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).