Why can’t Kansas public school spending advocates — especially a former Kansas state budget director — tell the truth about schools and spending, wonders Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute.
Kansas Center for Economic Growth abuses the truth on school funding … again
Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute
The Kansas Center for Economic Growth and Duane Goossen steadfastly refuse to publicly debate school finance and state budget issues with us, as their work is so easily shown to be false, misleading and otherwise distorted (see here, here, here, and here for examples). Mr. Goossen’s most recent piece is another fine example of how they abuse the truth.
He has a table called State Aid and Enrollment that is sourced to page 60 of Kansas July Comparison Report, but much of the information in his table does not appear on page 60. The total amount of $4.059 billion is there and two of the smaller items but not the rest. A few items — KPERS payments, Local Option Budget Aid and Capital Outlay Aid — are close to what we found in other documents but not the $2.639 billion he calls General Classroom Aid. And you can’t find that anywhere because there is no such thing as “General Classroom Aid.”
KCEG and other “just spend more” proponents often make reference to “classroom aid” in ways to make it appear that the Legislature is not providing enough “classroom aid” but here’s the dirty little secret you (and especially teachers) aren’t supposed to know: only local school boards and superintendents decide how much money is spent on instruction. The Kansas State Department of Education has an official definition of “Instruction” spending which is often used interchangeably with “classroom” but there is no official aid classification for “classroom.” Mr. Goossen and friends are just making it up for political purposes.
Under both the old school formula and the temporary block grant system, districts get several different types of aid but they alone decide how much of the multiple discretionary amounts received are used for Instruction, Administration, Student Support, Maintenance and other cost centers. Even Capital Outlay Aid (contrary to Goossen’s implication) can used for Instruction purposes (and is) as set forth in the KSDE Accounting Manual.
Here are a few more examples of the truth being tortured by Mr. Goossen:
- “The Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to increase [equalization] aid …” Not true. The Supreme Court said the legislature could increase equalization funding or they could write a new equalization formula and not spend more money. Legislators chose to spend $109 million more. Even the District Court, which didn’t get much right about Gannon, acknowledged this point.
- State Special Education Aid is shown as a decline of $6 million but it is really an increase of $46 million. The original posting of the July Comparison Report didn’t include $52 million in Federal ARRA pass through but a former state budget director should know that the total was more than the amount listed for state aid. He also understated the increase in state aid by another $53 million for Federal ARRA money included in General State Aid.
- KPERS is included in the amounts listed under block grants and while it has gone up, he says “… school districts must still pay the bill.” That’s true, but some of that money goes for KPERS benefits of current employees, and local school boards chose to increase employment more than 8% over the last ten years while enrollment grew by just 4%. That forces money to be diverted from regular aid to pay the higher KPERS cost, which also happens when school boards choose to have district employees perform functions that could be done in the private sector.
- Capital Improvement Aid helps some districts “… with bond payments for buildings but [does] nothing to cover enrollment increases.” That’s true, but again, Goossen fails to mention that district choices to construct new buildings … sometimes larger or sooner than needed … diverts money that could otherwise be used for general aid.
- “State aid for classrooms has actually gone down…” That is a false statement because there is no such thing as “state aid for classrooms” but actual Instruction spending increased by $214 million or 7.3% between 2011 and 2014 even without counting a dollar of KPERS. Of course, Instruction spending could have gone up even more if districts had chosen to direct some of the increased spending on other operating areas to Instruction, chosen to operate other areas more efficiently and spent the savings on Instruction or used some of their unused aid from prior years instead of holding it in cash reserves.
Goossen says the block grant system is “not a recipe for creating world-class schools” as though that is some sort of revelation. The block grant system is only a temporary funding mechanism put in place to allow time to build a new student-focused funding system, replacing a dysfunctional, institution-focused system that most certainly was not a recipe for creating world-class schools.
Here’s what the old system produced after the injection of nearly $2 billion over the last ten years:
- Only 32% of the 2015 graduating class who took the ACT test are considered college-ready in English, Reading, Math and Science. ACT test scores have barely changed.
- Only 38% of 4th grade students are Proficient in Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a test that the Kansas Department of Education declared to be valid and reliable in a November 1, 2011 press release.
- Low Income 4th graders are almost 2 years’ worth of learning behind others in Math (NAEP).
- Only 24% of Low Income 8th graders are Proficient in Math (NAEP) and at the current pace, it will take 240 years for them to catch up to other students, only 54% of whom were Proficient on the last exam.
- 27% of students who graduated from Kansas high schools in 2013 and attended university in Kansas signed up for remedial training (Kansas Board of Regents); no data is available on students who went out of state or attended a private college.
It will always cost a lot of money to fund public education but it’s how the money is spent that makes a difference — not how much. For example, Instruction spending accounts for just 55% of total education spending; $2 billion and ten years ago it was 54%. Here’s another discouraging fact: enrollment increased by 4% over the last ten years, while classroom teacher employment increased by 5% and non-teacher employment increased by 10%.
Outcomes apparently don’t really matter to KCEG and others (including many school districts and their taxpayer-paid lawyers) who continue to say there was nothing wrong with the old system … it just needed more money! Just look at what happened when more money was poured into the system.
Scores barely changed while per-pupil spending jumped from $6,985 per pupil to an estimated $13,343 last year, which is $3,223 more per-pupil than if funding had been increased for inflation since 1998. Reading proficiency remains below 40% and Math Proficiency is still less than 50%.
This is not an indictment of the many good people working hard in schools but an indictment of the old funding system. It is no one’s fault that achievement is unacceptable but it is everyone’s responsibility to acknowledge that fact and work toward a funding mechanism that puts students and outcomes first and uses efficiency savings to drive more resources to instruction and increase pay for effective teachers.