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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 contention over the course of our last three jobs updates that industry-specific fluctuations oftentimes beyond a state’s control can exert undue influences on that state’s overall job growth picture relative to other peer states.

This is made particularly clear when looking at the aerospace and motor vehicle manufacturing industries. The aerospace industry is only large enough to meet minimum reporting requirements in Kansas and Oklahoma. Yet its globally-driven developments (declines in this case) temper down overall job growth numbers for Kansas and Oklahoma while not affecting reported numbers for the rest of the regional states highlighted. Similarly, the motor vehicle manufacturing industry is only large enough to be reported in Missouri. Yet, substantial growth in this industry continues to bolster Missouri’s overall jobs growth picture but is essentially a non-factor elsewhere in the region.

The mining and logging industry meets reporting requirements in all of the states shown except for Nebraska. However, it includes oil and gas extraction, a sector whose growth is subject to global pricing. The transportation equipment manufacturing industry—which is large enough to be reported for all states—is similarly not confined to unique policy environments.  Growth in this sector is more heavily tied to national or global demand for the particular types of equipment manufactured in each state. 

Collectively, the four industries discussed account for less than 7% of each regional state’s economy. Removing these sectors and looking at job growth in “all other” industries (more than 93% of each state’s economy) gives a far different look to the regional job growth picture, with Kansas leading three of its four neighboring states.

This underscores the importance of understanding how single, raw, and preliminary jobs numbers do not tell the whole story in terms of a given state’s economic health and outlook. One must examine many moving parts to arrive at an understanding of the greater whole. Check back for next month’s update. 


Posted by Patrick Parkes on Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Payroll listings for 22 school districts, representing nearly 49% of total statewide public school enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year, are now available on The data was collected through Open Records requests and includes all compensation but not benefits.  Each year’s updates can bring a host of changes from previous years, but the recurring themes that surface from year to year are perhaps most telling as we look to suggest ways in which schools can make better use of available resources in providing a quality, student-focused education to all Kansas kids.

1). Record-setting administrative payouts continue to divert resources from Kansas classrooms and saddle Kansas taxpayers with mounting long-term pension costs.

The adjacent table highlights the payouts three school administrators received upon leaving their respective positions. These payouts are common practice across districts and can representamong other things—prearranged deferred compensation agreements, banked sick leave that goes unused over the course of an individual’s career, or buyouts of remaining balances on employment contracts. Offering these payouts is within each district’s prerogative, but the practice of doing so is problematic in two primary respects.

Firstly, funds used to this end are funds that could otherwise be used in Kansas classrooms and/or in other ways that are actually student-focused and targeted toward improving educational outcomes.

Secondly, large one-time spikes in pay can inflate the average salary figures used in calculating the state-sponsored pensions to which individuals receiving payouts may also be entitled. In this sense, payouts become not just a one-time expense to school districts but also a longer-term, continued and compounded expense to all Kansas taxpayers. See an earlier blog here for more information on this concept of “pension spiking.”

2). School districts continue to employ many non-Instruction workers at above-market wages and benefits, diverting resources from students and leaving state taxpayers with added pension obligations in the process.

Another prominent commonality across school districts is that they are employing individuals to perform services that could be contracted out at potentially much lower prices in the private sector. The table below provides a sampling of positions and services that could be evaluated in this vein.

Contracting these services out at lower prices would provide immediate costs savings that could be re-directed to classroom instruction and would also reduce pension liabilities.

3). Teachers of non-core subjects are some of the highest-paid across the districts we sampled.

As the adjacent table illustrates, many of the highest paid teachers in our collection of payrolls teach non-core subjects like art, drama, physical education, and music. These subjects are certainly valuable in their own right, but the illustration is indicative of the fact that teachers are paid based on seniority rather than on effectiveness and relative importance of subjects taught.

 Taken together, the three overarching observations on school payrolls discussed above underscore the fact that school districts are not operating efficiently and do not always spend money in a student-focused manner.



Posted by David Dorsey on Monday, September 21, 2015

cid:15D68CC2-E899-424C-8791-32DDFFE4280C@attlocal.netThe recently released 2015 nationwide ACT scores reveal the achievement gaps based on race and ethnicity persist. African Americans and Hispanics continue to lag behind White students, as shown on both the map and the companion chart. The data also shows a state-to-state consistency along racial and ethnic lines. In every state and D.C. White students scored highest, while Hispanics outperformed African Americans in all states but New Mexico and Rhode Island. Note: ACT does not report scores based on income level.

A pdf of the map and chart is available here.

Yes, Kansas students once again scored above the national average, ranked in a tie for 21st overall.

However…comparing ACT results across state lines is at best tricky business.

There are two participation realities that make it difficult to compare states’ composite performances. As the above chart reports, 13 states require all students to take the ACT, regardless of post-secondary education intentions. Not surprisingly, those states have among the lowest overall composites. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a block of states, primarily on the east coast, in which a very low percentage of high school grads take the ACT. Presumably, those are states in which the SAT is the predominant test and those who choose to take the ACT are targeting particular colleges and universities. And predictably, those are the states with the highest ACT composites. Comparing Kansas to those two sets of states is not quite apples to oranges, but more like comparing a Red Delicious to a Granny Smith.

A more honest assessment of how Kansas ranks is to make a comparison to those states in which the percentage of students taking the ACT is roughly the same as Kansas (74%). There are 10 states in which the percentage of students taking the ACT is between two-thirds and four-fifths. When comparing Kansas to those states and also controlling for demographics, a different picture of achievement emerges.  

When comparing the White students in those ten states, the Kansas composite score, 22.8, is virtually the same as 10-state White student average composite of 22.7 as shown in the table below.

The same is true when comparing Hispanics in the same cohort. The Kansas composite of 19.2 is the same as the 10-state composite. Kansas African American students actually fare better than their counterparts with 17.6 composite compared to 17.1 across the ten states.

In reality, Kansas doesn’t perform above average when it comes to the ACT. Kansas has a demographic advantage that distorts the statewide results, since seven in ten students who take the ACT are White. Only 13% of test takers are Hispanic and just 5% are African American.

Both the educrats and the media like to give Kansas kudos for scoring above the national average. However, it’s much more honest to say that when providing a true Granny Smith to Granny Smith comparison by controlling for participation and race/ethnicity, Kansas is only about average.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Monday, September 21, 2015

A good portion of a recent KC Star editorial appears to be a regurgitation of Duane Goossen's bogus commentary for the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, an organization that favors high spending, high taxes and is afraid to come out in public and defend their claims against those who can expose their false claims.  A link to his piece is included in my blog post that shows how he tortures the truth.   

The Star and Goossen (who may be the only state budget director ever involved in a Securities and Exchange Commission indictment for misrepresenting facts) both refer to "General Classroom Aid" as though it is an official form or aid, but they both know that that is not true.  The Star didn't capitalize the term as did Goossen but they get no pass for that; they repeated his claim (without attribution) that GCA is down $6 million.  The claim is false because there is no such thing as general classroom aid!  The state provided multiple funding sources in the old formula -  including some that were authorized by the state but not run through the state general fund budget - but only local school districts and superintendents decide how much money goes to Instruction....legislators and governors have no control over the amount of money allocated to Instruction.

Total funding increased nearly $2 billion over the last ten years.  Instruction spending, only available through FY 2014, increased by $845 million since 2005 without counting a dollar of KPERS.  That $845 million represents a 32% increase in per-pupil spending while inflation was 21%; the increase could have been even more if local school boards had chosen to direct some of their increased spending on other operating areas to Instruction, had 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. 

Here's where things stand on achievement after those large spending increases:

  • 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.  FYI, the Legislature increased At Risk Aid, intended for helping low income kids, by more than 7-fold between 2005 and 2014.


  • 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.
These unacceptable outcomes are not necessarily anyone's fault but it is everyone's responsibility - especially the Legislature's - to get it fixed.  And just spending more on a system that for whatever reasons produced these results it not a solution.  Been there, tried that. 
Posted by David Dorsey on Friday, September 18, 2015

At the regular September meeting, the State Board of Education accepted staff recommendations and approved the new state assessment cut scores with only a single dissenting member. The vote was a culmination of an intensive process that took several months and created not only the cut scores, but a new set of levels based on the new College and Career Ready standards (CCR) – the Kansas version of Common Core.

The following graphics show the statewide scores for both math and ELA (English language arts) for the tested grades based on the new cut scores and the four performance levels. (Note: KCCRA stands for Kansas College and Career Ready Assessment and is derived from Common Core Standards. This is not to be confused with Rose standards – KSDE considers CCR Standards a subset of Rose standards.)

 A general description of the four levels are provided in this blog post.

If you look at these and are not sure what they mean, you’re in good company. Upon seeing the same graphs at the board meeting, SBOE chairman Jim McNiece, asked staff: “How did we do?” That inquiry pretty much sums things up: after all the effort, we can’t look at this data and understand what it means, leaving more questions than answers.

Aside from the obvious query from Chairman McNiece, here are several more questions to consider while digesting these results:

  • Do the results show that the Kansas version of Common Core Standards have made any difference in student performance?

  • As a companion question, are the outcomes a function of cut scores, the levels, the standards or a combination?

  • Why did students in elementary score so much higher?

  • Given the much different results for elementary, should they have their own levels?

  • What is the deal with Level 4? If, as explained, these are the students who will score in the upper 1% on ACT, it begs two questions:

    • Why have a separate level if so few are ever expected to make it?

    • Why are so many elementary students in Level 4?

  • Since this is just statewide aggregate data, what will district and subgroup date reveal?

  • How are parents, the schools, and the students themselves going to react to these scores?

Hopefully, as the new state assessment and reporting process unfolds, these and other questions that will arise will be adequately addressed. Until then, this announcement should be considered a bureaucratic first-step in a much longer and extensive journey.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Thursday, September 17, 2015

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 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.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

You’d never know it from media and proponents of higher taxes and spending, but according to the Division of the Budget’s July Comparison Report (Schedule 2.2), General Fund spending set a new record last year at $6.251 billion.  That’s an increase of $268 million over the previous year, with funding for K-12 Education accounting for $163 million of the increase.  The approved budgets for FY 2016 and FY 2017 will also set new records.

Spending has grown much more than most people realize (or in some cases, more than they are willing to admit) over the last twenty years.  Actual spending increased by $2.941 billion since 1995, which is much greater than inflation.

The adjacent table shows what General Fund spending would have been if it was increased for inflation each year since 1995 using a fiscal year average Consumer Price Index for Midwest Urban Cities.  Some people believe spending is too low but it would have been $1.174 billion less last year if it had been increased for inflation since 1995.

Kansas is now consistently spending over $1 billion more annually than the long-term inflation track.  Kansas would have spent $14.4 billion less over the last twenty years and the total will hit $16.803 billion by the end of FY 2017 if the inflation assumption noted in the Table holds.

So what is the basis for claims that spending has been slashed, decimated and other forms of mutilation?  In government-speak, not getting as much of an increase is portrayed as a ‘cut.’ 

Thomas SowellRenowned economist Thomas Sowell perfectly explains how state budgets become so bloated.  “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” 

Posted by David Dorsey on Tuesday, September 8, 2015

At the September State Board of Education meeting, members are scheduled to vote on cut scores that will categorize students based on their performance on the new state assessment completed last spring. What makes this so significant is that both the test and the scoring mechanisms have changed dramatically from previously administered assessments.

Gone are the five performance categories (shown below) that were based on a pass/fail system that were used to determine if schools were meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements by the feds. (The three categories above the red line were considered passing.)