Tag Archives: Kansas State Department of Education

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


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.

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.

Kansas state school assessments

An interactive presentation of Kansas state school assessment scores at the state, district, and building levels.

Kansas State Department of Education makes available school assessment results at its website Kansas Building Report Card, available at ksreportcard.ksde.org. The present assessments were first given in 2014, although results for that year were not made available.1

KSDE background explains that scores on the tests are categorized in four levels: “Kansas assessment results are now reported in four levels. Level 1 indicates that student is not performing at grade-level standards. 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. Level 4 indicates that the student is performing above expectations and is on-track to being college ready.”

When KSDE presents assessment results through the report card website, it shows the percent of students whose scores fall into each category. While this is useful, I present the data in a different way, using these categories:

  • Level 1
  • Level 2 or higher
  • Level 3 or higher
  • Level 4

Thus, “Level 2 or higher” holds the percentage of students doing grade-level work or better, and “Level 3 or higher” holds the percentage of students on track to being college ready or better.

There are three visualizations, one for building-level results, another for district-level results, and another for state-level. (Because of the differing sizes of buildings and districts, it is not possible to simply aggregate statistics to a higher level.)

Here are the links to the visualizations:

Example from the visualizations. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Kansas State Board of Education. Agenda Packet for July 2014. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/Board/Materials%20&%20Agendas/2014/JULY%20BOARD%20PACKET%20rfs.pdf.

Public education factbook for 2017

The fifth edition of data on public schools in Kansas is available.

Kansas Policy Institute has released a new edition of its Public Education Fact Book. KPI describes this book:

KPI’s fifth annual Public Education Fact Book is a one-stop shop for data on public school information from The Sunflower State. Numerous scientific surveys show that citizens are grossly misinformed on many pertinent facts of public education in Kansas. Aid and spending per-pupil are much higher than many Kansans believe, and student achievement is lower than understood. This fact book series aims to rectify this situation.

This document is available to read online here, or contact KPI for a printed copy.

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.

Kansas school employment

Kansas school employment rose slightly for the current school year, and ratios of employees to pupils fell, also slightly.

Kansas school employment. Click for larger.

Kansas school employment. Click for larger.
Figures released by the Kansas State Department of Education show the number of certified employees rose slightly for the 2016-2017 school year.

The number of Pre-K through grade 12 teachers rose to 30,431 from 30,413, an increase of 0.06 percent. Certified employees rose to 41,459 from 41,405, or by 0.13 percent.1 These are not the only employees of school districts.2

Enrollment fell from 463,504 to 460,491, or 0.61 percent. As a result, the ratios of teachers to students and certified employees to students fell. The pupil-teacher ratio fell from 15.2 pupils per teacher to 15.1. The certified employee-pupil ratio fell from 11.2 to 11.1.

The relative change in enrollment and employment is not the same in every district. To help Kansas learn about employment trends in individual school districts, I’ve gathered the numbers from the Kansas State Department of Education and present them in an interactive visualization. Click here to use it.

These figures, at least on a state-wide basis, are contrary to the usual narrative, which is that school employment has been slashed, and class sizes are rising rapidly. The pupil-teacher ratios published by KSDE are not the same statistic as class sizes. But if the data shows that the ratio of pupils to teachers is largely unchanged for the past five years and class sizes are rising at the same time, we’re left to wonder what school districts are doing with teachers.


Notes

  1. According to KSDE, certified employees include Superintendent, Assoc./Asst. Superintendents, Administrative Assistants, Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors/Supervisors Spec. Ed., Directors/Supervisors of Health, Directors/Supervisors Career/Tech Ed, Instructional Coordinators/Supervisors, All Other Directors/Supervisors, Other Curriculum Specialists, Practical Arts/Career/Tech Ed Teachers, Special Ed. Teachers, Prekindergarten Teachers, Kindergarten Teachers, All Other Teachers, Library Media Specialists, School Counselors, Clinical or School Psychologists, Nurses (RN or NP only), Speech Pathologists, Audiologists, School Social Work Services, and Reading Specialists/Teachers. Teachers include Practical Arts/Vocational Education Teachers, Special Education Teachers, Pre-Kindergarten Teachers, Kindergarten Teachers, Other Teachers, and Reading Specialists/Teachers. See Kansas State Department of Education. Certified Personnel. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/reports_and_publications/Personnel/Certified%20Personnel%20Cover_State%20Totals.pdf.
  2. There are also, according to KSDE, non-certified employees, which are Assistant Superintendents, Business Managers, Business Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Business Personnel, Maintenance and Operation Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Maintenance and Operation Personnel, Food Service Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Food Service Personnel, Transportation Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Other Transportation Personnel, Technology Director, Other Technology Personnel, Other Directors/Coordinators/Supervisors, Attendance Services Staff, Library Media Aides, LPN Nurses, Security Officers, Social Services Staff, Regular Education Teacher Aides, Coaching Assistant, Central Administration Clerical Staff, School Administration Clerical Staff, Student Services Clerical Staff, Special Education Paraprofessionals, Parents as Teachers, School Resource Officer, and Others. See Kansas State Department of Education. Non-Certified Personnel Report. http://www.ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/reports_and_publications/Personnel/NonCertPer%20Cov_St%20Totals.pdf.

Kansas school spending, an interactive visualization

An interactive visualization of spending for Kansas school districts.

The accompanying visualization holds both nominal dollar amounts and amounts adjusted to reflect 2016 dollars. Data includes state aid, local aid, federal aid, and total spending for each school district, both total and per pupil. The visualization includes both tables and charts.

Kansas school spending, entire state, through 2016. Click for larger. This is an example from the visualization.
Kansas school spending, entire state, through 2016. Click for larger. This is an example from the visualization.
For the school year ending in 2016, total spending per pupil was $13,015. This is down from an inflation-adjusted $13,222 for 2015, a decline of 1.56 percent. Considering state funding only, per-pupil funding for 2016 was $8,540, down from an inflation-adjusted $8,631 for 2016, a decline of 1.05 percent.

In fiscal year 2015 there was a shift in the way property tax revenue is reported, with revenue formerly counted as “local” being counted as “state.” One of the tabs in the visualization shows the sum of local and state values, which eliminates the effect of the change in reporting.

Kansas Policy Institute has spending data without KPERS (retirement) spending at Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16.

Spending and revenue data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Inflation-adjusted data calculated using Consumer Price Index, all items, 1982-84=100 (series CUUR0000SA0) from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price level used for 2016 is for the first half of 2016. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states

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

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states for 2015. Click for larger.
Data from National Center for Education Statistics, ELSI Elementary and Secondary Information System, shows that Kansas is near the top of the states in pupil-teacher ratio, meaning that Kansas has many teachers compared to the number of students. NCES is a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

A common complaint in Kansas is that class sizes have been rising. While pupil-teacher ratio is not the same measure as class size, the question is this: If Kansas has a low pupil-teacher ratio, but class sizes are (purportedly) large and rising, what are these teachers doing?

In the chart of pupil-teacher ratios over time, we see that while the ratio in Kansas rose for the 2015 school year, the trend over time is down, meaning that the number of teachers has increased faster than enrollment. The ratio for 2015 is the same as for 2008, and lower than the years before then.

Also, note the position of Kansas compared to other states. The pupil-teacher ratio in Kansas is lower than in most states.

This data is available in an interactive visualization. You may select different views of the data, and filter for specific states and time frames. Click here to access the visualization.

Pupil-teacher ratios in the states, with Kansas highlighted. Click for larger.

A Wichita school official talks about KPERS

A board member of the largest school district in Kansas repeated an untruth that has unfortunate consequences for Kansas schoolchildren.

At a recent meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club Wichita school board member Sheril Logan participated in a panel discussion on local government legislative agenda. (The entire program may be accessed here.)

She told the audience, “Truly, data can be maneuvered to make it look like what you want. We all know that. So can funding streams.”

She went on to explain that what happened in the “last couple of years” was, for example, KPERS funds being counted differently.

What Mrs. Logan told the Wichita Pachyderm Club is a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not. According to her, this happened in the “last couple of years.”

The story about KPERS reporting being changed in an underhanded way is told so often by the public school spending establishment that it is difficult to criticize Mrs. Logan for being wrong. Board members and others are told this so often, from sources they believe as authoritative, that they believe it. They want to believe it.

Kansas Policy Institute asked the Kansas State Department of Education about this matter. It found this: “According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals.”1

Here, Dale Dennis contradicts what a board member of the state’s largest school district told the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services, widely cited as the leading authority on Kansas school finance..2

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS Contributions. Click for larger.
Even though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate the error of believing the KPERS spending reporting has undergone recent changes. Information from the Wichita public school district3 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school district started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.

We might note that when this change in KPERS reporting started, Kathleen Sebelius was governor. If the change in KPERS reporting is, in fact, deceitful, we ought to ask why it happened under her watch.

Does it matter?

Does it really matter that there is this confusion about KPERS reporting? Yes. It matters a lot, and for two reasons.

First, what the Kansas public school spending establishment says is incorrect. We should value the truth above all.

Second: If we believe that Kansas public schools are underfunded, there is a ready-made excuse for anything and everything. If anyone points out that Kansas schools have problems, the excuse is that there’s isn’t enough money. This lets Kansas public school officials off the hook, and needed reforms are squashed. Even reforms that will save money.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. Available at kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  2. Kansas State Department of Education. Fiscal & Administrative Services. http://www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services.
  3. USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds, and USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds.

Kansas schools, right in the middle

A national report shows Kansas schools close to the middle of the states in many areas.

Education Week, a widely-read publication focusing on schools, has published the latest edition of the long-running series Quality Counts. The headline for the Kansas summary reads “Kansas Earns a C on State Report Card, Ranks 27th in Nation.”

In the overview for Kansas, the report concludes “This year, Kansas finishes 27th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with an overall score of 72.8 out of 100 points.”

In more detail, the report computes a “Chance-for-Success Index,” said to measure the “role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes across an individual’s lifetime.” In this index, Kansas ranks 19th in early foundations, 22nd in school years, and 19th in adult outcomes.

In school finance spending indicators, Kansas ranks 29th. In school finance equity, 21st.

For school achievement, the report looks at three areas. In current performance, Kansas ranks 28th in the nation. In improvement over time, Kansas posts a D-minus and ranks 50th. In equity, Kansas ranks 36th.

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.

Kansas school employees by type

An interactive visualization of relative trends in Kansas school employment.

Kansas State Department of Education makes available tables of the number of employees working in Kansas schools. Employees are classified in two broad categories, Certified and Non-Certified. Within each category, employees are further classified by job type such as Superintendent, Curriculum Specialist, and Social Worker.

Example from the visualization, showing assistant superintendents highlighted. Click for larger.
I’ve gathered the tables back to fiscal year 2002 (the 2001 — 2002 school year) and present them in an interactive visualization. There are separate visualizations for Certified and Non-Certified employees. In each, as shown in the instruction, you may check the check boxes to add or remove types of employees. For the employee types that are shown, you may click to highlight types apart from the others.

The line charts show the relative change in the number of employees. You may learn whether the number of employee type A is growing faster or slower than employee type B.

The visualization also holds tables showing the number of employees.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

Using the visualization.
Using the visualization.

Gary Sherrer and Kansas Policy Institute

A former Kansas government official criticizes Kansas Policy Institute.

I wouldn’t normally use a Facebook comment in a public way, but the comment was left in public, to a post on my Facebook profile. Plus, the writer is a former Kansas government official. He’s Gary Sherrer, who has been Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of Commerce, and Chair of the Kansas Board of Regents.

From the author's Facebook profile, starting December 2, 2016. Click for larger.
From the author’s Facebook profile, starting December 2, 2016. Click for larger.
Sherrer had criticized the truthfulness of Kansas Policy Institute, claiming he “could write an essay” on his criticism of KPI. Upon my suggestion for him to do so, he offered two criticisms.

First, Sherrer wrote this: “They count KAPERS payments that in the past were direct state payments. Now they send them to the school districts and within hours transfer them back to the state yet it shows as increased revenue in the local budget. Same $s just an accounting trick.”

This is a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not.

In response, Kansas Policy Institute noted this: “According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals.”1

Dale Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services.

Wichita Public Schools, State Revenue by Source, KPERS ContributionsEven though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate changes in KPERS payment accounting. Information from the Wichita public school district2 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school district started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.

So if anyone wants to claim that KPERS payment accounting has been changed in order to be deceptive, why don’t we ask former governor Kathleen Sebelius why it happened under her watch?

Additionally, the argument that the KPERS funds are held by school districts for just hours or minutes is trivial. If the state allowed school districts to hold the funds for two days, two weeks, two months — would that make any meaningful difference? Instead, school districts ought to be thankful that the taxpayers of the state of Kansas cover part of employee retirement costs. But we don’t hear those thanks, just complaints.

Sherrer is correct on one thing: There are people in government who may be touting increased KPERS payments as increased school spending. Two things: KPERS spending is school spending. If not that, what is it? Second, these people are not Kansas Policy Institute. KPT takes efforts to separate KPERS spending from other school spending.3

Here’s something else from Sherrer: “Anther example- local property taxes collected for schools was always sent directly to the school district- after all it is local not state tax $s. Now the local sends it to the state, then it is sent to school districts. Again, same dollars but trick accounting to make it look like increased state spending.”

I’ve never seen KPI make the claim that Sherrer makes. Others may make it, but KPI takes steps to adjust figures for this change.4

Finally, Sherrer writes: “When is Kansas Policy going do do research on the financial disaster called the Kansas budget?” Well, KPI has done this, providing a detailed roadmap. In my reporting on KPI’s plan, I wrote:

The State of Kansas has implemented tax reform that reduces the tax burden for Kansans. A remaining challenge that has not yet been tackled is spending reform, that is, aligning Kansas state government spending with a smaller stream of tax revenue. Critics of tax reform say the Kansas budget is a mess or a train wreck, pointing to projections of large deficits before long. Tax increases or service cuts will be required to balance the budget, contend critics.

In a policy brief released today, Kansas Policy Institute presented a plan for bringing the budget in balance while retaining low tax rates (and future reductions) and accommodating projected future spending needs for Medicare and schools.

You can more about the plan at For Kansas budget, balance is attainable.


Notes

  1. Trabert, Dave. State school board member should practice what he preaches. https://kansaspolicy.org/state-school-board-member-practice-preaches/.
  2. USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds, and USD 259 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007, State Revenue by Source, Governmental Funds.
  3. For example, see Dorsey, David. Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16. https://kansaspolicy.org/non-kpers-funding-sets-another-per-pupil-record-in-2015-16/.
  4. For example, see Parkes, Patrick. State school funding ranks high in Kansas. https://kansaspolicy.org/state-school-funding-ranks-high-in-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.

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.

Kansas school spending: Visualization

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

The accompanying visualization holds both nominal dollar amounts and amounts adjusted to reflect 2016 dollars. Data includes state aid, local aid, federal aid, and total spending for each school district, both total and per pupil. The visualization includes both tables and charts.

School spending in Kansas and the United States. Click for larger.
For the school year ending in 2016, total spending per pupil was $13,015. This is down from an inflation-adjusted $13,222 for 2015, a decline of 1.56 percent. Considering state funding only, per-pupil funding for 2016 was $8,540, down from an inflation-adjusted $8,631 for 2016, a decline of 1.05 percent.

Kansas Policy Institute has spending data without KPERS (retirement) spending at Non-KPERS funding sets another per-pupil record in 2015-16.

Spending and revenue data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Inflation-adjusted data calculated using Consumer Price Index, all items, 1982-84=100 (series CUUR0000SA0) from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price level used for 2016 is for the first half of 2016. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Click here to open the visualization in a new window.

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.

As Kansans debate school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court considers ordering more school spending, and as school spending boosters insisting that school spending has been slashed, a fact remains constant: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Fund balances grew in many years, and rose rapidly this year.

Fund balances are necessary for cash flow management. The issue is what levels of balances are necessary. 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.

For the school year ending in 2015, total cash balances were $1,745,557,046. (This total 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 $125,469,450, or 7.2 percent.

Kansans might wonder why schools did not spend some of these funds to offset cuts they have contended were necessary.

I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds and presented it as an interactive visualization. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Kansas school fund balances, all districts. Click for larger.
Kansas school fund balances, all districts. Click for larger.

Public school experts

Do only those within the Kansas public schooling community have a say?

In a letter to the Wichita Eagle, a longtime educator asks “Just how much confidence in the schooling community should taxpayers embrace?”1

The answer should be: Some.

The author’s primary topic in this letter was school funding. He writes that public school educators are best qualified to decide school funding issues, and we should trust their judgment.

The problem is that public school educators have a self-interest in this matter that goes beyond the achievement of Kansas schoolchildren. Teachers complain that class sizes are too large. At what level would teachers agree that their classes are not oversized? When making that decision, do they weigh the much larger expenditures that will be required to reduce class sizes substantially?

The success of class size reduction has a mixed record. For example, when the Brookings Institution surveyed the literature, it came to this conclusion: “Class-size reduction has been shown to work for some students in some grades in some states and countries, but its impact has been found to be mixed or not discernable in other settings and circumstances that seem similar. It is very expensive.”2

More importantly, do educators consider that smaller class sizes mean more teachers, and that if school districts have hired the best teachers first, then any additional teachers hired must be (by definition) less qualified than current teachers? This is important because teacher quality is known to be — by far — the largest factor in student achievement.3

Small classes are good. Most people like personalized attention. But teacher quality really matters:

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.4

Wichita school district student-teacher ratios. While not the same measure as class size, these ratios have generally improved or remained constant.
Wichita school district student-teacher ratios. While not the same measure as class size, these ratios have generally improved or remained constant.

Despite this, our state’s public school establishment tells us that we must have smaller classes.

Besides the obvious self-interest of public school educators, there is also this: They have lied to us. Blatantly. For years our state’s education leaders have told us that Kansas schoolchildren score well on the state’s achievements test. This should be good news, but the Kansas tests were much less stringent that other states’ test. The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has published many studies over the years that documented the weakness of the Kansas assessments. For some years, only a handful of states had standards weaker than ours.5 6

Finally, last year Kansas adopted realistic standards. A presentation by the Kansas State Department of Education to the Kansas State Board of Education explained the relationship of the new standards to the former: “The Kansas College and Career Ready Standards are more rigorous than the previous Kansas Standards.”7

This admission came, however, after many years of telling us Kansas students were among the nations’ best. But Kansas students were taking easier tests.

Undoubtedly those who work in our public schools have much knowledge about their operation and what needs to be fixed. But they have an obvious self-interest, and we need others to look at schools, too.


Notes

  1. John H. Wilson. Trust judgment of school educators. Wichita Eagle, October 6, 2016. Available here.
  2. Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst and Matthew M. Chingos. Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy. Brookings Instutition. Available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/class-size-what-research-says-and-what-it-means-for-state-policy/.
  3. “For instance, the median finding across 10 studies of teacher effectiveness estimates that a teacher who is one standard deviation above the average in terms of quality produces additional learning gains for students of 0.12 standard deviations in reading and 0.14 standard deviations in math.” Dan Goldhaber. In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most. EducationNext. Available at educationnext.org/in-schools-teacher-quality-matters-most-coleman/.
  4. Gladwell, Malcolm. *Most Likely to Succeed.* Available at www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/12/15/most-likely-to-succeed-malcolm-gladwell.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school standards evaluated. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-standards-evaluated/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school standards found lower than in most states. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-standards-found-lower-than-in-most-states/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. After years of low standards, Kansas schools adopt truthful standards. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/after-years-of-low-standards-kansas-schools-adopt-truthful-standards/.

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.

VIDEO: 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. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Click here for more about this topic.