What started as a serious effort to calculate Kansas school funding using a model patterned after effective schools, and at least an attempt to make a connection between spending and accountability, has devolved into a version of Everything Old Is New Again.
A nine-member majority on the House K-12 Education Budget Committee has morphed HB 2410 — the major school funding proposal — amendment by amendment, into a reversion to the previous 1992 funding formula, which lacked any accountability and saw achievement gaps widen.
This gang of nine settled on a $150 million annual increase to education for each of the next five years, making the final price tag an additional $750 million per year. What’s more, local school property taxes would continue and would raise hundreds of millions more.
Base state aid per pupil would increase to $4,006 next year, rising to $4,806 by 2021-22. How did they arrive at those numbers? Are they reasonably calculated and calibrated to have students meet standards as directed by the Kansas Supreme Court?
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Not at all. The gang of nine simply wants to satisfy special interests with more money and little oversight.
Will this ensure better student outcomes, improving achievement of the one-third to one-fourth of Kansas students the Supreme Court recognizes are being left behind? Of course not, because we’ve been through this before, a decade ago when the court ordered $853 million more to education in their Montoy decision. That money did not improve the outcomes of our students.
I was a public school teacher when Montoy was decided. Most of that money went to hire more employees and increase teachers’ salaries, and I am very grateful to the taxpayers of Kansas for that nice big raise.
Did it make me a better teacher, or compel me to try harder, or work longer hours, or make the kids magically do better? No.
Here’s more evidence: The Legislature increased at-risk funding sevenfold to nearly $400 million per year and there were no improvements in achievement gaps.
Why? My school was a good example. Even though 80-85 percent of students were on free lunch, there were no special at-risk programs funded by this new money that identified harder to educate students and targeted their improvement. How could that be? Because under the old finance system, districts were not held accountable for student outcomes or how money was spent.
A version 2.0 of the 1992 formula — the direction it appears we are heading — will be more of the same, validating the definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
Those accountability measures must incorporate both “carrots and sticks.” Bonuses should be provided directly to faculty who demonstrate increased student outcomes, and school choice for families stuck in chronically under-performing schools — such as Education Spending Accounts (ESA), an expansion of the Tax Credit Scholarship program and real charter schools — should be mandated.
The Supreme Court says students need to come first and achievement is more important than the amount spent. The Legislature recently hired an attorney and hopefully he can help legislators understand that a “correct” dollar amount is not the goal. Hopefully Topeka will stand with students instead of institutions by requiring that districts improve overall achievement and narrow achievement gaps.
David Dorsey is a Senior Education Analyst with Kansas Policy Institute. He was a elementary public school teacher in Kansas and Arizona for 20 years.