Tag Archives: Education

Kansas school standards remain high

Kansas school assessment standards remain at a high level, compared to other states. This is a welcome change from the past.

To evaluate the performance of their schools and students, states have their own assessments or tests. Some states have rigorous standards, meaning that to be considered “proficient,” students must perform at a high level.

But some states are less rigorous. They rate students “proficient” at a much lower level of performance.

How can we tell which states have high standards, and which states have low standards? There is a test that is the same in all states, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), administers this test 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

By comparing scores on NAEP and a state’s own tests, we can learn about the state’s standards. Does a state have a large percentage of students score “proficient” on its own test, but have a much lower percentage score “proficient” on the NAEP? If so, that state’s standards are weak.

After NAEP scores are released, Education Next, a project of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, compares state and NAEP results and assigns letter grades to each state. 2

It’s important to know that this analysis does not tell us how well a state’s students perform on any tests, either state tests or NAEP. Education Next emphasizes:

To be clear, high proficiency standards do not necessarily reflect high student performance. Rather, good grades suggest that states are setting a high proficiency bar — that students must perform at a high level to be deemed proficient in a given subject at their grade level. Grades gauge “truth in advertising” by indicating the degree to which states inform parents of how well their students are doing on an internationally accepted scale. 3

Kansas

The good news is that Kansas grades well in the analysis of its state proficiency standards for 2017, earning an overall grade of A (A in grade 4 math, B+ in grade 4 reading, and A in both grade 8 math and reading). This is the sixth highest score among the states and means Kansas assessments have a high degree of “truth in advertising.” These grades are nearly unchanged from 2015.

This high grade has not always been the case for Kansas, however. In 2013 the state received a grade of D+ and ranked forty-first. That was a little better than 2011, when the grade was D and rank was forth-forth.

Does this mean Kansas students are doing better on tests? No. NAEP scores are mostly unchanged, or changed very little. Instead, between 2013 and 2015 Kansas adopted more realistic and rigorous standards for its tests. It raised the bar for what students needed to know to be called “proficient.”

Here is an example of how low a bar Kansas once set: In 2009, 87.2 percent of Kansas students were judged “proficient” on state tests in grade 4 reading. But only 35.1 percent were judged “proficient” on the NAEP. For that year the average difference between “Kansas proficient” and “NAEP proficient” was 45 percentage points.

Despite this large difference, Kansans were being told the state’s schools are doing very well. In 2012, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker wrote this in the pages of The Wichita Eagle: “Kansans are proud of the quality of their public schools, and a steady and continuing increase in student performance over the past decade has given us ample reason for that pride.” (Diane DeBacker: Pride in Kansas public schools is well-placed, March 20, 2012.)

Bragging like this was common, and it was unfounded. It was a lie, and a harmful lie. Being told our schools are top quality based on state standards, when those standards are very weak, is politically expedient but untruthful, and the case for needed reform is dismissed as unnecessary.


Notes

  1. National Assessment of Educational Progress. About. Available at nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  2. “To generate these letter grades, we compare the percentage of students identified as proficient in reading and math on state assessments to the percentage of students so labeled on the more-rigorous NAEP. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP is widely considered to have a high bar for proficiency in math and reading. Because representative samples of students in every state take the same set of examinations, NAEP provides a robust common metric for gauging student performance across the nation and for evaluating the strength of state-level measures of proficiency.”
    Education Next. Have States Maintained High Expectations for Student Performance? Available at http://educationnext.org/have-states-maintained-high-expectations-student-performance-analysis-2017-proficiency-standards/.
  3. Education Next. After Common Core, States Set Rigorous Standards. Summer 2016. Available at http://educationnext.org/after-common-core-states-set-rigorous-standards/.

What is the real problem at Wichita Southeast?

There is likely a different explanation for problems at a Wichita high schools from what we’ve been told by the school district and our newspaper.

Recently the Wichita Eagle editorial board opined about problems with Wichita Southeast High School. That editorial was based on Eagle reporting in the article The new Southeast High is bigger and better. So why is its graduation rate dropping?

Sociologist Chase Billingham offers commentary and insight in his piece Southeast’s grad rate more about discipline:

The Wichita school district officials and The Eagle Editorial Board said the slipping graduation rate was partially attributable to the relocation of Southeast from its previous location to a new building at the far eastern edge of Wichita. According to these claims, students needing bus service when they could once walk to school have resulted in declining attendance, which in turn has led to the low graduation rate.

The falling graduation rate is real, and it is troubling. However, it was not caused by the school’s relocation.

Billingham proceeds to cite statistics from the Kansas State Department of Education and concludes, “Rather, it is more likely that the school has become more strict in applying formal disciplinary sanctions to student behavioral problems that may previously have resulted in informal reprimands.”

I wonder if school district officials knew of these statistics. They should have, as those officials compile and report them to KSDE. I also winder if Eagle reporters and editorial writers looked into this.

(By the way, the Eagle doesn’t disclose the membership of its editorial board.)

This episode is another troubling revelation about Wichita schools since the departure of the oft-praised and rewarded superintendent John Allison. Today the Eagle editorial board wrote, “Hiring Thompson as superintendent proved to be a good move at a time when Wichita schools were languishing — poor teacher morale, stagnant student achievement results and a district in need of a spark.”

Reestablishing a Fundamental Principle of Democracy

Reestablishing a Fundamental Principle of Democracy
Alan Cobb, Kansas Chamber President & CEO

The words of a recent guest editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World about the Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding were not surprising. It was a continuation of the intellectually shallow, fact-short screed about taxes, school finance, and the Kansas budget. Certainly, reasonable people can disagree about these issues, but partisans rarely adhere to that theorem. And thus, I thought I was reading something from a partisan staffer.

Alas, it was from a well-respected Wichita State University professor emeritus who I have known for decades.

I’ve not always agreed with Dr. H. Edward Flentje, but even when I disagreed with him, I found his arguments well-founded and reasonable. Not this time.

Now to the point. Dr. Flentje, probably intentionally, conflates with the 2012 tax cuts with the current and ongoing school finance litigation. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The current litigation was filed around the day the Sam Brownback was elected Governor. To say the focus of the current coalition is part of an effort to maintain those tax cuts is fanciful, to be charitable.

The 15-word clause in the Kansas State Constitution that is the center of all of this was enacted in 1966. It took only a few years for the first lawsuit to be filed, and Kansas has been in court ever since. This is madness. Brownback was not governor when the original litigation was filed some 30 years ago. The Kansas Legislature developed the current finance formula in the early 1990s under the duress of a Shawnee County District Court judge. Sam Brownback would not be governor for another 18 years. To continue to enact Brownback’s name must mean the author simply can’t argue the merits of the issue we currently face. This is disappointing.

Last December, the Kansas Chamber Board of Directors approved the following language to be a part of our 2018 Legislative Agenda:

Support a constitutional amendment for the democratically elected legislature to have exclusive authority to determine funding for schools in an effort to eliminate endless litigation over school funding.

In my role as President and CEO of the Kansas Chamber, I’ve traveled the state visiting business of all sizes. The consistent refrain I hear from business owners and managers is that the constant litigation has diminished the effectiveness of our educational institutions and their ability to prepare Kansas students for post-secondary careers and post-secondary education.

In addition, I’ve had multiple conversations with educators, teachers, superintendents, and building principals; many embarrassed about the constant litigation. They know that Kansas courts are the not the place to set our state’s education policy.

Ultimately this is about the process of how Kansas sets and finances education policy. We are competing not just with our neighboring states, but all 50 states and many countries across the globe. There is a worldwide competition for jobs.

Because we are in a constant struggle regarding how much Kansas spends on K-12 education, we have not had substantive conversations that we should about the effectiveness and efficacy of our education systems and how we properly prepare Kansas students for their lives after high school.

Improving our education systems takes place because of conversations between employers, students, parents, educators and those setting education policy: the legislature, the Governor, local boards of education and the State Board of Education.

These conversations simply cannot take place between all the interested parties mentioned and the state’s judicial branch.

The Chamber’s board of directors and members across the Kansas business community recognize the importance of a well-educated and trained workforce. But they also desire a competitive business climate. The endless litigation over school funding places the state at risk of being able to a balance of a competitive tax climate and providing for the essential services required outside of the K-12 education system.

The framers of our national and state constitutions understood that the power to tax and appropriate funds must be placed in the hands of the legislature-the governing body of the people. The Kansas Coalition for Fair Funding supports a constitutional amendment that will reestablish this fundamental principle of democracy and will end the continuous cycle of litigation.

Tax benefits for education don’t increase education

Here’s evidence of a government program that, undoubtedly, was started with good intentions, but hasn’t produced the intended results.

Tax season ended last week. Taxpayers have filed for over $30 billion in credits and deductions for college expenses they paid in 2017.

Evidence now clearly shows that these credits have zero effect on college attendance. The tax credits surely make those who get them better off, but they do nothing to increase education. If their intent is to increase schooling, they are a failure.

Continue reading at The Brookings Institution article The tax benefits for education don’t increase education.

NAEP results for 2017 available in interactive visualizations

When properly considered, Kansas often underperforms the nation in the most recent assessment of “The Nation’s Report Card.”

The results for the 2017 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, were recently released. I’ve prepared interactive visualizations of some of the results. To access the visualizations, click on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

When considering NAEP results, it’s important to consider subgroups, such as race/ethnicity and school lunch status, which is a proxy for poverty. It’s important because states vary widely in the composition of subgroups.

For example, consider an accompanying example from the visualization. We see that when considering all students, Kansas does better than the national average in percent of students performing as basic or better. This is true in all four combinations of grade and subject.

Looking at black students alone, however, we see that Kansas underperforms the nation, except in one instance where there is a tie.

For Hispanic students alone, Kansas does better in all instances except for one tie.

For white students alone, Kansas underperforms the nation in three instances, and outperforms in one.

This statistical anomaly is known as Simpson’s Paradox. It may appear when comparing subgroups to aggregated data when the proportional composition of subgroups varies between populations, in this case the states. For grade 4 reading, 64 percent of students in Kansas were white. For the nation, it was 49 percent. This is a difference in composition that must not be ignored.

The relatively low proportion of minority students is why Kansas appears to perform better than the nation. The apparent superior performance of Kansas melts away when looking at subgroups.

Kansas and the nation, percent at basic or better. Click for larger.
Kansas and the nation, percent at proficient or better. Click for larger.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

An interactive presentation of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for the states, grouped by race/ethnicity, and then by lunch status.

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 several test years, for these two subjects and two grade levels, with the results available by race/ethnicity in one visualization, and by lunch eligibility in another. Eligibility for the school lunch program is used as a proxy for household income, with “eligible” meaning the student is from a low-income household.

I gathered the data using the NAEP Data Explorer available at NCES 4 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.”

For the visualization based on race/ethnicity, click here.

For the visualization based on school lunch status, click here.

Example visualization. Click for larger.
Example visualization. Click for larger.


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 https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/landing.

Kansas and Iowa schools

Should Kansas schools aspire to be more like Iowa schools?

The Kansas Association of School Boards lists Iowa as an “aspirational” state, that is, one that Kansas should consider a role model.

I’ve gathered some data from both states. The United States Census Bureau collects data from the states as part of its Annual Survey of School System Finances program. 1 Data is available through fiscal year 2015. The National Education Association also gathers data. 2 The following table displays some data from both sources.

Note that Iowa spends much more than Kansas. Iowa school teacher salaries are higher, although the student-teacher ratio is nearly the same. (Student-teacher ratio is not the same as average class size, but it’s the data that is collected and reported.)

Since Iowa spends more on schools than Kansas on a per-student basis, we might be concerned that Kansas students are not doing as well as Iowa students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the best way to compare students in different states. 3 The following table shows NAEP data for Kansas and Iowa for 2015, the most recent year for data.

Click for larger.

Considering all students, Iowa has a larger percentage of students testing at “proficient” or better in all four subject/grade combinations.

Looking at subgroups, however, is important, because states vary in the composition of their student bodies. When we look at subgroups, we find that Kansas usually outperforms Iowa for black and Hispanic students. Even for white students alone, Kansas and Iowa tie twice and split the other two subject/grade combinations.

So let’s ask a few questions: Why is Iowa considered an aspirational state for Kansas? Is it because Iowa students perform better, or because Iowa spends more?


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances. Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html.
  2. National Education Association. Rankings of States and Estimates of School Statistics. Available at http://www.nea.org/home/44479.htm.
  3. National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

Colorado and Kansas schools

A writer claims that Colorado schools are well-funded, while Kansas schools are not.

From the Wichita Eagle Opinion Line:

The economy of our neighbor, Colorado, is growing fast. New residents cite that state’s well-funded schools as a key reason. Meanwhile in Kansas, Susan Wagle says our public schools don’t deserve an extra nickel of help from legislators.” 1

First, thinking like this ignores and disrespects the sacrifice Kansans make to fund our schools. This is a problem with government funding. The recipients rarely say “thank you” to those who provide the funding — they just get mad and agitate for more.

Second, I believe the writer is arguing that Colorado spends more on schools than Kansas. If so, the writer is incorrect.

The United States Census Bureau collects data from the states as part of its Annual Survey of School System Finances program. 2 Data is available through fiscal year 2015. The National Education Association also gathers data. 3 The following table displays some data from both sources.

Since Colorado spends less on schools than Kansas on a per-student basis, we might be concerned that Colorado students are not doing as well as Kansas students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the best way to compare students in different states. 4 The following table shows NAEP data for Kansas and Colorado for 2015, the most recent year for data. In almost every case, Colorado students perform better.

Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle, Opinion Line, March 29, 2018.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances. Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html.
  3. National Education Association. Rankings of States and Estimates of School Statistics. Available at http://www.nea.org/home/44479.htm.
  4. National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

Dale Dennis, sage of Kansas school finance?

Is the state’s leading expert on school funding truly knowledgeable, or is he untrustworthy?

Recent events have found Kansas Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis in the news regarding a possible mistake or misapplication of school funds. The school spending establishment has rushed to his rescue, with Kansas National Education Association, Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents Association, and American Federation of Teachers Kansas issuing a joint statement. Dale Dennis, says the statement, is “the best friend public education and the kids of Kansas have had.” He is described as “the most trustworthy, honest, and respected advocate for children and schools.”

Consider, however: The goals of these institutions are more spending on schools, less accountability for schools, and stamping out any movement towards school choice. And Dale Dennis accommodates this, especially more spending. This is the basis of the complaint, that he authorized more spending than the legislature intended in statute.

On Facebook, Kansas public school spending advocates mislead about the level of school spending. Click for larger.
No matter how this dispute resolves, Dale Dennis is not trustworthy and honest. Below is a description of a speech he gave to the Hutchinson Rotary Club last year. He portrayed a number called “base state aid per pupil” as all that the state spends on schools. The reality is that the state spends much more. Presenting base state aid as though it was all the state spends is misleading. It’s a lie.

Base state aid is a fairly low figure and it has not kept up with inflation. But total state (and local) spending is much higher and has risen. This is why Dale Dennis is not trustworthy and honest. This is fake government.

But because Dennis is willing to paint Kansas school finances untruthfully and in a way that makes it look like spending is low and has declined, the public school spending establishment loves him. They cite his figures. And then: Who can argue with the Kansas Department of Education Deputy Commissioner?

What can argue with Dennis are the facts. Here’s how to refute Dale Dennis: View spending numbers from the Kansas State Board of Education.

Following, from April 2017, analysis of Dale Dennis and his speech to the Hutchinson rotary Club.

Fake government spawns fake news

Discussions of public policy need to start from a common base of facts and information. An episode shows that both our state government and news media are not helping.

A recent Hutchinson News article1 started with this:

Once you wake up to where Kansas was in 1992 at funding schools and what it needs to do to get caught up, said the Kansas Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis, it’s a shocker.

In 1992, base state aid per pupil was $3,600. That amount, taking into account the Consumer Price Index, would be the equivalent of $6,001.12 in 2013. Base state aid, however, has been frozen at $3,852 since 2014-15.

“The numbers are shocking, shocking,” Dennis told the Hutchinson Rotary Club at its Monday luncheon meeting at the Hutchinson Town Club.

Why is a speech by a government bureaucrat, as covered in a major newspaper, important? It illustrates two problems we face in understanding, discussing, and debating important matters of public policy.

First, can government be truthful and accurate? Dale Dennis — the state’s top official on school finance — certainly knows that the numbers he presented do not accurately characterize the totality of school spending in Kansas. But the problem is even worse than that. To use base state aid as the indicator of state spending on schools is deceptive. It’s deceptive in that, after adjusting for inflation, base state aid has declined. But total state aid to school districts has increased.

Base state aid is a false indicator of total spending on schools by the state. It’s fake — fake government. And for a newspaper to uncritically present this as news illustrates the second problem we face.

Background on base state aid and school spending

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 Dennis presented — is an important number.2 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.3

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. 4

While this may seem like a technical discussion that doesn’t make a difference, it’s very important, because some of the weightings are large. 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.

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.)

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.)

What have we learned?

We’re left wondering a few things:

  • Did Deputy Superintendent Dale Dennis tell the audience that base state aid is just part of the school funding landscape, and not reflective of the big picture? Did he tell the audience that total state aid to schools has increased, and increased substantially? If so, why wasn’t it mentioned in the article?
  • If Dale Dennis did not tell the audience these things, what conclusions should we draw about his truthfulness?
  • Why didn’t the Hutchinson News article explain to readers that base state aid is not an accurate or total indicator of total state spending on schools?
  • What is the duty of reporters and editors? We’re told that experienced journalists add background and context to the news — things that the average reader may not know. (This article is designated as “Editor’s Pick” by the Hutchinson News.)

By the way, the Wichita Eagle, on its opinion page, cited in a positive and uncritical manner the Hutchinson News article.5 This is notable as the writer of the Eagle piece, opinion editor Phillip Brownlee, was a certified public accountant in a previous career. This is someone we should be able to trust to delve into numbers and tell us what they mean. But that isn’t the case.

Whatever your opinion on the level and trend of school spending, we need to start the discussion from a common base of facts and information. From this episode, we see that both our state government and news media are not helping.

For another take on the problems with this episode, see Paul Waggoner’s column in the Hutchinson News.6 (If not able to access that link, try Shocking News about Kansas Education!)


Notes

  1. Clarkin, Mary. Department of Education’s Dennis: Shocking number when looking at funding gap. Hutchinson News. April 17, 2017. http://www.hutchnews.com/news/local_state_news/department-of-education-s-dennis-shocking-number-when-looking-at/article_4abe359e-8421-53f9-a8d7-1eaa56e95423.html.
  2. 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/.
  3. For the fiscal 2016 and 2017 school years, the formula was replaced by block grants.
  4. 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
  5. Brownlee, Philip. School funding numbers are ‘shocking.’ Wichita Eagle. April 22, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/now-consider-this/article146084839.html.
  6. Waggoner, Paul. Shocking news about Kansas education. Hutchinson News. April 21, 2017. http://www.hutchnews.com/opinion/columnists/shocking-news-about-kansas-education/article_2ebea7d3-6659-51fc-b3b5-409d5b0aa243.html. Or, see https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/shocking-news-kansas-education/.

Wichita school student/teacher ratios

During years of purported budget cuts, what has been the trend of student/teacher ratios in the Wichita public school district?

When discussing school funding, there is controversy over how spending should be measured. What funds are included? Is KPERS included? Should we adjust for enrollment and inflation? What about bond and interest funds and capital outlay?

The largest expenditures of schools — some 80 percent nationwide — is personnel costs. In Kansas, and Wichita in particular, we’re told that budget cuts are causing school class sizes to increase.

When we look at numbers, we see that the USD 259, the Wichita public school district has been able to reduce its student/teacher ratios over the last ten years. (Student/teacher ratio is not the same statistic as class size.) There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but for all three levels of schools, student/teacher ratios are lower than they were ten years ago. (For middle schools, the trend over the past nine years is rising, although the ratio is lower than elementary and high schools.)

So however spending is categorized in funds, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether or not spending is adjusted for inflation, the Wichita school district has been able to improve its student/teacher ratios over the past ten years.

Data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for various years.

Wichita public school district transparency

Transparency issues surrounding the Wichita public school district are in the news. There are steps that are easy to make, but the district resists.

It’s difficult to view a meeting of the Wichita school board.

If you — perhaps a taxpayer to USD 259 — would like to watch a meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, your options are few. You can attend the meetings in person. Or, if you subscribe to certain cable television systems, you can view delayed repeats of the meetings. But that’s it.

Live and archived video of governmental meetings is commonplace, except for the Wichita public schools. Citizens must either attend USD 259 meetings or view delayed broadcasts on cable TV, if they subscribe.

There’s a simple way to fix this. It’s called YouTube.

When the Sedgwick County Commission was faced with an aging web infrastructure for its archived broadcasts, it did the sensible thing. It created a YouTube channel and uploaded video of its meetings. Now citizens can view commission meetings at any time on desktop PCs, tablets, and smartphones. This was an improvement over the old system, which was difficult to use and required special browser plug-ins.

Sometimes citizens have taken it upon themselves to post Wichita school board video on YouTube so that citizens and taxpayers may view meetings. Click for an example.
The Wichita school district could do the same. In fact, the district already has a YouTube channel. Recently, it has started posting video excerpts of some meetings.

So the district has demonstrated it has the technical capability and resources to post video of meetings to YouTube. Now, in addition to the excerpts, it should post video of all meetings in their entirety.

Yes, it takes a long time to upload two or three hours of video to YouTube, but once started the process runs in the background without intervention. No one has to sit and watch the process.

I have asked the district why it does not make video of its meetings available online. The district responded that it “has a long-standing commitment to the USD 259 community of showing unabridged recordings of regular Board of Education meetings on Cox Cable Channel 20 and more recently AT&T U-verse Channel 99.”

Showing meetings delayed on cable TV is okay. It was innovative at one time — a long time ago. Okay. But why aren’t meetings shown live? What if you can’t watch the meeting before it disappears from the broadcast schedule after a week? What if you don’t subscribe to cable TV? (This is becoming more common as more people “cut the cord” and rely on services like YouTube for television.) What if you want to watch meetings on your computer, tablet, or smartphone?

I don’t think the fact that meetings are on cable TV means they can’t also be on YouTube. But that seems like what the school district believes.

Sometimes increasing transparency is so easy. We must wonder why governmental agencies resist.

Kansas school fund balances

Kansas school fund balances rose this year, in both absolute dollars and dollars per pupil.

As Kansans debate school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court orders more school spending, and as schools insist that spending has been slashed, a fact remains: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Unspent fund balances grow in many years, and grew this year.

Fund balances are necessary for cash flow management. They buffer the flows of receipts and expenditures. The issue is what levels of balances are necessary, and, more importantly, how the balances change over years.

In Kansas, school districts report fund balances on July 1 of each year. Looking at fund balances on that date over time gives insight into how districts are managing receipts and expenditures. If a fund balance falls from July 1 of one year to July 1 of the next year, it means that the district spent more money from the fund than it put in the fund. The opposite is also true: If a balance rises, it means less was spent than was put in.

Based on recent data from the Kansas State Department of Education, fund balances rose rapidly after 2008, remained largely level from 2011 through 2015, and rose for 2016 and 2017.

For the school year ending in 2017, total fund balances were $2,016,863,070. (This value does not include non-school funds like museums and recreation center funds.) For 2016, the figure was $1,871,026,493. This is an increase of $145,836,577, or 7.8 percent.

Around half of these fund balances are in bond and capital funds, which are different from operating funds. Without these capital funds, balances rose from $935,116,567 to $970,188,922. This is an increase of $35,072,355, or 3.8 percent.

When fund balances rise, it is because schools did not spend all their revenue. If schools say that cuts had to be made, and at the same time fund balances are rising, Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these idle fund balances.

I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds from Kansas State Department of Education and present it as an interactive visualization in a variety of tables and charts. Data is available for each district since 2008. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open it in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education in current dollars (not adjusted for inflation). Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Top chart: Fund balances in all funds except non-school funds. Bottom: Without bond and capital funds. Click for larger.

From Pachyderm: Wichita school board candidates

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: A forum of candidates for Wichita school board. Recorded June 16, 2017.

At the lectern is Pachyderm Board Member Todd Johnson who moderated the forum.

Wichita school board candidates. Click for larger.
The eight candidates in attendance were from left to right, Betty Arnold and Ben Blankley for District 1; Julie Hedrick and Trish Hileman for District 2; Mike Rodee for District 5; and Walt Chappell, Shirley Jefferson, and Ron Rosales for District 6.

All of these candidates plus two candidates who could not attend today’s forum will move forward to the November 7, 2017, General Election.

In school district elections, all qualified voters district-wide in the Wichita Public School District have the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice from all four Board of Education Districts in the November election.

WichitaLiberty.TV: James Franko, Kansas Policy Institute

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: James Franko of Kansas Policy Institute joins Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn. Topics are the new Kansas school finance bill and the new tax bill. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 153, broadcast June 11, 2017.

Shownotes

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.)

Shocking News about Kansas Education!

By Paul Waggoner. This column first appeared in the Hutchinson News.

Listening too often to Topeka politicians and administrators can leave a normal person feeling rather jaded, even used. Or maybe it’s the reporting, sometimes I just don’t know.

Such was the case Tuesday reading the News report of Kansas Dept of Education Deputy commissioner Dale Dennis speech to the local Rotary club (Hutchinson News, April 18, “Ed Official: Fund Gap numbers shocking”). His talk was filled with boilerplate and themes typical of the education establishment.

Mr. Dennis made multiple comparisons and statements of fact to prove his points. In the article by the News own Mary Clarkin, Mr. Dennis set up a paradigm of school under-funding by noting that “in 1992 base state aid per pupil was $3,600”, while now it is only $ 3,852. If the amount had just been adjusted for inflation “it would be $6001.12”. Those cheapskate legislators!

These disheartening numbers for funding over the last 25 years, Mr. Dennis told the crowd, “are shocking, shocking”. Then he went on to tout House Bill 2410 that would raise base state aid to $4,006 next year and $4,800 per pupil by 2021. The total cost of this bill would come to $750 million. Which, Ms. Clarkin summarizes, would get us “back to where the state should have been in 2015-16”’.

I am not an educator, but I am a business person and I am conversant with state budget and spending numbers. Mr. Dennis, I hope to show, should be embarrassed by his comments; but even more, the News should be embarrassed by their article.

The data on Kansas K-12 spending is easily accessible at the Kansas Dept of Education website ksde.org. Going back 20 years to Gov. Graves and 1997 you see total state funding of $1,815 million, rising to $3,950 million in 2016, a 117 percent increase! But the inflation rate during this period was only 47 percent, and the student count was up just three percent. Surprised?

Total spending (state/federal/local) is the best indicator of overall education financing. Plus you avoid disputes over how KPERS should be counted (whether state or local) and you get a genuine bottom dollar cost.

Many News readers need to let these numbers sink in. This is not spin, this is official data, Total spending went from $6,828 to $12,188 per pupil in barely 10 years.

Now Mr. Dennis was giving you a “fact” on base state aid, but he avoided telling our esteemed Rotarians that in the 1990s “base state aid” was 90 percent of the money Kansas provided our schools, but by 2005 it was only 65 percent of Kansas school funding, and in 2015 it was barely 50 percent. The ksde.org website listed over 25 different avenues state money now flows to local schools.

Ms. Clarkin of the News is an intelligent women and if some Department of Commerce representative came touting “shocking” job growth numbers in Kansas she surely would have noted evidence or context to the contrary. But Mr. Dennis utter factual inaccuracies go unchallenged.

Many seem to think it is “anti-education” to point out the real spending numbers. But to ignore the context of the 12 years prior to Brownback and the 80% increase in state K-12 spending is insane. Does any genuine public servant think that spending trajectory was sustainable?

The actual K-12 spending information is just a few clicks away from us for any school district or the state as a whole. The Rotarians of 2017 are a sensible group and will (I trust) rotate their minds with the actual data and judge accordingly.

But I, for one, am forever shocked (shocked!) by how disingenuous Topeka bureaucrats and our Kansas news media continue to be. And in that I expect I will have plenty of company as this legislative year moves forward.

Paul Waggoner is a Hutchinson resident and business owner. He can be reached with comments at [email protected]

Fake government spawns fake news

Discussions of public policy need to start from a common base of facts and information. An episode shows that both our state government and news media are not helping.

A recent Hutchinson News article1 started with this:

Once you wake up to where Kansas was in 1992 at funding schools and what it needs to do to get caught up, said the Kansas Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis, it’s a shocker.

In 1992, base state aid per pupil was $3,600. That amount, taking into account the Consumer Price Index, would be the equivalent of $6,001.12 in 2013. Base state aid, however, has been frozen at $3,852 since 2014-15.

“The numbers are shocking, shocking,” Dennis told the Hutchinson Rotary Club at its Monday luncheon meeting at the Hutchinson Town Club.

Why is a speech by a government bureaucrat, as covered in a major newspaper, important? It illustrates two problems we face in understanding, discussing, and debating important matters of public policy.

First, can government be truthful and accurate? Dale Dennis — the state’s top official on school finance — certainly knows that the numbers he presented do not accurately characterize the totality of school spending in Kansas. But the problem is even worse than that. To use base state aid as the indicator of state spending on schools is deceptive. It’s deceptive in that, after adjusting for inflation, base state aid has declined. But total state aid to school districts has increased.

Base state aid is a false indicator of total spending on schools by the state. It’s fake — fake government. And for a newspaper to uncritically present this as news illustrates the second problem we face.

Background on base state aid and school spending

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 Dennis presented — is an important number.2 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.3

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. 4

While this may seem like a technical discussion that doesn’t make a difference, it’s very important, because some of the weightings are large. 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.

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.)

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.)

What have we learned?

We’re left wondering a few things:

  • Did Deputy Superintendent Dale Dennis tell the audience that base state aid is just part of the school funding landscape, and not reflective of the big picture? Did he tell the audience that total state aid to schools has increased, and increased substantially? If so, why wasn’t it mentioned in the article?
  • If Dale Dennis did not tell the audience these things, what conclusions should we draw about his truthfulness?
  • Why didn’t the Hutchinson News article explain to readers that base state aid is not an accurate or total indicator of total state spending on schools?
  • What is the duty of reporters and editors? We’re told that experienced journalists add background and context to the news — things that the average reader may not know. (This article is designated as “Editor’s Pick” by the Hutchinson News.)

By the way, the Wichita Eagle, on its opinion page, cited in a positive and uncritical manner the Hutchinson News article.5 This is notable as the writer of the Eagle piece, opinion editor Phillip Brownlee, was a certified public accountant in a previous career. This is someone we should be able to trust to delve into numbers and tell us what they mean. But that isn’t the case.

Whatever your opinion on the level and trend of school spending, we need to start the discussion from a common base of facts and information. From this episode, we see that both our state government and news media are not helping.

For another take on the problems with this episode, see Paul Waggoner’s column in the Hutchinson News.6 (If not able to access that link, try Shocking News about Kansas Education!)


Notes

  1. Clarkin, Mary. Department of Education’s Dennis: Shocking number when looking at funding gap. Hutchinson News. April 17, 2017. http://www.hutchnews.com/news/local_state_news/department-of-education-s-dennis-shocking-number-when-looking-at/article_4abe359e-8421-53f9-a8d7-1eaa56e95423.html.
  2. 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/.
  3. For the fiscal 2016 and 2017 school years, the formula was replaced by block grants.
  4. 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
  5. Brownlee, Philip. School funding numbers are ‘shocking.’ Wichita Eagle. April 22, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/now-consider-this/article146084839.html.
  6. Waggoner, Paul. Shocking news about Kansas education. Hutchinson News. April 21, 2017. http://www.hutchnews.com/opinion/columnists/shocking-news-about-kansas-education/article_2ebea7d3-6659-51fc-b3b5-409d5b0aa243.html. Or, see https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/shocking-news-kansas-education/.

Kansans are concerned about the level of state spending on schools

A public opinion poll asks whether Kansans are concerned about school spending, but leaves us wondering why they are concerned.

A public opinion poll commissioned by Kansas Center for Economic Growth asks questions so vague that the results could be interpreted in many ways.

The March 30, 2017 press release on the poll announced: “Nearly all Kansas voters are worried the state is not investing enough public education. Eighty-five percent of Kansas voters feel concerned about the state’s level of spending on public education.”1

Here’s the question asked in the survey:2

“Q.5 Would you say you are very concerned, somewhat concerned, a little concerned, or not at all concerned about the state’s level of spending on public education?”

(The reported results are: Very concerned 63%, Somewhat concerned 20%, A little concerned 5%, Not at all concerned 8%, (Don’t know/refused) 3%)

Let me ask you: Are you concerned about the level of spending on public education? I am. And there might be many reasons why Kansans are concerned.

  • Some people think the state spends too much
  • Some people think the state spends too little
  • Many people know that school spending is a large portion of the state’s budget, so naturally they are concerned, no matter if their opinion is that spending is too high or too low
  • Some people are concerned that state spending is misdirected and inefficient

There could be other reasons why people are concerned about the level of state spending on education. But this question does not give any guidance as to why people are concerned.

Later in the survey another question was asked: “Q.12 As you may know, the Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled, unanimously, that the state’s spending on public education was unconstitutionally low and needed to be fixed by June 30th. With this in mind, would you say you are very concerned, somewhat concerned, a little concerned, or not at all concerned about the state’s level of spending on public education?”

Still, the question did not ask whether people are concerned because spending is too high or too low. As a result, the answers to the survey questions can be used to advance nearly any agenda.


Notes

  1. Kansas Center for Economic Growth. New statewide poll shows overwhelming support for rollback of Brownback tax plan. http://realprosperityks.com/media/press-releases/new-statewide-poll-shows-overwhelming-support-roll-back-brownback-tax-plan/.
  2. Kansas Center for Economic Growth. Results of Kansas statewide poll. http://realprosperityks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/TSPolling_KCEG_KansasStatewide_PublicReleasePacket_2017.03.30-final-1.pdf.

Wichita student/teacher ratios

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

When discussing school funding, there is controversy over how spending should be measured. What funds are included? Is KPERS included? Should we adjust for enrollment and inflation? What about bond and interest funds and capital outlay?

The largest expenditures of schools — some 80 percent nationwide — is personnel costs. In Kansas, and Wichita in particular, we’re told that budget cuts are causing school class sizes to increase.

When we look at numbers, we see that the Wichita school district has — over the long term — been able to maintain or reduce its student/teacher ratios. (Student/teacher ratio is not the same statistic as class size.) There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but for all three school levels, the ratios are lower or nearly the same than they were ten years ago. (Click charts for larger versions.)

This means that Wichita schools have been able to increase employment of teachers at a faster rate than enrollment has risen.

So however spending is categorized in funds, whether KPERS contributions are included or not, whether the funding comes from state or local sources, whether spending is adjusted for inflation, the Wichita school district has been able to improve or maintain its student/teacher ratios.

Data is from USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2016, Miscellaneous Statistics, page 118, and CAFR from other years.

Wrong direction for Wichita public schools

A letter in the Wichita Eagle illustrates harmful attitudes and beliefs of the public school establishment.

The letter is titled “Wrong direction.” It was submitted by John H. Wilson, was published on February 26, 2017, and may be read here.

What’s wrong in this letter? Here’s one thing: “First, the ill-founded assertion is that parents are well equipped to identify the best school for their children. Wrong.”

This is an incredibly bigoted assertion. This is one of the standard arguments against school choice, that parents — particularly minority and low-income families — don’t have the ability to make wise choices in schools for their children. Instead, an educated elite, of Wilson is a member, must make these decisions, they say.

There is a whif of plausibility in Wilson’s claim. In Wichita, where there is no school choice except for a small tax credit scholarship program, parents don’t have much experience making decisions regarding schools for their children. Across the country, however, where parents are given choices, we see parents becoming involved. With school choice programs, parents have a chance to make a difference.

Here’s something else that is rich in irony. With school choice, Wilson says, “Public schools organization and management would become a nightmare.” The private sector, however, manages situations like this every day. The irony is that the fleet of public school administrators hold many advanced degrees in public school administration. But school choice, evidently, is too complicated to manage.

Finally, Wilson references “a highly successful and proud institution, our public schools.” I’d like to call his attention to the nearby chart of results from the Kansas school assessments for the Wichita school district. According to the Kansas State Department of education, “Level 2 indicates that the student is doing grade-level work as defined by the standards but not at the depth or level of rigor to be considered on-track for college success. Level 3 indicates that the student is performing at academic expectations for that grade and is on track to being college ready.”

Looking at fourth grade reading — a very important benchmark — we see that considering college-level readiness, 35.5 percent of students are at that standard. But only 17.6 of African-American students are at that level, and 29.7 percent of Hispanic students. The performance is worse for math, and worse again at eighth grade for both subjects.

I don’t think this is “highly successful,” and I don’t see how Wilson is proud of this legacy. Except: He’s part of the public school establishment, which vigorously protects itself from any meaningful competition.

Kansas school assessments for Wichita. Click for larger.