Kansas students taking the ACT test in 2017 produced slightly lower scores than the previous year, and scores have remained relatively unchanged for many years. The average score for all students was 21.7 on a scale of zero to 36; that’s down from 21.9 last year and the same as in 2005. Average scores for the primary demographic breakouts are: White 22.6 (down from last year but higher than 22.1 in 2005), Hispanic 19.2 (same as last year and up from 19.1 in 2005) and African American 17.5 (down from 17.6 last year but up from 17.4 in 2005).
The education lobby attributes the 2017 score decline to a lack of funding, although historical data shows there is no correlation (let alone causation) between changes in spending and scores.
The widening achievement gap for minority students is especially apparent on ACT’s measurement of College Readiness in English, Reading, Math and Science. The percentage of White students considered college-ready in all four subjects went from 28 percent in 2005 to 35 percent this year; Hispanic students moved from 10 percent to 14 percent and African American students at still at 6 percent as they were in 2005.
ACT defines college-ready as having a 50 percent likelihood of getting a ‘B’ on an entry-level course or a 75 percent likelihood of getting a ‘C’.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Kansas had the 6th highest share of school funding provided by state government in 2015. State school funding comprised 66 percent of total funding in Kansas, while the national average for state school funding was 47 percent. The national average for local taxpayer support was 45 percent but Kansas local taxpayers only provided 26 percent of funding. The federal taxpayers’ share of funding was 8 percent in Kansas and across the nation.
No other regional state comes close to Kansas for state school funding. The next highest share among neighboring states is Oklahoma at 49 percent, followed by Colorado (45 percent), Missouri (42 percent) and Nebraska (32.5 percent).
Kansas also made the Top Ten list for Capital Outlay spending per pupil and Bonded Indebtedness per pupil. Kansas’ $1,939 per pupil on Capital Outlay was the 5th highest spend in the nation and almost double the national average of just $1,075 per pupil. Kansas was #8 nationally for Bonded Indebtedness at $10,865 per pupil. Census uses headcount enrollment rather than full time equivalent enrollment as does the Kansas Department of Education for its per-pupil calculations, so the averages are a little lower than Kansans are used to seeing.
At $12,418 per-pupil, Kansas is ranked #25 for total spending and is #32 for current spending (excluding Capital Outlay, Debt Service, Interest and other amounts designated by Census) at $10,040 per-pupil. Kansas had the 14th highest per-pupil Cash & Securities holdings in the nation, which, as explained recently, includes a little over $1 billion in unspent bond proceeds.
Kansas also has relatively high rankings for growth rates since 2001. Total spending per-pupil growth of 70 percent was ranked #16 and far exceeded the national average of 51.6 percent. The growth in current spending was just below the national average (54 percent versus 56.4 percent) but Kansas could easily exceeded it if local school boards hadn’t put so much money into cash reserves.
Kansas added $781 million to its Operating and Capital reserves between 2001 and 2015; diverting just 10 percent of that increase to current spending would have increased current spending per-pupil to the national average and still left $775 million in operating reserves and $412 million in capital cash reserves. And Kansas would still have had the 2nd highest Cash & Securities growth rate in the nation.
School district full time equivalent enrollment and personnel reports show employment has been growing much faster than enrollment. Since 1993 (the oldest data available from the Department of Education) enrollment grew 7 percent while total employment jumped 26 percent. The last twelve years has seen enrollment increase by 4 percent with total employment up 6 percent. Non-teacher employment grew much faster than classroom teacher employment over both periods, while Classroom Teacher employment outpaced enrollment over the long term (13 percent vs. 7 percent) and kept pace over the last twelve years. While enrollment grew just 4 percent since 2005, schools added 10 percent more Managers and 8 percent more Other Non-Teachers.
There were 16.4 students per classroom teacher in 1993 but only 15.5 students per classroom teacher in 2017. Students-per-teacher is not the same as class size, but it’s noteworthy that there are reports of class sizes increasing while there are fewer students per teacher.
Special Education teachers and Reading Specialists are not considered Classroom Teachers by the Department of Education; they are included in the total employment figures but not reflected in any categories in the adjacent table. Managers includes superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals, directors and curriculum specialists. All employment decisions are made by local school districts, and there are no state or federal mandates requiring any specific employment levels or positions.
Historical information gathered from state reports can be viewed by district and county here.
Kansas school debt set another record for the 2015-16 school year at $5.56 billion spread across 183 districts. Data provided by the Kansas Department of Education shows school districts loaded up on a lot of new debt since 2005:
- $5.2 billion in new debt was issued by 149 districts.
- Debt Service payments totaled $4.9 billion.
- Bonded indebtedness increased $2.4 billion or 77%.
- Debt Service payments jumped 98%, from $286 million in 2005 to $567 million in 2016.
- $659 million more could have been available for Instruction if debt held steady since 2005.
District listings for total and per-pupil indebtedness, new debt issued by year and total debt service payments since 2005 are available on KansasOpenGov.org. Refinanced and re-issued debt is not counted in the debt-issued totals.
Fifteen school districts issued more than $100 million in new bonded indebtedness since 2005. USD 233 Olathe tops the list at $516.8 million, with Wichita and Blue Valley rounding out the quarter-billion-dollar club. Much of the new debt is subsidized by citizens outside the issuing district, which has a direct impact on state aid available for educating students. Twelve of the top 15 debt issuers are subsidized by other Kansans. State aid for school debt ballooned from $52 million in 2005 to $163 million last year. To put that in perspective, had Bond & Interest aid remained steady over that period, $530 million more could have been available to fund Instruction.
The Division of Budget estimates that Bond & Interest aid will be $181 million in FY 2017, which means another $129 million could have been available for Instruction this had districts not taken on so much debt.
Kansas had the 10th-highest debt-per-pupil in the nation based on the most current (2014) Census data last year.
Average per-pupil spending was $13,015 last year and 2016 marked the third consecutive year that Kansas set a record for per-pupil spending without counting KPERS retirement funding, at $12,458. If not for a partial deferral of a KPERS payment last year, total funding per pupil would also have set a new record.
School spending continues to run well ahead of long term inflation. Total funding is 43 percent higher than if increased for inflation of the course of the old school funding formula and non-KPERS funding is 40 percent above inflation.
The 2016 state assessment results were again a sober reminder that student achievement is not as good as many people have been led to believe. In Math, for example, only 11 percent of low income students in the 10th grade are on track to be college or career ready; just 34 percent of their more affluent peers are on track. Results for English Language Arts (ELA) are only slightly better. Compilation of district-level results for 4th grade, 8th grade and 10th grade English Language Arts can be seen here, and Math results are available here. Links to the original Dept. of Education source data are included in both reports.
Relatively low levels of college and career readiness is very much a statewide issue. Even in Blue Valley, often considered as having the ‘best’ results, barely half of their more affluent students are on track for college and career.
The 2016 state assessment results were similar to the 2015 results, which was the first year of a new state assessment system with four achievement levels:
- Level 1 – below grade level
- Level 2 – at grade level but still needs remedial training to be on track to be college and career ready
- Level 3 – at grade level and on track to be college and career ready
- Level 4 – at grade level and far exceeds expectations for college / career ready
The portion of spending allocated to Instruction, Administration and other cost centers varies by district, as local school boards alone make those decisions. Some aid, such as Bond & Interest, must be spent on that cost center but a school board’s decision to incur debt is the trigger. The temporary block grant system affords tremendous discretion on the use of state and local aid; even Capital Outlay aid may be spent on some operating functions. KPERS retirement aid is only used for that purpose but the allocation of those amounts to Instruction and other categories is determined by school board staffing decisions. The 2005 Legislature placed a recommendation in state statute (K.S.A. 72-64c01(a), signed by Governor Kathleen Sebelius) that suggests 65% of all funding be spent on instruction or in the classroom, but local school boards alone make those decisions.
School funding increased nearly $2 billion between 2005 and 2016, but the allocation to Instruction actually declined from 53.6 percent to 52.5 percent (excluding any capital expenditures allocated to Instruction. School boards generally reduced allocations to current operating costs and increased the allocation to Capital Outlay and Debt Service. The chart below reflects the statewide averages for 2005 and 2016 but the intervening years and complete reports for each district can be found here.
District-level calculations of the percentage allocated to Instruction exclude Capital to avoid spikes and declines associated with periodic expenditures, but the percentage allocated to Instruction declined even if Capital Outlay on Instruction is included as shown in the table below.
The Legislature’s policy goal of allocating 65 percent of total spending to Instruction was to encourage local school boards to devote the vast majority of court-ordered funding increase under Montoy to Instruction, but that obviously didn’t happen. For perspective, $6.4 billion more would have been spent on Instruction over the last ten years had that policy goal been met.
2016 marked the third consecutive year that school funding set a new record without counting KPERS retirement spending, at $12,458 per-pupil. That amount is 40 percent more than if non-KPERS funding adjusted for inflation over the course of the old school funding system. For perspective, non-KPERS funding would have been $1.65 billion less last year if it had just been increased for inflation.
Total funding including KPERS was $13,025 and would have set a record if the Legislature hadn’t deferred the final KPERS payment. The Department of Education estimates that total funding for 2017 school year will be $13,145 per-pupil.
Does receipt of federal funding for special education, Title 1 or food service come with a stipulation requiring school districts to hire more employees?
According to Dale Dennis, Deputy KSDE Commissioner for Finance, school districts receiving those federal funds are not required to hire employees, including any specific number or type of employee, to provide those services. Most school districts use federal funding to hire employees but they are not required to do so.
The old school funding system was established in 1992 and at that time, per-pupil funding was $5,302. The state’s KPERS contribution was not included in total funding until 2005, however, but had it been, funding would have been $5,416 per-pupil according to the Kansas Department of Education. Increasing that amount by inflation (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index for Midwest Urban Cities on a fiscal year basis) would put per-pupil funding at $9,067 per-pupil in 2015. Actual funding in 2015, however, was $13,124 per-pupil, or 45 percent above inflation.
And contrary to some claims, KPERS pension funding is not the reason that per-pupil funding is far higher than inflation-adjusted levels would indicate. The second chart excludes all KPERS funding and the record set in 2015 of $12,445 per-pupil is 40 percent greater than 1992 inflation-adjusted spending of $8,885 per-pupil.
For perspective, 2015 total spending including KPERS would have been $1.88 billion less had it simply been increased for inflation since 1992; excluding KPERS, total funding would have been $1.64 billion less.
Some people contend that spending hasn’t kept up with inflation since 2008, and while technically a true statement of reported spending, school districts still had the ability to retain the same purchasing power if they had chosen to use all of the aid provided and chosen to operate more efficiently. Aid used to increase operating cash reserves is not included in reported spending; districts had $911 million in the bank at the beginning of the 2016 school year, or $443 million more than ten years earlier. Local school boards also chose not to implement many efficiency opportunities recommended by Legislative Post Audit according to testimony provided to the K-12 Commission on Student Achievement and Efficiency by LPA and school superintendents. Other major opportunities to eliminate unnecessary spending, including state-negotiated purchasing discounts on commodities, equipment and services and providing non-instructional services at better prices through regional service centers, are openly opposed by school lobbyists.
There’s also the fact that 2008 funding was artificially inflated by the court-ordered funding increase in Montoy. The courts based their ruling on a 2001 cost study that was supposed to have taken efficiency into account, but it was later learned that the authors admittedly ignored efficiency and inflated their findings accordingly. Had the Montoy court known what the Gannon court now understands, it’s quite possible that funding wouldn’t have increased 26 percent between 2005 and 2008 (while inflation was 9 percent).