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’.
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.
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.
No one knows how much money schools need to achieve required outcomes while also making efficient use of taxpayer money because no such analysis has ever been done in Kansas. The Augenblick & Myers cost study upon which the Montoy court ruling was based was supposed to include efficiency but they admittedly excluded efficiency from their calculations. A follow-up report from Kansas Legislative Post Audit stipulates that they weren’t asked to take the efficient organization and operation of schools into account.
The March 2014 Supreme Court ruling also established a new test to determine whether schools are adequately funded. Their first test is whether students are meeting or exceeding the Rose outcome capacities and if they are, the Court says funding must therefore be adequate even if not ‘optimal.’ School districts and the Department of Education, however, openly admit that they don’t know how to measure performance against the Rose capacities. Accordingly, when the Supreme Court takes up the appeal on adequate funding, it will be challenging for the Plaintiff school districts to prove they lack sufficient funding to achieve the Rose capacities if they cannot measure performance against Rose.
The Court’s new test on adequacy also stipulates that all funding sources, including Federal and KPERS pension funding, should be considered. That is a significant expansion from previous adequacy rulings, which primarily focused on a portion of state funding.
Article Six of the Kansas Constitution requires the Legislature to “…make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” but it does not preclude the Legislature from taking efficient use of taxpayer money into account. That has not been the case thus far, but 73 percent of Kansans believe there should be some efficiency requirements included in school funding; only 20 percent disagree. See Question #2 here for documentation of the scientific survey, including geographic and ideological breakouts on Kansans expectation for efficiency in school funding.
Further discussion of the March 2014 Supreme Court ruling by Mike O’Neal, an attorney and former Speaker of the House, can be found here.
There are some researchers who believe there is a correlation between spending more money and improving student outcomes, and there are many others who strongly disagree. But most of those who believe in correlation agree with their counterparts on two very important points:
- Just spending more money does not CAUSE outcomes to improve, and
- Spending money wisely makes the difference, not how much is spent.
This chart shows Kansas’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have remained relatively unchanged since 1998 even though per-pupil spending has increased significantly and well beyond inflation.
Figure 2 below comes from a 50-state comparison of 2014 per-pupil current operating spending (most recent US Census data) adjusted for cost of living and the 2015 NAEP Index as calculated by Education Week; the red star represents Kansas. It’s obvious that the same or very similar results are achieved at significantly different spending levels and from a statistical standpoint, the R2 value of 0.04 means there is virtually no relationship between spending and outcomes.
Finally, the chart below from State Education Trends published by the Cato Institute shows that achievement for 17-year olds in the U.S. between 1970 and 2012 was essentially unchanged even though inflation-adjusted spending grew quite significantly.
You may have heard claims that Kansas has high national rankings on student achievement but unfortunately, that’s not true. Rankings on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and ACT both show Kansas is only about average overall, and that’s in a nation that doesn’t perform well in international competition.
The large achievement gaps between low income and the more affluent and between Whites and minorities exist in varying degrees across the nation; there are also significant differences in the demographic make-up of each state.
Accordingly, simple comparison of state overall average scores are not valid performance comparison. A state like Kansas with a predominantly White student population may have a higher average than a state where White students are the minority, even though such state may have better scores on most cohort-to-cohort comparisons. The adjacent table shows how this works; the overall state average is the sum of each cohort’s weighted average. For example, a score of 249 for a cohort that comprises 69 percent of the total yields a weighted average of 172 (249 x .69).
State #1 has a higher average score (242) even though the cohort scores for State #2 are all higher than State #1. The achievement gaps for both states are identical (20 points between White and Hispanic, 25 points between White and African American) but State #2 has a much lower proportional White enrollment.
Historic ACT scores are available here, and historic NAEP proficiency levels can be found here. By the way, a November 2011 press release from the Kansas Department of Education said measurement on NAEP since 2003 is valid and reliable.
School districts have operating cash reserves in many different funds, which function like a personal checkbook; the balances only increase if more money is deposited each year than is actually spent. Every entity needs some degree of reserves but most school districts have dramatically increased their cash reserves over the last ten year. Operating cash reserves (excluding federal funds and money set aside for capital projects and debt service) totaled $468 million at the end of the 2005 school year but grew to $911 million at the end of the 2016 school year; that $443 million increase is state and local aid given to districts that wasn’t spent.
Some school districts say they set extra money aside because the state was late making payments during the recession but the majority of the increase occurred long before payments were delayed, and during a time when funding was significantly increasing. There is no legislative record of school districts saying they had insufficient reserves prior to 2009.
Upon learning that some operating reserve balances were in restricted funds, the Legislature changed the law in 2012 to allow school districts to use up to $250 per student annually in several previously restricted funds, including At Risk, Bilingual, Driver Training, Parent Education, Professional Development, Summer School, Textbook and Student Materials, Vocational Education, Pre-School At Risk, Special Education and Virtual Education. There is no limit on the use of funds from Contingency and other unrestricted operating funds.
The Department of Education publishes fund balances by district, which have been compiled into comparative multi-year reports here, here and here. This report shows districts’ annual Carryover Ratio, which is the percentage of operating cash on hand at the beginning of the year expressed as a percentage of that year’s actual operating expenditures.
The most recent national school funding comparison from the U.S. Census shows Kansas school districts have the 10th highest debt per-student in the nation, at $10,039. That’s a 53 percent increase over the last ten years. Total indebtedness hit $5 billion, which was a 62 percent increase.
Further discussion of this issue, including regional comparisons of cash reserves and total spending, can be found here.