Who lost in the school finance bill?

Today (July 20, 2005) Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed the school finance bill. This bill gives Kansas public schools a lot more money to spend this school year.

This, contrary to almost every news story you will likely read, is a sad day for Kansas schoolchildren. How can this be, you may be asking. How can spending so much more money on Kansas schools not be good? The answer is that all this money will do little to improve educational outcomes.

Most people assume that the increased spending is great for children. What passes as common sense leads people to assume that throwing more money on a problem will solve it. Unfortunately, this false assumption that the problem has been addressed will put off meaningful discussion about useful reform until next year. Realistically, reform is probably put off even longer, as it seems the attention next year will be on the legislature vs. court struggle, as it was this year. Who is left out? Kansas schoolchildren. But they’re being told they’re the winners.

Kansas schoolchildren lose because most of the money will be spent to reduce class size. I have written in the past on how smaller class sizes produce little or no improvement in educational outcomes. (See An Enlightening Encounter with The Wichita Eagle, How Children Lose in the Kansas Legislature’s Special Session, The School Productivity Crisis, and Base School Funding on Research, Not Feelings.)

To reprise just one quotation, consider Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby’s research titled “The effects of class size on student achievement: New evidence from population variation”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 115:4 (2000), 1239-1285, which can be read here: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers/effects.pdf. The conclusion to this paper states, in part: “Using both methods, I find that reductions in class size have no effect on student achievement. The estimates are sufficiently precise that, if a 10 percent reduction in class size improved achievement by just 2 to 4 percent of a standard deviation, I would have found statistically significant effects in math, reading, and writing. I find no evidence that class size reductions are more efficacious in schools that contain high concentrations of low income students or African-American students.”

The irony is that the education establishment and teacher unions do not want to hear about the research on class size. You would think that our education leaders would be interested in hearing what an esteemed researcher from one of our nation’s leading universities has found from observing natural variations in class size. That they are not interested gives us a clue as to who their true constituency is.

Today’s hollow victory by the education establishment, the teacher unions, and politicians who believe they are protecting children allows them to take credit for “saving” our children. The sad fact is that it is pretty much status quo for another year or two, except with a permanently higher base of spending on schools, spending which is a drag on our state’s economy. This does not help the state of Kansas.

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