Wichita-area businesses aren't as concerned about state and local regulations as that they want to see equal application and transparent guidelines - new study from KPI and WSU's Hugo Wall School.

Business Perceptions of State and Local Government Regulation
James Franko, Vice President and Policy Director of Kansas Policy Institute, talks about a newly-released study titled
Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:43:10 +0000
Medicaid expansion discussion should be based on reality not promises of "free money" from Washington.

Patrick Parks talks about Medicaid expansion and Obamacare in Kansas
Kansas residents who are already paying more for health insurance will also pay much more to fund an expansion of Medicaid. Patrick Parks, a fiscal policy analyst at the Kansas Policy Institute, talks about research KPI and other organizations have done in...
Fri, 20 Mar 2015 19:05:57 +0000
Kansas' school finance system does little to serve our children. Instead it focuses on institutions. We need a student-focused, transparent formula that requires the efficient use of taxpayer money.

Legislature Considers Changes to School Funding Formula
Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute, talks about the state's K-12 school funding formula. The Kansas Legislature is considering block-grant funding schools for the next two years while they take a deliberative look at rewriting the formula....
Thu, 12 Mar 2015 15:10:07 +0000
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Posted by Patrick Parkes on Monday, March 30, 2015

Revised data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Kansas had better private sector job growth in 2014 than neighboring states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska.  Colorado was the only neighboring state that did better, as it has done for thirteen of the last sixteen years.  Kansas also outperformed Iowa and Arkansas, both of which had job growth of 1.5%.  BLS annually updates data for prior years.


Kansas also outperformed Missouri in the Kansas City Metro Area, with job growth of 3.0% on the Kansas side of the metro vs. 1.7% on the Missouri side.  See here for more information on the metro comparison.

A longer-term look at the data shows that Kansas achieved private-sector job growth of just 2.2% in the 14 years from 1998 through 2012. This growth rate amounted to just 61% of the 3.64% job growth its income-taxing peer states experienced.  Yet, in the two years post-tax reform, from December 2012 to December 2014, Kansas has become much more competitive, achieving private-sector job growth of 3.71%, or almost 88% of the growth its income-taxing peers achieved. 



Check back soon for our next jobs update, in which we will examine job growth in Kansas for the first quarter of 2015.     


Posted by Dave Trabert on Sunday, March 29, 2015

New jobs data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that private sector jobs grew at a much faster pace in the Kansas City, KS metro than the Kansas City, Missouri metro.  The Kansas side of the metro area gained 3.0% private sector jobs, which was better than any year since 1998.  The Missouri side of the metro grew by 1.7%.

Private sector job growth was also better in Kansas in 2013.  Over the last two years – post tax reform – private sector jobs increased by 5.6% on the Kansas side of the metro and only 2.2% on the Missouri side.

Comparisons reflect the change in the average annual number of jobs.

Coming Monday – statewide comparisons of private sector job growth for Kansas and neighboring states.

Posted by David Dorsey on Thursday, March 26, 2015

KPI has created a state public education employment metrics report for FY 2014 and the file can be accessed here. The file contains employment totals and also five categories of pupil-per-employee ratios. Here are some highlights and analysis. 

Pupils per classroom teacher

The employment metrics file shows considerable variation among the districts when it comes to the number of pupils per classroom teacher. Weskan, with an enrollment of just 92 students has a ratio of 6.2 pupils for every classroom teacher, while Spring Hill with 2,850 students has 20.5 students for every classroom teacher. Among the state’s largest districts, Shawnee Mission has the highest ratio at 17.9 and Salina is the lowest at 14.6. The state median is 13, while the mean is 15.4 pupils per classroom teacher.  (KSDE excludes special education and reading specialists from their definition of classroom teaches.).

These ratios are considerably smaller than what is typically reported as classroom size. It is impossible to make an exact comparison because KSDE does not keep data on classroom size.

Administrative manager employment

As the table below shows, there is a wide range of pupils per manager* across the state. Manhattan-Ogden (USD 383) carries the distinction of having the most top-heavy administration among the state’s 20 largest districts with a ratio of 96.2 pupils per manager. Contrast that with Andover (USD 385), which has 238.7 pupils-per-manager. Put another way, USD 383 has 5% more students, but 160% more administrators than USD 385.

Among the biggest districts, Shawnee Mission is the most efficient with nearly twice as many pupils per manager than fellow Johnson County district Blue Valley and more than twice as many pupils per manager than Topeka. Shawnee Mission claims an even smaller administrative footprint in FY 2015 in favor of more money going toward instruction.  

The following table summarizes the ranges among all districts on a per-pupil basis through the low, high, and median values for each metric.

 Special Education Cooperatives and Interlocals Make Comparisons Difficult

Most school districts in Kansas enter into inter-district agreements to provide special education services in an effort to provide those services in a more cost-effective manner. According to the KSDE directory, 252 of the 286 schools districts in the state are part of what is called either a cooperative or an interlocal. Essentially, it means two or more school districts in an area pool their teaching resources to serve special education kids. This distorts the employment reporting for these two reasons:

  • About half the districts are in cooperatives that list all the employees of the cooperative in only the “home” district of that cooperative. Example: the East Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative consists of 8 districts. The home district, Paola USD 368, reports 60 special education teachers and 253 special education paraprofessionals. The other 7 districts report zero special education teachers and zero special education paraprofessionals.

  • The remaining cooperatives have been given a school district number (all in the 600s), but the number of special education teachers, paraprofessionals and other employees go unreported.  According to the KSDE directory of schools there are 19 such “districts” that include 143 unified school districts. And, according to KSDE, these cooperatives have 5,284 employees, none of whom are included in state employment totals because KSDE only reports employment for unified school districts. 

*”Manager” is a KPI defined category that combines the 17 KSDE administrative categories reported by all school districts (superintendents, asst. superintendents, principals, asst. principals, business managers, and directors of all other functions).

Posted by Dave Trabert on Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Media reports on the just-passed legislation that will fund schools on block grants for the current year are loaded with school administrator claims that school funding is being cut this year, and  legislators continue to be bombarded with phone calls and emails making the same claim.

But it’s not true.  As we explained on a recent blog post, school funding will set a fourth consecutive record this year at $6.147 billion and a third consecutive record at $13,347 per pupil.  Funding will increase by $171 million this year and only $3 million of the increase is for pension funding.

The Wichita Eagle quotes USD 259 officials as saying the district “…would receive $4.8 million less for the current year than it would otherwise.  The key phrase is ‘than it would otherwise.’ No reference is made to how funding this year will compare to what the district actually spent last year because that is how the game is played; government only wants to compare to what it wants to spend rather than what it actually spent last year.

So we asked USD 259 a simple question: how much will you spend this year?  The answer, from CFO Jim Freeman, was $710.7 million, which is 14% more than the $623.6 million spent last year. USD 259 is getting a lot of sympathy for the alleged $4.8 million reduction but in reality, they estimate actual spending will be $87 million more this year.  (Mr. Freeman did note that the $710.7 million estimate is “probably higher than where the actuals will wind up” but it is based on “…maintaining current educational programs at planned levels” for the remaining 3 months.)

We also inquired about the variance between the $710.7 million estimate for this year and budgeted spending of $680.1 million shown in the district’s Budget at a Glance, as schools are not allowed to spend more than their published budget.  It turns out that published budgets are actually lower than the real budget because state law exempts several funds from being budgeted (at least Special Reserve [for self-insurance of health care], Textbooks and Materials, Activities and Construction, accorded to Dale Dennis at KSDE).  All district budgets would be potentially understated for Textbooks and Materials fund and Activities fund; only 24 districts used the Special Reserve fund last year and the Construction fund would only be used by districts with bond issues.

State law requires actual spending in Special Reserve, Textbooks and Materials and Activities to be recorded but not any budgeted spending.  As a result, the Notice of Public Hearing makes it appear that no money will be spent in those funds for the coming year and gives a false impression of total budgeted spending.  State law should be changed so that actual and budgeted spending must be published for every fund.

The Legislature should also ask every district to disclose their estimated spending this year so they and all citizens can make an honest evaluation of school spending.

Posted by David Dorsey on Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This legislative session saw five bills float around under the newly refinished capitol dome that deal with collective bargaining between teachers and school boards. Here is a brief summary of what they would do.

  • SB 136/HB 2257, drafted and supported by the education establishment, it would, among other things, allow each side choose up to five items for negotiation.

  • HB 2034 limits teacher contract negotiations to salaries and hours worked. Other items could be negotiated with consent from both sides.

  • SB 176 would allow only minimum salaries to be negotiated. It also allows a school board to issue a unilateral contract (allowing each teacher individually to accept or reject a contract offer) as soon as there is an impasse.

  • HB 2326 restricts union influence by allowing the union to bargain for members only. All other teachers would deal directly with the local school boards.

Here is a brief summary of what has transpired as of this writing.

  • HB 2257 was offered as amended language to HB 2034, but was defeated by a committee vote.

  • HB 2034 was passed out of committee but died in the full house.

  • SB 176 has had a hearing but no action was taken.

  • HB 2326 was voted out of committee and sent to the full house for action. It passed with an amendment that substituted its original language with the language from HB 2257.

  • SB 136 was amended multiple times which, among other things, allow each side to choose up to three items for negotiations. The full senate voted to substitute this language into HB2326 and will send the bill back to the house for reconsideration.

So much time, so much effort, so much debate, so much political posturing, so much confusion with so many bills, so much ado about something so unnecessary – teacher contracts.

Teachers don’t need contracts to teach. That’s a declaration that would make most in the education community gasp. It sounds like a statement from someone who had no experience in education, but I spent 20 years in the classroom and never felt the need for a contract. Not only are they unnecessary, but are actually detrimental to both teachers and students.

I will share an anecdote from my recent past as a case in point.

In the 2013-14 school year, my last year of teaching, there were contentious negotiations in my district between KNEA and the Topeka Public Schools (USD 501) school board. During the summer prior to the school year, the board granted huge raises to nearly every administrator in the district. Apparently, the board feared the administrative core was all headed to Johnson County unless given considerably higher compensation. Concurrently, the board offered the teachers a modest raise, which raised the ire among teachers and was overwhelmingly rejected by vote. A stalemate incurred, with both sides holding firm throughout the year. Since Kansas does not have binding arbitration, the board held the trump card; they had the right to extend what is called a unilateral contract, circumventing the union to make a take-it-or-leave-it proposition to the teachers individually. Sensing the rank-and-file members were getting antsy for a resolution (mainly because the teachers had gotten no raise money all year and the school year was nearly over), the union surveyed the members to find out where they stood with regards to being offered a unilateral contract.  As was shared with me by a union insider, much to the chagrin of the KNEA, a vast majority of the members said they were willing to take the unilateral contract. This triggered the following to happen: on the same day teachers were sent an email from the union telling us to hold firm and not give into the school board’s offer. Later that morning, after the union got the results of their survey, a follow-up email was sent to us telling all now to support the contract (which easily passed).

The point of this story is that the union got its members (and us non-members) nothing more than the school board offered in the first place. So all that time, all that work, all that negotiating, all that uncertainty, all that back-and-forth, all that ill-will – for what? Nothing. All the contract negotiations process got us was limbo for about nine months.

Sure, that’s just a single incident but it underscores several realities of the negotiated contract process, including: teaching under uncertain conditions, an adversarial employer/employee relationship and the willingness of teachers to work without a union negotiated contract. But those aren’t the only conditions that support the case for contracts going the way of the VCR and the rotary phone. Here are some others:

  •  A contract-free teaching environment would give teachers greater security and stability when the school-year started because there would be no pending employment issues (e.g., salaries and benefits). Teachers would be unencumbered from the uncertainty that often accompanies the negotiation process. To the benefit of the students, they would be free to give total commitment to teaching.

  • School boards would recognize that not all teachers are the same or do the same (e.g. subject matter or grade level taught, school placement, student performance) and make salary decisions based on those differences. Compensation would become more market based as the one-size-fits-all salary matrix system would dissolve.

  • A logical extension of market-based compensation would be the necessity of a completely different teacher evaluation process.

  •  The legislature could spend more time on real substantive education issues. One representative lamented that there have been bills on collective bargaining every year he has served on the committee. Doesn’t the legislature have more important things to do than debate bills that include superfluous issues such as dress codes for teachers?

So, with all these advantages in doing away with teacher contracts, why do we still have them? It’s because they’ve always had them. Change is difficult, especially when it involves something so entrenched. And eliminating a government entrenched activity is nearly impossible.

But the issue must be raised. It must start some time, and the time is now.

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Friday, March 20, 2015

This piece was published originally by The Heritage Foundation and authored by Edmund F. Haislmaier, Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Health Policy Studies, of the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation.

State lawmakers—particularly those in states that would be affected by a Supreme Court ruling against the Obama Administration in the King case—should take steps to encourage Congress to put forth a legislative response to the case, specifically by exempting affected states from the costly Obamacare rules, regulations, and mandates.[1]

Reject a State Exchange

State lawmakers should also resist efforts to prop up the flawed Obamacare structure by rejecting any adoption of a state exchange. States gain no meaningful flexibility from administering the exchanges,[2] while their long-term costs fall squarely on the states, as any state implementing a state exchange must develop its own revenue source to fund the exchange’s annual operations.[3] Instead, states should lead the way out of Obamacare by demonstrating that they are better equipped to ensure access to affordable coverage.

Adopt Consumer-Focused State Reforms

To encourage Congress to exempt states affected by a Court ruling in favor of King from the costly Obamacare rules, regulations, and mandates, state lawmakers should put forward a set of state-based reforms that would minimize any adverse effects on individuals losing subsidies and allow these individuals to transition to new, more affordable coverage in their states. Such action would demonstrate state preparation for and receptiveness to a targeted exemption.

Specifically, state lawmakers should consider four key areas of state insurance law.

Ensure Appropriate Age Rating Rules. State lawmakers should ensure that state insurance law is set to default automatically to a less restrictive age rating ratio for premiums in their individual and group health insurance markets, effective as soon as Congress lifts the ACA’s ill-considered federal imposition of a narrower three-to-one ratio. The natural variation in health costs between 64-year-olds and 21-year-olds is about five-to-one.[4]

States should revert to their prior standard or another more appropriate variation. Taking such action would help to minimize disruption in a state’s insurance markets by enabling insurers to price coverage for younger adults more appropriately. That would better position insurers to attract and retain a larger portion of this desirable customer segment whose premiums partially offset the higher costs of less healthy enrollees.

Review State Benefit Mandates. Too often, health insurance benefit mandates function as special-interest provisions that are less about protecting consumers and more about protecting the revenues of health care providers. A national actuarial study estimated that the Obamacare essential benefits were responsible for increasing individual market premiums by between 3 percent and 17 percent—with the effects varying by health plan and state, which mainly reflected differences in the extent to which states had already mandated coverage for some of the required services.[5]

Congress’s enactment of an exemption from Obamacare’s federal health insurance benefits mandates would default regulation in that area back to state law. Beyond that, state lawmakers could also look to any previous reviews of the costs of state-mandated benefits in their states as a starting point for reconsidering the appropriateness of their state’s benefit requirements.

Restore Individual and Small-Group Market Rules. State lawmakers should also ensure that their state’s insurance laws governing individual and small-group health insurance policies are set to default automatically to the pre-Obamacare individual and small-group rules. This is important because the ACA did not just supersede the prior rules; it actually discarded much of that earlier design in the process.

The fundamental mistake made by the authors of the ACA was to discard prior law and impose on both the group and non-group markets a blanket federal prohibition on the application of preexisting-conditions exclusions under any circumstances. Consequently, state lawmakers need to ensure that the appropriate default is set in state law.

States should ensure that individual-market plans are guaranteed renewable, as previously established.[6] Beyond that, state lawmakers should also adopt individual-market rules that, similar to the HIPAA group-market rules, would permit someone who has purchased and maintained coverage to obtain new individual health insurance coverage regardless of the individual’s health status or past medical history.[7]

Permit Interstate Insurance Competition. State lawmakers do not need federal approval or action to create interstate insurance competition in their states. States can simply enact laws that permit policies regulated in other states to be sold to their state’s residents. Allowing a state’s residents to purchase coverage regulated by an adjoining state would make the most sense. Doctors and hospitals located near state borders likely already treat patients living in neighboring states and have contracts with insurers regulated by those states.

For instance, as part of its 2011 reform law, Maine allowed its residents to buy coverage that is regulated by Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island.[8] In this respect too, Maine’s legislation is a model for other states to consider.


Should Congress respond to a Court ruling against the Obama Administration’s interpretation in the King case with an exemption, states should be prepared to put forth state policies that would minimize any adverse effects on individuals losing subsidies and allow these individuals to transition to new, more affordable coverage.

Show references in this report

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Friday, March 13, 2015

Next week’s legislative agenda in Topeka will continue the debate in Kansas about possible expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act—more commonly known as Obamacare. A KPI blog post from May 2014 outlined the grave financial dangers of heading down this path. Kansas already faces $4.1 billion (almost $1,400 per Kansan) in new Medicaid costs on account of Obamacare’s “individual mandate” that everyone must purchase health insurance—even those individuals who opted voluntarily to go without it prior to the mandate. Expanding Medicaid eligibility to childless adults without disabilities and not limiting it to just the Kansans who need coverage assistance most will cost the state a projected additional $624.5 million over 10 years. This will bring the total cost of Obamacare in Kansas to $4.72 billion (or more than $1,600 per Kansan) over the period. And that’s assuming the cash-starved federal government meets its matching fund promises…something history shows is far from guaranteed (See the Obama Administration’s “blended match rate” proposal from 2011 for evidence of its willingness to tinker with and reduce Medicaid matching funds). Yet, expanding Medicaid in Kansas is far from just a state finance issue; it will affect Kansans directly every day by increasing the share of their income that the government will need to take to fund itself. More importantly though, as research indicates, Medicaid enrollment has shown no statistically significant ability to improve measurable health outcomes for recipients. In short, expanding an already ineffective health system would not only be an unwise use of precious taxpayer dollars; it would also be a subpar solution to the goal of providing quality healthcare to our fellow Kansans who need it most.

Obamacare’s mandate provisions and Medicaid expansion frameworks were designed to reduce overall healthcare costs by eliminating the uncompensated care phenomenon whereby previously uninsured patients would seek care in emergency rooms. Hospitals would make up for their losses on this care by charging insured patients higher rates for care across the board.

This dilemma may make the idea of a universal health insurance mandate seem like a plausible one on paper. But recent research from the Heritage Foundation, using the federal government's own nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) methodology (Appendix 2), shows that Obamacare and its mandates are limiting health insurance options and driving up the costs of these options. In 2013, prior to the Obamacare's implementation, Kansans shopping for insurance coverage on the individual market could choose among 28 insurance providers from which to purchase health insurance coverage. Today, with the legislation in full effect, Kansans shopping through a now federally-run Obamacare exchange are limited to 3 providers (an 89% decline in insurance coverage options). This trend holds up nationally as well (1,231 providers in 2013 compared to 310 today), amounting to an almost 75% decline in the size of the overall insurance coverage options. This is due to the Obamacare’s "rating rules" and "benefit mandates." These age and community-based restrictions give insurance providers less flexibility in terms of the types of policies they can offer and the prices at which they can offer them. This dynamic has created standardized, "all-inclusive" insurance plans that preclude consumers from buying coverage selectively based on their unique needs (e.g. a post-menopausal woman being forced to purchase insurance that covers pregnancy and prenatal care).   By extension then, specialized insurance providers offering coverage tailored to these needs have been regulated out of state and national health insurance markets. The resulting price hikes individuals are seeing in their premiums (by virtue of being forced to buy coverage they don’t need) are shown in the table below.


Even in spite of all the evidence above concerning the stark limitations Obamacare has placed on consumer choice and affordability in health care, let's consider whether the legislation at least accomplishes its stated goal of eliminating uncompensated care scenarios and costs while also improving overall health outcomes for patients. January 2014 research published in the journal Science by a team of scholars at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) says otherwise.

These researchers used pre-Obamacare, 2007-2009 data—which coincided with the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment (OHIE). The Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved OHIE was unique given Oregon’s use of a lottery initially to determine Medicaid enrollment under a newly-expanded eligibility framework the state rolled out officially in 2008. This created one-of-a-kind control and treatment groups that enabled researchers to study real-life healthcare usage rates and outcomes under Medicaid expansion using a gold-standard, randomized control group research design. The lottery arrangement predated Obamacare and even the Obama Administration itself, so the study’s results remain valid wholly apart from Oregon’s present-day struggles to manage its Medicaid program in the age of Obamacare.

The researchers noted that overall emergency room use increased by 40% for new Medicaid recipients. It is most telling though that there was an 18% spike in emergency room visits to treat non-emergency conditions that could have been addressed more cost-effectively in primary care or other settings.

This marks not only a continuation but also a growth of one of the primary cost trends the ACA was designed to reverse.

Additionally, the researchers found no evidence of Medicaid coverage improving key measures of patient health like blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels, and longer-term blood sugar maintenance measured via glycated hemoglobin levels.

The fact that Medicaid expansion has failed thus far to rein in the higher costs of emergency care while leaving recipients no better off health-wise than their socioeconomic peers without Medicaid begs the question of why Kansas should spend precious taxpayer dollars in pursuit of subpar results.

Some changes are certainly needed as the state continually looks for the best ways to provide health insurance coverage to Kansans who need it most. Potential ideas in this regard will be the topic of a separate, upcoming blog post. Suffice it to say for now though, Medicaid expansion is not the answer to providing health coverage with an eye toward “Better Service at a Better Price” for all Kansans.       

Posted by Dave Trabert on Saturday, March 7, 2015

You wouldn’t know it from media reports or school district newsletters, but school funding will still set another new record this year.  Superintendents say they are dealing with budget cuts but that is largely government-speak for not getting as much of an increase as they would like – and media laps it up without asking how this year’s funding compares with last year.

The Kansas Department of Education (KDSE) says the proposed block grants for the current school year total $3.409 billion, but the block grants do not include state funding for Special Education or Bond & Interest aid.  Including those amounts as listed in the Governor’s Budget Report puts total state aid at $3.985 billion.  A few months ago, KSDE Deputy Superintendent of Finance Dale Dennis estimated Local aid at $1.652 billion and Federal aid at $510 million.  That would put total taxpayer support at $6.147 billion this year and set a new funding record for the fourth consecutive year.

Funding per-pupil would be $13,347 (based on revised KSDE estimated enrollment of 460,526) and set a new record for the third consecutive year. (Note: the original publication of this post put per-pupil spending at $13,262 based on the original KSDE enrollment estimate of 463,500; KSDE has since revised their enrollment estimate downward.)

Total funding last year according to KSDE was $5.976 billion, so the revised estimate for this year represents a $171 million increase.  Also of note, KSDE puts KPERS funding last year at $312 million and shows $315 million included in the block grant; that means – contrary to claims you might have heard – that almost all of the funding increase is not related to pension funding.

Here is a historical perspective on per-pupil school funding, adjusted upward for KPERS in the years prior to 2005 (when it wasn’t included in KSDE funding reports).  The blue line shows actual funding and red line show what funding would have if adjusted for inflation each year.  FYI, funding this year would be $1.543 billion less if it had just been increased for inflation and enrollment. (Note: the variance was originally reported at $1.503 billion based on a different enrollment figure as explained above.)

Posted by Dave Trabert on Wednesday, February 25, 2015

School districts may say they need their cash reserves to operate but if they each had maintained the same percentage of operating expense held in 2006, cash reserves would have been $320 million lower at the beginning of the 2014 school year.

Most school districts claiming to have small cash reserves are only talking about their Contingency Fund, which is often referred to as a savings account for emergencies.  In reality, they have as many as twenty-eight funds functioning in that fashion.  Districts collectively began the 2014 school year with $194 million in Contingency cash reserves but their current operating carryover cash reserves in those twenty-eight funds totaled $884 million

KPI staff calculates an annual Carryover Ratio for each district to facilitate cash reserves comparisons of districts of all sizes and spending levels.  The Carryover Ratio reflects each district’s carryover cash reserves at the beginning of each school year as a percentage of that year’s actual current operating spending. 

The 2014 Carryover Ratio for all school districts was 17percent ($884 million in cash reserves divided by $5.2 billion in current operating spending.  As shown on the adjacent table, the Carryover Ratio is significantly higher than in most years.  The average Carryover Ratio was very steady between 2006 and 2008; it increased a bit more over the next two years and then took a large jump in 2011 to 16 percent.

This trend is quite significant for purposes of determining adequacy of funding and the necessary level of cash reserves.  School funds operate on a cash basis and are similar to one’s checking account; the balance only increases if more money is deposited than is spent.  The annual increase in cash reserves therefore reflect money that districts collected during the year but didn’t need.  A one-year increase could possibly be attributed to some unusual circumstance but seven consecutive years of increasing cash reserves is a clear sign that districts have received more money than necessary to educate students.  The total increase between the 2006 and 2013 school years was $426 million – that wasn’t needed to educate students. Districts claim that they need their annual cash balances, and to be sure, every entity needs some degree of reserves.  However, there is no record of districts complaining that they lacked sufficient cash reserves when average ratios were below 12 percent and since school officials aren’t bashful about claiming to need more money, their silence in those years is quite telling.

The rise in the median and maximum carryover ratio is even greater than the jump in the average ratio.  The median Carryover Ratio rose from 9.2 percent in 2006 to 15.6 percent last year and the maximum carryover ratio nearly doubled to 65.5 percent.

The distribution across districts is also eye-opening.  The majority of districts held less than 10 percent of their annual operating costs in reserve through 2009.  Since 2011, the majority held more than 15 percent in reserve

Fifty-four districts began last year with less than 10 percent in reserves, which for most of the past several years was commonplace.  Indeed, sixty-two districts had less than 10 percent in reserves for at least six of the last nine years.  If that many districts can manage operations with small reserves (as the majority of districts have done for many years), it begs credulity that so many districts claim to need more than 20 percent.

Historic Carryover Ratios by district can be found on
Posted by David Dorsey on Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Now that the Rose standards have been identified as what determines adequacy of education funding in Kansas, much attention is now focused on how the education community will address them. Recently, incoming Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson and outgoing Interim Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander provided an update on Rose standards to the House Education Committee.

Included in their presentation was their vision of how to incorporate those standards to make Kansas high school grads more college and career ready. Dr. Watson explained to the members the special importance of being ready for post-secondary education, since by 2020, 71% of jobs in Kansas will require some post-secondary educational attainment.

Unfortunately, too many students enter colleges, universities and trade schools who don’t have the academic chops to earn a license or degree. According to the latest ACT figures which I reported in this blog, only three in ten of all Kansas college-bound high school students are “college ready” in the four subjects of English, math, reading and science. And those figures are much lower when considering just minority students. This, of course, requires many students to take remedial courses (especially in math) upon entry into colleges and universities. The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that upwards of 40% of students take a remedial course at a university, and about half take a remedial course upon entering a community college. Of course, not every high school graduate will go on to a college or a university. However, these numbers are indicative of how many students leave high school ill-prepared for the next step in their lives.

Recognizing this, the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) has proposed a “requirement that each student have an individual plan for postsecondary preparation, developed and implemented by local boards of education under standards adopted by the State Board.” Now, that sounds like a good idea and a reasonable response for getting high schools students prepared for life, doesn’t it?

Well, upon closer inspection of this concept, there are many questions that need to be answered prior to such an ambitious undertaking.

The “requirement.” I’m hesitant to endorse any education proposal that is required. In this case, I am concerned about every student being put on an educational track. How will that track be different for those who have no intention of going to college- those who may want to work the family farm, or join the military, or work in the family business? Will these students be put in a less rigorous educational plan, thus fulfilling a lowered expectation than planning for post-secondary education?
Parental role. What say will mom and dad have for their child’s plan?
Monitoring and implementation. Who is going to be responsible for putting the plans together then making sure they are implemented? How will that happen? According to KSDE enrollment figures for 2014-15, there are 140,217 enrolled high school students in the state. There are 46 high schools with more than 1,000 students, six of those have more than 2,000 students. How will that number of plans be managed?
Plans change. Do you think teenagers ever change their minds, or experience life-changing events? Will plans be flexible to meet those challenges?
A false assumption. This approach assumes high school students already know what they want. Did you know what you wanted to be when you were 16? When I was 16, I wanted to be at the drive-in theater with the girl I sat next to in history class. Would that go in the plan?
Directing by the school. Given that there will be hundreds, if not thousands of high school students who aren’t sure of their post-high school future, what role will whomever is putting the plan together play in leading a student in a particular direction?
Post- high school tracking. How will this approach be judged for success? Will high schools send staff running around the state to see if students are following the plan after high school? Will schools wait until a college-bound Kansan turns 24 to see if the plan was followed? And how can the educational system possibly follow-up on the thousands of high school graduates each year who do not go on to post-secondary institutions?
• Grade creep. How long would it be until middle schools and elementary schools became part of the “pre-plan process?”

And finally,

Money. How long will it take for schools realize they don’t have the manpower for such a massive undertaking, then come back to the legislature for more money?

If adopted, this program would be an administratively bloated bureaucratic nightmare.

Without question, high schools should be encouraging students to continue their education past graduation, especially given the economic realities of our time. And I concur with Dr. Watson’s observation that a high school diploma is the equivalent to what an eighth-grade education was fifty to one hundred years ago. However, there is only so much any school can do impact one’s future success -you know, that whole lead-a-horse-to-water bit. At some point, contrary to what the government-knows-best crowd believes, individual choice and personal responsibility has to be the final arbiter of one’s future.

In another recent blog I pointed out that when changes are made in education, it’s like a pendulum swinging back and forth – one extreme to another. Making mandatory that every student have an individual plan for post-secondary preparation is a perfect example of the pendulum theory.

It’s naïve to believe that creating a plan for every student is the answer to this transition quandary. The most expedient way to prepare high school students for post-secondary success is to increase the rigor of the curriculum, hold students to high standards of excellence, and remediate academic deficiencies PRIOR to graduation. And you don’t need individual plans to accomplish that.

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Friday, February 20, 2015

Calendar year 2013 payroll data for the Kansas Turnpike Authority--just added to raises some questions about pension spiking—which is the artificial increasing of an employee’s Final Average Salary at retirement, thereby producing a higher pension. (Note: KTA is a government authority, but it is not part of the state budget and its employees are therefore not included in the state payroll listing.)

The data showed some unusually high compensation numbers for some employees, which was partly driven by large payouts of unused sick leave, vacation and other paid leave upon employees’ termination or retirement.

KTA explains that these payouts encompass unused vacation and paid time off (PTO) as well as 30% of banked sick leave for some retirees hired on or before a certain date. In addition, individuals can leave KTA for a variety of reasons apart from retirement (i.e. resignation or termination) and still be eligible for a payout of their unused leave. The extent to which this practice occurs across state agencies and local government is unknown, but it begs the question of how much this practice costs taxpayers.

Sick leave is a benefit to provide pay when an employee is ill; it is not an entitlement intended to boost pay and pension. Vacation leave exists to be used in the promotion and maintenance of employee health and well-being within a calendar year.

These payouts aren’t just made on a one-off basis; they have long-term budgetary impacts. This graphic highlights the compensation of now retired KTA President/CEO Michael L. Johnston to make this point.

Assuming Johnson was hired prior to 1993 and retired with 30 years of credited service, he had the option of having his pension benefits calculated based on either (1) the average of his last 3 years of base pay, excluding additional compensation or (2) the average of his last four years of total pay, including additional compensation (e.g. unused vacation and sick pay). Thus, his large payout of unused vacation and sick pay in 2013 made it so that his average total pay over the last four years qualified him for an annual pension payment of $219,119. This compares to the payment of $199,500 he would receive each year if his pension benefits were calculated instead based on his last three years of base pay only. (Note: Base pay for 2010 through 2012 are merely estimated for illustrative purposes.) The $19,600 difference between the two sums, if multiplied over the next 20 years, amounts to an additional $392,000 cost to the State of Kansas—all due to the way in which a single state entity handles unused vacation and sick pay.

If anything resembling this practice occurs beyond KTA and across the state, it is something that is worthy of examination as the Kansas State Legislature examines its funding to state entities and the true purposes for which that funding is intended and ought to be used.


Posted by Dave Trabert on Thursday, February 19, 2015

School districts spent an average $12,960 per student during the 2014 school year but the range of spending across districts varied quite significantly.  Total spending went from a low of $9,245 per-pupil (USD 218 Elkhart, with 1,137 students) to a high of $23,861 (USD 490 El Dorado, 1,872 students); El Dorado also hosted a Special Ed Co-Op and must record the cost of serving students in other districts per KSDE.  USD 359 Argonia had the highest spending per-pupil among districts that did not host Special Ed Co-Ops, spending $22,847 with 162 students enrolled.

Instruction spending variances can be somewhat driven by the school funding formula and student body compositions (extra money is given to districts for special education, low income students and bi-lingual students) but districts have a great deal of latitude in resource allocation.  Some districts, for example, divert money from Instruction as a result of other spending decisions.  Variances in spending on Administration and other cost centers, however, are primarily driven by district operating decisions.

Many Kansas school districts have low enrollment, and while it would be expected that very small districts would spend more per-pupil because of economies of scale, some small districts are able to operate at lower prices per student than many larger districts.  There are also wide variances even among districts of similar size.

A complete analysis of all operating cost centers (including Operations / Maintenance, Transportation, Food Service and Community Service can be found here.

To put these variances in perspective, KPI staff calculated the potential savings of getting each district spending above median within their enrollment category down to the median for each cost center.  The total comes to a staggering $516 million.  There may be some circumstances that preclude some of that savings being realized but there could also be additional savings realized among those districts spending below median.

To be clear, the purpose of this analysis is not to say that a specific dollar amount of savings could be had if districts operate more efficiently. However, variances of this magnitude certainly indicate that efficiency efforts driven by the Legislature could easily yield nine-figure savings.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Monday, February 16, 2015

The most recent performance and spending records of Johnson County school districts serves as a good reminder that there is no relationship between high spending and high achievement.  In fact, the two districts that spend the least happen to have the best outcomes on state assessments. 

Students who read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension and usually perform accurately on all grade-level math tasks are best positioned for success in college and career.  Disparate demographic compositions and achievement gaps distort districts' average scores, so student cohorts must be separately compared.  De Soto and Gardner-Edgerton have the highest and second-highest percentages of income-based cohorts attaining these levels in Reading and Math and also spend the least per-pupil on current operations (no capital or debt included). 


The achievement gap for low income students is common across Kansas and there are also large variances in student body compositions across districts.  For example, only 8.4% of Blue Valley students are considered low income (based on eligibility for free / reduced lunch) whereas as Shawnee Mission has 37.8% who qualify as low income; eligibility for free/reduced lunch is the official metric of “income” via the Kansas Department of Education.   Blue Valley’s average score benefits from having very few low income students and masks the fact that other districts do as well or better on individual student groups.

De Soto’s and Gardner-Edgerton’s superior performance has great significance for taxpayers.  In fact, if the other five Johnson County districts operated at the per-pupil cost of De Soto, the burden on taxpayers could be reduced by $127.1 million!  Of course, while De Soto has the lowest operating cost per-student, that doesn’t mean that the district is efficient; savings across the county would be even greater if De Soto’s costs were reduced through consolidation of non-instruction services across district lines and other efficiency opportunities. 

FY 2014 per-pupil spending for each Johnson County district is shown below by cost center.  Click here to download these blog tables and per-pupil spending comparisons of all Johnson County school districts, showing how spending has changed since FY 2005.

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Thursday, February 12, 2015

December’s private-sector jobs numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics are available, and they show some positive growth in Kansas. To echo previous blogs in this series, there is an obvious short-sighted limitation to looking at jobs numbers for a single month in 2014 and comparing them to that same month in 2013. Namely, the numbers for a given month may be outliers when compared to a longer-term trend. What’s more, the numbers—especially in their early release stages—may be subject to upward or downward revisions the following month. However, even when taking potential anomalies into account (e.g. February-March, September-October), the graph below shows clearly that Kansas continues to gain ground and approach parity with its peer states that tax income.

Looking at job growth in the context of Kansas’ 2012 tax reforms illuminates this gaining of ground even further.


From December 2012 to December 2014, Kansas has posted a 2.97% job growth rate, equaling almost 78% of the rate its income-taxing peers achieved over the same two-year period. This represents continued improvement over the 2.31% growth Kansas achieved from 1998 through 2012, or 63.45% of the growth its income-taxing peers experienced.

Check back for January’s update.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Thursday, February 5, 2015

Senate Ways & Means held a hearing this week on SB 71, which, as explained in a previous blog post, would correct some inequities in the distribution of Supplemental General State Aid (SGSA) / equalization funding and reduce the amount to be provided this year so that it approximates the amount promised by the Legislature last May.  The reduction is intended to offset a $36 million increase caused by districts increasing their budget authority.  There is no need, however, for such an increase; it’s just about entitlement.

Opponents of SB 71 included a mix of school district personnel, the Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas PTA and other groups.  The entitlement theme was very prevalent in their testimony; some opponents would not acknowledge that schools were getting a lot more equalization money than last year as well as the approximate dollar amount promised in May.  Opponents portrayed the reduction in the amount of their increased equalization as ‘significant’ and other ominous terms. 

USD 501 Topeka Superintendent Julie Ford spoke of the “devastating impact” that would be inflicted on her district.  Here is the reality of that ‘devastation.’  USD 501 would receive a $3.8 million increase in equalization funding over last year under SB 71 but $897,000 less than what they want.  An $897,000 reduction is 0.5% of their $190 million operating budget, which would still be 11.2% higher than actual spending last year.  USD 501 would only have to adjust remaining operating costs by 1.5% over the next four months to absorb the ‘budget reduction’ - and still have an 11.2% increase for the year.

Alternatively, the district could take the $897,000 out of the $13.6 million in carryover cash balances in operating funds (SB 111 funds are a dozen funds from which districts can pull cash for any use) or use some of their capital cash reserves for maintenance projects.

Districts have multiple options at their disposal to adjust to the approximate funding they were promised for this year, but predictably, legislators were warned that student services would be cut.  Options to use cash reserves, operate more efficiently, reduce administration or other non-student functions were eschewed and students are put on the firing line.  That’s another indication of entitlement.

You can see the facts for each district by downloading this spreadsheet.  Column 6 lists the amount of money raised by a 1 mill tax in each district.  (Districts that are ineligible for equalization because they are considered ‘property-rich’ even though 1 mill raises less $50,000 are highlighted in yellow.) 

Column 7 lists the actual amount of equalization (SSGA) each district received last year, totaling $339 million.  Column 8 has the amount legislators approved last year based on KSDE calculations, totaling $449 million.  The distribution districts want ($484 million) are in Column 9 and the amount each district would receive under SB 71 is in Column 10. 

Column 11 compares SB 71 distributions to actual amounts from last year ($106 million increase).  The nominal impact of SB 71 compared to what districts want is shown in Column 12 and the difference between SB 71 and the amount legislators budgeted for this year is in Column 13.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Monday, February 2, 2015

When every Johnson County school district qualifies as a property-poor district, you know you have a broken school funding formula…and a controversial claim based on entitlement.

The Kansas Legislature authorized $134 million in school funding this year in a good-faith effort to resolve the Supreme Court equity finding in Gannon v. State of Kansas.  Most of the increase, $109 million – was for Supplemental General State Aid (SGSA), which equalizes Local Option Budgets for property-poor districts.  The other $25 million was for equalization of Capital Outlay aid.

You wouldn’t know it from most media coverage, but the Supreme Court ruling on equity provides the Legislature with broad latitude in resolving wealth-based disparity, and does not require specific funding levels.  “We agree that the infirmity can be cured in a variety of ways—at the choice of the legislature. And the legislature should have an opportunity to promptly cure. Any cure will be measured by determining whether it sufficiently reduces the unreasonable, wealth-based disparity so the disparity then becomes constitutionally acceptable, not whether the cure necessarily restores funding to the prior levels.

The Legislature didn’t have to increase SGSA in order to satisfy the Supreme Court ruling on LOB equity, but they did so anyway.  The $109 million authorized was based on calculations from the Kansas Department of Education, but KSDE underestimated the amount by which districts would increase their Local Option Budgets, and now school districts want another $36 million from taxpayers.  Districts want this money because the formula says they are entitled to it but there is ample evidence that more money is not needed, and now SB 71 has been introduced into Senate Ways & Means to revise the equalization formula and eliminate the $36 million increase. 

SB 71 is opposed by school districts, but it is a necessary fix to a broken formula and frankly, districts don’t need the extra money.

The intention of SGSA is to offset wealth-based disparity among school districts, but calculations from the Kansas Department of Education has the current formula allocating $54.8 million to districts in Johnson County – the state’s wealthiest county.  Every district in Johnson County is considered a ‘property-poor’ district under the current formula, including Blue Valley, which may be the most affluent district in Kansas. 

Johnson County schools are being subsidized by taxpayers in far less affluent parts of Kansas under the current formula.  One mill in the Blue Valley district raises $2.3 million; one mill raises $2.9 in Shawnee Mission and $1.7 million in Olathe.  But taxpayers in counties where 1 mill generates less than $50,000 are being asked to subsidize property-rich districts; those counties include Cheyenne, Clark, Edwards, Ellis, Gove, Gray, Greeley, Kearny, Kiowa, Lane, Logan, Ness, Reno, Rice, Rooks, Rush, Russell, Stafford, Thomas, Trego and Wallace.  One or more districts in those counties are considered ineligible for equalization aid by the current formula, but those districts’ patrons are expected to subsidize urban districts in Johnson County, Sedgwick County, Shawnee County and Wyandotte County – just to name a few. 

On the issue of need, the K-12 Commission on Student Achievement and Efficiency heard testimony from school districts, regional service centers and others recently, confirming that school districts could operate much more efficiently.  However, school districts made it very clear that they are strongly opposed to being required to make efficient use of taxpayer money.   Legislative Post Audit also told the Commission that districts have not enacted many of their recommendations to reduce the cost of services.

There is also no need to increase equalization of Capital Outlay aid.  The $25 million allocated for this year was based on Capital Outlay property taxes levied by school districts last year, but districts increased local property taxes even more, entitling them to $20 million more in Capital Outlay equalization.  This is another example of a broken school funding formula, as it has nothing to do with need.

School districts began this year with a record $434.9 million set aside for Capital projects.  Capital Outlay reserves are completely separate from capital projects related to bond issues and have increased each year since 2005.  Districts may feel entitled to even more money for capital projects but there is no need to further pump up their reserves.

The equalization system and the entire entitlement-based school funding system need to be replaced with a student-focused and taxpayer-focused perspective.

Posted by David Dorsey on Monday, January 26, 2015

(w)e conclude that the Kansas K-12 school finance formula still stands as constitutionally inadequate by its failure to assure and implement adequate funding to meet and sustain a constitutionally adequate education as a matter of sound expert opinion from those with relevant and reliable expertise and experience with the Kansas K-12 school system.(emphasis added)

Thus is the opinion, filed December 30, 2014, from the Shawnee County District Court three-judge panel as tasked by the Kansas Supreme Court pursuant to their decision in Gannon v. Kansas in March of 2014.

We reported in a previous KPI blog that the unspecified underfunding of K-12 public education in Kansas identified in this decision is at least $548 million. The judges based their opinion on several categories of adequacy they deemed relevant to the case. One such category in the decision is entitled Adequacy As A Matter Of Student Performance (pp. 20-48). The judges included as its linchpin evidence an interview with Kansas City, Kansas USD 500 superintendent Dr. Cynthia Lane. Dr. Lane provided testimony regarding how a federal grant enabled Emerson Elementary, a USD 500 school, to significantly increase student performance.

In short, Emerson Elementary is a small K-5 school. Several years ago, it gained notoriety for being declared the lowest performing elementary school in Kansas. As such, it was awarded a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from KSDE, authorized by the No Child Left Behind law. The school was given nearly $3 million over a three-year period (2010-11 to 2012-13 school years) to improve state assessment test scores. Dr. Lane testified that “fewer than 30 percent” of the students met state standards in math and reading prior to receiving the grant.  According to demographic data published by KSDE, Emerson has about 95% economically disadvantaged students. While Dr. Lane testified that Emerson is ethnically “about 50 percent African American and about 48 percent Hispanic,” KSDE reported that the ethnic breakdown is about two-thirds Hispanic, one-quarter African American and less than 10% white. She told the court that over the life of the grant Emerson’s students performed “on both the reading and math state assessment to have more than 85 percent…meeting or exceeding expectations just in the last three years. It’s a remarkable story.”  

Apparently the court agreed, afforded to say:

Given the continuing grade advancement and migration upwards of K-12 schoolers during their school careers, it seems but obvious that for educational advancement, much less the maintenance of results accomplished prior with the earlier funding initiatives implemented, but now abandoned, that the revenue streams which supported those results in that period of favorable funding needed to be continued to be provided in order to properly educate the continuing stream of new faces going forward, either initially entering the school system or advancing in grade. No evidence or proffer of evidence supports otherwise. (pp. 39-40, emphasis not added)

Translated: More money = greater student achievement, and there is no evidence to the contrary.

I will now proffer contrary evidence, a much less remarkable story that should have been proffered in the original court case: Northwest Middle School.

The same year Emerson Elementary was awarded its SIG,  another USD 500 school, Northwest Middle School, was awarded a similar grant with a higher amount of $4.77 million. Northwest has similar minority and economically disadvantaged populations to Emerson Elementary (just over half African American and just over one-third Hispanic and 98% low income). But the outcomes pursuant to the SIG were very much dissimilar, indeed.

The following table and the accompanying graph show how Northwest Middle School scored on the state reading and math assessments for the three years prior to receiving the SIG and during the three-year implementation of the grant.

As the graphics show, achievement at Northwest had an uptick in both math and reading the first year of the grant, but then fell off dramatically the following two years. To put their performance in perspective the following graphs compare Northwest to Rosedale Middle School (the USD 500 school most comparable to Northwest according to KSDE) and the USD 500 district as a whole.

In reading, Northwest underperformed both Rosedale (which did not get a SIG) and the district as a whole both prior to and after receiving the grant. The trend and gap between Northwest and Rosedale remained amazingly consistent throughout this period. The picture in math is a little different. Northwest students maintained a slight advantage over Rosedale throughout the grant period and nearly eliminated the gap with the district as a whole. However, the overall trend is downward, with just over 40% of the Northwest middle schoolers proficient in math as of the last recorded state assessments.

It is safe to say that in terms of achievement, that $4.77 million granted to Northwest Middle School in Kansas City, Kansas didn’t buy much. This is evidence that, once again, more money does not inherently make a difference in student outcomes. This nationwide study conducted by the Heritage Foundation supports that contention.  Even Kansas’s own Legislative Post Audit says in this report (p. 107) that a correlation between increased funding and increased outcomes is inconclusive.

As a 20-year teaching veteran, I know it’s not the money that makes a difference in student achievement. It’s commitment by students, parents, teachers, principals and administrators to make it happen. Trying to quantify that in dollar terms is a fool’s errand. If the increase in education funding prescribed in the most recent Gannon decision were to become a reality, it would mean a nice raise for teachers and likely more administrators, but student outcomes would remain flat and achievement gaps would continue. Think of it as Montoy redux.

Clearly, the judges got it wrong. Let’s hope their decision gets overturned on appeal and an end is put to this seemingly endless carousel of education funding lawsuits. The citizens of Kansas deserve better.

Posted by David Dorsey on Monday, January 26, 2015

As I discussed in the first blog in this series, the state of Kansas provides almost $400 million additionally each year for at-risk funding to K-12 education. But what is the philosophy behind spending more taxpayer dollars to educate economically disadvantaged students? What does the research say? And how have states responded in their particular “at-risk” funding formulas? In this blog I will briefly answer address these questions.

It may sound like a dumb question, but why is it that it should cost more to adequately educate students who are disadvantaged? Sure, it seems intuitive, but where did that idea start and where is the research to back it up?

The genesis of the premise that it costs more to adequately educate the economically disadvantaged comes from a 1969 article in the National Tax Journal by three economists who attempted to explain why the cost of all local public services was outpacing inflation in post-World War II America. (Sidebar: their article is proof that the concern over rapidly expanding government spending is not a recent phenomenon.) The researchers suggested that differing costs for public service across jurisdictions could partially be explained by environmental factors. Specifically regarding education, they say that outcomes might be a function of “the ‘basic intelligence’ of pupils, home backgrounds and neighborhood conditions.” That seems to be the phrase subsequent researchers have locked onto to justify the need for what has become commonly known as at-risk funding.

Many studies since then, including this 1997 study and this one from 2004, focused on spending disparities and “outcome” disparities among school districts within states. Again, without getting too “wonky,” studies showed school districts that were property poor, and as a parallel had lower per pupil spending (since school financing is primarily a function of property values), had lower outcomes than their counterparts with higher property values. And of course, those property poor districts had a disproportionate share of low income families/students. Therefore, the studies concluded that poor school districts needed more money to bring their students up to an acceptable minimum outcome standard. Researchers typically defined outcome as an index of a combination of standardized test scores and other indicators such as graduation rates.

But these studies have remained academic exercises.  Even though it is now a given that poor students require more money to reach a given outcome, most states now have some form of additional funding based on economic status of students. However, the amounts states have allocated are all less than the research concludes are necessary.

Yes, politics and budget constraints trump academia.

The Kansas At-Risk Timeline

In 1992 a new law entitled the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act included a 5% weighting for students who qualified for free school lunch. That percentage was increased to 6.5% in 1997 and increased seven more times in the next decade to its current level of 45.6%. In 2006, two more categories of at risk were added. One was for schools with high percentages of at risk populations and/or an enrollment density of at least 212.1 students per square mile. The other additional category targeted money for students non-proficient in math and reading, but not eligible for a free lunch. (The non-proficient category was eliminated in 2014.) In dollar terms, the 5% in 1992 generated just over $13 million. That amount is now nearly $400 million.

The situation in Kansas is not dissimilar to those in other states. At least 35 states have a mechanism for additional funding generated by economically disadvantaged students. Most of them use some variation of the number of students who qualify for free OR free or reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). NSLP has been the choice because it is an expedient and convenient proxy for determining economically disadvantaged students since qualification for free/reduced lunches is predominantly income based. And like Kansas many have weight values that are not static. A 2004 study out of the University of Wisconsin reports that nationwide the weights range from 15% in Vermont to 62.5% in Illinois, while a presentation last year to the Nevada state legislature showed a low of 9.15% in New Mexico to 180.0% in Georgia. The thing to keep in mind here is that it is nearly impossible to compare Kansas to other states because not all states use the same definition of disadvantaged and some use multiple factors to determine additional spending.

So how did Kansas go from a relatively modest 5% at-risk weighting in 1992 to a hefty 45.6% (with two additional categories) by 2006? That is the topic of the next blog.

Next: The political history of at-risk funding in Kansas

Posted by David Dorsey on Tuesday, January 20, 2015


There’s an old saying in education that when changes happen it’s like a pendulum swinging; things go from one extreme to the other. How much testing given to students is a current prime example of the back and forth. Testing, especially at the elementary level, was scarce prior to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But in the last decade the combination of federally mandated tests and schools’ new and sudden focus on data-driven curriculum decisions have left students, parents, teachers and the public assessment weary.

So what seems to be the answer? Find some middle ground that can ensure accountability but keep the community from burning out? That’s not how a pendulum swings.

The backlash over being over-tested is well documented. Even President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have complained that there is an excess of testing. A bill passed the Ohio House of Representatives that would limit the amount of time students spend on testing in the Buckeye State. Google “too much testing in schools” and the results span the political and educational spectrum.

The pendulum is swinging back. But this time there is a new hand that providing the impetus: Common Core.

Recent efforts to reduce testing that have been reported in Education Week document the influence Common Core state standards are having in reducing the number of assessments districts are administering. Some schools in New Jersey are eliminating midterm and final exams. And they are doing it because “they view the state's new standardized tests—the PARCC exams (Common Core-based state testing)—as more time-consuming, and they want to cut back before those are given.”

That may seem an isolated occurrence, but according to this article, it shows just how widespread and organized the effort is to restrict district-based tests in order to focus on new statewide tests aligned with Common Core state standards. Two Washington-based school leader groups, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools (which represents 67 big-city school districts) are going to “review the array of state and district tests being administered in public schools, report their findings, and work to eliminate redundant assessments.”

Are we to be surprised that Common Core has now spread to control testing? It was only a matter of time until the combination of Common Core and the two partner testing consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balance) would dominate the testing landscape.

Welcome to trickle-down education. What started as a de facto federal mandate for states to adopt Common Core’s uniform national standards is now swelling into a big-brother control of how often districts test students and swinging the pendulum in the process.

Even though these specific efforts haven’t seeped into Kansas yet, recent local and national events could put the entire testing issue in flux in the Sunflower state. Last March, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that an adequate education in this state is to be measured against the Rose standards, a much broader and less specific set of criteria than Common Core. The potential problem became evident when several Kansas superintendents testified before the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission that they didn’t know how to operationalize Rose standards for measurement purposes. Clearly, the potential is there for additional testing with a new layer of standards. At the very least it sets up the strong potential for districts being forced to serve two masters – Common Core and Rose. And regardless of KSDE’s efforts to meld the two, attempting to force Rose and Common Core standards onto two sides of the same coin are misguided and serve neither kids nor  the two standards regimes.

However, the newly Republican controlled Congress is ready to advance a long overdue reauthorization of NCLB which could impact requisite testing. A recent Politico  article described the bi-partisan support that exists for an update to the 2002 NCLB law. Not surprisingly, one of the sticking points regards testing. The strange bedfellows of congressional Republicans and teachers’ unions would like to see annual testing eased, while congressional Democrats tend to want to see a continuation of annual testing. One potential change reported by Education Week is a Republican push to test students every two years.

How all this will play out is anybody’s guess, but the fundamental issue doesn’t change. Assessments, both formative and summative, should be primarily in the hands of local school districts, with collaboration with the state to find a happy medium for testing purposes.

Sure, too much testing takes away from instructional time and other aspects of the educational experience, but like it or not, testing is a necessity. Teachers need data (especially derived from formative assessments) to help make better curriculum decisions (e.g. lesson reteach and differentiation) in their classrooms. Districts need testing results to help judge effectiveness of teachers. States need testing results to assess whether standards are being met. And the most important group – students – needs testing data to know what they are learning.  Somehow, the positive impact testing can have on student achievement is always left out of the discussion.

And taxpayers need testing to ensure accountability.

Ultimately, assessment decisions should be made in light of how they will help improve student learning, not how it fits within the scope of what amounts to a federal mandate: Common Core standards. The efforts by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools only work to support the heavy hand of federal government interference in local education.

If education is to continue the tradition of pendulum swinging decisions, let’s sway it back by eliminating the ever-expanding control of Common Core standards.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, January 16, 2015

There is a lot to like in Governor Brownback’s budget proposal for FY 2016 and FY 2017 but there are also a few disappointments. 

It’s good that the Governor is keeping most elements of the tax reform plan in place but we’re disappointed that he wants some income tax and excise tax increases. Instead, the Governor should push for more cost reductions and use of unnecessary carryover cash reserves.  Kansas does not have a revenue problem.  2014 tax revenue was ahead of the ten-year inflation pace; it was 28% higher than in 2004 while inflation was 24%.  And the gap is expected to grow wider in the near future.  If inflation maintains the current pace, FY 2017 tax revenue will be 39% greater than inflation-adjusted tax revenue from FY 2004.


The proposed spending reductions from this year’s record-setting level of $6.322 billion are very encouraging.  Other may criticize the decline in spending, but it should be noted that FY 2016 and FY 2017 spending will still exceed that of any year prior to this year’s record.  Still, there remains much more to do in reducing the cost of government.  As shown here, proposed FY 2017 spending will be $547 million greater than inflation-adjusted FY 2004 spending.

(Using FY 2004 as the base is merely to show what occurred with spending over the same time fram that tax revenue out-paced inflation.  The real gap between proposed and necessary spending is even greater than $547 million, as there is no evidence indicating that FY 2004 spending was efficient.)

Part of the cost reductions come from proposed changes to the state employee retirement program – KPERS.  The Governor proposes the issuance of $1.5 billion in bonds, with the proceeds going to reduce the unfunded KPERS liability; he also proposes extending the amortization period for the remaining liability.  Bonding is a good idea if, AND ONLY IF, all new hires are placed in a defined contribution plan rather than the cash balance plan scheduled to go into effect this year.  The cash balance plan has a potential future liability for taxpayers that would not exist in a DC plan.  Extending the amoriization plan is what some might call an ‘accounting gimmick’ that should be avoided.  To his credit, the Governor indicated that he is open to other ideas on KPERS and it is hoped that a defined contribution plan for new hires would be viewed favorably.

Governor Brownback also proposes sunsetting the school funding formula and block-granting K-12 funding while a new formula is being designed over a two-year period.  Creating a new formula is a very strong student-focused approach and is long overdue.  As explained in our 2013 publication of Student-Focused Funding Solutions for Public Education, we believe the school funding formula is irreparably broken.   The current formula funds districts rather than students and is providing more money than is needed to efficiently operate schools.  It is based on an old cost study that was deliberately skewed to produce inflated numbers and it is well-established that schools are not operating efficiently.

Developing a new formula is a complex undertaking but it should approached with extreme urgency.  Every effort should be made to complete the process in the current legislative session for implementation on July 1.  If that cannot be done, block-granting the amount each district was scheduled to receive this year (based on the dollar amount of equalization agreed to by the Legislature last year) would be appropriate.

All told, it's a fairly good plan that would be greatly improved if the Legislature strips out the tax increases and further reduces the cost of government.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, January 16, 2015

A 'tax fairness' report released this week released by the Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG) and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) contains a number of serious flaws, as explained in the following analysis from The Tax Foundation's Joe Henchman.

"This week, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) released their fifth edition of Who PaysWhile the report purports to measure the regressivity of state tax systems by looking at effective tax rates by income groups, the report surprisingly concludes that all states are regressive.

My colleagues Liz Malm and Kyle Pomerleau looked closely at some of the flaws of Who Pays and offer their comments in a new piece we released today. Key findings:

  • The study isn’t actually focused on the distribution of taxes by income group; instead, it’s focused on how well state and local tax systems redistribute income. If the report was really about “measuring the state and local taxes . . . paid by different income groups,” ITEP would rank states by effective tax rates of the poorest residents. Instead, states are ranked based on a complex formula that compares various measures of pre- and after-tax income for various income groups.
  • The report -- supposedly a study of state taxes -- includes the most regressive feature of the federal income tax, and leaves out all other features of the highly progressive federal income tax.  Including the federal offset makes effective tax rates look more regressive than they actually are.
  • ITEP assumes that business property taxes are partly passed on by business owners to renters and that some are exported across state lines. However, the same logic should also apply to several other tax types. Corporate income and sales taxes are partially exported, because a portion of them are paid by businesses. ITEP does not assume tax exporting for any tax other than property taxes.
  • ITEP does not include taxes such as severance taxes, business license taxes, and other types of business taxes (such as gross receipts taxes and modified gross receipts taxes) in its analysis. This is problematic, because in some states, these taxes make up a significant share of the state budget and significantly alter the over distributional impact of a state’s tax system.
  • ITEP cites a new S&P report that likely overstates the connection between inequality and state tax revenue growth.
  • ITEP’s idea tax system (no sales tax, very progressive income tax with lots of taxation of capital gains, and heavy reliance on individual income taxes) would lead to volatile tax systems that dampen economic growth.

Overall, fairness is a subjective term and largely depends on how you define it. Whatever ITEP's definiton of fairness and attempt to measure it, there are methodological concerns with the way ITEP presents data that should be addressed, and should be kept in mind when discussing the Who Pays study."

Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, January 9, 2015

President Reagan famously joked that “the most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.”  To be sure, there are some very good people with honest intentions in government, including public education.  But too often, variations of ‘it’s all about the kids’ really means ‘it’s all about the money.’

The latest example comes from Rod Stewart, President of Kansas Association of School Boards.  His January 2 op/ed says, “The recent school finance decision by a three-judge panel in Shawnee County will no doubt increase debate over money, taxes and formulas. The underlying focus, however, of the decision should be on our Kansas students and the long term future of our state.”  That sounds noble, but he ignores basic facts and distorts others in an effort to justify entitlement to more taxpayer money.

Stewart offered several opinions for the recent lower court ruling, which, in our opinion, ignored facts and defied the State Supreme Court in declaring that funding must increase by at least $548 million.  He first said, “…the court noted that after several years of improvement on state reading and math tests, scores began to drop as the impact of funding cuts were felt.”  The district court did say that, but they did so absent any supporting fact connecting the two.  In legislative testimony, the Kansas Department of Education said they didn’t know exactly why scores dipped in 2013 (results for 2014 were not released) but they believed it was related to the transition to Common Core; teaching was aligned to Common Core standards but the state assessment was still aligned to the old methods.

The district court was also wrong in claiming that test scores declined “…as the impact of funding cuts were felt.”  Test scores did not decline until 2013.  School funding (all sources of funding per the State Supreme Court) slightly declined in 2010 and 2011 but test scores continued to increase.  Funding has increased every year since.

Stewart next attributed the court ruling to there being “…significant performance gaps among Kansas students. Low income students, who are also disproportionately represented among minority groups, lag behind their more advantaged peers on tests of basic skills, graduation and college preparation. This alone is evidence the state is not providing ‘suitable’ funding for all students.”

The existence of achievement gaps is not evidence of inadequate funding and Mr. Stewart’s disingenuous claim is easily disproven.  School districts and their lawyers claim that funding became inadequate when Base State Aid was reduced in 2010, but performance gaps existed during the years that districts believe funding was adequate, as shown on the adjacent chart of Math scores.  Indeed, performance gaps have always existed. 

The Legislature’s funding of At Risk further disproves this claim.  At Risk funding increased from $27 million in 1998 to $385 million in 2013, but the proficiency level of low income students (as determined by eligibility for Free/Reduced lunch) on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) remains at 22%.  By the way, KSDE says measurement of NAEP performance since 2003 is valid and reliable.  State assessment scores improved a bit but not even close to the seven-fold increase in At Risk funding that occurred over the same period.  (State performance standards were altered in 2006 to the extent that comparison to prior years is invalid according to the guidance report accompanying those standards.)

Stewart’s third rationalization for a funding increase is baseless and irrelevant:  “…demands for educational attainment are growing as fast - or faster - than actual achievement.”  Yes, there is higher demand for people to obtain post-secondary education (technical college, bachelor’s degrees, etc.) but that has nothing to do with spending on K-12 education.  And to underscore how KASB’s justifications dance to the tune of the occasion, let’s reflect on 2013 legislative testimony presented by KASB’s Tom Krebs.  He said the fact that only 30% of Kansas high school senior scored well enough on the ACT exam to be considered college-ready on English, Reading, Math and Science was proof that schools were doing a good job – because only about 30% of today’s jobs require a college degree! 

Stewart also trotted out this false claim: “States with the highest educational attainment spend more per pupil than low achieving states.”  There are some people who believe that to be true, but even Legislative Post Audit admits that “Educational research offers mixed opinions about whether increased spending for educational inputs is related to improved student performance” (see page 107).  KPI also conducted research that disproves the theory in “Removing Barriers to Better Public Education,” published in 2012.

The following tables update that research with the most recent spending and achievement levels, using 2012 Current Spending Per Pupil (no capital or debt) from the U.S. Census Bureau and 2013 NAEP scores.  The NAEP scale score reflects the combined scores for 4th Grade and 8th Grade Reading and Math.  We compare individual student cohorts (White, Hispanic, Low Income, etc.) because comparisons of state averages are invalid, as there are achievement gaps among the cohorts and also large differences in demographic makeups of each state.  State average score comparisons would only be valid if the demographics were the same for each state.  KASB is well aware of this fact.

Looking first at the comparison of White students, we see that there are some high spenders in the top 25 but New Jersey spends more than twice the amount of Colorado and achieves nearly the same result.  Texas, North Carolina and Florida all spend much less than most states but are all ranked in the top 15.   The complete list can be seen here, which shows that high-spending states such as Alaska, Wyoming, Maine, Louisiana and West Virginia are in the bottom half of the rankings.  Further, the highest spend across 50 states is 215% greater than the lowest spend, but the highest score is only 11% greater than the lowest score.

We find similar results in our comparison of Low Income students.  Indiana spends 39% less than Vermont but gets virtually the same result; Maine spends 25% more than Indiana and gets the exact same result.  Idaho spends $6,659 per pupil and gets 99.7% of New Jersey’s result, even though New Jersey spends $$17,266 per pupil.  The highest spend across 50 states is 215% greater than the lowest spend, but the highest score for Low Income is only 7% greater than the lowest score.

Comparisons of scores for African American, Hispanic, Disabled and other student cohorts produce similar findings.  It is simply not true that spending more money leads to better outcomes.

 His final attempt to justify taking more money from citizens is another debunked claim that embodies the entitlement mentality:  “Total K-12 school funding is projected to be just 4.42 percent of total personal income in 2015 - the lowest level since 1985.” 

The ‘percentage of personal income’ argument has nothing to do with what schools need to meet the Rose standards, and you can bet your bottom dollar that schools would argue that funding should not decline if personal income declined.  Oh, wait, they already did that during the Great Recession; it was even part of the claim in their 2010 law suit.  No, this is just about entitlement.

Relevance aside, let’s examine the facts of personal income.   Mr. Stewart references a KASB report that estimates school expenditures between 1975 and 1989 and actual expenditures thereafter.  However, KASB acknowledges that actual expenditures are not available prior to 1990, so let’s stick with the known facts.

We ran the numbers from 1990 forward and found that taxpayer support of public education has grown faster than personal income.  Taxpayer support of public education increased 182.7% between 1990 and 2013, going from $2.070 billion (adjusted upward to include KPERS between 1990 and 2004, which wasn't included in total support until 2005) to $5.852 billion, according to KSDE spending reports.  Personal income, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, increased 181.5%.

The real gap, however, is a bit wider.  Personal income includes money that is never available to pay taxes, such as the money employers spend on your health care insurance and retirement.  Personal Current Transfer Receipts are also included in the calculation of Personal Income.  PCTR includes “…income payments to persons for which no current services are performed and net insurance settlements. It is the sum of government social benefits and net current transfer receipts from business.” Current transfer receipts of individuals from businesses “...consist primarily of personal-injury liability payments to individuals other than employees.”  Personal income available to pay taxes (wages and salaries, proprietors’ income, dividends, interest and rent less employee / self-employed contributions to social security) increased 171.4%.

Again, the personal income story is just an irrelevant attempt to justify more money, but an honest examination of the facts even disproves their contention that school spending hasn’t kept up.

There are many dedicated educators who put student needs above all else but for the special interests and others, it’s really all about the money.
Posted by David Dorsey on Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Note: this is the first blog in a series on the issue of at risk funding and accompanies a comprehensive KPI at risk research project.

Funding for public schools is a complicated proposition.

There are many factors that go into determining just how much money school districts will receive and where it will come from every year from state and local sources. There are property taxes, state equalization, local options, and so many more considerations that it takes 93 columns on the master spreadsheet used by the Kansas Department of Education to sort it all out! And that doesn’t even count federal money.

One piece of this funding puzzle is the “weighting” formula the state uses to adjust (increase) the amount of money that will go to each district based on certain characteristics of a) students (e.g. the number in vocational education) and b) the district (e.g. low or high enrollment). I presented the weighting formula in an earlier blog  where you can see the formula in its entirety.

One part of that formula determines how much extra money goes to districts under the banner of “at risk.” So what is this at risk funding? It provides extra dollars to schools based on the number of economically disadvantaged students enrolled. It is rooted in a philosophy, and research has attempted to support, that it costs more to adequately educate poor students. That ideal is operationalized (quantified) by using the number of students who qualify for free lunch under the United States Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Some states also include the number of students who qualify for reduced lunch cost under NSLP. Nearly all states use the school lunch program in some form as a basis for determining their versions of at risk population.

This graphic shows how it works under current Kansas law. Base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) is $3,852. A student who qualifies for a free lunch is presently weighted at an additional 45.6% of BSAPP and generates $5,609. (I say presently because at risk weightings have increased over time – more on that in the next blog.) Additionally, if more than half the students in a district are free lunch students a supplementary 10.5% weighting is added ($6,013). Currently, that applies to 57 of the state’s 286 school districts. One hundred four districts get a smaller, sliding scale additional percentage because they have between 35% and 50% at-risk students (more than $5,609 but less than $6,013). One hundred twenty five districts get no ADDITIONAL at risk money. Then, in order to determine the exact dollar amount a district will receive, the total weighted percentage is multiplied by the current BSAPP ($3,852 per pupil for 2015).

I told you it’s complicated.

Coincidentally, it is actually simpler than previous years because the legislature passed a law that eliminated a small at risk category in the 2014 session.

To show exactly how free lunch turns into at risk dollars, I present the following table that shows at risk funding for seven selected school districts that reveals the funding impact at risk dollars can have.

2014-2015 At risk data for selected districts




At risk

At risk

High Den


Total At risk






At risk

At risk


























































Source: Kansas Department of Education

Wichita, by far the biggest school district in the state, gets over $72 million per year. Pittsburg and Hays have virtually identical enrollments, but Pittsburg gets nearly $2.3 million more at risk money than Hays because Pittsburg has nearly twice the number of free lunch students, but more than twice as many weighted free lunch students. For the entire state the total at risk funding is just over $395 million.

That’s a lot of money, even in government terms.

One of the core issues associated with at risk funding is how it impacts student achievement, especially in light of the numerous and significant increases in at risk funding over the years (to be presented in the next blog). We will examine in depth what previous KPI research has shown to have limited positive effect.

Next: How did we get here? A look at the research and realities of additional funding for educating the economically disadvantaged.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, January 2, 2015

Our review of school districts’ budgets for the current school year revealed some very interesting information.  Seventy-seven districts are planning double-digit spending increases on Administration.  The unweighted average increase on Instruction is 10 percent.  We also found that 122 districts plan a larger increase on Administration spending than on Instruction.

You can download an Excel file here listing total budgeted per-pupil spending by district and actual total spending for the previous two years.  The file also shows the percentage change budgeted for Total, Instruction and Administration spending.

Here is a sampling of district budgets, taken from their Budget at a Glance reports.  Note that each of plaintiff districts (Wichita, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Kansas City) in the school funding lawsuit is budgeting a double-digit increase in Administration.  

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Friday, January 2, 2015

New private-sector jobs numbers for November from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that job growth in Kansas has returned to a growth rate in line with its pace for most of 2014 after the appearance of a growth surge in October. October’s update cautioned against assessing job growth in year-to-year, single-month snapshots for this very reason. Specifically, looking back to October, Kansas experienced a 1.25% job growth rate compared to October 2013.  Looking now at November, the state achieved a 0.64% growth rate compared to November 2013.


Taking a longer-term view of job growth, however, shows that Kansas continues to achieve a greater growth rate in just the 23 months post-tax reform than it did in the fourteen years prior to it (beginning with 1998). The 2.64% growth rate it has posted from December 2012 through November 2014 (73.56% of job growth for its income-taxing peers) represents an improvement over the 2.31% (63.45% of job growth for its income-taxing peers) rate it achieved over the 14 years before taxes were reduced.Thus, just like in October, it remains true that Kansas trails its income-taxing peers in private-sector job growth. Yet, the state continues to gain ground and is more competitive in the wake of tax reform than prior to it.


Check back for December’s update.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Today’s ruling on Gannon v. State of Kansas in which the Shawnee County District Court declared school funding to be unconstitutionally low ignores a long list of facts that disprove school districts’ contentions.  The three-judge panel may even have ignored the State Supreme Court’s order that adequacy is to be determined on whether outcomes – as defined by the Rose standards – are being met.  The judges essentially dusted off their original ruling (that was rejected by the Supreme Court) and added some legal jargon to justify much of their original decision in arriving at what is essentially a political decision.

The judges tried to pretend that they weren’t giving the Legislature a specific number but made it very clear that anything less than $4,654 in Base State Aid per Pupil plus associated weighting is now a “bottom range of reasonableness.”  That amounts to a direct order to increase funding by $548 million.


Rose capacities and outcomes

The Supreme Court ruled that the “…adequacy component is met when the public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12—through structure and implementation—is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose…”  The court went on to say, “This test necessarily rejects a legislature's failure to consider actual costs as the litmus test for adjudging compliance with the mandates of Article 6. For example, even if a legislature had not considered actual costs, a constitutionally adequate education nevertheless could have been provided—albeit perhaps accidentally or for worthy non-cost-based reasons. And actual costs from studies are more akin to estimates than the certainties the panel suggested.”

In short, if students are meeting or exceeding the Rose standards, then funding may be adequate.  However, the district court didn’t examine whether students are meeting or exceeding the Rose standards; the judges merely said the Rose standards have been around a long time and everyone obviously knows what they mean. 

But that’s not true.  On August 19, the Kansas Association of School Boards appeared before the K-12 Commission saying school districts don’t know how to measure Rose and asked for “the development of a system to define and measure…” the Rose standards.  On September 3, Olathe Superintendent Marlin Berry said “…the Rose standards need to be well-defined so that school districts know what they mean.”  He went on to say, “We need to better define the Rose standard capacities.”

Dodge City superintendent Alan Cunningham (another Gannon plaintiff district) also testified on September 3, objecting to state intervention on “efficiencies” and said that the local school board and community should set public school priorities “…until such time as there is agreement on indicators for assessing a school’s, district’s or state’s performance relative to the Rose standards.” 

On September 4, Wichita Superintendent John Allison (also a Gannon plaintiff district) said he “…would like to lend support to the recommendations provided by USA and KASB.”  He also said, “We need clear goals” and made no exception for any USA or KASB recommendations that he did not support.

If districts can’t measure the Rose standards, they have no legal basis for claiming they don’t have adequate funding to achieve the standards.  Case closed.

The panel did note that there was some improvement in state assessment scores while funding was increasing, but they did so to support their premise that “money matters” rather than to determine whether the Rose standards were being met.  


Reliance on deliberately-inflated cost study

As noted earlier, the Supreme Court said, “…actual costs from studies are more akin to estimates than the certainties the panel suggested.”  But the district court ignored that admonition and based their ruling on a 2001 cost study that is known to have been deliberately skewed to produce inflated costs.

Former KPI scholar and now State Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall wrote a 2009 legal analysis of Montoy vs. State of Kansas that uncovered shocking facts about the cost study upon which the court ruling was based.

The consulting firm Augenblick & Myers was hired by the Legislative Post Audit Committee in 2001 to perform the study.  Their estimate of the cost of a “suitable education” (as A&M defined ‘suitable’) was based on their Successful Schools Approach, which they said, “…allows for the inclusion of spending efficiency to be used as a measure of success.”

Stegall writes, “A&M collected the list of school districts that had already met both the input and outcome standards of the suitable education definition. This list included 85 school districts.”  He goes on to say, “A&M had hoped to further winnow the number of “successful school” district models by examining the efficiency with which the 85 districts spent their money.  After analyzing how several factors (such as attendance center size, enrollment, proportion of low-income students, and local tax effort) affected spending, A&M used these results to estimate a “predicted spending” efficiency level for each district. A&M then compared this “predicted spending” level for each district to a district’s actual spending, seeking to identify which school districts were spending efficiently.  But when the results demonstrated that 50 of the 85 “successful school” districts would be considered inefficient spenders, A&M decided not to use efficiency as a component of a “successful school,” choosing instead to use all 85 school districts. A&M concluded that had it used an efficiency standard to exclude those 50 districts, this “might [have] undermine[d] the possibility that this higher [albeit inefficient] spending is what allows districts to be successful in Kansas.” In other words, as throughout the cost-study process, methodologies were adopted expressly because of the results they could be expected to deliver.”

After the State Supreme Court used the A&M study to declare school funding should increase by $853 million, the Legislature had Legislative Post Audit update the numbers from the 2001 study.  LPA very clearly said on page 2, “It’s important for the reader to understand that any study involving the estimation of costs for something as complex as K-12 education involves a significant number of decisions and assumptions. Different decisions or assumptions can result in very different cost estimates.”  Later on the same page, they said, “it’s important to remember that these cost studies are intended to help the Legislature decide appropriate funding levels for K-12 public education. They aren’t intended to dictate any specific funding level, and shouldn’t be viewed that way.”

The three-judge panel ignored this critical disclaimer, blithely saying the LPA 2006 study was “framed from the perspective of what it would cost to accomplish the goals…” in statute.  That is NOT what LPA said.


Districts weren’t spending all of the money they received

Taxpayer support of public education is run through as many as thirty different funds maintained by school districts.  These funds operate on a cash basis like individuals’ checking accounts; the annual beginning balances only increase when more money is deposited than is spent over the previous year.  Districts finished the 2005 school year with $458 million in their operating funds but those balances increased every year thereafter leading up to the Gannon suit filing in November, 2010.   By July 1, 2010 those balances had jumped to $775 million; the increase of $317 million represents state and local tax dollars that weren’t needed to meet educational needs.

The court did not take these facts into account.


Districts continue to operate inefficiently

Every Legislative Post Audit study of individual districts and the state collectively has found schools to be operating inefficiently.  A number of districts appearing before the K-12 Commission on Student Achievement and Efficiency over the last few months have not only admitted to being inefficient, some have said they choose to do so.

The Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) said it may be more efficient to buy products or services through the state or some type of purchasing cooperative, but doing so erodes local control.  Regardless of the rationale, these are conscious decisions to divert discretionary spending from classroom instruction and place a lower priority on student outcomes.

Districts acknowledged that it would save money to purchase fuel, vehicles, insurance, communications, curriculum, technology, internet service, software, supplies and other commonly utilized products from a statewide bid; some even requested many more opportunities to purchase from statewide bids.  They are opposed, however, to being required to participate in such efficiency opportunities. 

It’s preposterous to claim to be underfunded while admitting that money is being unnecessarily spent.



It will take a long time to wade through the 139-page ruling, but even a cursory examination makes it clear that the three-judge panel didn’t let the facts get in the way of their decision.  Instead, they made what amounts to a political decision that says the Legislature must increase funding by at least $548 million to meet the Rose standards even though school districts don’t know how to measure those standards.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, December 19, 2014

The Kansas Uniform Financial Accounting and Reporting Act – K.S.A. 72-8254 – passed in 2013 requires every school district to publish the budget summary for the current school year and actual expenditures for the immediately preceding two school years showing total dollars net of transfers and dollars per pupil.  The statue clearly says the report “shall be published with an easily identifiable link located on such district's website homepage.” 

In May 2014 I reported to a legislative committee that a random review of school district web sites showed an appallingly low compliance level with this statute and that remains true today.  KPI staff recently examined the web sites of twenty seven school districts and found just two districts – USD 443 Dodge City and USD 500 Kansas City – in compliance.  USD 470 Arkansas City provides a link but it goes to an outdated report.

We found the required report on some sites by clicking on a series of links from the home page but that is not what is called for in statute.  This screen grab from USD 443 Dodge City shows how to provide “an easily identifiable link located on such district's website homepage.”  The “Budget-At-A-Glance” link takes citizens directly to the required report.

Perhaps the Legislature should add some ‘teeth’ to laws that impose financial penalties on government entities for failure to comply.  Government penalizes citizens for failure to comply and should be held to its own standard.

Here’s a list of all the districts from our sampling, showing total spending per-pupil for FY 2014 Actual and FY 2015 Budget.  Much more information is available on the budget summary reports, which can be found on the KSDE web site.  Scroll down to the district listings for 2014-15, click on "Budget at a Glance" for each USD and go to page 3 of the report.



Posted by Dave Trabert on Thursday, December 18, 2014

Recent media reports that $648 million must be cut from the Kansas General Fund budget for FY 2016 have predictably produced ‘sky is falling’ declarations, but deeper analysis shows that service cuts and tax increases can still be avoided.  First of all, any shortfall or surplus produced in such forecasts are not absolute certainties but strictly circumstantial; i.e., they are predicated upon a unique set of circumstances and the amount of shortfall or surplus changes with each new set of circumstances.

The budget profile released by Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) on December 11, for example, shows increased expenditures for school finance, human service caseloads and the government pension program (KPERS).  If one of more of those assumed expenditures does not need to be made (in whole or part), the shortfall is adjusted accordingly.

The increase for school finance in FY 2015 is driven by two aspects of the school funding formula.  The Local Option Budget is equalized based on an arbitrary formula using Assessed Valuation Per-Pupil; AVPP increased this year, causing more districts to be eligible for equalization funding, totaling $34.3 million. Another $19.8 million in capital outlay aid is included because more districts than anticipated assessed a Capital Outlay mill levy so they could collect more state aid.  

The legislature could, however, choose to modify the school funding formula so as to avoid any increases.  The State Supreme Court ruling on equalization in Gannon made it clear that spending more money on equalization was just one way to resolve the issue; the Court also indicated that the legislature could reallocate the same amount of money so that funding met the equalization test.  The capital outlay aspect of the formula could also be altered to avoid having to increase funding.

Eliminating the school funding increase is one of many adjustments that could be made to reduce the amount of budgetary change required.  The items highlighted in yellow on the adjacent table show how the $648 million shortfall for FY 2016 is quickly reduced to $261 million…and that’s assuming that $76.6 million more is actually needed for human service caseloads, another $52.4 million is needed for KPERS and no additional surplus funds are transferred from the Department of Transportation and other state agencies.

The other adjustments listed include:

  • Remove the assumed revenue reduction for Local Ad Valorem Tax Relief (LAVTR) which has not been funded since 2003.
  • Remove the assumed revenue reduction for City / County revenue sharing, which has not been funded since 2003.
  • Remove the assumed revenue reduction for a $40 million increase in KBA funding.
  • Freeze Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) at its current level rather than increase taxpayer subsidies to select employers.
  • Eliminate the Job Creation Fund allocation, which is another select employer subsidy.
  • Reduce state aid to schools and require school districts to replace the funding by spending down funds provided in prior years that weren’t spent. This one-time reduction would be replaced in FY 2017.
  • Reduce aid to universities and require them to use unspent tuition dollars from prior years.  This one-time reduction would be replaced in FY 2017.
  • Place new hires in a defined contribution retirement plan.

Additional adjustments would be needed in FY 2016 and FY 2017 but these are manageable amounts that could be found by operating government more efficiently and transferring surplus agency and KDOT balances.

See the KPI Five-Year State Budget Plan and an earlier blog post for more discussion of proposed budget changes and the unnecessary revenue reductions for LAVTR, revenue sharing and KBA funding.

Posted by David Dorsey on Thursday, December 18, 2014

“Kansas has a ‘dead’ charter (school) law.”

This according to the just released “On the Road To Better Accountability: An Analysis of State Charter School Policies” from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). NACSA published their nationwide findings based on an analysis of the state laws that charter school authorizers follow when approving public charter schools and holding those schools accountable for high performance.

The authorizer is a key but sometimes overlooked player in world of public charter schools. NACSA summarizes their importance in this manner:

Good authorizing leads to better charter schools for children. Authorizing is the work of approving and monitoring charter schools and determining which of them are performing well enough to stay open.

Each of the 42 states plus the District of Columbia that have charter school laws, identify the organizations that have the authority to grant and monitor charter schools. Kansas is one of 17 states in which the only authorizer is the school district in which the charter school operates. Twenty-one states have a “few” authorizers and the other five have “many” authorizers.

NACSA identified eight policy categories and utilized a rubric-based scoring method on each of them for every state. It is important to note that this report is not a judgment on the overall quality of the charter schools, but an indication of how well the states have developed policies for authorizers to follow. The table below, a summary of Kansas taken directly from the report, shows that we score a zero out of 30 possible points, the only state to earn a goose egg.

The details column of this table delineates the inadequacies of current Kansas law. The sentence that bears repeating is: Creating legally autonomous schools and a viable alternative authorizer should be the primary policy goals for the state.

Amen to that.

This is why Kansas is one of five states (along with Alaska, Virginia, Wyoming and Iowa) that have had NACSA declare their charter school laws “dead.” As described on page 20 of the report, “(t)hese states are characterized  by what they lack – state law does not definitively provide charter schools with a legally independent governing board with key legal, fiscal and personnel autonomies.”

I have expressed my opinion several times over the past months in this venue on the importance of having more public school choice in this state. A first step to accomplish this would be to do just what NACSA suggested: change state law to provide an alternative, independent board to approve and oversee public charter schools.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, November 28, 2014

A recent column by Dave Helling in the Kansas City Star pondered reasons why “...the Johnson County moderate, a fixture of Kansas politics for decades, is an increasingly endangered species.”  Larry Winn III, described as a charter member of the county’s moderate faction, suggested that conservatives are more ‘excitable’ and do a better job of getting their base out to vote.  Other suggestions included a variety of demographic shifts and the influence of social media, making voters less dependent on endorsements. 

Another suggestion – which is very encouraging – is that “the old model…[of]  voters quietly deferring to the judgment of business and community elites…appears broken.”  Given the preponderance of partisan, unreliable information being passed off as ‘fact’, it is imperative that citizens gather their own information and make independent, informed decisions.

However, one reason for the declining power of moderates wasn’t considered, and it’s one that applies to all factions of all parties – the possibility that voters are rejecting their self-serving false choices.

Winn says moderates are “…more interested in practical problems than ideology.”   That is a classic false choice; one can be interested in practical solutions and have an ideology.  Note to Mr. Winn – whatever beliefs underlie your moderate philosophy constitute an ideology, which is nothing more than a set of ideas and beliefs. 

Helling’s column gets to the core of the moderate ideology – preference for high-quality public education and infrastructure over a lower-tax, smaller-government approach.  That’s another classic false choice; Kansans can have high quality public education and other services while also benefiting from a low-tax, smaller government.  Indeed, the states that tax income spend 49 percent more per-resident providing the same basket of services as those without an income tax.  And they don’t pass the costs on to local government; per-resident local tax collections are 9 percent higher in the states that tax income. 

Dick Bond, another Johnson County moderate leader, condescendingly suggested that moderates didn’t vote the ‘right’ way because they just didn’t understand the issues.  He can’t fathom that some former moderates may be tired of being told they must accept false choices…or how they should think.

Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, moderate leaders equate better outcomes with higher spending and claim that spending less will force quality to decline.  That’s another false claim intended to keep citizens supportive of higher taxes.

Moderate leaders at the state and local level aren’t opposed to lower taxes per se, but to the cultural shift necessitated by a smaller, low-tax government.  Providing the same or better quality service at a better price means there are far fewer spoils to divide among those who profit from government spending, and it’s the power to pick winners and losers that they crave most. 

The ‘winners’ include single companies that receive targeted subsidies or tax breaks, industry categories that profit from targeted policy (e.g., “expanding Medicaid is good for hospitals and "renewable energy mandates and property tax exemptions are good for the wind industry”) and government entities that benefit from proposed spending increases.  The ‘losers’ are citizens who must pay higher taxes to fund the largesse.  The false choices perpetrated by moderate leaders favor institutions over individual citizens and students.

Citizens certainly want more jobs and high quality services but they are tired of being told that paying higher taxes is the only option.   Citizens want real solutions – not false choices.

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New private-sector jobs numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics point to a growth surge in October for Kansas. Comparing October’s jobs mark this year to that of October 2013 shows a 1.24% increase. If this uptick holds, it is a noticeable improvement from September 2014’s growth of 0.81% relative to September 2013. To be sure, examining year-to-year growth in one-month snapshots such as these certainly cannot tell the whole story of job growth in Kansas or anywhere else for that matter.  Still, the magnitude of October’s year-to-year growth is noteworthy here even if we just consider it a starting point in helping to determine whether Kansas’ performance for the month will usher in a new growth trend or will prove instead to be a one-time statistical anomaly.


Having examined October’s jobs releases for Kansas, let’s now take a deeper look at job growth in our state with an eye toward comparing its recent growth trends post-2012 tax reform to its trends pre-reform.


From 1998 to 2012, prior to tax reform, private-sector jobs in Kansas increased by 2.31%, or just 63.45% of job growth for its income-taxing peers. In just the twenty two months following tax reform, Kansas’ private sector jobs increased by 3.02%, or 92.43% of the growth rate for Kansas’ income-taxing peers. So, while Kansas is still trailing its peers, it has become much more competitive since income taxes were reduced.

Check back for next month’s update.

Posted by Steve Anderson on Tuesday, November 25, 2014

There has been much ado in media outlets and from “people that matter” about whether Kansas has enough revenue after the tax cuts of recent years. Unfortunately, few of them make an honest effort to examine and understand Kansas’ full financial picture. They focus on just those funds currently in the appropriation process and feed the claim that the state is short on revenues. These same pundits and politicians have either chosen to ignore the billions of special interest tax ‘deals’ which have been made over the years or are woefully naïve on their existence and fiscal impact on the state treasury.

Kansas has a significant amount of revenues that don’t flow through the appropriation process. These ‘off the tops’ primarily come in three forms. They are either a deduction, credit or an exemption that an individual or company can take to reduce the tax burden. Or, they are a dedicated directed revenue to a specific agency for either a specific purpose or the general use of the agency. In short, these are spending mandates or revenue loopholes that have a very real budget impact but rarely go through the legislative process. The $8.3 billion in annual budget impact is a staggering sum as the following chart shows for the last fiscal year the data is fully available.*

The volume of deductions, credits and exemptions that either reduce or eliminate the amount of tax owed by an individual or company favors those who can hire high powered lobbyists to manipulate the legislative process. These are often the same individuals and companies with the means to hire tax attorneys or CPAs to navigate the complexities of the state’s tax rules. The result is that the average taxpayer carries the load while billions of dollars go to those fortunate enough to have lobbyists and tax experts on their payroll. We can level the playing field for the average Kansan by eliminating their income taxes altogether largely by removing or reducing the special interest tax breaks that currently exist for the political class.

This is a free market approach to tax reform that avoids the use of the tax code to pick and choose winners and losers – usually winners and losers amongst the well-connected. However, the issues with these special interest ‘deals’ goes further than just the inherent unfairness of the tax code. The well documented long term economic malaise that Kansas has suffered through shows the ineffectiveness of the special interest approach to economic growth. In fact, KPI’s Dave Trabert has repeatedly said this stagnation is the reason FOR lower taxes across the board. Conversely those states that simply have no individual income tax have prospered with vastly superior private sector job growth (more below on specifics).

Individual Income Taxes

The individual income tax deductions, credits and exemptions present an immediate opportunity for the Legislature to reduce the size and complexity of the Kansas tax code. This begins the process of leveling the playing field for individuals and industry located in Kansas. The first step on that path is as easy as eliminating those tax credits that where not used in the last fiscal year. Because even if they aren’t “used” by taxpayers the official revenue estimates must assume that they are and the budget picture looks scarier still.

One of the realities in tax reform in Kansas is that every piece of tax legislation requires a fiscal impact study on the ‘cost’ to the state coffers and under the “pay and go” rules of the House of Representatives requires an offsetting expense reduction or revenue. The special interest tax credits listed in the following chart had no filers using them during the last year that data is available. Their removal from the tax code would have no fiscal impact nor require “pay and go” offsets thus making the process relatively easy. Again, this simple adjustment would immediately reduce both the size and complexity of the state tax code. 

However there are a significant number of tax credits that are being used, some of which favor only a small number of filers. The following chart shows the nearly $503 million in tax credits that were used on 2012 individual and fiduciary tax returns and the number of filers claiming them.*

An examination of this list provides lots of opportunity to reform or eliminate questionable credits. The credits vary in size, usage, and stated goal but each is worthy of review. As with all government programs, we should examine each credit to determine if it is actually achieving the broader policy outcome rather than simply relying on their stated goal.

Other issues abound in these tax breaks including the lack of information, due to confidentiality rules, on several of the tax credits. These disbursements affect all citizens and it should be a transparent and accountable system. Their size and scope should be known including who receives these taxpayer-funded handouts. Any program that cannot be transparent should be a target for elimination. We are unable to estimate the amount of saving, precisely because of their opaque nature, but regardless of the dollar amount these programs should be discontinued or the statute should demand transparency. Those receiving the credits should be aware their use of taxpayers’ funds will be revealed. It is not unreasonable for the financier (e.g. taxpayers) of the credit to know the recipient. Once the amount of funds expended and number of filers using the credits are known, citizens can make it known to their legislator if they object to a particular credit.

The numerous credits with smaller amounts of expenditures and claimed by very few filers would better serve Kansas if they were discontinued and the savings---$31 million in 2012---used to fund the elimination of the individual income tax for all taxpayers. Why not use the elimination of these credits to help accelerate the buy down of the income tax now as they will ultimately need to be removed when the income tax rate hits zero?

Corporate Income Tax

Unused credits for corporations should be eliminated just the same as they should for individual filers. Eliminating these corporate credits would have a significant impact on the size and complexity of the state tax code. The chart below shows those which had no usage in 2012.

Those credits that were used are revealing both in their size and usage. As the following chart shows, nearly half of the $114 million known tax credit filings for corporate filers goes to a relatively small number of filers---170 in total---for the High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP). HPIP provides a training tax credit and a 10% income tax credit to eligible companies for capital investments (i.e., facility or equipment purchases or upgrades) and is by far the largest credit in terms of cost. In fact, HPIP has come under fire for issues of non-compliance. This is compounded by very little evidence that the credits are cost effective for Kansas citizens in creating economic growth. HPIP receives 51% of the total of known corporate tax credits and the small number using the credit is indicative of a program that is benefiting a few with a high cost to the overwhelming majority of taxpayers.

Even without knowing the amount of the credits that are listed as confidential, simply eliminating the $114 million in existing known credits in 2012 could have been used to significantly reduce other tax rates. Be they individual income taxes, small business or corporate taxes the elimination of credits used by the few would benefit all Kansans by lowering their burden.

Just as with the individual income tax, the lack of information on several of the tax credits creates a troubling lack of transparency. These disbursements affect all citizens and the size and scope should be known.

Payroll Withholding Tax Exemptions

The payroll withholding exemptions are programs where the state abates collection of state income tax withheld on employee’s wages. The state then provides either a program or directly funds some benefit for the employer. These programs come in many forms and often are nearly impossible to find within the very complex tax and revenue reporting statements.

Programs such as IMPACT, PEAK, the “deal closing fund” of the Job Creation Fund and the Kansas Bioscience Authority were covered in some detail on this blog earlier this year. In short, “These programs come in many forms and often are nearly impossible to find within the very complex tax and revenue reporting statements. In general these programs require relatively long commitments by the state of taxpayer funds. The discontinuance of these types of programs will not generally eliminate the programs immediately but it will create savings going forward that could be substantial to the maintenance of a stable fiscal environment and a more transparent tax code.”

The Consumption Part of the State Revenue Puzzle: Sales Tax

Surprisingly, in the not too distant past Kansas had a more consumption tax based revenue system. Kansas Legislative Post Audit noted that “the percentage of State revenues provided by income taxes tripled between 1960 and 2009, rising from 15% to 45% of the total. During the same period, the percentage of State revenues from sales and excise taxes declined from 71% of the total to 49%. This reduction occurred even though the State’s sales tax rate more than doubled, from 2.5% in 1960 to 5.3% in 2009”.

One of the ‘causes’ of that reduction is evident when you examine the Summary Table of ‘Off the Tops’ at the beginning of this section. Over $5.6 billion---yes that is a billion---in exemptions, deductions or credits were claimed on sales tax in 2012.* Conceptual or General Exemptions alone were just over $4 billion. The second largest area of exemptions is actually the government excluding itself. The amount of tax income removed from state coffers by category is show in the following chart.

The list of each category is far too voluminous for listing here but the size and scope of the sales tax statute exemptions provide opportunity for legislators to consider if they seek consumption based tax policy using a more broad based approach.

Measure the Policy by the Results

How effective has the approach of the aggressive use of credits, deductions and exemptions for special interests in the income tax code coupled with increased sales tax exemptions been on the Kansas economy? The real answer is that Kansas’ economy has lagged behind our region for most of the 21st Century. A May 2014 commentary from Dave Trabert, “Media has often reported over the years that Kansas typically goes in and out of recessions later than the rest of the country. Private sector job growth in Kansas trailed the national average in ten of the last fifteen years.” A commentary from across the pond makes the same point, a July piece from London’s Daily Telegraph, ““Delve a little deeper, however, and you find growing cause for optimism. Kansas has been an essentially stagnating economy for a long time now – substantially agrarian in its make-up but with some important manufacturing industries, particularly aerospace, which have been the subject of repeated downsizing. Trailing the national economic averages therefore doesn’t really amount to evidence that tax cutting has failed; it was the reason the reforms were introduced in the first place.” Or, The Wall Street Journal stateside, “Economic growth in Kansas has trailed the Great Plains region and nation for decades. Between 1982 and 1997, Kansas’ private GDP growth ranked 43rd in the country—ahead of only West Virginia, Oklahoma, Montana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska. While some of those states have since boomed, Kansas has plodded along. Between 1997 and 2012, Kansas’ private economy grew by 4% a year compared with 4.3% nationally, 4.9% in Colorado and Nebraska, 5.3% in Oklahoma, and 6.1% in Texas.”

The answer to solving these problems isn’t in giving more handouts to selected individuals or businesses. The answer is in giving each Kansan the chance to keep a little more of their own money in their own pocket. As income tax rates continue to come down we’ll see this in real time. It likely will not be “a shot of adrenaline” but it will, over time, make Kansas a regional leader in job creation, population growth and faster wage growth.

This isn’t an experiment but a study in facts. Data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show this fact in stark detail – state with no income tax have grown jobs by 18.25% since 1998 while state with an income tax have grown jobs by only 5.63%. The question isn’t whether Kansas will see the same benefits in the long run, but whether Kansas has the will to stop giving handouts to the politically connected and focus on creating a better overall environment in which each Kansan has a chance to succeed.

*Kansas State Tax Expenditure Report, Calendar Year 2012

Posted by David Dorsey on Friday, November 21, 2014

Public school teachers are being “chewed up and spit out,” according to a recent opinion in The American Thinker. The article  paints a dismal picture of the high turnover rate in teachers, especially the alarming rate in which new teachers leave the profession. The author, Bruce Deitrick Price, places the blame squarely at the feet of what he calls the Education Establishment.  Although he doesn’t specifically define Education Establishment, he implies it consists of principals, administrators and university level schools of education. He claims that high teacher turnover is due to a lack of support by the Education Establishment to new teachers. Price even goes so far as to say the Education Establishment actually has a vested interest in high turnover because there will be a continuous crop of “starry-eyed rookies who’ll need classrooms, books, and lots of instruction.”

It would be easy for me to agree with Price’s conclusion since I spent two decades in public school classrooms with little or no support from principals and administrators.  Looking back, many decisions made by principals and administrators were actually worse than getting no support at all. However, the explanation for high turnover isn’t that cut and dried.


While reading the article, I reflected on how I was able to avoid the pitfalls that would lead to me forsake the teaching profession prior to joining KPI.  Perhaps the biggest advantage I had is that I didn’t start teaching until my late 30s. This helped me in two ways. First, I had a previous career and had experience dealing with, shall we say, less than stellar management types. It helped me realize that I had to be the one responsible for solving most problems that arose. Second, I had gained a maturity I didn’t have in my early 20s, the time when most teachers start their careers. This probably holds true for most adults. Think back to the person you thought you were at 22 compared to how your present-self would deal with the same idealistic whipper-snapper you were at 22.


Also, I specifically chose to become a teacher, as opposed to many who, I am convinced, do not. I take issue with Price’s notion that a teacher who quits has “dreamed about being a teacher for as long as (he or she) can remember.” I was first licensed to teach in Arizona and it was without a teaching degree. I went back to college to get the requisite hours to become certified under what was called a “post baccalaureate” program. There were many twenty-somethings who were doing the same. I was surprised to learn how many decided to get into teaching because a) they didn’t like the job they got out of college, or b) got a degree that didn’t get them a career that interested them. Teaching wasn’t their first choice. And whether or not one likes to concede this, a teaching degree is often a “fall back” choice for many of those coming out of college. Admit it, how many times have we heard someone, somewhere in our past say: “Well, I can always teach.” Not everyone is like me who willfully chose to follow their calling to help kids succeed in school.  

Even many of those who do truly want to teach come out of college unprepared, which is another factor in high turnover.  The typical education degree/teacher prep program offered by colleges and universities is a flawed process in adequately preparing one for the rigors of being in charge of a classroom of students.  The typical college degree track  that includes the one semester student teaching requirement just doesn’t cut it. A single semester doesn’t allow a student teacher to experience all that goes into the complexities of becoming a teacher. It hardly allows one to make a connection with the students in a classroom, let alone learn everything else that goes on outside the four walls that you don’t learn about in college. At a minimum, one needs an entire school year to prepare for the rigors of running a classroom.  Perhaps American Federation of Teacher’s president Randi Weingarten put it best:

"It's time to do away with a common rite of passage into the teaching profession—whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they and their students sink or swim. This is unfair to both students and their teachers, who care so much but who want and need to feel competent and confident to teach from their first day on the job."

A more effective approach would be to make a teacher prep program be like an apprenticeship, one in which a teaching candidate would be partnered with a school and be assigned to a designated master teacher throughout the apprenticeship. College classwork would be tailored to prepare for the appropriate level of teaching. For example, those who want to teach high school would take classes that focus on subject matter while those on an elementary track would take classes focusing on pedagogy and classroom management.

This would unquestionably reduce the number of people who leave the profession early because teacher candidates would get a taste of the realities of the entirety of being a teacher, including all those outside-the-classroom distractions and challenges that one cannot comprehend beforehand. This approach would not only better prepare teacher candidates, but it would also serve to filter those who would come to realize that teaching isn’t what they anticipated.

Mr. Price is correct that the Education Establishment needs to be held accountable for their role in high teacher turnover. Nevertheless, it is just as critical, if not more so, that those entering the profession are sincerely committed to teach and have the chops to handle the job.
Posted by Patrick Parkes on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

September’s private-sector jobs picture inched forward ever so slightly from August’s. States without an income tax maintained their sizeable job-growth lead over their income-taxing counterparts, posting 3.14% growth through 2014 thus far when compared to the same stretch of time in 2013. This represented an increase from the 3.11% rate posted in August.

Comparatively, the income-taxing states also experienced a slight uptick in their rate of job growth. Their job growth rate of 1.61% thus far in 2014 versus the same time period in 2013 represented an increase from the 1.59% rate they posted in August.


Kansas continued its trend of posting growth similar to that of its income-taxing peer states. Its growth rate of 1.30% was down only slightly from the 1.36% growth rate it posted in August.


Check back soon for October’s update.   

Posted by Dave Trabert on Saturday, November 15, 2014

Taxes are the source of most Kansas General Fund revenues but one other component, Net Transfers, is artificially suppressing revenue estimates for FY 2016 and FY 2017.  As Steve Anderson explained here a few months ago, some tax revenue is taken “off the top” and transferred out – never being available for General Fund services and functions.  The upshot is that these ‘tax expenditures’ cause revenue and spending to be understated and obscures tax expenditures from citizen scrutiny.

Our review of the new revenue estimates discovered a very large increase in revenue transfers out the General Fund for FY 2016 and FY 2017, a large portion of which are merely there for procedural reasons and will not occur.  Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) lists the items shown in the adjacent table because the amounts are identified in statute, but that does not mean that the transfers will occur; two of the transfers haven’t occurred for more than ten years.

Local Ad Valorem Tax Relief (LAVTR) and City/County revenue sharing were last paid in 2003, but the provision for each was never removed from statute.  Transfers out to the Kansas Bioscience Authority had been capped at $35 million in prior years (with actual transfers being smaller) but the statutory cap is $75 million beginning in FY 2017.  KLRD confirmed that the combined $183 million for these items was not included in previous revenue estimates.

Legislators should remove funding amounts from statute and handle each item individually in the appropriations process (as real expenditures, not tax expenditures).  Alternatively, non-recurring transfers such as these should simply be referenced in footnotes and not shown as revenue reductions.

Since the focus is on total revenue and these artificial revenue reductions are not planned to take place, citizens and legislators have been given a distorted impression of tax revenue growth.  Total General Fund revenue for FY 2017 is estimated to be 4.0% greater than in FY 2014 but tax revenue is estimated to be 8.5% higher.

Much has been made of the revenue decline as marginal tax rates were reduced but total tax revenue is still running ahead of inflation over the last ten years.  As shown here, General Fund tax revenue for FY 2014 was 28.4% higher than in FY 2004, while inflation was only 24.3% (Midwest Urban Cities on a fiscal year basis).  Further, the gap between actual and inflation is expected to widen over the next three years.  Estimated tax revenue for FY 2017 would be 39.3% higher than 2004 but inflation would only be 29.2% higher (assuming inflation to grow at the same pace for FY 2015 through FY 2017 as it did for FY 2014).

It’s often been said that Kansas has a spending problem – not a revenue problem – and this chart of tax revenue growth certainly bears that out.  The problem is even more apparent when examining state spending history.   KLRD projects FY 2015 spending to be $6.43 billion (before adjustments to maintain a zero ending balance; had General Fund spending increased by inflation, FY 2015 spending would only be $5.43 billion. 

Fixing this very real spending problem is the key to balancing the budget going forward.  Not by simply cutting spending, but by implementing a “Better Service, Better Price” culture and providing services at a better price. 

The conclusion of the KPI Budget Plan for Kansas published in September still holds, even with the new spending and revenue estimates: the budget can be balanced without service cuts or tax increases.  Implementing the KPI plan with the new revenue and spending estimates would only require state government to operate 7% more efficiently over a three-year period and finish FY 2017 with $457 million ending balance.  The real efficiency requirement will likely be even less once legislators review agency carryover cash balances, additional unnecessary tax expenditures and other spending.

The adjacent table follows the KLRD profile format (final spending each year becomes base spending for the next year), but revenue estimates have been increased by the amount of the transfers not intended to occur.  The other shaded items are from the KPI budget plan; K-12 excess carryover is adjusted based on 2014 fund balances that were not available at publication of the KPI plan.

Spending is adjusted each year to achieve targeted General Fund ending balances.  The impact of those adjustments is shown as the percentage by which government must operate more efficiently (3% this year, 3.1% next year and 0.9% in FY 2017.   

Finding a few percentage points of efficiency, additional unnecessary cash reserves and tax expenditures will not be the challenge; the real issue for legislators will be finding the courage to resist pressure from the bureaucracy and special interests and take responsible action to provide the same or better quality service at a better price.
Posted by David Dorsey on Friday, November 14, 2014

You may have never heard of the American Association of Educators(AAE).  When I was teaching, I knew of the Kansas chapter, known as KANAAE(the acronym is pronounced ‘kuh-NAY’), but thought it was just another teacher’s union. Boy, was I wrong.

Being the non-union person that I am, I dismissed them as nothing more than a different version of KNEA. But AAE is definitely NOT a union. AAE touts itself as the largest non-union teacher association in the country. And that is more than just semantics. AAE is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(6) organization, making it a professional trade association (much like the American Bar Association) as opposed to a labor union (like KNEA and AFT). I wish I knew then what I know now.

There are two very tangible differences between AAE and the NEA or AFT.  The first is that AAE does not see itself as a replacement for the other two major unions. Inasmuch, AAE does not get involved in collective bargaining for teachers. The other major difference is that AAE does not make political contributions, and as such is non-partisan.

Last week I had the pleasure to attend and make a presentation at KANAAE’s annual conference in Manhattan. It was quite a learning experience for me. Among many other things, I find out that the AAE is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, having been founded as an alternative to NEA and AFT. It now has members in all fifty states and, as KANAAE Executive Director Garry Sigle indicated, there are nearly 1,500 members in Kansas (more than doubled in the last 3 years). AAE’s mission statement declares itself as an organization that believes teachers are true professionals and deserve the recognition and respect that goes with being a professional. Whereas a union sees all its members doing the same thing and therefore being treated all as one, AAE does not. Colin Sharkey, AAE’s Director for National Projects, likened teachers’ unions treatment of their members like that of a traditional labor union, like the AFL-CIO.  In doing so the union fails to recognize that teaching is a true profession and teachers shouldn’t be treated like assembly-line workers.

Gary Beckner, the AAE Executive Director spoke passionately of the organization’s vision for the future for teachers all across the nation. It would not be possible to express his zeal in a blog post, so I’ll present his vision for the future of teachers and education. He fervently speaks to a future with:

  • Teachers having more control over their careers.

  • Teachers able to negotiate their own salaries (if they so choose).

  • Teachers not forced to pay for representation they may not want.

  • Innovations in public education that are in the best interest of the communities AAE serves.

  • Fully-funded charter schools, alternative paths to professional certification, and educational choice options for students, parents and teachers.

AAE has taken positions on several relevant education policy issues. Here is a brief summary of how AAE stands on some of those:

  • Forced unionism – teachers should be able to decide whether union membership matches his or her beliefs, not be forced to join because of state laws.

  • Collective bargaining – AAE is not anti-collective bargaining, but finds the model outdated. AAE recognizes that the one-size-fits-all approach to paying teachers does not work in the modern workplace. AAE will never engage in collective bargaining for teachers.

  • Tenure – an overwhelming majority of AAE teacher members believe tenure is not necessary for one to be an effective teacher.

  • School choice – members agree that the status quo is not working and changes must be made for the sake of the students. AAE supports any policy that gives teachers a choice of career opportunities.

  • Charter and Virtual schools – AAE support fully funded charter schools, lifting caps on charter schools and the expansion of virtual and blended education.

  • Paycheck protection – AAE supports a policy that prohibits unions from collecting dues via payroll deduction for political purposes.

  • Common Core State Standards – AAE as an organization does not endorse CCSS, but AAE members are split on their opinion of CCSS.

My presentation to the group addressed issues surrounding the concept of school choice and I was preceded with an update on education related legislative issues   Without getting into specifics, it is clear that my fellow KANAAE members need more information to keep abreast of issues that are important to educators. That is something I hope to address in my capacity with Kansas Policy Institute.

One final thought, if you are a teacher or just someone interested in getting involved in improving education, I highly recommend you join KANAAE. I’m glad I did.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Monday, November 3, 2014

A recent commentary by the Kansas City Star’s Yael Abouhalkah is another sad example of media not allowing facts to get in the way of their personal political beliefs.  The author noted that individual income tax collections for the first four months of the current fiscal year (July through October) are $258 million less than in 2012 and angrily says tax reform is “…stripping funds from the state budget.”   In other words, government isn’t getting what the author considers to be its due.

Kansas state government clearly can function on reduced revenue.   Every state offers the same basket of services (education, social service programs, highways, etc.) but the states that tax income spend 49% more per-resident doing so in 2012.  Kansas spent 37% more. 

KPI even published a 5-year budget plan for Kansas that shows how to balance the budget without service reductions or tax increases.  Kansas would have healthy ending balances each year and still be able to increase spending on education and Medicaid – all by making better use of existing resources.  But the Kansas City Star refuses to share those and many other facts with readers.  Last week we had to pay for ads in the Star to refute their misleading claims on education spending and state economic indicators (an editorial reply was not welcome).  We even had to run an ad to set the record straight on facts contained within our budget plan; the Star didn’t share the conclusion of our budget plan but they went out of their way to misrepresent one of its elements.

Kansas does have a structural budget issue but that should come as no surprise to the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature who had no interest in adjusting spending when taxes were reduced in 2012.   FYI, a reduction of $258 million over four months is about what was projected on an annualized basis by Kansas Legislative Research back in 2012. 

It was wrong to not reduce spending then but the choice now for those heading for Topeka in January will be to raise taxes on everyone or (finally) make government operate more efficiently and provide services at a better price. 

Maybe the Star’s actions are driven by their vehement opposition to tax reform and those who voted for it.  Or maybe the Star doesn't want to acknowledge the work of those with whom they have philosophical differences.  But responsible journalists would not choose sides and withhold pertinent information from readers.
Posted by Dave Trabert on Monday, October 20, 2014

The executive directors of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth (Annie McKay) and the Kansas Economic Progress Council (Bernie Koch) are going around the state with a presentation entitled “The Impacts of Kansas’ Changing Tax Policy.”  School districts in Dodge City, Garden City and Clearwater hosted the events.  It was decidedly partisan and from the perspective of people opposed to income tax reform and the efficiently-operated system of government that is necessitated by placing a smaller tax burden on citizens.

As discussed in another blog post, recipients of taxpayer funds should not promote, arrange or participate in any type of one-sided policy discussions, and government facilities should also not be used for such purpose.  This post will address the most egregiously misleading claims made in the presentation.

Annie McKay (KCEG) showed this slide attributing a $700+ million reduction in state aid for property tax relief and city/county revenue sharing to tax cuts, which is a very deliberate fabrication.  The source on the slide references a paper published by KCEG, which says, “Cities and counties across the state have lost more than $700 million since 2008 from lawmakers defunding of two important sources of local support….”[1]  Since 2008?  Tax cuts didn’t go into effect until 2013.

They list the source for that claim as “Analysis of data from the Kansas Association of Counties Research Report, multiple years.”  A search of the archived reports at KAC (no specific report was identified and Ms. McKay refuses to make her data available) found a table showing the actual and projected amounts by fiscal year.[2]

As shown by this screen grab from the KAC report, the amounts projected for 2009 through 2013 total $714 million but the actual amount received was zero!  In fact, no funding has been provided since 2004 – but that doesn’t stop KCEG from falsely blaming the 2013 tax cuts for more than $700 million in reduced state aid to local government.  The projection calculated by KAC is merely an estimate of would have been received in funding had continued; former state budget director Steve Anderson reviewed state budget documents and confirmed that no funding has been provided for Local Ad Valorem Tax Relief (LAVTR) or City/County Revenue Sharing (CCRS) since 2004. 

KCEG’s claim that tax cuts are to blame for a $263 million reduction in state aid for education is also not true;, their (unsubstantiated) calculation pre-dates the implementation of tax reform: “Total state aid to school districts has been reduced by over $263 million since fiscal year 2008.”[3]  The truth, according to the Kansas Department of Education, is that state aid has increased by $249 million since income tax reduction was implemented in 2013. (The amount shown as state aid does not fully represent the state’s provision for finance of public education.  Total school funding for 2014-15 is estimated by KSDE at $6.15 billion, the vast majority of which is raised on state authority.  Federal funding is only estimated to be $510 million.)

KCEG also claimed that tax reform caused those earning less than $36,000 to pay more taxes while providing a large savings to those with high incomes; their claim is based on information from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).  As is often the case, no data is provided to substantiate the claim, and ITEP wouldn’t release their calculations.  Refusing to provide substantiating data is a common practice of KCEG, ITEP and other organizations with a big-government perspective; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has also repeatedly ignored our requests for data.

ITEP did, however, share some eye-opening information about their methodology.  They acknowledge that legislative fiscal analysts in most states use income definitions based on Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) but ITEP adds their own estimation of non-taxable and partially-taxable income from sources such as Social Security benefits, Worker’s Compensation benefits, unemployment compensation, VA benefits, child support, financial assistance, public assistance, and SSI in their measure of Total Income.[4]    They also make this astonishing claim: “It’s widely understood that taxpayers at all income levels tend to under-report certain income categories, especially capital gains, pass-through business income, rental income and farm income. For this reason, ITEP’s model makes estimates of the amount of unreported income of each type. This unreported income is included in our “total income” estimates for each state.”

Aside from accusing farmers and other entrepreneurs of being tax cheats, the folks at ITEP believe they can reasonably estimate the degree of ‘cheating’ by income class in Kansas!  By doing so, ITEP is able to assign a much higher value of tax savings for those in upper income brackets.  Imagine the media outrage if a free market organization was caught ‘cooking the books’ and refusing to disclose the ‘proprietary’ data upon which their allegations are based. 

It’s true that those with higher incomes received a larger percentage reduction in their tax liability, but that is merely a reflection of Kansas having a graduated income tax.  Prior to 2013 there were three income brackets; the first $30,000 on a joint return was taxed at 3.5%, the next $30,000 was taxed at 6.25% and income above $60,000 was taxed at 6.45%.  Those with higher incomes had a much larger portion of their income taxed at nearly double the rate of those earning less $30,000; the higher percentage reduction in their tax liability is merely a byproduct of Kansas’ graduated tax rates.

KCEG makes several other claims about “education cuts” that they attribute to tax cuts.  Two of the claims cite a survey they conducted of Kansas school districts, but Ms. McKay refuses to disclose the survey instrument, the number of districts that participated in the survey and any of the supporting data.  One image in their presentation says “nearly 50% of districts have seen average class size grow” and another says schools “gained more than 19,000 students but have 665 fewer teachers.”

As shown in Table 3, the facts refute the claim about student increase and teacher decline since the 2013 implementation of tax reform.  Comparing the 2012 school year to the 2014 school years, KSDE reports an increase of 5,088 students, an increase of 586 classroom teachers and an additional 112 other teachers (all full time equivalent per KSDE methodology).  One would have to go back to 2006 to claim an increase of 19,000 students.

There are many anecdotal reports of class sizes growing but that cannot be attributed to tax reform, as the classroom teacher / student ratio has actually declined since 2012.  If class sizes have significantly increased over the last few years it can only be attributed to management decisions at the district level, as there has been very little change in the teacher/pupil ratio.  Those same management decisions seem to have prioritized the hiring of management and other non-teaching positions over classroom teachers.  Table 4 shows that non-teaching positions grew by 11.5% since 2005, or nearly three times the rate of enrollment.  District management jumped 8.4% (on top of a 21% increase between 1993 and 2005).[5]  There simply is no data to support KCEG’s claim that tax reform caused class sizes to increase.

Ms. McKay also falsely represented per-pupil spending as having declined by $1,000 since 2009.  As clearly shown in Table 5, the Kansas Department of Education says per-pupil spending will be $609 higher this year and set a third-consecutive record.  It should also be noted that districts used $388.6 million in aid to increase carryover cash reserves between 2005 and 2014, or $843 per-pupil based on 2014 enrollment.  Aid used to increase cash reserves is not included in KSDE reports of district spending.




The Kansas Economic Progress Council is a statewide non-profit organization of businesses, trade organizations, chambers of commerce and other members that generally support higher government spending, The presentation from KEPC executive director Bernie Koch (pronounced “cook”) was generally designed to show that Kansas’ economic growth trails the region, downplay the importance of lower taxes to business and scare attendees with predictions of possible 5% to 6% state budget reductions.

To explain “How is Kansas Doing?” Mr. Koch showed just one slide, comparing Kansas to six regional states on non-farm employment growth over the last twelve months and median household income growth between 2008 and 2013.   Non-farm jobs includes government jobs, but that little detail is typically not disclosed by those who use that measure; a one-year comparison also conveniently avoids any perspective.  Yes, Kansas is still trailing on a number of economic measurements but that’s not a sign of failure…it’s the reason tax reform was implemented!  As shown in Table 6, Kansas was below the performance of its income-taxing peers in every category.  States with lower tax burdens have superior economic growth and Kansas often even trails states with high tax burdens.  It may seem intuitive to compare a state to its neighbors but those are not the only states with which Kansas competes.  It is especially important in today’s global economy that we understand how Kansas competes with all states.

But Kansas is showing progress even on a regional basis.  Table 7 lists the states KPEC used in their comparison, but here we compare private sector jobs (the point of tax reform was not to grow government) over two periods – the fourteen years preceding tax reform and the 20 months since.  KEPC is correct in saying that Kansas still trails several regional states (although Kansas fares much better when government jobs are excluded) but Kansas is much more competitive – 87% of the other states’ average -  than over the fourteen years preceding tax reform, where Kansas was only at 46% of their average.  The point here is not that tax reform is ‘working’; it’s far too early to make any declaration regarding the efficacy of tax reform.  Rather, it is to demonstrate the importance of trends analysis in honest evaluations of tax reform, which will take many years to be fairly evaluated.

Median household income growth is not a valid measurement because the median can grow or decline simply based on who leaves or enters a state.  Consider this simplistic example that demonstrates the math involved.  A state has nine households and the household incomes are spread in $10,000 increments from $10,000 to $90,000.  Total household income would be $450,000 and median household income would be $50,000.  Now let’s assume that the two lowest earners leave the state to seek better opportunities and the incomes of those remaining didn’t change over the year.  The state would have seven households remaining with total income of $420,000 (those making $10,000 and $20,000 left) so the median rises to $60,000.  It appears that median income jumped but those remaining are no better off.   Measurements of total growth rather than median or per capita eliminate such deceptive appearances.  

The Bureau of Economic Analysis just released Personal Income total growth results for the second quarter of 2014, listing Kansas as the 14th best in the nation.  Here are a few more encouraging signs that show how Kansas is doing (none of which are mentioned by KEPC):

  • Kansas beat the national average for real private sector GDP growth in 2013.
  • 7th best rate of proprietor income growth in the nation, 1Q 2013 to 1Q 2014.
  • #1 in Creighton University’s Mid-America Business Conditions Index, September 2014.
  • Private sector job growth in Kansas was only 70% of its income-taxing peers over the last fifteen years but has improved to 87% of the average between December 2012 and August 2014.

Finally, attempting to scare people by saying there could be large spending cuts coming as a result of tax reform is one of the favorite tactics of government and those who profit from government spending – implying that less spending means service reductions.   Higher taxes or fewer services is a false choice.  The KPI budget plan shows that the state budget can be balanced over the next five years without any service reductions or tax increases.  The plan includes new spending on education and Medicaid, and total spending would continue to set records.

All this is possible by making better use of existing resources – providing the same or better quality service at a better price.  Citizens do not have to make a false choice; they can have low taxes and good quality service.  But there will be fewer spoils to divide among those who profit from government…and that is what is really driving the opposition to tax reform.

[1] Kansas Center for Economic Growth, “Who Pays” page 2,

[2] Kansas Association of Counties Research Report, May 2013, Figure 6.

[3] Ibid, page 3.

[4] Email from ITEP’s Meg Wiehe dated October 14, 2014

[5] “2014 Public Education Fact Book”, Kansas Policy Institute with data sourced to KSDE.  See Table 18.  The definition of classroom teachers comes from KSDE; Kansas Policy Institute decided which positions to include under management.


Posted by David Dorsey on Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Being an unabashed education reform advocate, I am always on the lookout for those in the education establishment who consider themselves reformers. Recently I came across an opinion published in Education Week titled "Getting Beyond One ‘Right Way’ of K-12 Reform." The essence of author Ted Kolderie’s thesis is that reform should be a two-pronged effort: work to improve the schools we have while being open to trying unconventional approaches to teaching and schools. He calls it a “Split Screen” strategy.

Kolderie writes that reform has not taken root because those involved work to find a consensus on “The Right Way,” as he calls it, and then “engineer a comprehensive transformation politically.” He is absolutely correct in recognizing how it happens when “reform” is driven from within the system. Consensus is a word educators like to use because a) it works to divert attention from the real issue, in this case education reform and b) it absolves everyone from responsibility. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “consensus is the absence of leadership.” Well, how many internal education leaders are true reformers?

The modern history of “reform” was borne from the seminal 1983 publication of "A Nation at Risk." That report came from President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education and sustained the concern that the nation’s schools were failing. Kolderie points out that problems addressed were tied to organizational performance while taking the traditional school organization as a given. Performance standards, measures and consequences were adopted, but not changes to the system itself.
He follows with a statement that shows just how blinded those are on the inside of the education establishment. It bears quotation:

 “Reform” today is still about driving change into an inert system, rather than changing what makes K-12 an inert system.

He’s correct about one thing: K-12 education is definitely an inert system. But the author implies that systemic change can only come from within the establishment itself. How depressing it is that someone who considers himself a reformer can’t see beyond the schoolyard fence.

He fails to recognize that external pressures to make systemic changes to the traditional public school structure did not exist 30 years ago. The concept of school choice was still in the embryonic stage. The nation’s first public charter school didn’t open until 1992. By 2011 there were over 5,700 public charter schools educating nearly 2 million students.

Kolderie does recognize public charter schools as a “platform for innovation.” But simultaneously (and somewhat curiously) dismisses them for being guilty of just doing what traditional public schools do with better outcomes starting “around 2004.” Huh? He says that there needs to be ways “to depart from the givens of conventional school: from whole-class teacher instruction; from age-grading; from the conventional academic day, week, and year; and from the one-dimensional notion of achievement.” Mr. Kolderie should recognize that public charter schools are not monolithic. He should research the methods utilized by successful public charter school brands, for what he prescribes is the approach followed by many of them.
The weakest part of his opinion piece is the failure to recognize the biggest hurdle to systemic changes in conventional schools: incentive. What is a district’s/school’s/teacher’s incentive to make fundamental system change?

If you guess, “There aren’t any” then you’re right! If you said: “Because it’s the right thing to do,” you need a refresher course in Remedial Bureaucracy.

In fact, there are many disincentives to systemic change. Teachers’ unions fight any attempt at reform. They fear their dam will break when there are recognized differentiations within their ranks. School boards fear community backlash from change or that their funding might take a hit, causing them to have to become more efficient. Competition for students would send shockwaves through the traditional system. Even the Feds provide disincentives for improvement. Through the School Improvement Grant program (SIG) there is the potential for big money to failing schools. (I will have a much more in-depth analysis on the SIG program in a future blog.)

Kolderie concludes with a statement that sums up the weakness that is inherent in making systemic changes from within the education bureaucracy. “And, remind those who resist: Nobody will be forced to change.” Sounds like that could have come from a board meeting of Blockbuster Video or Montgomery Ward. Of course the main difference between public schools and the private sector is that schools never go out of business. And when you are never in danger of going out of business, what’s your incentive to change?

Kolderie’s “Split Screen” approach will do nothing to change the system. What we need is a different channel.

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Tuesday, October 14, 2014

August’s private-sector jobs picture looked largely similar to and relatively unchanged from July’s. With another month of numbers in the books, states without an income tax maintained the same 3.11% growth pace they charted last month for 2014 thus far.


The income taxing states also did not budge from July and their 2014 pace of 1.59%.Kansas hovered near its income taxing peers with a pace of 1.36% for 2014 in August. This represented an ever so slight decline from the state’s 1.41% pace in July.

Check back soon for September’s update.

Posted by Patrick Parkes on Thursday, October 9, 2014
Updated state agency carryover cash balances are now available on KansasOpenGov for FY2014. We take the time to request and publish these balances based on our belief that they are important pieces of the state budget about which most Kansans are not given frequent information. When state agencies in Kansas spend less than is allocated to them in a given year, the leftover sums find their way into designated cash reserve accounts that operate much like the savings accounts many Kansas families use to save for future college expenses, retirement, and/or a “rainy day” of changing financial circumstances. But this is where the comparisons should end. Family savings signal wise financial stewardship. The ability of state agencies to accumulate leftover taxpayer money in their coffers (called carryover cash) is an entirely different matter. Typically, Kansas’ General Fund gets most of the attention in discussions on state budgetary matters. However, the state and its agencies actually operate 1,416 active funds (i.e. those with non-zero balances). Regardless of the controlling agency or fund in question, some savings are certainly necessary. Solid balances allow for sound cash management, are evaluated in some bonding scenarios, and protect against unforeseen budget changes. Furthermore, some balances may be earmarked for debt service and are thus inaccessible to movement or change. Still, in many areas, these balances have grown significantly over time and constitute a much higher percentage of the state’s operating budget than historical norms suggest they should. In short, these steadily mounting, higher-than-normal savings may point to places where—if able—Kansas legislators could look to reallocate unused surpluses back into the State General Fund to be used toward more pressing expenses. 

Despite a small 5% decline in the total dollar amount of statewide carryover cash funds compared to 2013, the FY2014 amount represents a growth of nearly 237% (from just over $918.5 million to almost $3.1 billion) in the eleven years since 2003 (the oldest available data via KPI’s open records requests). Beyond this total statewide growth, the State Court of Tax Appeals is an example of exceptionally whopping growth of more than 17,000% over the period (from just over $5,000 in 2003 to over $886,000 in 2014). By themselves, the two balances highlighted in this example may seem insignificant, but the growth trend from the balance in 2003 to the balance in 2014 is telling.

Kansas’ seven Board of Regents public universities are noteworthy pieces of this topic as well. Growth in their cash reserves ranged from almost 34% (Emporia State University, with an increase to nearly $17.8 million from roughly $13.2 million) to over 480% (University of Kansas, with an increase to nearly $237.5 million in 2014 from almost $40.9 million in 2003) during the 2003-2014 timeframe. The fact that these institutions are spending less than they are taking in even as their students are facing ever-growing tuition prices and mounds of debt is a curious one to say the least. KPI’s recently released 5-year budget plan envisions a reversal of this trend through the suggestion that universities make partial use of their General Fee Funds (representing tuition collected but not spent) to offer students a one-time tuition reduction.  

At the very least, the varied examples of carryover cash reserve growth presented underscore the importance of looking at state agency carryover cash reserve balances as part of any conversation about state budgeting. View these balances for yourself here to make your own conclusions.   
Posted by David Dorsey on Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Recent concerns have arisen regarding Kansas’ only school choice program (a tax credit scholarship program  for low income kids in our state’s lowest performing schools) as it relates to the ESEA waivers granted to the state by the U.S. Department of Education (most recently extended through the 2014-15 school year).

The “Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program Act” was signed into law in April of this year. The law allows scholarships for a limited number of students to escape certain failing public schools and attend a private school. To be eligible, students must  meet two standards:

  • They must be at-risk students as defined in K.S.A. 72-6407. In other words, they must be low-income and be eligible for free school lunches.

  • They must attend a Title I school that has been identified as either a Focus school or Priority school pursuant to the ESEA waiver granted to Kansas from the U.S. Department of Education. 

It is the ESEA waiver process that has been the source for the concern, in particular as it relates to the Focus and Priority school designations. The worry among those looking to help the kids eligible for the program is that the ESEA waiver process could  neutralize the scholarship program by eliminating Focus and Priority school designations.

No need to worry.

Those designations are set by the U.S. Department of Education. Essentially, a Priority school is one that performs in the lowest 5% of statewide Title I schools. Focus schools are the next lowest 10% of all Title I schools. In Kansas, there are 33 Priority schools and 66 Focus schools. The full definitions can be found at

Those labels are a critical component to the waiver process. One of the principal assurances a state must make to receive and continue a waiver is the improvement of these schools by decreasing the achievement gaps between Focus and Priority schools and other schools in the state. Those particulars, including a time-line are outlined in the above-referenced document.

If that is the case, then the new scholarship program should be welcomed with open arms by those seeking to close achievement gaps. School choice has been shown to close the gaps and give the kids who need the help the most a chance at a better opportunity somewhere else. Florida’s tax scholarship program is a great example of how school choice can impact the achievement gaps of special needs and other traditionally underperforming populations. Black and Hispanic students made substantial gains in NAEP scores, and shrank the achievement gap with white students, as shown in the table below.

The tax credit scholarship program also “led to statistically significant improvements in Florida’s public schools.” According to Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research, “(c)ompetition placed on the Florida public schools system as a result of the voucher program led to improvements in the test scores of public school students.”

The impressive numbers in Florida are reason enough to get behind the Kansas program, but our border neighbor to the south, Oklahoma, shows where this sort of school choice has the greatest impact – the individual child. KPI visited Phylicia in Tulsa, a lower income child taking advantage of a scholarship program for special needs program. She was failing in a public school that wasn’t meeting her needs (she was even cutting herself in the school bathroom) until a new scholarship was created that allowed her to attend a private school specifically tailored to children on the Autism Spectrum. Incidentally, Alicia’s brother attends a KIPP public charter school proving that choice helps all types of kids.

The only concern we should have in Kansas is how to make choice available to all students.


Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, October 3, 2014

Former state budget director Duane Goossen published a scathing review of the KPI 5-Year State Budget Plan a few days ago on his blog, so I wrote and asked if he would join Steve Anderson and me for a public discussion of the facts and issues.  He ignored our invitation for civil discussion, just as he did when we explained how he distorted the truth about education finance.

Goossen claims we made an $802 million math error and tries to fool unsuspecting readers by saying we didn’t account for all of what is purported to be a $1.3 billion shortfall.  We didn’t account for it because there is no $1.3 billion shortfall!

As we explained in How Budget Deficits are Fabricated in Kansas, Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) counts budget changes multiple times in arriving at what they call a $1.3 billion shortfall.  Once money is cut from the base budget…it’s gone.  It doesn’t have to be cut again every year into the future.

According to KLRD, the spending adjustments needed to maintain a zero ending balance total $482.3 million over five years.  

In order to get to $1.3 billion, one must count the FY 2016 change FOUR times…the FY 2017 change is counted THREE times…the FY 2018 change is counted TWICE…and only the FY 2019 change is counted once.

Goossen also mischaracterizes several proposed uses of excess cash reserves as “cuts” to transportation and education.  As clearly explained in our Budget Plan, we are proposing that a KDOT surplus of $150 million be returned to the General Fund and that sales tax transfers to KDOT be reduced so that future surpluses are not created.  We suggest that school districts and universities be required to use a portion of excess cash reserves, allowing education funding to reduced one time while excess funds are spent down.

He also falsely claims we are recommending a $100 million cut to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, when our plan merely suggests funding KBA at the same amount it received in 2014.  The budget savings comes about by removing a statutory set-aside of $25 million per year that isn’t planned to be spent.

These are just some of the outlandish claims made by Goossen, which probably explains why he ignores invitations to have a civil public discussion of the facts.  He has nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Our budget plan shows multiple options to balance the budget without service reductions or tax increases…healthy ending balances…increased funding for education and Medicaid…and record-setting spending overall.  But media won’t even look at the plan and others are spreading false claims about it. 

Kansans are being inundated with the false choice of tax increases or service reductions…all for political gain.  


Posted by David Dorsey on Thursday, October 2, 2014

In a recently published analysis of public education funding in Kansas, the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) used a bit of time-series trickery to make one believe that education funding has declined. In a recently published Tallman Education Reportblog KASB makes yet another case for increasing taxpayer money to schools. The gist of the argument is this: more money is needed because since 2009, education funding has not kept pace with inflation. This postulate begs two questions: (1) Why did KASB pick 2009 as the base year for their analysis?, and (2) Why do schools need more money, especially now that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is not the determining factor of providing adequate education?

 As to the first question KASB picked that year because it conveniently fits their argument, as in draw a conclusion then find some data to support it. In this case, court-ordered funding pursuant to the Montoy  decision helped elevate education dollars to record levels in FY 2009. The court used a deliberately inflated cost study to help drive that decision. It had nothing to do with what schools needed to achieve required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money. There is nothing special about 2009, other than it is when education funding peaked. Simply put, KASB cherry-picked the date to make their point.

If choosing 2005 as a baseline year, a much different picture emerges. Using KASB data back to 2005 and applying their methodology, the table and accompanying graph show that when applying 2005 as the baseline year, education program funding actually outpaces inflation. Note: KASB data excludes KPERS contributions as an expense, even the Supreme Court says funding for KPERS should be considered.