Since the 2017 Nation Assessment of Education Progress test results were released, the State of Florida has received a lot attention, especially for high results among certain student groups. Because Florida spends less per pupil than Kansas, some are asking if this shows educational results can be improved without spending more money.
Florida does spend less per pupil than Kansas. However, since 2012 when Kansas passed major tax cuts that reduced state revenue, Florida has actually increased educational funding more than Kansas, with total revenue per pupil in Florida rising from $9,077 to $9,828 in 2015 (8.3 percent) compared to Kansas $11,557 to $12,055 (4.3 percent). Per pupil amounts for 2016 are expected to be released next month. (Source: Public Education Finances, 2012 and 2015)
Supported by this increased funding, Florida has shown improvement on these national tests. However, a closer look shows that low-spending Florida continues to trail far behind Kansas on many measures of student success.
First, it is important to note that NAEP does not test all students in a state. NAEP tests only a statistical sampling of students and only at two grade levels (fourth and eighth) in two subjects (reading and math) every other year. NAEP provides a "scale score" for each state, and also reports the percent of students at various benchmark levels: below basic, at basic, at proficient and at advanced. For a description of limitations and cautions related to NAEP as identified by the federal evaluation team, see KASB Research Specialist Ted Carter's recent blog post here.
For 2017, Kansas actually outscored Florida for all students, with 76.4 percent of students at basic or higher and 38.2 percent at proficient or higher compared to 71.0 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively, in Florida. However, Florida has a far higher percentage of low income students than Kansas. For students eligible for free or reduced meals, 69.0 percent of Floridians scored at basic or above and 27.2 percent were at proficient, compared to 64.1 percent and 22.9 percent of Kansans, respectively. (Source: Kansas Association of School Boards analysis of NAEP data.)
Unfortunately for Florida, students do not graduate and go to college from fourth or eighth grade, and the state does not fare nearly as well in other measures. For example, Florida lags behind Kansas for all students in the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, 80.7 to 85.7 percent; for low income students 74.4 to 77.5 percent, for Limited English Proficiency students 60.0 to 77.4 percent, and students with disabilities by the same rates. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Public High School 4-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.)
Graduation is vital when at least 90 percent of future jobs are expected to require a high school diploma or more and most students will not be able to enter college or technical training programs without it.
What about preparing for college? Kansas and Florida both tested the same percentage of students last year using the ACT test (73 percent), but in Kansas 29 percent of students met all four college ready benchmarks, compared to just 21 percent in Florida. Kansas schools are sometimes criticized because less than one in three students score college ready on all ACT tests; in Florida it is barely one in five. ACT does not break out results by income level, but Kansas also outperformed by every ethnic/racial subgroup except Hispanics. (Source: 2017 ACT State Briefing and Profile Reports)
Better preparing students for college is critical because almost all job and income growth is in careers requiring education beyond high school.
Finally, Florida trails Kansas in every measure of educational attainment by young adults (aged 18-24). In Kansas, 12.5 percent of this age group has not completed high school or the equivalent; in Florida, it is 15.5 percent. In Kansas, 48.5 percent of young adults have some college education, one- or two-year certificate or an associate's degree; in Florida the percentage is 45 percent. In Kansas 10.3 percent of 18-24-year-olds have a four-year degree compared to 9.0 percent in Florida. (Source: American Community Survey, Educational Attainment 2016 one-year estimates)
Higher levels of educational attainment results in higher earnings and lower unemployment rates, qualifying students for higher paying jobs and attracting employers who need these skills.
Why is there such a gap between Florida NAEP scores and other educational indicators? First, it is likely that the additional spending over the past several years has made an impact on younger students. The Governor of Florida, Republican Rick Scott, has credited additional spending on education for rising NAEP scores. Focusing resources on preparing students for standardized tests may improve that measure, but apparently Florida is not yet providing the support or effectively implementing strategies to help prepare students more broadly.
Kansans participating in community forums conducted by the Kansas State Board of Education overwhelming supported a broader definition of academic success than standardized test scores.
The question is this: would Kansans trade higher scores for low income students at fourth and eighth grade and spending about $2,200 less per pupil for doing worse on every other major measure of preparing students to be successful after high school?
KASB will release its updated “Comparing Kansas” Report on educational outcomes and funding this summer. Past editions have found that every state exceeding Kansas across all measures spends more than Kansas. Recent academic studies have found a strong positive correlation between funding and student success. So did the most recent education cost study commissioned by the Kansas Legislature.
Noted above is the fact that Florida has more low-income students than Kansas. Some have suggested that Florida gets better educational results than Kansas while spending less money. We've seen that isn't true when looking at a broader range of outcomes. But it is also argued that spending less on education and other public services boosts a state's economy. As a low-tax, low-spending, zero income tax state, Florida should also be a model for economic prosperity.
It turns out that is not the case, either. Florida trails Kansas in per capita income, $46,858 to $47,600 in Kansas. Florida has a higher unemployment rate than Kansas, 3.9 percent to 3.4 percent (after Kansas raised income tax rates last year). Florida has a higher poverty rate for all residents, 14.7 percent compared to 12.1 percent in Kansas, and a much higher poverty rate for children under 18, 21.0 percent to 14.1 percent. (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, State Personal Income; Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Unemployment Rates; American Community Survey Factfinder.)
Florida has made solid gains on one national test, but when looking at all other student achievement measures, Kansas schools put students in a much better position to succeed. Increased funding from the Legislature will help them continue to do so.