Tag Archives: Wichita and Kansas schools

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.”

Does School Choice Kill Public Schools?

Does School Choice Kill Public Schools?
By Lori Graham

Recently, I asked Kris Kobach, candidate for Kansas Governor, if he supports school choice. His answer was “Yes,” and he gave an idea of how that would work. The liberal media pounced on his idea and twisted his answer in a way that perpetuates the fear that allowing parents to choose what is best for their child’s education will kill the public school system. Conservatives and liberals alike are fearful about this, but will it really kill the public schools?

To answer this, we need to first look at the problem. The real problem of meeting the needs of every student so that they achieve their potential. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) has a new program called “Kansans Can – Kansas leads the world in the success of EVERY student.” This is a lofty goal, because it is a fact that the public schools will never meet every need for every student even with all the money in the world. In 2017, only 34% of the students had an “effective” or better understanding of Math, Science and English skills to enter the workforce. This is a frightening statistic and knowing that all of the additional funding each year over the last 10 years, which has reached record levels, still has not improved student success.

When we speak about “School Choice,” it means we focus the educational dollars on every student in the state of Kansas. I would think this is what the KSDE means with their Kansans Can program. If neighborhood schools are not meeting the needs of their children, parents should be able to select a different school that does meet their needs. Right now, that right only belongs to the wealthy or the very poor. Those in the middle are stuck with their government assigned-school, and only one-third of the students succeeding proves this is a flawed method of educating the next generation.

There are many different models of school choice around the country. Kris Kobach’s idea of grading each school building sounds logical on the surface and uses current Kansas state tests to do so. What he proposed is that schools with test score improvement from year to year will get pay increases for the staff, and those that fail will give vouchers to the students to choose another option. While the performance-based initiative is a good start, it only meets the needs of children of failing schools. What about the other students that may be in a good school, but their needs are not being met? In addition, this puts more focus on the testing that has proven to be a failure with No Child Left Behind and other legislation.

The best school choice option is for every parent/guardian to choose the best school to meet the needs of their child. This solution is great for public schools, great for teachers, great for students, and great for the Kansas economy. The best system for students is the best system for everyone. When our students get their individual needs met, whether he is high-achieving where challenging work is best or he is special-needs and focused therapies are best, our teachers will be able to actually teach, have more opportunities, and thus better pay; our schools will be less taxed with the overbearing challenge of meeting so many different problems our children face; and our economy will be strengthened with better prepared graduates and growth.

In states that have enacted school choice for all students, the public schools are flourishing! The free-market system encouraged new schools to pop up to meet the full spectrum of student needs, from autism to college-prep. Not all students will flock to the new schools, because public schools still have a lot to offer. The value of attending school with your neighbors, great sports, and great teachers will still appeal to the majority of parents.

What it does mean is that public schools will be required to focus on the students, not the administrator’s salary. The teachers and staff will need to be paid better so schools have the best teachers. The student’s parents will be the judge of their child’s success instead of the government tests. Teachers and administrators alike will be encouraged to work with the parent to ensure the success of the student. My experience as a public school employee and as a public school parent was that teachers only speak to parents for less than 10 minutes, twice per year, as required, at Parent-Teacher Conferences. This might work for a few students, but it certainly doesn’t work for the majority.

If the parents prefer their child not sit through the social engineering classes that teach values in conflict with their own, they will now have the opportunity to go elsewhere. If the school is great, but the environment is a problem with the student like drugs or bullying, the parent will be able to move the student to a new environment. If the child is struggling with new teaching methods like Common Core, the parent can move he/she to a more classical learning option.

Until every parent is allowed to choose what is best for their child, our student success will be sub-par, the funding will continue to go through the roof, and our children will be sacrificed in the process. School choice for all students levels the playing field for poor, rich and middle-income students alike. As soon as conservatives and liberals stop arguing long enough to learn about the proven benefits of school choice, our children, every child, will finally get the education they so deserve and our public school system will also thrive.

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.

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.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, joins Bob and Karl to update us on happenings in the Kansas Legislature. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 192, broadcast April 14, 2018.

Shownotes

  • Senator Ty Masterson at Kansas Legislature
  • Ty Masterson campaign website
  • SB 424: AN ACT concerning education; establishing the office of education inspector general within the office of the state treasurer; providing the duties and functions thereof.
  • SB 393: Legislative committees; all votes of each legislator on motions or other action recorded in minutes.
  • SCR 1611: Making application to the U.S. congress to call a convention of the states.
  • HB 2753: Review of tax credits, tax exemptions and economic development programs.

NAEP 2017 for Kansas, first look

A look at National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores for Kansas and the nation, grade 4 reading.

Today the National Center for Education Statistics released the main NAEP scores for 2017. NAEP — National Assessment of Educational Progress — is known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” 1 It is a test that is the same in all states, and is the primary means of comparing states. 2

The main NAEP tests two subjects, math and reading, in two grades, fourth and eighth. For grade 4 reading, the average score for students in Kansas in 2017 was 223. NCES says this is not significantly different from the state’s average score in 2015 (221) and in 1998 (221). 3

Looking at the scores using achievement levels for fourth grade reading, we see that 30 percent were at the “below basic” level of achievement. 70 percent were at “basic” or better, 37 percent at “proficient” or better, and 8 percent at “advanced.” All of these numbers are within two percentage points of the 2015 levels and are not significantly different, according to NCES. 4 (Clicking or tapping on charts may produce larger versions.)

Comparing Kansas schools with the nation, we see that Kansas has an edge — sometimes — over the nation. For example, 70 percent of Kansas students are at basic or better, compared to 68 percent for the nation.

Looking at Kansas and national schools broken down by eligibility for the school lunch program, we see that Kansas does better than the nation with students eligible for the lunch program. (Students who are eligible for the lunch program are those from low-income households.) But for students who are not eligible, national schools do better.

Considering test scores by race/ethnicity, there is good news and bad news. (Again, these results are for grade 4 reading.) First, Kansas does better than the nation with Hispanic students at all achievement levels.

For Black students, Kansas does worse than the nation at all achievement levels.

For White students, Kansas also underperforms the nation at all achievement levels.

This is a look at reading for grade 4 only.


Notes

  1. United States Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Available at https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/.
  2. NAEP Overview Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/.
  3. 2017 Reading State Snapshot Report, Kansas, Grade 4, Public Schools. Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2017/pdf/2018039KS4.pdf.
  4. Ibid.

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/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas State of the State for 2018

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Vice president and policy director of Kansas Policy Institute James Franko joins Karl Peterjohn to discuss Governor Brownback’s State of the State Address for 2018. Topics include schools and Medicaid expansion. Bob Weeks hopes to be back next week. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 179, broadcast January 13, 2018.

Shownotes

From Pachyderm: Local legislative priorities

From the Wichita Pachyderm Club: Local government officials present their legislative priorities. Appearing are James Clendenin for the City of Wichita, Dave Unruh for Sedgwick County, and Sheril Logan for the Wichita Public School District. This was recorded December 22, 2017.

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 school revenue

Revenue for the Wichita public school district continues its familiar trend.

Wichita school revenue. Click for larger.
Now that USD 259, the Wichita public school district, has finally published its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the year ending June 30, 2017, we can start to look at some figures.

The nearby chart shows data from the CAFR along with my calculations. I took two data series, total revenue and the sum of state and local revenue, divided by FTE enrollment, and adjusted for inflation. I plot the sum of state and local revenue because in 2015 there was a change in the way some taxes were allocated. Plotting the sum of the two removes the effect of the change.

As can be seen in the chart, the trend for both series is generally rising, with a few dips along the way.

Briefs

He didn’t participate

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, November 24, 2017: “The kindest word that can be ascribed to State Senator Susan Wagle, when she criticizes the Kansas Supreme Court? Disingenuous. She never mentions Brownback appointee, Justice Caleb Stegall; he has repeatedly agreed with his colleagues on school finance.”

The likely reason Senator Wagle doesn’t mention Justice Stegall when criticizing the Court on school finance matters is that he, along with another judge, hasn’t participated. The recent opinions are signed “BEIER and STEGALL, JJ., not participating. MICHAEL J. MALONE and DAVID L. STUTZMAN, Senior Judges, assigned.” Why? “Justices Carol Beier and Caleb Stegall have both recused themselves from the Gannon case — Stegall because he served as Brownback’s chief counsel before he was appointed to the Kansas Court of Appeals in 2014; Beier did not provide a reason for her recusal.” See Kansas Supreme Court rejects lawmakers’ school finance changes, threatens in new ruling to close schools.

Quality of life, or a boatload of cash

Ron Sylvester in The Hutchinson News: “It’s all about quality of life. [Wichita Mayor Jeff] Longwell said Wichita drew Cargill and its $60 million investment downtown by investing in its arts community, parks, trails and a new library. Businesses move to town, not because of tax breaks and cash incentives, Longwell said, but because the people who work for those companies want to live there.”

First, Wichita didn’t draw Cargill downtown. It was already located in downtown Wichita. Wichita merely retained Cargill. No new jobs are anticipated.

As to the role of quality of life: Possibly that was a factor. More likely? The millions in subsidy Cargill will receive. Cargill tapped pretty much every economic development incentive program it could, along with a few innovative additions, such as renting its parking garage to the city during the times Cargill doesn’t need it.vSee More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed.

Let’s ask the mayor this question: If tax breaks and cash incentives were not needed, why did the city (and the state) award so much in incentives?

Who oversaw Wichita schools when this happened?

Teachers ‘fearful’ about escalating violence at Southeast High (Wichita Eagle, December 1, 2017): Some employees at Southeast High School in Wichita say they have ‘grave concerns’ about escalating violence and unruly behavior at the school, and they’re urging leaders to take ‘decisive and strong actions’ to combat it.” This continues a theme from this summer, as further reported in Behavior is getting worse in Wichita classrooms, data shows. (Wichita Eagle, June 16, 2017): “Discipline problems have increased substantially in Wichita schools over the past four years, particularly among the district’s youngest students, according to data obtained by The Eagle. The situation is frustrating teachers, prompting some of them to leave the profession, and has inspired a new program aimed at teaching elementary school students how to pay attention, follow directions and control their emotions.”

I was surprised to learn of these problems that have been developing in the Wichita Public Schools. That’s because John Allison, the immediate past superintendent, was universally praised by the school board and district administration. Allison left at the end of June after serving eight years to become superintendent in Olathe. Hopefully that district will not experience the erosion in discipline that Allison presided over in Wichita.

Amtrak affordable for whom?

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 3, 2017: “How I long for affordable rail service connecting Wichita to major cities. Traveling to family for the holiday reminds me of how sad it is to live in such a remote, isolated, inaccessible place as Wichita.” Inaccessible? We were told that subsidies to discount airlines and a new airport terminal would fix that. Then, the only reason Amtrak is affordable is that taxpayers pay a lot to keep Amtrak running. (That’s if Amtrak prices are really affordable. I just compared a few Amtrak trips with airline trips, and airfares aren’t much more, and offer many more options as to time. And if you value your time, there is no better way to waste it than on a train.) Other forms of travel receive subsidy too, but peanuts compared to Amtrak. From Randal O’Toole, Stopping the Runaway Train: The Case for Privatizing Amtrak:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, after adjusting for inflation to 2011 dollars, subsidies to domestic air travel averaged about $14 billion a year between 1995 and 2007. Considering that the airlines carried an average of more than 500 billion passenger miles a year during those years, average subsidies work out to about 2.8 cents per passenger mile (see Figure 2).

Using Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ numbers, highway subsidies over the same time period averaged about $48 billion a year. Highways carried about 4.1 trillion passenger miles per year, for an average subsidy of 1.1 cents per passenger mile. While 95 percent of the airline subsidies came from the federal government, all of the highway subsidies came from state and local governments.

By comparison, federal Amtrak subsidies over the same time period averaged 25 cents per passenger mile. State subsidies averaged another 2.8 cents. Per-passenger-mile subsidies to Amtrak were nearly 9 times subsidies to air travel and nearly 22 times subsidies to highway travel.

Airline, Highway, and Amtrak Subsidies per Passenger Mile, Cato Institute, 2012

Kansas school spending

New data for spending in Kansas schools is available.

Through its Data Central section, Kansas State Department of Education has made spending figures available for the school year ending in spring 2017, or the fiscal 2017 school year.

These are amounts per pupil, adjusted for inflation to 2016 dollars, showing change from 2016 to 2017.

State aid: $8,613 to $8,714
Federal aid: $1,058 to $1,082
Local: $3,460 to 3,441
Total: $13,144 to $13,326

In 2015 there was a shift in the way state and local figures are allocated, so it’s important to look at state and local spending as a sum. This figure increased from $12,073 to $12,155.

In the charts below, state and local total spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation, has been remarkably level since 2013. At the same time, schools are telling us spending has been slashed.

Click charts for larger versions.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita school board member Joy Eakins

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita school board member Joy Eakins joins Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks to discuss important issues facing the school district. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 170, broadcast October 28, 2017.

Shownotes

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.

WichitaLiberty:TV: Wichita economy, Kansas schools

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Karl Peterjohn and Bob Weeks discuss some statistics regarding downtown Wichita and then the Kansas school finance court decision. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 169, broadcast October 14, 2017.

Now, WichitaLiberty.TV has new broadcast times. The regular Sunday broadcasts on KGPT TV channel 26.1 (AT&T U-Verse 49) at 8:30 am, repeated at 4:30 pm, are unchanged. Here is the full broadcast schedule:

Saturdays on KGPT channel 26.9 (Newsmax TV)
10:00 am: The new episode
10:30 am: Repeat of last week’s episode
5:00 pm: Repeat of new episode
5:30 pm: Repeat of last week’s episode

Sundays on KGPT channel 26.1/AT&T channel 49 (Cozi TV)
8:30 am: Repeat of the new episode
4:00 pm: Repeat of the new episode
4:30 pm: Repeat of last week’s episode

Shownotes

  • Downtown Wichita jobs, sort of. The claim of 26,000 workers in downtown Wichita is based on misuse of data so blatant it can be described only as malpractice.
  • The Kansas Supreme Court decision in Gannon v. State.
  • Wichita Eagle coverage of USD 259 internet contract: Wichita district pays more in hopes of preventing internet service disruptions, Wichita school district leaving out the details, and Spending was response to cyber attacks, Wichita board president says.
  • The Rose Standards for Kansas students, as codified in K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 72-1127:
    (1) Sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization;
    (2) sufficient knowledge of economic, social, and political systems to enable the student to make informed choices;
    (3) sufficient understanding of governmental processes to enable the student to understand the issues that affect his or her community, state, and nation;
    (4) sufficient self-knowledge and knowledge of his or her mental and physical wellness;
    (5) sufficient grounding in the arts to enable each student to appreciate his or her cultural and historical heritage;
    (6) sufficient training or preparation for advanced training in either academic or vocational fields so as to enable each child to choose and pursue life work intelligently; and
    (7) sufficient levels of academic or vocational skills to enable public school students to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.