Attitudes toward Kansas public schools, or facts about them: Which is most important? For boosters of the Kansas school spending establishment, attitude is all that matters. The actual facts about Kansas schools — if we were honest enough to recognize and confront them — need not be considered.
Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose is a case in point. His recent op-ed Negative attitude toward public schools is scary is scary itself for its vigorous and misinformed defense of a system that isn’t working very well for Kansas schoolchildren.
Kansas Policy Institute president Dave Trabert left this comment to Rose’s article:
It’s quite telling that your basis for saying schools operate very efficiently and spending has only kept up with inflation is a lobbying group that advocates for more spending rather that actual figures from the Dept. of Education of the state budget office.
Here are the facts according to official government data for the period 2001 to 2011:
- Inflation was 24.2% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Midwest Urban Cities)
- FTE enrollment increased 1.8% (KSDE)
- Taxpayer support of public education increased 55.8%; state aid +37.6%, federal +155.4% and local +67%. (KSDE)
- 2012 is expected to be a record-setting year for taxpayer support of public education, at $5.672 billion (KSDE)
Here are a few more facts that, like those listed above, are not generally known to the public and are routinely denied by education officials.
- $402 million more in state and local aid was not spent between 2005 and 2011 but was used to increase operating cash reserves (KSDE)
- Instruction spending per-pupil increased 84% between 1999 and 2011 (KSDE) while inflation was up only 32% (BLS)
- Taxpayer support of public education in Kansas increased from $3.1 billion in 1998 to $5.6 billion in 2011 (KSDE) yet student proficiency levels are well below 50% (US Dept. of Ed.)
Telling parents the inconvenient truth is not attacking schools, teachers or anyone else. It is giving them the facts they need to make fully informed decisions about what needs to be done to improve public education.
Kansas Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook was mentioned in the Rose op-ed and offered this response:
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In his commentary on my response to a candidate survey from Americans for Prosperity at www.afpks.org, Steve Rose used the term “hogwash” to describe this statement, with which I agreed: “Parents, teachers, and taxpayers should have a transparent system so they know how much money is being spent in each school and school district.” He stressed that I had put the statement in bold-face type.
It’s a bold-faced belief. Repeatedly, I have heard frustration from parents, teachers and taxpayers who say they do not know how tax money is being spent. This is especially true in education, which represents a huge investment by the taxpayers of Kansas. I agree with Mr. Rose that “how much” is being spent at the school district level is a matter of public record. However, what is not known is how much is being spent at “each school,” and more precisely, “how it is being spent” at each school. Individual schools have substantial budgets. How much ends up in the classroom? How much goes to fund lobbying for more money by the school administration? How much goes to fund activities and programs that are more properly described as something other than education?
It is important to remember that school based budgeting not only exposes inefficiencies and problems but it also highlights positive areas, as well. However, without the information, we are not fully equipped to make informed decisions regarding our schools. Parents, teachers, and taxpayers should have a transparent system so they can have more input over local school decisions. Mr. Rose thinks that kind of information is “hogwash.” This will come as a surprise to many of his readers, no doubt.
On the bright side, it is amusing that Mr. Rose quotes “facts” from the Kansas Association of School Boards, a lobbyist group that continually insists on tax increases and demands more funding without any accountability for public education, while at the same time saying that my figures “came right out of the conservative propaganda.” Actually, the data I used came from the Kansas State Department of Education.
Maybe Mr. Rose forgot that just a few years ago the Shawnee Mission School District dropped its membership with the KASB because the KASB uses taxpayers’ money to continually lobby against local control, something many taxpayers think is urgently needed for schools in Johnson County.
Mr. Rose’s bogeymen-of-the-moment, “ultra-conservatives Charles and David Koch of Wichita,” have never lobbied the state of Kansas for any special interest money that would benefit only themselves, their companies or their industry. In my experience, their interest is advocating tax policies that would be beneficial to every Kansas citizen.
I typically bold-face responses in questionnaires and surveys to help distinguish between my response and the questions offered. It’s a formatting choice, not a rhetorical weapon. But in this case, let me use boldface to reiterate a very simple point: I believe parents, teachers, and taxpayers should have a transparent system so they know how much money is being spent in each school and school district.
If Mr. Rose believes otherwise, he can boldface his “hogwash” as much as he likes. After all, it’s his ink — and his hogwash.