Maybe we should stop funding public education altogether. That would save Kansas a lot of money, and schools would not suffer.
After all, according to the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute, there is no correlation between money spent on public schools and outcomes.
It’s not just KPI that makes that claim.
Rep. Jerry Lunn, an Overland Park Republican, has repeatedly said, “There’s really not a great correlation between how much you spend (on schools) and the outcome you generate.”
What KPI and Lunn think about school funding is very important. Both are making their case before a special 15-member committee charged with coming up with a new formula for financing K-12 education in Kansas. Lunn, who represents the area that includes the Blue Valley School District, serves on that committee. He is rated 100 percent by the American Conservative Union.
Lunn and KPI obviously would not really argue for eliminating school funding. But make no mistake, both would like to cut spending.
At a recent meeting, Lunn asked why Kansas spends half of its general fund on K-12 education when the national average is only 35 percent.
And why, Lunn asked, has Kansas increased per-pupil spending 33 percent greater than inflation from 1997 to 2014?
For answers, I did not turn to the Kansas Association of School Boards, which is biased toward spending more on education. Rather, I posed those questions to Kansas Legislative Research, a neutral, nonpartisan agency.
Here’s what it said.
Regarding the amount of general fund spending on education, Kansas has historically spent approximately 50 percent. Each state may calculate differently because not all spending on education comes out of a state’s general fund. For example, Missouri has a dedicated source of funds for schools from its lottery. That lottery money goes directly to schools and bypasses the general fund. There are myriad ways states fund schools, so a fair comparison to a national average is virtually impossible.
Kansas has, indeed, outspent inflation from 1997 to 2014. Probably the greatest contributor to that increase was the 2005 state Supreme Court order to increase spending on schools by hundreds of millions of dollars. The court ruled that students in Kansas were not receiving a “suitable” education and that schools were being underfunded. Also, there has been a large increase in the number of “at risk” students and those who speak English as a second language. The costs of educating those students are considerably higher.
The most difficult question is whether increased spending on schools improves education or whether reduced spending would adversely impact outcomes.
KPI has its test scores to prove there is no correlation. The KASB has its test scores to prove there is a strong correlation.
Said Legislative Research: The truth is in the eye of the beholder and it is not provable, one way or the other. You can find statistics to prove either position, and you will gravitate toward the numbers that make your case.
But KPI and Lunn are willing to plumb the depths and cut to the bone because their priority is tax cutting, not education. They would sacrifice quality education for their crusade.
Certainly, their efforts are not about improving schools.
It baffles me that a state legislator from Johnson County, an area that prizes education, would experiment with our children’s future.
We will name other names of those who want to destroy education funding. Voters can decide if that is the path they wish to take.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org