The Kansas Legislature’s special education committee Wednesday featured a face-off over this question: Does more money for schools mean better student outcomes?
One one side was Mark Tallman with the Kansas Association of School Boards, arguing that more money does matter — but also how you spend it.
On the other was Dave Trabert with the conservative think tank the Kansas Policy Institute, arguing that more money has brought flat results at best in student performance over the years.
Both were armed with data, often conflicting.
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Listening was the 15-member interim committee of House and Senate members, dominated by conservatives. Its task is to make recommendations on school financing and ways to improve student performance.
The state’s current block grant funding plan for schools, which replaced a per-pupil spending formula, has come under fire from many school district officials as inadequate and inequitable.
Block grants were approved for two years until the state could draw up a new formula. In an ongoing state Supreme Court case, the state and four districts, including Kansas City, Kan., are battling over funding issues.
After hearing both sides, Rep. Jerry Lunn, an Overland Park Republican and committee member, said the state spends more than half of its general fund budget on K-12 education, compared with a 35 percent national average. And the state has increased per-pupil spending 33 percent greater than inflation from 1997 to 2014, he said.
“In essence, that spending is not giving us the outcomes,” Lunn said. “I’m not seeing any dramatic return.”
State education officials have lamented recent national assessments showing various student scores that are flat or decreasing.
Before hearing from Trabert and Tallman, the committee took a deep dive into school district spending details such as supplemental pay for coaches, the annual cost of school athletic facilities and the cost of transportation to school activities, more than 85 percent of which is related to athletics.
Scott Frank, the state’s legislative post auditor, outlined a 2006 audit about spending and student outcomes. The audit found a strong association, nearly one to one, between increased spending per student and improved student performance.
But Frank also noted that academic research has reached different conclusions about the link between spending and outcomes.
Tallman said his data showed that Kansas is spending less on its schools than the national average and less than high-performing states.
“You clearly have to spend enough, and you have to spend it correctly,” Tallman said.
When schools receive increases in funding, he said, they spend it on more teachers and instructional staff, new student and family services, and improved teacher training.
Trabert said his data show that while per-pupil spending has increased significantly over the past 10 years, it did not result in better results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“We’re seeing flat scores but increasing spending,” he said.
The Special Committee on K-12 Student Success plans to hold two more meetings before the legislative session convenes in January.
Read about the previous committee meeting here: