During oral arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court, the State of Kansas argued that current school funding is constitutionally suitable because Kansas students and schools do so well - and cited research from the Kansas Association of School Boards.
The plaintiffs - representing school districts - argued funding is NOT suitable because many Kansas students do so poorly - citing evidence often presented by critics of public schools.
The state’s argument that Kansas schools are doing “well enough” makes sense if you are satisfied with our current results, because current funding is obviously producing current outcomes. There are at least four reasons to NOT be satisfied, however.
First, the Kansas Constitution, Article Six, Section One, directs the Legislature to provide for educational IMPROVEMENT through a public school system, even if results are good or better than the past; and to make “suitable provision for funding” that system.
Second, the State Board of Education, which is constitutionally responsible for “general supervision” of public schools, has called for leading the world in the success of each student, including higher graduation rates and postsecondary participation.
Third, new reports from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce say Kansas students will need higher levels of education to be successful in the future job market, confirming the State Board’s vision.
Fourth, low income, minority and students with disabilities are much less likely to score at satisfactory levels on standardized tests, to graduate high school or complete postsecondary programs - and these students are the fastest growing segments of the state population.
KASB’s latest (2016) report card research shows that Kansas ranks tenth when measured by multiple factors, including national reading and math scores, graduation rates for various student groups, college readiness tests (ACT and SAT) and educational attainment by young adults.
However, the same data shows that although Kansas does better than most states, around 15 percent of students do not graduate high school, that educational achievement isn’t matching future jobs needs, and there are major differences between upper income and economically disadvantaged students.
For the current constitutional debate, the question is whether additional funding is required to improve on this record.
When the state’s attorney cited KASB research about the high ranking of Kansas schools, he didn’t mention that ALL of the states that rank above Kansas provide more total funding per pupil than Kansas. While there are a number of states that spend MORE than Kansas and have LOWER results, no state in the country spends LESS than Kansas and gets HIGHER results.
Four of the nine higher achievement states are midwestern and Plains states like Kansas. For the most recent year data is available, Illinois spent $1,752 per student more than Kansas; Iowa $771 more, Nebraska $1,197 more and North Dakota $1,753 more (all after adjusting for regional cost differences).
The average of these four higher achieving states is $1,753 per pupil more than Kansas, or $806 million for approximately 460,000 Kansas students. That number is within the range of additional funding suggested by a three-judge panel, based on previous Legislative cost studies.
What could Kansas expect from funding that was more in line with higher achieving states?
On national reading and math tests, 36 percent of Kansans scored at the proficient level in 2015. In the nine overall highest achieving states, 42.1 percent of all students scored proficient.
Kansas had an “on-time” graduation rate of 85.7 percent for all students, compared to 87.9 percent in the top nine states.
Among 18-24-year-olds (young adults recently out of the K-12 system), 60.1 percent of Kansans had some postsecondary education but less than a four year degree, compared to 60.8 percent in the top nine states; and 10.3 percent of 18-24-year-old Kansans have completed a four-year degree or higher, compared to 13.0 percent in the top nine states.
The difference between Kansas and the top states may not seem like very much. The fact is, Kansas is already fairly close to the top states in achievement, even though total Kansas funding per pupil is 29th in the county. That seems to be a strong indicator that Kansas school boards are using funds both effectively and efficiently; and would improve results if funding increased.
But what if Kansas improved education attainment by just 3 percent at each level: moving 3 percent from non-graduates to completing high school; 3 percent from high school graduates only to attaining a one- or two-year degree or technical credential; 3 percent from those less than four years of college to completing four years or more? Based on 2014 data, the additional average annual earnings for those who moved up a level would increase over $26 million for each class of students, or over $1 billion for an average 40 year working career.
Not only would this increased earning power boost the entire state economy, it would almost certainly reduce unemployment, social services and criminal justice costs.
The state argues FUNDING is adequate because Kansas education OUTCOMES are adequate: better than most states, improving over time, and other states have the same gaps in performance as Kansas.
The plaintiffs argue that despite these facts, too many students are not where they need to be on test results, graduation and college attainment; and that it will take more resources to do better.
KASB’s report card research, based on national data sources, supports the state’s claim that Kansas schools on average are performing well, but also supports the plaintiff’s claim that current funding levels are leaving many students behind.
But the state did not to mention the report card data provides strong evidence improving those student outcomes will require increased funding, and that improved outcomes will pay off in greater student success and increased future earnings.