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Posted by Patrick Parkes on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

You wouldn’t know it from frequent media reports citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers for Kansas, but the number of private-sector jobs in the Sunflower State has actually GROWN by 4.7% in the almost three years post-tax reform in 2012. This pace trails only that of Colorado (8.8%) in the region.

The 4.7% growth rate since December 2012 is the 24th best in the nation. Kansas’ job growth ranks 29th nationally when comparing states’ annual averages in private-sector jobs for 2015 to those same annual averages for 2012. By comparison, Kansas ranked 38th nationally in annual average job growth from 1998 to 2012.

Many commentaries have tried to measure the health of Kansas’ economy by tracking changes in preliminary, month-to month estimates of how many jobs exist in the state at that single point in time. However, this approach is short-sighted because it allows short-term jobs spikes and declines within specific industries to have excessive influence in coloring the overall numbers for any state positively or negatively each month.   

Take the four industries listed in the adjacent table for example.

The mining & logging industry (which includes oil and gas extraction) is an industry that affects jobs reports for Kansas and all of its regional peer states except Nebraska. Yet, the industry is one of the most highly sensitive to global supply and pricing fluctuations that have little to do with particular policy choices made in Kansas or elsewhere in the region.                

The aerospace industry is also a highly global one, but it is only large enough to show up on and affect jobs reports for Kansas and Oklahoma in the region.

Transportation equipment manufacturing is a large enough industry to affect jobs reports for all states in the region but job growth within it can be tied to demand for a specific product that may be heavily produced in one or more regional states but not others.

Lastly, job growth or decline in the motor vehicle manufacturing industry only shows up on and affects jobs reports for Missouri given the industry’s small size in every other regional peer state.

 Taken together, the four industries mentioned make up less than 7% of each regional state’s private-sector economy, but their collective effect on private-sector job growth reported can be seen in the differences between “total private-sector” job growth and “all other” private-sector job growth (with the four industries removed) in the table above.  

The differences serve as just one illustration of how simply tracking month-to-month changes in  the number of private-sector jobs within a state doesn’t tell the whole story regarding that state’s economic vitality and outlook. Longer-term examinations are far more telling…Kansas’ job growth post-tax reform teaches us that.



Posted by David Dorsey on Monday, November 23, 2015

The Kansas at-risk program, which spent $3.6 billion over the past 23 years, failed its mission to improve the performance of the very students it was designed to serve. Achievement gaps in academic performance (in this case the difference between low-income and not-low-income students) are universal, significant and persistent despite the incredible growth in funding, in particular the increases since 2005.

That and other findings and recommendations are in Kansas Policy Institute’s just released research report At-Risk Funding: Increased Money Fails to Increase Achievement. The at-risk program is chronicled from its small beginning in the 1990s to one that grew to spend nearly $400 million annually.

Four basic reasons the program failed in its mission are: dollars were not targeted exclusively to at-risk students, some funds were actually targeted directly to non-at-risk students, school districts were not held accountable, and scant information about the at-risk program was made available to the legislature and the public.

Despite the shortcomings, an at-risk component should be included in the new education finance law, with these fundamental changes: at-risk students must be clearly identified and dollars targeted directly to them, the method of funding the program should be changed, and school districts must be held accountable to the public.

It is important to note that there is no recommendation for reducing the amount of funding for at-risk students, but a call for a more effective use of the dollars.

Eric Hanushek, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University and education policy authority, made these concurring remarks:

This report on at-risk funding in Kansas accurately identifies what is a national problem.  While we directly fund a number of programs to improve the education of at-risk students, we never follow-up to see that the money is used effectively.  If we are going to solve this problem of achievement gaps, we need to fund programs to support at-risk students but to hold schools accountable for results.

As the Kansas legislature crafts a new K-12 finance law, it is the perfect opportunity to overhaul the approach in addressing inequities in achievement based on economic status. It’s time to put all Kansas students first.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Monday, November 16, 2015

The Kansas Association of School Boards produced a report recently which some are saying proves that spending more money leads to better outcomes, but even KASB says that is a misinterpretation.  I asked Mark Tallman of KASB if that was the case and he replied, “I specially [sic] said to the group of legislators we invited to lunch that we do NOT claim this report "proves" spending "causes" outcomes changes.”

Mr. Tallman went on to explain that “…the data indicates that higher spending over time is more often than not a "predictor" of higher NAEP scores, and usually has a positive correlation with higher results. We do not say that correlation proves causation.”

Our review of the data says otherwise, as does that of many other respected school funding experts including Dr. Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who says, “…the outcomes observed over the past half century – no matter how massaged – do not suggest that just throwing money at schools is likely to be a policy that solves the significant U.S. schooling problems seen in the levels and distribution of outcomes. We really cannot get around the necessity of focusing on how money is spent on schools.” 

Bi-variate analysis

The KASB report takes only two variables into account – spending and achievement.  It’s called a bivariate analysis (two variables), which doesn’t allow for meaningful conclusions.  Dr. Benjamin Scafidi, Director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University, says, “…they do not control for the many other factors that impact student achievement.  Social scientists do not put much stock into bivariate relationships like the KASB [example] below.”  Dr. Scafidi’s remarks were directed at the 2013 KASB report that also only looked at changes in spending and achievement.

One such factor ignored by KASB is the impact of Common Core.  When Kansas’ NAEP scores dipped in 2013, the Kansas Department of Education told legislators that they couldn’t identify a particular reason but did note that the transition from previous teaching methods to Common Core may have been a factor.  They again honed in on the transition to Common Core to explain the 2015 NAEP decline to legislators this month.  KSDE did not blame funding in 2013 or 2015.


Data refutes notion that spending predicts outcomes

This table lists 8 bi-annual changes in proficiency measurements for each of the last 6 NAEP reports, for a total of 48 total changes; proficiency levels for Low Income students and those who are Not Low Income are shown for two subjects (Reading and Math) for two grade levels (4th and 8th Grades).  In the majority of comparative instances, changes in inflation-adjusted (real) spending did not correspond to changes in proficiency levels.  That is,

  1. In 31 of the 48 comparative instances, real spending increased while proficiency levels declined or failed to increase, or real spending declined while proficiency levels increased or failed to decline (RED).
  2. In 9 of the 48 comparative instances, the increase in proficiency levels was less than the increase in real spending (YELLOW).
  3. In 8 of the 48 comparative instances, the increase in proficiency levels was greater than or equal to the increase in real spending (GREEN).

We performed the same analysis on changes in the national averages, although spending is only available through 2013, so there are only 40 comparative instances.  Once again, spending is not a predictor of outcome changes; indeed, in 20 of those 40 instances, real spending increased while proficiency levels declined or failed to increase, or real spending declined while proficiency levels increased or failed to decline (RED).  Most notably, real spending declined in 2011 and 2013, but proficiency levels increased in all 8 measurements both years!

Our analysis is very straightforward; the changes in spending and every measurement of proficiency are examined separately.  KASB based their findings on 8-year averages rather than individual years, which masks fluctuations by allowing gains to offset losses; the results are further skewed depending upon the starting point and length of the average.  KASB also combines proficiency levels for 4th Grade Reading and Math as well as 8th grade Reading and Math by averaging those four disparate percentages into a single number, which again hides information.  That methodology could present the appearance of improvement (especially by careful selection of the 8-year starting point) even though one or more grade levels and/or subjects could be in decline (which indeed happened).  Such manipulation may allow KASB to justify more spending but it disregards the importance of understanding the true causes of student achievement.

It should be noted our explanation of their methodology is based on our reading of their report; KASB has not responded to requests for their underlying calculations.

KASB also claims that “higher spending states are more likely to have higher results” but once again, the data is contradictory.  If spending more money was a “predictor” of higher outcomes, the points on these scatter plots of spending and proficiency levels would be grouped along a line of increasing slope but they are ‘all over the map’. 

New York schools spent the most at $22,902 per-pupil and had 4th Grade Reading proficiency levels of 21% and 53%, respectively, for Low Income and Not Low Income students.  North Carolina schools however, spent just $8,879 per-pupil yet had proficiency levels of 25% and 59%, respectively.  There are many other examples all across the proficiency ranges of grade levels, subject and student income groups where states achieved the same or relatively the same outcomes while spending significantly disparate amounts. 



Higher spending would absolutely be a predictor of higher tax bills for citizens but there is no correlation between spending and achievement in the data.

Spending more money may create more opportunity to improve outcomes but only if the extra money is well-spent.  As Dr. Hanushek notes, “It’s absolutely true that if you spend money well, it has an effect,” he said. “But just putting money into schools and assuming it will be spent well isn’t necessarily correct and there is substantial evidence that it will not happen.”  And as has been documented time and time again over the years, there is certainly is evidence of money not being well spent in Kansas.

Achievement matters, not national rankings

KASB makes much of the fact that national rankings on NAEP declined (“Kansas has fallen from a national leader to merely an above average performer”) and they use that emotional appeal to push for more money.  But actual achievement should be the focus instead of national rankings, especially in a nation that doesn’t perform very well.  For example, Indiana is ranked #1 for 4th Grade Low Income students in Reading – at just 36% Proficient!

Kansas may have had higher national rankings in the past but look at these proficiency levels and decide for yourself: was achievement in any grade or subject ever at acceptable levels?



After nearly a $2 billion funding increase over the last ten years, only a quarter or less of low income students and only about half of the rest are Proficient on NAEP Reading and Math exams.  A “C” or a “D” may be one of the highest grades in the class but not scoring as badly as one’s classmates is no indication of acceptable outcomes.  Attempting to justify pouring more money into the same system that produced these outcomes is simply about getting more money for the system; it most certainly is not student-focused.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We have tried dramatically higher real (inflation-adjusted) spending in Kansas public schools (43.5% per-pupil over the last 25 years) and in public schools around the nation.  For Kansas, those increases in spending into the current education system have yielded the results just above.  It is time for Kansas policymakers to call a new play.  Our students deserve no less.

Post Script: We thank education economists Dr. Erick Hanushek and Dr. Benjamin Scafidi for their review and input on this analysis.  For a teacher's perspective on this subject, see David Dorsey's thoughts on the Topeka Capital-Journal Blog.

Posted by David Dorsey on Monday, November 9, 2015

In the past decade, the state legislature has increased funding to schools by nearly $2 BILLION. Local school boards, which are responsible for deciding how to spend the money, have chosen to take that additional money and prioritize hiring manager positions over teachers.

According to data gleaned from the Kansas State Department of Education, in the past ten years, the number of managers statewide has increased by 10.6%, nearly double the 5.4% increase in the number of classroom teachers during that time.

"Manager" includes superintendents, asst. superintendents, principals, asst. principals, directors, instruction coordinators and curriculum specialists.

Not only are local boards hiring managers at a greater rate, they are also giving them bigger pay raises. Since 2009, KSDE reports that average teacher pay is only 2.5% higher while principal pay is up 5.6% and superintendents make an average of 7.9% more. In some districts, school boards choose to pay bus drivers and maintenance workers MORE than many teachers!

Despite all the additional funding, overall student performance remains virtually flat and achievement gaps along income lines are both significant and persistent. An effective way to address those issues would be to prioritize spending in classrooms, not in administrative halls.

That is one way to put Kansas students first.

Posted by David Dorsey on Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education just released results of the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The results, also known as “the nation’s report card,” is administered to a statistically valid sample of fourth and eighth graders from every state in math and reading every two years.

How did Kansas do? Well, if I had brought home a report card like this in grade school I would have been grounded. As a high school student my mother would have taken away my driving privileges.

Math scores for both 4th and 8th graders tumbled precipitously, reading scores were virtually unchanged, achievement gaps remained essentially stagnant, and Kansas dropped alarmingly in most categories relative to the rest of the states.

Math scores

The following graphs tell the story: the percentages of students at or above proficient level in math in both 4th and 8th grades dropped significantly in 2015, both for low-income and not-low-income groups. After several years with flat results, fourth graders fell to the point that they tested lower than in 2005, a full decade ago. The percentage of not-low-income eighth graders who tested proficient is now less than half, while less than one-in-five low-income students are proficient in math.

Reading scores

In grade four, gradual improvement in reading scores over the last decade by the not-low-income students was halted, while low-income students continue to remain virtually unchanged since 2005. Eighth graders’ scores for both income levels remain stagnant, also with little change over the last ten years. Even more disheartening is that less than half not-low-income students in eighth grade are proficient in reading, while proficient low-income students remains at about one-fifth.   

Achievement gaps

The above graphs confirm the never ending story of achievement gaps along income lines. The table below shows how achievement gaps continue to be greater in all four grade/subject categories in 2015 than in 2005.

Kansas compared to the nation and the states

Perhaps the most startling result is how far Kansas dropped relative to the rest of the nation in overall scores. The table at left shows that from 2013 to 2015 the percentage of low-income students nationally who tested proficient went up in all four categories, while in Kansas the percentage dropped in all but 8th grade reading, which remained unchanged. Regarding the not-low-income students, Kansas has also slipped vis-à-vis the nation, as revealed in the table to the right. Over the past decade, Kansas had been consistently outpacing the rest of the nation. As recent as 2013, the not-low-income Kansans tested above the national average in all four categories. Now, only 4th grade reading scores beat the national average.

The table below provides a picture of how both income groups rank among the states. Taken in total from these tables, a picture emerges that Kansas achieves about average in a nation that doesn’t perform very well.  

 Explaining the results

Are these scores just an anomaly, or are they the beginning of a new trend? It’s important to note that not only Kansas experienced lower outcomes. According to Education Week, the raw composite math scores that are the basis for placing students into the proficiency categories in the above graphs showed a statistically significant drop in both grades. In reading, 4th grade was unchanged, but 8th grade scores nationwide fell a statistically significant amount.

Obviously, one outcome does not make a trend, but certainly these results raise questions as to what happened. Not surprisingly, the education community had no shortage of excuses for the lower performance. Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers said, “There was a lot going on in this country around testing and transition.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blamed it on too much focus on “test scores and their consequences.” Former Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan called it an “implementation dip.” Even those outside the establishment chimed in. Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said in this blog that the fault lies in the economy. He said: "[W]hen families are hurting financially, it's harder for students to focus on learning."

I believe the most plausible explanation is a variation from a statement by William J. Bushaw, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board which sets policy for NAEP. He used the term “curricular uncertainty” in describing how states are having trouble aligning curriculum to meet Common Core Standards. I’d take that statement a step farther by offering evidence that most curriculum simply does not align with Common Core. That means it’s no surprise that since NAEP and Common Core “have a ‘reasonable’ overlap”, there is a decline in scores across the nation.

Among the plethora of reasons to dump Common Core Standards, a new one can be added: lower performance on NAEP scores.
Posted by Patrick Parkes on Thursday, October 29, 2015

Kansas remains tied with Missouri for the second highest seasonally-adjusted private-sector job growth rate (1.1%) among regional peer states when comparing the first nine months of 2015 to those same nine months in 2014. Only Colorado performs better—at a 2.6% growth rate—in the region over the period according to the latest, September 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases.

Kansas overtakes Missouri for sole possession of second place in the region though when tracking private-sector job growth from December 2012—when Kansas implemented tax reform—to today’s September 2015 numbers. As the table above shows, Kansas’ 4.1% growth rate over the period tops that of all regional peer states but Colorado (8.3%).

Kansas’ strong comparative performance in the region carries over to our customary shorter-term but deeper examination of regional job growth by industry sector. The adjacent table isolates four inordinately global industries that collectively make up less than 7% of the entire private sector in Kansas and in each of its regional peer states. This allows us to examine “All Other” private sector job growth, accounting for more than 93% of the private sector in Kansas and in each of its regional peer states. Kansas’ “All Other” private-sector job growth from September 2014 to September 2015 is 1.4%. This trails only Colorado’s 1.7% growth in the region.

Looking at “All Other” private-sector job growth in this fashion helps state-level jobs numbers from being disproportionately skewed by larger-scale global developments that are unrelated to state tax policy.     

For example, in the region, the aerospace industry is only large enough in Kansas and Missouri to be reported. Thus, global developments in the industry outside of Kansas’ or Missouri’s control directly affect jobs numbers for these two states but no others in the region.

The same holds true for the motor vehicle manufacturing industry, which is only large enough in Missouri to meet the BLS’ minimum reporting requirements.

With the exception of Nebraska, all of Kansas’ regional peer states have large enough mining and logging industries to show up on BLS reports. Yet, this industry includes oil and gas extraction, a sub-sector which is arguably one of the most sensitive to global supply,  demand, and pricing fluctuations beyond state influence or control.

Lastly, the transportation equipment manufacturing industry meets minimum size requirements to be reported in Kansas and in all of its regional peer states. However, state-level growth or declines in this industry can be linked to global or national demand for specific types of equipment manufactured that may be more heavily concentrated in certain states.

These are just a few of the many reasons why preliminary monthly jobs numbers should never be the sole metric one uses in assessing a state’s economic vitality and outlook. Instead, one must examine many fluid factors within a state when making such an assessment. Check back for next month’s update.    

Posted by Dave Trabert on Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New data released to the 2015 Special Committee on K-12 Student Success shows that school districts collectively spent $13.5 million less on Instruction last year, even though total spending increased by $104.5 million.   The complete breakout for each cost center has not been released, but KSDE did provide total spending in an earlier release.

The $3.281 billion spent on Instruction represents 53.96 percent of $6.080 in total spending, which is the lowest allocation to Instruction in the last ten years.  Local school boards alone determine the allocation of funding to Instruction, Administration and other cost centers; legislators have no say over allocations.

In 2006, the Legislature set an aspirational policy goal of getting 65 percent of total spending to Instruction where students would benefit the most from the court-ordered Montoy funding windfall but the highest allocation of 55.34 percent occurred in 2008.   School districts have asked that the definition of Instruction be expanded to include other spending, but the definition as set by the U.S. Department of Education has remained constant over the period.

Posted by David Dorsey on Monday, October 19, 2015

Just released information by the Kansas Department of Education reveals education spending in the Sunflower State reached all-time highs in both total and per-pupil expenditures in 2014-15 and will continue in the current year.

In the 2014-15 school year, total spending increased by more than $100 million and topped the $6 billion mark for the first time.  It marked the fourth consecutive year there was an increase in total spending. State aid was at an all-time high, at just under $4 billion, an increase for the fifth consecutive year. For the first time in recent history, the 20 mills of property tax mandated for school funding was properly recorded as state aid rather than local, accounting for about $579 million of the $701 million state aid increase.

Per-pupil costs also increased for the fourth consecutive year, a record $13,124, breaking the $13 thousand ceiling for the first time.

And according to official KSDE estimates, record spending will continue in the 2015-16 school year. With block grant funding in place, expenditures are due to increase to $6.14 billion and per-pupil spending is expected to be $13,200, records in both categories. As was described in this earlier blog post, the increases from the block grants aren’t just KPERS related. It’s time to retire that false explanation.

KPI is monitoring school financial data released by KSDE, with more up-to-date information forthcoming.

Posted by David Dorsey on Monday, October 12, 2015

The at-risk program began in Kansas in 1992. Its purpose was “to provide at-risk students with additional educational opportunities and instructional services to assist in closing the achievement gap.” In the last 10 years, more than $350 million of the nearly $2 billion increase in education dollars went to at-risk funding, but the program not only failed to close achievement gaps, those gaps are getting worse!

How can that be?

For starters, school districts don’t have to spend at-risk dollars exclusively for the benefit of students who have been deemed “at-risk.” Special categories like additional half-day Kindergarten and the K-3 reading program have redirected at-risk money to the general student population. Furthermore, districts are allowed to pay the same portion of teachers' salaries as the portion of at-risk students in the entire district, regardless of how much time a teachers spends with at-risk students or the number of at-risk students in a classroom.

Combining that with the fact that districts are not held accountable in any way to a) actually spend the money on those truly at risk, or b) show results that the program improved achievement has created a system in which at-risk dollars have become marbled with other funding to become little more than a supplement to general state aid.

So even legislators’ best intentions of getting increased funding to those students is derailed by a broken system and no real accountability for school districts.
Posted by Patrick Parkes on Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bureau of Labor Statistics releases for August show Kansas maintaining its tie with Missouri for the second highest seasonally-adjusted private-sector job growth rate (1.1%) among regional peer states when comparing the first eight months of 2015 with the same period of time in 2014.

Kansas performs even better regionally when looking at the period starting in December 2012—when Kansas implemented tax reform—and ending with the aforementioned most recent, August 2015 numbers. As the adjacent table shows, Kansas’ 3.6% growth rate over the period is second alone, trailing only Colorado’s 8.1%.

Our customary shorter-term but deeper dive into the regional jobs numbers by industry sector continues to highlight our content