Kansas Democrats are making claims on campaign mailers that don’t withstand scrutiny. An example is this: “Under the Brownback plan, funding for education has been slashed and local governments are being forced to make up the shortfall by raising property taxes on working and middle class Kansans. (The Wichita Eagle. 7/18/12)”
Let’s look at the record of spending in Kansas schools. Here’s a chart:
Does this look like school spending has been “slashed?”
It’s true that a component of school spending known as “base state aid per pupil” was cut, although it’s rising now. We need to understand, also, that base state aid per pupil is just part of school spending, and most schools spend much more than that.
Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, which is an additional $3,203 or 84.7 percent more than base state aid. Overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.
But school spending advocates — and Democratic campaign mailers and many newspaper editorial writers — focus only on base state aid. They present base state aid per pupil as the primary benchmark or indicator of school spending, despite the fact that it is only a small part of the Kansas school spending formula and disguises the overall level of spending.
Focusing only on base state aid per pupil is wrong. Doing so allows the school spending lobby to make an argument that is superficially true, but deceptive at the same time.
But it’s easy to understand why there’s the focus on school spending. It’s easy to persuade parents — and anyone, for that matter — that if we want the best for Kansas schoolchildren, we need to spend more.
The school spending advocates have done a good job promoting their issue, too. On a survey, not only did Kansans underestimate school spending levels, they did so for the state portion of school funding, and again for the total of all funding sources — state, federal, and local. Kansans also thought spending had declined, when it had increased. See Kansans uninformed on school spending. Similar findings have been reported across the country.
Spending more on schools is seen as an easy way to solve a problem. But the problems facing Kansas schools will require different approaches, and the Kansas school establishment won’t consider them. For a list of reforms that are needed, but resisted, see Kansas school reform issues.