shown both improved quality over the results from 2009 and an upward trend in their performance over the past five years.”

“The average charter school student now gains an additional 8 days of learning each year in reading, compared to the loss of 7 days each year reported in 2009. In math, charter students in 2009 posted 22 fewer days of learning; now that gap is closed so their learning each year is on par with their peers in traditional public schools.”

“Looking back to the demographics of the charter school sector in the 27 states, charter school enrollment has expanded among students in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students. These are precisely the students that, on average, find better outcomes in charter schools. These findings lend support to the education and social policies that focus on education as the mechanism to improve life chances for historically underserved students. Charter schools are especially beneficial learning environments for these students, as the following graphics illustrate in greater detail.”

“Enrollment and persistence in charter schools is especially helpful for some students, particularly students in poverty, black students, and English language learners all of whom post significantly higher learning gains in both reading and math. Hispanic students are on par with their TPS peers in both reading and math. For students with multiple designations (such as being black and in poverty), the impacts of charter schooling are especially positive and noteworthy.”

Kansas teachers union objects. Strenuously.

Here are a few items from today’s missive from Kansas National Education Association, the teachers union, along with commentary.

KNEA says: “Jeff Melcher, the man who has fought to completely eliminate collective bargaining and other rights for teachers continued his war today with his bill intended to end teacher representation.”
The bill simply mandates elections every three years on whether teachers are satisfied with their current representation, which is almost always KNEA or an affiliate. It’s not surprising the union is opposed to this. Accountability, after all.

KNEA says: “Make no mistake, the intent of this bill is to end professional representation for teachers and leave them as at-will indentured labor.”
Indentured labor! Government employees as indentured labor! By whom are teachers indentured? Other government employees (principals and superintendents)? What, do principals and superintendents get masters and doctors degrees in learning how to indenture the teachers that work for them? Why do professionals like these need a labor union to manage their relationship? Who would want to enter a profession where a labor union is needed to protect them from their bosses (or oppressors, as the teachers union would lead us to believe)?

KNEA says: “In a very fundamental way, this war on teachers and schools is about selling off public schools to the highest corporate bidder and making a quality education a privilege not a right.”
Here we see bashing of capitalism. You see, the teachers union believes that education can’t be run by the private sector. Never mind that charter schools and for-profit schools are successful in many areas of the country — but their teachers are not often union members. Second, with school choice programs the state still pays for students to attend private and charter schools. All that changes is parents have the privilege of choice for the children.

KNEA says: “Would force the teachers to pay for state mandated elections.”
No, the union pays for the elections.

Kansas and Colorado, compared

News that a Wichita-based company is moving to Colorado sparked a round of Kansas-bashing, most not based on facts.

When a Kansas company announced moving its headquarters to Denver, comments left to a newspaper article made several statements that deserve closer examination.1

One reader wrote “Yup another example that the tax relief for businesses is working in Kansas.” Another wrote “The biggest takeaway here is that then didn’t bother to mention the benefits of lower taxes meaning the tax policy Kansas touts really has no bearing on company decisions.” Another wrote “Just low taxes is not a magnet for business or people wanting to move here.” Let’s look at a few statistics regarding Kansas and Colorado business taxation.

In the 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index from the Tax Foundation, Colorado ranked 18 overall, while Kansas ranked 22.2 According to this measure, Colorado has a better tax environment for business, even after Kansas tax reform.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2014 shows that Colorado collects $2,195 in taxes from each of its citizens. Kansas collects $2,526.3 That’s after the Kansas tax cuts took effect. Kansas would have to cut taxes much more before it reaches the low level of taxation in Colorado.

The takeaway: Even after Kansas tax reform, Colorado has lower taxes.

Another commenter stated “People want to live and businesses want to be located … where education is important and supported.” The writer didn’t elaborate, but generally when people say “support” education, they mean “spend” a lot on public schools. Another commenter wrote “Public schools are treated as an afterthought by our Governor and Legislature.” So let’s look at spending.

Colorado and Kansas schools, according to NEA. Click for larger.
Colorado and Kansas schools, according to NEA. Click for larger.
Regarding school spending, the National Education Association collects statistics from a variety of sources and uses some of its own transformations.4 A collection of statistics from that source is nearby. Note that Colorado teacher salaries are higher, while revenue per pupil is lower. Colorado spends more per student when considering current expenditures. Colorado has a higher student-teacher ratio than Kansas.

Colorado and Kansas NAEP scores by ethnicity. Click for larger.
Colorado and Kansas NAEP scores by ethnicity. Click for larger.
The U.S. Census Bureau has different figures on spending. In a table titled “Per Pupil Amounts for Current Spending of Public Elementary-Secondary School Systems by State: Fiscal Year 2013” we see Colorado spending $8,647, and Kansas $9,828.5 This tabulation has Kansas spending 13.7 percent more than Colorado.

Looking at scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — a test that is the same in all states — we see that when considering all students, Kansas and Colorado scores are very close, when measuring the percent of students scoring proficient or better. White students in Colorado, however, generally score higher than in Kansas.

Colorado and Kansas NAEP scores by free/reduced lunch eligibility. Click for larger.
Colorado and Kansas NAEP scores by free/reduced lunch eligibility. Click for larger.
For NAEP scores by eligibility for free or reduced lunches, we see that Kansas and Colorado are similar, except that Colorado has made progress with eligible students in math, catching up with Kansas. (Eligible students are students from low-income households.)

For what it’s worth, in Colorado 10.4 percent of students who attend public schools attend public charter schools. In Kansas the figure is 0.6 percent, due to Kansas law being specifically designed to limit charter school formation and survival.6

A writer expressed this in his comment: “Colorado also presents a more stable political environment as well.” While this is something that probably can’t be quantified, a recent New York Times article disagrees, quoting a former governor:7

“Colorado is subjected to extremes,” said Roy Romer, a former governor. “It’s not just blue and red. It’s also urban and rural. We have a history to this.”

Of note, Colorado has initiative and referendum. Citizens may, by petition, propose new laws and veto laws the legislature passed.8 Kansas does not have initiative and referendum at the state level. This is one way that Kansas has a more stable political environment than Colorado: Citizens have less political power in Kansas. For example, the law that made marijuana legal in Colorado was passed through citizen initiative. I think it’s safe to say that it will be a long time — if ever — before Kansas has medical marijuana, much less full legalization.

Further, Colorado has TABOR, or Taxpayer Bill of Rights. This is a measure designed to limit the growth of taxation and spending. Whether one likes the idea or not, it has had a tumultuous history in Colorado, according to a Colorado progressive public policy institute.9 And if you thought Kansas was the only state that — purportedly — underfunds education, welcome to Colorado. The same report holds: “As 2016 approached, the [Colorado] General Fund remained nearly $900 million short of what it needed to fully fund K-12 education and well below what it needed to restore postsecondary education and other programs to historic levels.” This is in line with the amount Kansas school spending advocates say Kansas needs to spend, adjusted for population.

Colorado also has term limits on its state legislature and elected members of the state executive department (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer.)10 Kansas has term limits on its governor, but on no other offices. This argues in favor of Colorado having a more dynamic and less stable government.


Notes

  1. Carrie Rengers. Viega to move corporate headquarters and 113 jobs to Denver. Wichita Eagle, March 18, 2016. Available at: http://www.kansas.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/carrie-rengers/article66851717.html.
  2. 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index. (2016). Tax Foundation. Available at: http://taxfoundation.org/article/2016-state-business-tax-climate-index.
  3. State Government Tax Collections – Business & Industry. US Census Bureau. Available at: http://www.census.gov/govs/statetax/.
  4. Rankings of the States 2014 and Estimates of School Statistics 2015, National Education Association Research, March 2015. Available at http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/NEA_Rankings_And_Estimates-2015-03-11a.pdf.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). Public Elementary–Secondary Education Finance Data. Census.gov. Available at: https://www.census.gov/govs/school/.
  6. National Center for Education Statistics. Public elementary and secondary charter schools and enrollment, by state: Selected years, 1999-2000 through 2012-13. Available at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d14/tables/dt14_216.90.asp.
  7. Healy, J. (2014). Tracing the Line in Colorado, a State Split Left and Right. Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/24/us/politics/in-colorado-ever-in-transition-a-fight-for-power.html.
  8. Laws governing the initiative process in Colorado – Ballotpedia. (2016). Ballotpedia.org. Available at: https://ballotpedia.org/Laws_governing_the_initiative_process_in_Colorado.
  9. Bell Policy Center. The road to 2016: More than three decades of constitutional amendments, legislative acts and economic ups and downs. Available at http://www.bellpolicy.org/research/road-2016.
  10. Term Limits in Colorado, Colorado.gov. Available at https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Term%20Limits%20in%20Colorado.pdf.

Must it be public schools?

A joint statement released by Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents’ Association, and Kansas National Education Association exposes the attitudes of the Kansas public school establishment.

In a joint statement by the leaders of the Kansas public school establishment the clear theme is that education must be provided by public schools. Not schools in general, but public schools.

There’s no reason that education must be provided by government, and many reasons to keep government out of education. Across the spectrum of human activity, government provides services at high cost, with low levels of diversity and innovation, and with low accountability. School choice programs allow parents and children to find alternative non-governmental sources of education (although charter schools are public schools).

Defenders of public schools over school choice programs note that parents do have choice. Parents can, they say, enroll their children in private schools. But these parents still must pay for the public schools, which severely reduces their ability to pay private school tuition. That isn’t much choice. And for parents in poor neighborhoods, such as Wichita’s zip code 67214 where the median family income is $29,637, there isn’t much money available for private school tuition, or to move their households to suburban school districts. The latter is a form of school choice available to middle-class and wealthy parents that isn’t available to low-income families.

Across the country 393,467 students participate in school choice programs, in this case defined as vouchers, tax credit scholarships, or education savings accounts. 1 There are around 49 million students in public schools. So for every one student in these school choice programs, 125 students remain in public schools.

Despite the small number of students enrolled in school choice programs, the anti-choice establishment vigorously fights against any school choice program, even the small Kansas tax credit scholarship program. Kansas State Department of Education reports that since the beginning of the scholarship program, there have been 73 students awarded scholarships which totaled $108,384. 2

Seventy-three students. $108,384. The public school establishment describes this as a grave threat, something that drains public schools of funds. For a bit of context, there are executives of Kansas Association of School Boards and Kansas National Education Association that earn more than $108,384 per year. These executives earn these salaries, in part, by blocking the type of school choice programs that benefit children living in Wichita’s zip code 67214 with its median family income of $29,637.

Why is the public school establishment so firmly against school choice? Private schools don’t pay dues to the Kansas Association of School Boards. Teachers not in traditional public schools are not members of Kansas National Education Association, the teachers union. Without this revenue, it might be difficult to pay the high salaries of KASB and KNEA executives and staff.

But there’s more. The ideological bent of these groups is for more government, more taxes, more government spending, and more governmental control over the people of Kansas. Consider this sentence from the joint statement: “Now, we turn our attention this week to the Statehouse in Topeka where the Legislature is gathering to consider how to provide for the people of Kansas.” (emphasis added)

In a nutshell, there is the paternalistic governing philosophy of our state’s public school establishment: Government provides for us.

Kansas public school establishment ought to thank Sam Brownback

Kansas public schools ought to thank the governor and legislature for failing to give parents the power of school choice.

The public school establishment in Kansas is angry with the governor and legislature over school finance. Really, the public schools ought to be grateful for Governor Sam Brownback. In many states with conservative Republican governors, school choice programs have grown. In the summer of 2011 the Wall Street Journal reported on what it called “The Year of School Choice.”

Some governors have been warriors for school choice. Not Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, however. He signed a small school choice bill when it landed on his desk. But he has not vocally advocated for expanded school choice. There are several Kansas legislators who are in favor of school choice, but not enough, certainly not in leadership.

As public schools and their unions despise any form of school choice and the accountability it provides, they should be grateful for our governor and legislature. Kansas public schools operate without much competition, and that’s the way public schools and their unions like it.

School choice in Kansas

How little school choice exists in Kansas? One implementation of school choice that is popular in some states is the charter school. According to National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Kansas has a poor charter school law. That is, Kansas law makes it difficult to start and maintain a charter school. Of the 43 states that have charter schools, Kansas ranked 42. Kansas public schools are effectively shielded from the diversity and competition that charter schools provide.

Others have also found the Kansas charter school law to be very restrictive. The Center for Education Reform found the Kansas charter school law to be the worst in the nation.

Governor Brownback signed a tax credit scholarship program. The Kansas program is small and restrictive, earning the grade of “D” from Center for Education Reform. Kansas has no school voucher program.

Altogether, Kansas parents have little power to choose schools for their children. The primary power Kansas parents have is to choose where they live. If a family can afford to, it can live in a district where the public schools are not as bad as they are in other districts. Given that these desirable districts almost always cover higher-income areas, poor parents don’t have this possibility.

School choice won’t fix everything, but it goes a long way. Here’s a portion of the 2011 Wall Street Journal article “The Year of School Choice.”

Choice by itself won’t lift U.S. K-12 education to where it needs to be. Eliminating teacher tenure and measuring teachers against student performance are also critical. Standards must be higher than they are.

But choice is essential to driving reform because it erodes the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live. Unions defend the monopoly to protect jobs for their members, but education should above all serve students and the larger goal of a society in which everyone has an opportunity to prosper.

This year’s choice gains are a major step forward, and they are due in large part to Republican gains in last fall’s elections combined with growing recognition by many Democrats that the unions are a reactionary force that is denying opportunity to millions. The ultimate goal should be to let the money follow the children to whatever school their parents want them to attend.

Block grants a chance for more school choice in Kansas

The block grant school funding bill under consideration in the Kansas Legislature would hold districts harmless for enrollment declines due to school choice.

Critics of school choice programs allege that as public school districts lost students to other schools, and the students’ funding follows the students to the new schools, school districts are worse off, financially speaking. That’s because school districts say that their costs do not fall as rapidly as does enrollment, although this has been found to be untrue.

But under the block grant bill in Kansas, school funding is no longer tied to enrollment, at least for the next two years. This means that when school districts lose students for any reason, including due to school choice programs, their revenue stays the same. Funding rises, when measured on a per-pupil basis.

This should be an opening for increased school choice programs in Kansas. Presently Kansas has a law that allows charter schools, but there are few such schools. That’s because local school districts have to approve a charter school, and few districts will do that. We have a tax credit scholarship program in Kansas this year, but it is capped at a small amount of money, and student eligibility requirements mean that not everyone can participate. An “eligible student” is a child who qualifies as an at-risk pupil (eligible for free lunch under the National School Lunch Act) and either attends a school that would qualify as either a Title I Focus School or a Title I Priority School; or has received an educational scholarship under this program and has not graduated from high school or reached 21 years of age. Also, eligible students must have been enrolled in a public school in the year prior to receiving the scholarship or be eligible to be enrolled in a public school, if under the age of six. These are significant restrictions that focus the scholarship program on students who need it most, and who are least likely to be able to afford private schools on their own. But many other Kansas schoolchildren would also benefit from school choice, as they do in other states.

With the primary criticism of school choice out of the picture (the alleged “drain” on public school funding) supporters of choice have an opportunity to advance their cause. So far, no one has publically advanced any proposals or legislation for expansion of school choice in Kansas.

How do school choice programs affect budgets and performance of school districts?

Opponents of school choice programs argue the programs harm school districts, both financially and in their ability to serve their remaining students. Evidence does not support this position.

If school choice programs — charter schools, vouchers, or tax credit scholarships — harmed the existing public schools, it would be a reasonable argument against school choice. Especially if the students who remain in public schools had less of an opportunity to learn.

The prevalent argument is that charter schools and other public school alternatives drain funds from public schools. That is, if a public school student chooses a charter or private school, and if the money follows the student to the other school, the public school district loses money that it otherwise would have received. Therefore, the public school district is worse off, and so too are its students.

A rebuttal is that since a public school has shed the responsibility for schooling the student, its costs should fall correspondingly. This would be true if all the costs of a public school are variable. Some costs are fixed, however, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly — in the short run, that is. An example is the cost to maintain a classroom. If a school has one less student than the year before, it still requires the same support for utilities. One or several fewer students doesn’t mean that fewer teachers are needed.

Public schools and their lobbyists, therefore, argue that school choice programs are a financial burden to public schools. Under school choice programs, they say, public schools lose students and their accompanying funding, but the public schools retain their fixed costs.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts (cover)The question, then, is what portion of a school’s costs are variable, meaning costs that schools can adjust quickly, and what portion are fixed, meaning they can’t be adjusted quickly? Benjamin Scafidi, professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, has examined schools looking for the answer to this question. His paper The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts, published by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, holds answers to these questions.

The first question is this: What is the relation of school choice programs to school districts’ variable costs? Scafidi has endeavored to determine the breakdown between variable and fixed costs in each state. In Kansas, for the 2008 – 2009 school year, total spending per student was $11,441. Of that, Scafidi estimates $3,749, or 32.8 percent, were fixed costs. Variable costs were $7,692, or 67.2 percent. Since then spending has risen, but there’s no reason to think the allocation of costs between fixed and variable has changed materially. For the school year ending in 2014 total spending per student was $12,960. That implies fixed costs per student of $4,251 and variable costs per student of $8,709.

Now, how much money would a public school lose if a student chose, say, a private voucher school under a voucher program? In Kansas we don’t have vouchers for school choice, so we can’t answer the question directly. We do know that base state aid per pupil in Kansas is $3,852. That is the starting point for state spending per student.

In a recent presentation on this topic, Scafidi said: “Any school choice program where about $8,000 per student or less, on average, follows the child to the school of his or her choice, improves the fiscal situation of the public school district, on average, and students who remain in public schools have more resources available for their education.”

A typical Kansas school district, therefore, with variable costs of $8,709 per student, has its fiscal situation improved when it loses a student and its $3,852 in state funding.

Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Kansas School Finance Formula, from Kansas Policy Institute, August 2014
Many Kansas students, however, trigger much more funding due to weightings that compensate for the purported higher costs of some situations. The largest weighting in Kansas, based on numeric magnitude, is the at-risk weighting. It adds 45.6 percent to base state aid. So if a Kansas public school loses such a student and weighting, it loses $5,608 in funding. That is far less than its variable costs of $8,709. State funding for Kansas schools in the 2013 to 2014 school year was $7,088 per student, still less than school districts’ variable costs.

I asked Scafidi what is the dividing line between variable and fixed costs? The answer is that within two or three years, schools should be able to adjust their fixed costs to be in line with their needs. This is in line with the economic and accounting reality that says in the long run, all costs are variable.

Can school districts adjust their costs quickly in response to changing enrollments? This may be a problem for the very smallest districts, those with just one or two teachers per grade, Scadifi concedes. In his paper, Scafidi illustrates two examples of districts in Georgia with just over 1,000 students making adjustments. In Kansas, there are 286 school districts. Of these, 207 have enrollment of less than 1,000 students, but only 20 percent if the state’s students are in these small districts.

School districts often dispute the contention that they are able to reduce their variable costs rapidly in response to enrollment changes. Scafidi notes that if school districts say they cannot reduce costs when they lose students, the implication is that all of their costs are fixed. If true, then schools should not receive additional funding when enrollment rises. After all, if all their costs are fixed, costs do not change with enrollment — either up or down.

We have seen that school choice programs do not harm the finances of local school districts. The second question concerns the quality of education for the students who remain in public schools.

To answer this question, we must recognize the wide variation of teacher efficacy. Some are very good, and some very poor. Further, the difference between good and bad is large. Eric A. Hanushek and others have found that very good teachers routinely produce 1.5 years of gain in achievement during an academic year. Bad teachers produce 0.5 years of gain. If a student is unfortunate enough to experience ineffective teachers two or three years in a row, the student may be so far behind as to never catch up.

What does this have to do with school choice programs? If public schools have to downsize due to students lost for any reason — including school choice programs — this gives public schools an opportunity to shed their least effective teachers. This means that students who remain in public schools have a higher likelihood of experiencing the most effective teachers.

Wichita schools seek to rebrand

While poormouthing and suing taxpayers for more money, the Wichita school district wants to spend on a rebranding and marketing campaign.

The idea that a government agency needs to market itself illustrates a few inconsistencies, as shown below. But spending any money on this effort shows that the district leadership is a little out of touch with the taxpayers.

First, taxpayers are being sued for more money by a collection of Kansas school districts, including the Wichita district. So the district is using taxpayer money to extract more taxpayer money, and now it wants to spend more taxpayer money to tell taxpayers how wonderful it is.

Second, school districts continually say how spending has been “cut to the bone,” and that there is nowhere else to cut. But, there is money to spend for marketing.

The article quoted Wendy Johnson, director of marketing and communications for the Wichita district: “For people who suggest that we need to operate like a business and employ business strategies: Businesses tune into their customers, do market research, are active listeners all the time.” (Wichita school board to consider hiring marketing firm, rebranding district; Wichita Eagle, January 11, 2015)

First of all, the Wichita school district is not an “active listener.” If you say what the district wants to hear, yes. But the district is not welcoming to those with a different opinion. A notable example comes from 2012 when Betty Arnold was board president. At a meeting, citizens had criticized the board for large and important issues, but also for such mundane things as the amount of the superintendent’s monthly car allowance. Arnold admonished citizens for speaking about things like this in public. It’s not respectful, she said. Finally, after directing a uniformed security guard to station himself near a citizen speaker, Arnold told the audience: “If we need to clear the room, we will clear the room. This board meeting is being held in public, but it is not for the public, or of the public. And I hope you understand that.”

The idea that the Wichita school district is in any way like a business is laughable.

Most businesses do not have laws that force customers to use their products and services. (Mandatory attendance laws.)

Most businesses are not able to force people to pay them even if people do not use their service. Even people who pay to send their children to private schools must still pay the public schools. (Schools are funded by taxes.)

Businesses are not able to decide whether to allow new competitors. (Usually this is the case. Some states have laws that allow existing companies like movers decide whether new moving companies should be allowed to form.)

The article mentioned charter schools as a source of competition for the Wichita school district. But the district must approve the formation of any charter schools within its boundaries. Anyone who investigates would soon realize that the Wichita school district has no intent of allowing charter schools.

If the Wichita school district wanted to experience a little bit of the competition for customers that business face — competition which would improve the district — it could signal its awareness to approve charter school applications. That would do more to improve the experience for Wichita schoolchildren than any marketing message.

Ratios of teachers and employees to students have fallen in the Wichita school district.
Ratios of teachers and employees to students have fallen in the Wichita school district.