On July 18, the Kansas Supreme Court heard the attorney representing a small group of school districts claim that the Kansas State Board of Education’s request for $893 million more of our tax dollars was needed if schools were to be “adequately” funded.
Yet after watching the 32 minute video of the July 12, 2016, state board meeting, each of the seven justices and any Kansan will quickly see just how unfounded this claim is. Look for yourself by searching YouTube for “July 12th, 2016 meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education, evening session.” Start watching at 1:38.
No family or business would ever develop a budget this way. There is nothing “reasonably calculated” about the process the board uses to make its yearly request to the Legislature.
Notice that the deputy commissioner gave the board only two options. A few minutes later, a board member moved to select one of those dollar amounts. The deputy then simply filled in the rest of his Excel spreadsheet using the old 1992 school finance formula and current weights to come up with the total. But only seven of the 10 board members finally voted for this massive tax increase.
There was no discussion about how to improve student achievement, how to use the funds already appropriated by the Legislature more effectively or what state mandates on teachers and districts the board could eliminate to reduce costs. There was also no research discussed to document how additional funds will help schools meet the Rose standards for educational achievement or ways to close the achievement gap. It was all about how much more money to demand from the Legislature and Kansas taxpayers.
I served on the Kansas Board of Education and watched the deputy commissioner use this same bogus process year after year to come up with similar outlandish requests for hundreds of millions in additional funding. Now this charade is captured on video for all to see.
The truth is, since 1998, the number of local, state and federal tax dollars spent by Kansas school districts has doubled from $3 billion per year to $6.4 billion in 2015 to teach the same number of kids. Yet still, through all these years and billions in increased spending, only 1 in 3 Kansas public school students is proficient on national tests such as the NAEP, ACT or SAT. In addition, the percentage of students starting college who need to take remedial courses has actually increased. Of equal concern, the achievement gap is as wide as ever.
Clearly, there is no factual evidence that spending more money has or will improve student achievement in Kansas or any other state. This is especially true for “at-risk” students, since the definition for additional funding in the formula is still based on parents’ financial ability to buy school lunch for their children, instead of whether students are academically at risk of failing or dropping out before graduating from high school.
More specific to the issues in the Supreme Court case, funding for at-risk students has risen from $13 million per year since 1992 to over $433 million with no significant improvement in closing the achievement gap. Funds are spent, but not on resources targeted to the students who are academically challenged.
Hopefully, the accountability provisions in the school finance bill passed this June by the Legislature will produce positive learning results, and local school boards will make better use of the increased tax dollars they will receive.
These facts need to be taken into account when the Supreme Court makes its ruling in the Gannon case. They are part of the record and are well-documented in Kansas Department of Education and national research data.
Walt Chappell is president of Educational Management Consultants.