Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gallup Poll shows divided views on education

A new poll from the Gallup organization shows the highest level of public dissatisfaction and the biggest split in education opinions by party affiliation in 16 years of polling. Yet more than three-fourths of parents remain satisfied with their oldest child’s education.

Parents, who have first hand knowledge of their child’s school, have generally been highly satisfied with the results, with parental satisfaction dropping below 70 percent only twice since 1999.

Yet broader public response, including non-parents as well as parents, is much less favorable,  with less than 50 percent of all respondents satisfied with U.S. education every year except 2004. This year, overall satisfaction with education fell to 43 percent, the lowest level since 2010.

Other surveys find similar differences: parents rate schools higher than the general public, and people rate their own community schools higher than schools nationally.

The survey does not distinguish between attitudes about public schools versus other forms of schooling. Support materials released by Gallup show that over time, between 80 and 85 percent of respondents say their children are in public schools, around 10 percent are in private schools, and the remainder split between parochial schools and home schools.

Finally, the survey shows that recent declining satisfaction with education has been largely driven by Republicans. Although attitudes by party have generally been fairly close, over the past two years satisfaction by Republicans has dropped from 48 percent to 32 percent, while satisfaction by Democrats has increased from 48 percent to 53 percent.

That means Republican satisfaction with education is at the lowest point recorded, while Democrat satisfaction is tied for second-highest. As with so many other social issues, this survey shows a deep partisan divide as the country prepares for a general election.

How might these attitudes affect public policies for education in a heavily Republican state like Kansas? Republicans at the national level and some legislative leaders in Kansas have advocated giving parents more choices in education by funding private schools or public charter schools outside of local school board control. The concept, in other words, is either taking students out of what is seen as a failing system or trusting competition to improve it.

However, surveys like the new Gallup results generally show that parents - who would have to make the choice - are much more satisfied with their children’s education than the public as a whole.

At the same time, being “dissatisfied” doesn’t necessarily mean opposition to the public school system itself. Many observers of the August primary in Kansas believe that voters were “dissatisfied” with K-12 funding levels or other state policies, not local school programs and policies - and that led to the defeat of a number of incumbent Republicans who supported those state policies.

Here are KASB reports on the Republican and Democratic party platforms for education adopted their national conventions this summer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

State education aid up 8% under Governor Brownback?

In a recent television interview, Gov. Sam Brownback expressed frustration that many Kansas voters seem to believe state school funding had been cut, when in fact, the governor said, funding has risen 8 percent.

To check the governor’s statement and explore why school supporters (and the public) may believe school funding has been cut, KASB used data from the governor’s budget reports, including the latest “Comparison Report” showing the final action of the 2016 Legislature for Fiscal Year 2016, which ended June 20, and the current Fiscal Year 2017.

As the table below shows, line 1, the total of major state aid categories, increased from nearly $3.8 billion in 2011, the first year of Brownback’s administration, to $4.09 billion approved for next year: $295 million or 7.8 percent. That’s very close to the governor’s 8 percent number.

However, note on line 14 that the inflation rate, based on the consumer price index shown on line 13, increased by 8.9 percent  (using the Kansas consensus revenue estimate for inflation in FY 2017). Therefore, an 8 percent increase did not even keep up with the general inflation rate.

More importantly from a school operating viewpoint, lines 3 through 7 show state aid programs that cannot be used for general operating expenditures. These include KPERS aid to school districts, which increased $73.4 million between 2011 and 2017; capital outlay state aid, which increased $50.8 million; bond and interest state aid, which increased $84.9 million; and a portion of local option budget state which districts had to use for property tax relief because the LOB was capped ($62 milion).

When these funds are subtracted, state aid available for actual operating expenses, such as teacher salaries and benefits, utilities and student services, increased $23.4 million, or less than 1 percent, compared to an inflation rate of nearly 9 percent during Governor Brownback’s administration.

When net operating aid is divided by the unweighted enrollment (line 10), the amount per pupil (line 11) actually fell by 0.7 percent.

Brownback is correct that total state aid has increased by about 8 percent under his watch, but - as he seemed to acknowledged in the same interview - most of that increase went to programs that cannot be used for regular school district operating costs.

As a result, state operating aid has fallen far behind the rate of inflation, which means school districts have had to cut programs, positions or salaries in order to keep with fixed costs and rising enrollment. That explains why school leaders, patrons and other voters perceive that education funding has been cut.