Today’s Wichita Eagle Blog
wants readers to believe that now is the time to increase funding on public K-12 education:
|When the economy crashed and the state made large budget cuts to education funding, lawmakers urged school districts to be patient. “The common goal is restoring that money, and we will restore that money,” Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, told Wichita superintendent John Allison in 2010. Well, the economy is growing again and the state now has a significant budget surplus. Yet the House has resisted a Senate proposal to restore about 10 percent of the base state aid that was cut over the past four years.
When the economy crashed and the state made large budget cuts to education funding, lawmakers urged school districts to be patient. “The common goal is restoring that money, and we will restore that money,” Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, told Wichita superintendent John Allison in 2010. Well, the economy is growing again and the state now has a significant budget surplus. Yet the House has resisted a Senate proposal to restore about 10 percent of the base state aid that was cut over the past four years.
The data for Kansas and the nation in general shows no connection between higher spending and better achievement.
Taxpayer funding of public education increased from $3.1 billion in 1998 to $5.6 billion last year, but test scores on The Nation's Report Card (NAEP) show relatively no change. Spending on public education in Kansas has grown much faster than inflation and enrollment.
The states with the highest NAEP scores in the region on each student cohort (White, Hispanic, Low Income, etc.) spend at least $1,200 per-pupil less than Kansas. Colorado has the best scores for White students. Texas has the highest scores for Hispanic and Black students; Texas also has higher scores than Kansas for White students and trails Kansas by a single point for Low Income...yet spends $1,400 less per-pupil.
Every state, including Kansas, has a lot of work to do to raise student achievement, but more money isn't the answer.
Okay, the economy is growing relative to what was happening in 2008 and 2009 but much slower than in most parts of the country. Kansas continues to fall farther behind in job creation, wage and salary distribution and private sector GDP. Kansas continues to have more U.S. residents choose to leave Kansas than to move here.
I'm sure Rep. Huebert meant what he said, but the 'being patient' part still applies. Yes, the state finally has some small reserves but those reserves pale in comparison to those held by local school districts. Kansas is attempting to have a 7.5% reserve balance and some see that as justification for increasing school funding. But many of those same people say schools need every penny of their own 16% ending balance (which grew from 11.7% six years ago).
School districts enter the year with far greater certainty of their revenues than does the state. School districts have added to their reserves every single year since 2005. The last two years alone have seen reserves increase by $160 million, meaning that administrators either felt it was more important to increase reserves than spend that money on education services or the formula is giving districts more money than they actually need. Or some combination of the two.
A review of the data indicates it's probably a little of both. There is very strong evidence that the funding formula is providing more funding than is needed for Special Education, At Risk and Bilingual. Districts surely are providing all of those services they believe are necessary, so the fact that they've increased reserves in those funds by $84 million over the last two years must mean that they are receiving more money than necessary.
Recognizing this, the legislature last year passed SB 111 to allow districts to transfer up to $232 per-pupil (about $154 million) from a dozen funds (including those mentioned) and use it for any purpose. Most districts declined that opportunity; at last report, only $24 million of that transfer authority had been exercised.
Some districts don't have the ability to tap reserves because they don't have much set aside, but the vast majority can do so. Dozens of districts consistently operate with less than a 10% carryover ratio (current operating reserves as a percentage of that year's operating costs). Yet the state average last year was 16%, with many districts consistently operating with more than a 20% ratio.
That's just one reason that many legislators may be hesitant to increase school funding. Another may be that Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis' last estimate showed that 2012 will be a record-setting year for school spending at $5.672 billion, with per-pupil spending at $12,454 and only 1.6% below the 2009 record of $12,660. With spending at or near record highs, operating reserves having increased more than $400 million since 2005 and most districts choosing not to use prior years' excess revenue, it's certainly understandable that some legislators might think it's not necessary to give schools more money right now.
Maybe someday we will see these facts in news stories.