In an opening presentation, Wichita school board member Connie Dietz presented a series of charts that explained some facts about Wichita school revenue and expenditures. For revenues, 57.1% comes from the state, 15.9% from the federal government, and 27% from local taxpayer.
Expenditures fall into two categories: unrestricted funds, which comprise 40.5% of spending, and restricted funds, which are 59.5%.
School district leaders like to portray themselves as hamstrung by the restricted funds. “We can not use that money for anything except for what it has been designated for,” Dietz said. An example given of a restricted fund expenditure is KPERS, the school district retirement system. Whether this money comes from a restricted or unrestricted fund makes little difference. It’s an expense the district must pay.
As a Kansas Watchdog story explains: “districts do receive [restricted funds] and have control over how it is spent. They are required to provide special education services but they do have discretion to decide what to spend in providing the services. They also have discretion to delay or reduce the cost of certain capital projects. A complete breakdown of expenditures deemed to be ‘restricted’ was not provided.”
On a slide showing the trend of per-pupil funding, the figures used were the base state aid per pupil, which is about $4,000 at this time. That’s misleading, as base state aid is only part — a relatively small part — of total school funding. For example, for the 2008 to 2009 school year, base state aid per pupil was $4,400. But the Wichita school district, according to Kansas State Department of Education figures, received $7,918 per student after various weightings were applied. That’s 80% more than the base state aid figure.
Total spending that year was $12,370 per student. It’s these large figures that the school spending lobby does its best to hide.
It’s not uncommon for the school spending lobby and its supporters to do what they can to hide the magnitude of spending on schools. They’ll also do their best to exaggerate the effects of any slowdown in the rapid rate at which spending has been increasing. This was demonstrated by Rep. Melody McCray-Miller at a recent legislative forum in Wichita. She disputed the total amount of spending by the Wichita school district. Wichita board of education member Lanora Nolan disputed these same figures at a Wichita Pachyderm Club meeting. Also see Wichita schools on the funding decrease.
Dietz claimed that funding has been going down at the time that the cost of living has been going up rapidly. The fact is that inflation has been quite low for many years. In fact, last year prices actually declined, and social security recipients didn’t receive a cost of living adjustment because of this.
Dietz promoted the success that the Wichita schools have achieved over the years. Math scores, she said are up 24% since 2000, and reading scores are up 19% over the same period. But upward trend in these scores, which are from the Kansas state-administered tests, can’t be reconciled with scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress over the same time. That test, which can’t be manipulated by Kansas school bureaucrats, shows only slight increases — in some cases decreases — in scores.
The NAEP scores are for the entire state, not just the Wichita school district. But Wichita’s results mirror the trend of the state. So how is it that Kansas tests show rapid improvement, but NAEP tests do not?
It’s an important question, as school spending advocates use the purported linkage between increased spending and increased performance on the Kansas tests as proof the spending works. But if the Kansas tests are not a reliable and valid measure of student learning — and that appears to be the case — the argument of the school spending lobby breaks down.
School spending advocates like Dietz and the rest of the Wichita school board say that the education of Kansas schoolchildren is vital for the economic future of our state and country. I agree. The questions I have are these: Are Kansas schools performing as well as Kansas school bureaucrats claim? Is a government monopoly the best way to educate Kansas schoolchildren?