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Report ranks Kansas schools high, but cautions that a fall could come

AP

Kansas schools are among the best in the country, according to a new study, but there are signs that ranking could soon fall.

An education report card, released Friday by the Kansas Association of School Boards, touts the state’s educational value, but highlights data that shows other states outpacing Kansas.

The worry is that this downward slide, according to the report, is happening at a time when school funding in other states is growing faster than Kansas. The report card, which KASB said is based on federal data from 2008 to 2014, shows how Kansas stacks up against the rest of the nation in student achievement and funding.

It says that while Kansas ranks 10th in the nation in overall student outcomes it came in 29th for spending per pupil in 2014. While Kansas is still doing well, other states have started to move ahead, KASB associate executive director Mark Tallman said.

“In the long run, this threatens our ability to compete with other states economically for not just high paying jobs, but almost any job,” Tallman said.

In an email, Gov. Sam Brownback’s spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said an announcement about school funding will be made next week.

“The governor has a plan to engage leaders in the educational community to develop a new education funding system, one that supports a high-quality education for all our Kansas students,” Hawley said. “We agree with KASB that the amount of money is important, but how money is spent and utilized is equally important. We invest $4 billion in K-12 education and have many great schools. Governor Brownback wants to make them even better.”

KASB’s findings come from a formula that looks at 15 measures of educational performance, including 18‐ to 24‐year‐old educational attainment, high school graduation and national assessments. The 15 performance measures reflect the “Rose Capacities,” which were identified by the Kansas Supreme Court as the basis to measure constitutionally suitable funding.

Some of the key findings:

▪ The percentage of Kansas students who took the ACT and met all four benchmarks increased 7 percent since 2006, the same as the national average.

▪ Each state that ranks higher than Kansas spends more per pupil.

▪ Thirty-seven states have increased funding more than Kansas since 2008.

▪ Since 2008, Kansas teacher salaries have not kept pace with most other states.

Most of the states ranking higher than Kansas overall are in the Northeast, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey. Midwest states with a better ranking than Kansas include Nebraska and Iowa. Missouri ranked 14.

The state spent an average of $11,619 per student from 2008 to 2014, according to the report. That mark was 27th in the nation.

“If we’re going to be competitive, it’s going to have to be higher,” Tallman said of student spending.

State Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, was the only state lawmaker to attend the report card’s unveiling. She said she was concerned by the low ranking for teacher salaries.

“That affects our ability to recruit and retain the best,” she said. “I think that’s what we need in the classrooms.”

Education funding in Kansas has been hotly contested in recent years. Four school districts, including Kansas City, Kan., are suing the state over education funding. That lawsuit, Gannon. v. Kansas, led to this year’s special legislative session. State lawmakers agreed to a $38 million solution that equalized funding to poorer school districts like Kansas City, Kan. The second part of the lawsuit, the adequacy portion, is set to start hearings in front of the Kansas Supreme Court in September.

Alan Rupe, one of the attorneys representing the schools in the Gannon case, said a closer look at the study’s numbers shows that Kansas is still struggling to serve students.

“I know with school starting and you’ve got all those great teachers out there that are standing in front of classrooms, you want to say something positive,” Rupe said. “I think that’s what KASB is doing for its members. But the fact is, if you look at the facts, things are a lot worse today than they were when we tried the Gannon case.”

Throughout the summer, school funding was a major issue in campaigns for the Kansas Legislature. More than a dozen moderate candidates, many running on a platform of improving school funding, unseated conservative incumbents. If those same candidates win in November, they’ll likely be faced with crafting a new school finance formula during the next legislative session. The state’s block grants for education funding expire in 2017.

“We all know we’re in a position of looking at developing a new school finance system,” Tallman said. “We may be reacting to a court decision this fall. A lot of our hope is this information will help the governor, the legislators, state board, everyone involved, to have additional information to make good decisions.”

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