A long-awaited school funding study released Friday in Topeka was expected to endorse the long-held conservative view that there’s no correlation between student performance and the money spent on public schools.
After all, conservative Republican leaders had hand-picked the consultant — Lori Taylor, a Texas A&M University professor — to take a fresh look at Kansas school spending. Democrats and moderate Republicans who back more education spending feared a low-ball recommendation just as lawmakers begin deliberations on a new funding formula.
But in a stunning development, Taylor’s study sent a torpedo into bedrock conservative doctrine, concluding that a link does indeed exist between spending and a student’s educational attainment. She said lawmakers must spend another $1.7 billion over five years to reach performance targets or an additional $2 billion to deliver enhanced educational outcomes.
Until Friday, the conventional wisdom in the statehouse was that lawmakers would look to increase school funding by $600 million over the next few years.
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Now, Taylor has flipped that school-funding math end-over-end. Based on this report, $600 million may not come even close to doing the job.
Lawmakers face an April 30 deadline to respond to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that the Legislature’s latest efforts to fund schools had fallen short. That gives them precious little time for such a complicated task as writing a new formula and then funding it.
Taylor was blunt in linking educational attainment with dollars spent.
“The analysis finds a strong, positive relationship between educational outcomes and educational costs,” Taylor concluded. She also said a 1 percentage point increase in graduation rates is associated with a 1.2 percent increase in costs in lower grades and a 1.9 percent increase in costs at the high school level.
That amounts to a breathtaking repudiation of the long-standing conservative argument that there’s no link between outcomes and spending.
“It’s a validation of what I have been working on with a lot of colleagues and advocates and parents for many years.” said state Rep. Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican from Fairway who has worked for years to boost school funding.
In the report, Taylor recommends a five-year time period for implementing higher spending, then calls for that spending commitment to be “ongoing.”
“It is not practical to make a one-time, significant investment in a statewide public education system and expect at the end of that school year to see dramatic movement from current performance to aspiration targets,” she wrote.
Taylor’s 157-page study will take time to digest, and there are some errors that will need to be corrected. But she has upped the ante for lawmakers who now have mere weeks, not months, to write a new school funding formula.
Until Friday, many lawmakers were confident that they could cough up another $600 million for schools without a tax increase. Now, that bet may well be off. And the prospect of yet again raising taxes to cover years underfunding and neglect of public schools is once again staring them in the face.