Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kansas School Districts and Funding for Instruction

Looking only at how much money school districts spend on instruction is like comparing baseball teams based on batting average, rather than wins and losses. It is an indicator, but it doesn’t guarantee results.

Spending on instruction doesn’t tell how successful a district or state is at educating students. Just as pitching, defense, and strategy also contribute to team’s performance on the field, other areas of school spending have big influence on student success.

And by most measurements, Kansas schools are succeeding.

Using 14 measures of student achievement and attainment, Kansas leads 44 states on a majority of those indicators. Of the five state with higher results than Kansas, all five have significantly higher funding per pupil. In addition, of those five, three spent a higher percentage of their total funding on instruction and two spent less.

On the other hand, 18 states spent a higher percentage of total funding on instruction, and have lower achievement than Kansas. The remaining 26 states had both a lower percentage spent on instruction and lower achievement.

It is clear that simply shifting more money to instructional spending will not guarantee improved student success.

The issue arose again recently when Governor Sam Brownback urged school districts to shift more funding to “the classroom” and said most districts are not complying with state law.

Contrary to some claims, there is no legal requirement that each Kansas school district must spend 65 percent of its budget on instruction. There is a state law expressing a “public policy goal” that at least 65 percent of money provided by the state to “school districts” be spent on instruction, which reads as follows:

K.S.A. 72-64c01. Sixty-five percent of moneys to be spent on instruction. (a) It is the public policy goal of the state of Kansas that at least 65% of the moneys appropriated, distributed or otherwise provided by the state to school districts shall be expended in the classroom or for instruction.

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, in 2013-14 school districts spent $3,033,444,556 on instruction, which is 92.8 percent of total state aid provided in 2013-14 ($3,267,998,852). If $615 million from the 20 mill statewide property tax levy was included as state aid, spending on instruction equals 78 percent of this total.

However, Kansas school districts do not spend 65 percent of ALL revenues on instruction. Kansas spends about 52 percent of total revenues on instruction, ranking 22nd in the nation, and 62 percent of “current expenditures” on instruction, ranking 9th.

This means Kansas school boards devote a greater share of their annual operating budgets to instruction than 41 other states, but spend a smaller share of total revenues on instruction than other states. That is primarily because Kansas voters have approved spending a larger amount for classroom buildings and equipment than other states.

No state spends 65 percent of total funding on instruction. Only three states spend at least 65 percent of “current operating funds” on instruction.

State law does not - and should not - require all school districts to spend 65 percent of their budget on instruction, because districts have very different expenses they often cannot control. For example, districts paying for construction bonds approved by local voters, or transporting more students in rural areas, or with high special services costs for students with disabilities will have to spend more on those areas than districts that do not have those costs.

The budget classification for instruction leaves out significant expenditures that support student success and/or are required by law. Here is the most recent statewide breakdown of Kansas school district spending (2013-14 school year):

51.8% - Instruction: teachers, paraprofessionals, classroom aides, classroom materials.
17.4% - Capital costs and debt payments: construction, repair and remodeling of school buildings, including classrooms, libraries, gyms, auditoriums, lunchrooms, technology and other equipment.
8.1% - Maintenance and Operations: includes utilities, insurance and security.
3.4% - Transportation: busing or providing alternative transportation for students.
4.1% - Food service: lunch and breakfast programs.
4.1% - Student Support: counselors, social workers,psychologists, speech pathologists, audiologist, nurses, attendance and resource officers.
3.2% - Instructional Support: Librarians, technology support and staff professional development.
4.8% - School Administration: principals and school office support staff.
4.2% - All other: district administration, business operations, human resources and legal services.

In order to spend 65 percent of all funding on instruction, school districts would have to shift 13 percent of funding from other areas. This amount is more than the TOTAL spent on administration at the local and district level, PLUS all transportation costs.

Just as baseball teams can be successful in different ways, Kansas school districts strive to use their resources to fit their unique community needs and circumstances.

Kansas school boards are always looking at ways to operate more efficiently with the goal of putting more resources in the classroom to help produce successful students. KASB services and partnerships with other organizations are designed to help them in these efforts.

Directing districts to spend money on arbitrary statewide targets is the opposite of the local control and budget flexibility the Governor and Legislative leaders have been championing.

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