According to Wichita Eagle reporting, the district’s attorney used “repeated cuts in state funding” as a reason why the district can’t raise teacher salaries. He also referred to “the state and the cuts that have been made to school finance” and also said “I think it’s the state legislature and all the cuts that have occurred that have put us in this position.”
These statements contain a grain of truth, but in a wider context, they are not truthful. It’s not just the Wichita school district attorney that makes these claims of large cuts to school funding. So do the Kansas school spending establishment and their allies such as the editorial boards of most Kansas newspapers.
The grain of truth is base state aid per pupil, which is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. It has been cut, as shown in this chart that the school spending establishment uses.
Focusing on base state aid misses the larger picture. As an example, for the 2010-2011 school year, base state aid was $3,937. Yet the Wichita school district received $7,092 per pupil from the state, 80 percent more than base aid. Focusing only on base state aid per pupil also misses the federal and local sources of revenue to schools. For this year the Wichita district received $2,132 per pupil from the federal government, and $3,855 per pupil from local taxpayers, for a total of $13,069 per pupil. The same figure for the previous year was $12,526.
As it turns out, when you consider all sources of funding, the Wichita school district has been able to spend more money each year for many years, despite the claims of cuts. What cuts have been made to base state aid per pupil have been more than compensated for by weighted state spending, federal aid, and local aid, as shown in the following chart.
Why do school spending supporters focus only on base state aid? Its decline provides the grain of truth for their larger and false argument about school spending. As explained in Kansas school spending: the deception this grain of truth enables school spending advocates like Mark Desetti (Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union) to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.
We expect this behavior from union officials. Their job — as advocates for a special interest group — is to direct more spending to schools, without regard to need or cost to taxpayers.
Newspaper editorial writers, however, ought to be held to a higher standard. But: A recent Lawrence Journal-World editorial contained “In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780.” And writing in the Wichita Eagle, Rhonda Holman complained of “several years of cuts totaling $653 per pupil.” (Reason to be wary, December 16 Wichita Eagle) Actual facts do not support these claims.
Similarly, we ought to expect more truth from school districts and school officials regarding school finance. Then, we can ask for truth on Kansas school test scores.