The Andover Parent Legislative Council has created a website and wiki in support of the Andover, Kansas public school system (USD 385). This site, titled Andover Parent Legislative Council, is described as helping Andover schools “through legislative advocacy.” Andover parents wishing for complete facts and a balanced approach will need to supplement their research with other reading.
As an example of the quality of information presented on this site, under the heading “Parent Resources for Understanding the Current Funding Crisis” one of the documents shows the trend of state funding for the Andover school system. The figures used to create the chart are incomplete and misleading. Some might even call the chart a lie.
Here’s the problem: The chart shows funding from the state for 2008 to be about $4,500 per pupil. (I’m reading off a chart here, so I’m estimating.)
The source or meaning of this number — the chart doesn’t say so — is probably base state aid per pupil. It’s the starting point of the Kansas school funding formula. School spending advocates like to focus solely on this number for two reasons: First, this number has been cut.
But mostly, school spending advocates like to focus on this number because it represents, in many cases, only about one-third of total spending on schools. It’s all part of a poor-mouthing campaign by school spending advocates who either don’t know the facts or are embarrassed by the full scope of spending on schools.
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.
Where the Andover chart misleads can be found by looking at this table provided by the Kansas State Department of Education: Andover USD 385. In this table, you can find that actual state funding per pupil for 2008-2009 was $6,683.
That’s a lot higher than what the chart claims. Now the Andover school system will probably say that the extra funding is for things like the burden of teaching low-income students or the many other ways that funding is “weighted.”
But the fact is that Andover received much more money from the state than shown on the chart. And that’s not all. The table also tells us that Andover schools received $4,266 per student from local revenue, plus $248 per student in federal funds, for a total of $11,197 per student. And that number has been rising at a pretty rapid rate in recent years.
There are other problems with the information this site presents. Under “Informative websites” we’d have to say that the selection is biased towards organizations that call for more school spending at any cost to the state. Two sites that provide balanced information — my site and Kansas Policy Institute — are missing.
Here’s another example: In answering a question about those who say that schools can tap into unused cash balances, the site states: “Like all businesses, schools have funds set aside to meet future obligations. These funds were held by districts in order to meet payment obligations including mandated special education payments, self-funded health insurance and worker’s compensation for districts, textbook funds to purchase/replace textbooks for upcoming year, and anticipated food service costs for the beginning of the year. Additionally, many districts carry cash balances in order to meet future bond and interest payments.”
This statement, however, doesn’t tell us whether the fund balances that schools have are too high, too low, or just right. The same mistake was made in an editorial written by Kansas school board member David Dennis, which is described as “insightful” on the Andover schools site. The article Kansas fund balances disputed despite evidence of their existence, benefit provides analysis of the problems with this editorial and the arguments that school spending advocates use.