Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Does Kansas rank third in funding K-12 education?

Some legislators note that Kansas ranks third in the share of the state budget that is dedicated to public schools, but when considering all funding for education — which legislators say it is important to do — Kansas ranks below the national average. And when it comes to student achievement, the amount of dollars seems more important than the source of the funding.

Per Pupil Funding - All Revenues

When all school revenue sources are considered - federal, state and local - Kansas spends $11,596 per pupil, about $800 below the U.S. average and ranking 27th in the nation.

Those numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s report Public Education Finance for 2012-13 school year, the most recent data available. (A new report for 2013-14 should be released later this spring.

This ranking includes not only state appropriations (what we think about as state aid), but also all local revenue sources, including property tax levies, student fees and local gifts and grants; and all federal aid, included education programs and student meal support.

All School Revenues - Percent by State, Local and Federal

However, looking at the percent of education funding that comes from the state, rather than the amount, Kansas ranks 18th in the country. That is because since the early 1990s, the Kansas Legislature has chosen to rely more heavily on state funding rather than local funding to hold down property taxes and provide a more equalized funding system.

Education as Percentage of State Spending

A third way to measure state support for K-12 education is the portion of the state budget that goes to this function. It is this statistic, from the National Association of State Budget Officers, that shows Kansas ranking third.

The percent of a state’s budget spent on K-12 education really does not provide much information on overall funding of education in that state. Among the top fives state on the chart above, Vermont ranks near the top in total funding (6th), Indiana and Kansas rank in the middle (25th and 27th, respectively) and Utah and Colorado rank near the bottom (49th and 38th).

An example of how the share of state budget spent on K-12 or the share of K-12 received from the state can have no impact on overall K-12 funding is illustrated by the way Kansas shifted the 20 mill statewide levy from a local source kept by local districts to a state source collected and then appropriated back to districts by the state. That switch did not change school funding at all, but was a major reason the share of Kansas’ total budget going to K-12 increased from 25.9 percent in 2014 in 29.6 percent in 2015.

Likewise, when the state increased local option budget state aid in 2015 in response to the Gannon decision in 2014, many districts that had reached their maximum LOB amount were required to reduce local property taxes, rather than increase spending.

Education Funding and Student Success

What about the most important aspect of K-12 education: student achievement? KASB has identified seven states that exceed Kansas on 14 national measures of achievement, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math tests all student, low income and non-low income students, ACT and SAT tests measuring college readiness, and graduation rates for all students and certain subgroups.

As the following chart shows, neither the percent of state budget spent on K-12 education nor the share of total K-12 funding from the state seems to have a major impact on high achieving states. However, each of the states spends more than Kansas and ranks in the top half of states for TOTAL funding. In other words, the amount of funding seems more important than the source of the funding.

States exceeding Kansas on 14 key achievement measures (and Kansas)
2015 Percent of State Expenditures for K-12 (and U.S. rank)
2013 Percent of total K-12 Expenditures from State Funding (and U.S. Rank)
2013 Total funding per Pupil (and U.S. Rank)
14.7% (40th)
32.1% (49th)
$12,514 (20th)
New Hampshire
20.7% (40th)
35.5% (50th)
$15,320 (12th)
20.0% (2nd)
62.6% (9th)
$11,955 (25th)
11.6% (48th)
40.2% (44th)
$17,315 (7th)
New Jersey
24.9% (12th)
38.7% (47th)
$20,191 (2nd)
31.8% (1st)
76.2% (2nd)
$18,130 (6th)
16.3% (32nd)
51.7% (24th)
$12,072 (23rd)
29.6% (3rd)
56.4% (19th)
$11,596 (27th)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Big step forward for Kansas students

When the Kansas State Board of Education receives a report on new reading and math test scores today, the results will look lower than what the public, teachers, parents and students are used to.

And that is actually very good news.

Kansas has made its reading and math tests much tougher by raising expectations, which means that performance will look lower. The new tests measure more than just knowing the basic facts of reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, the tests are designed to tell if a student is learning to think critically and solve more advanced problems - to handle the more complex demands of college, technical education and the workplace.

These tests are different from the types of tests students have taken in the past, and certainly different from what most parents (and grandparents) experienced. Instead of asking students to simply give answers based on acquired knowledge, the new tests ask students to apply that knowledge to new situations. These skills take time to acquire. The test format is different from what students have experienced in recent years. However, the most important thing to remember is the new tests are designed to be more challenging.

Kansas: Rising Achievement, Rising Demands

Kansas has long ranked among the top states in education performance, such as national reading and math tests, high school graduation rates and preparation for college, and each of these measures has improved over the past decade. However, Kansas school leaders have recognized we will have to do even better to help students succeed.

For example, Kansas high school graduation rates are at an all-time high, but economic changes mean most jobs will require education beyond high school. In the 1970s, only about one-third of jobs required more than a high school diploma. By 2020, it is projected that over two-thirds of the jobs in the United States will require some type of postsecondary education: technical training or a two-year, four-year or advanced academic degree. In Kansas it will be even higher: over 70 percent - fifth highest in the nation.

The good news is Kansas education levels have been rising. From 2000 to 2013 (the most recent year statistics are available), the percentage of Kansans 25 and older with a two-year, four-year or advanced degree has grown from from 32 percent to 39 percent, the percent of Kansans with “some college” has held steady at 25 percent, and the number of students completing technical programs has increased, according to state higher education officials.

The educational level of Kansas adults should continue to rise because educational performance by Kansas students has also improved, including high school graduation rates, the National Assessment of Educational Progress fourth and eighth grade reading and math tests, and college preparation tests, such as the percentage of students meeting all four “college ready “benchmarks” on the ACT test. In fact, across 14 national indicators, Kansas ranks 5th in the nation.

It is worth noting that Kansas’ spending rank is 25th in the nation after adjusting for state cost of living differences, and Kansas spends less than any other state in the top 15 for student achievement.

Challenges Facing Kansas Schools and Students

However, being better than most states still leaves some big challenges.

First, too many students fail to prepare for college academic requirements and require remedial courses or simply drop-out of college without completing a credential. About 74 percent of Kansas graduating seniors take the ACT test and 93 percent of those students says they plan to enroll in college. However, about 20 percent of those tested self-report they did not take at least four years of English and three or more years each of math, social studies and natural science. Even students who do complete that “core” may not have passed the specific “college prep” courses required for qualified admission to state universities.

“College prep” courses are much more challenging than those required only for graduation. If students do not take courses to prepare for postsecondary education, they are much less likely to be successful in college. The new tests are designed to give parents, students and educators a better and earlier measure of student progress.

Second, as in all states, low-income, disabled, African American, and Hispanic students in Kansas lag behind in graduation rates and test scores, especially in preparation for college. Again, Kansas does better than most states with all groups of students, but it will be much harder to fill the educational needs of the state economy if these students do not make more progress.

This is particularly true when the numbers of low income, non-white students are growing rapidly. For example, Hispanic students were just 9 percent of ACT test-takers in 2011, but 13 percent in 2015. Only 15 percent of Hispanic students meet all four “college ready” benchmarks, compared to 37 percent of white students.

Improving educational levels is critical to individual economic well-being, as well as the state’s economy. Each higher level of educational attainment results in higher income, less unemployment, and less need for public assistance.

Third, academic preparation measured by state tests is not the only thing students need to be successful. Results of new Commissioner of Education Randy Watson’s “listening tour” of Kansas last Spring indicates Kansans place a high value on non-academic skills and characteristics. In addition, about one-third of Kansas jobs will NOT require postsecondary education. Many students are unlikely to want or even be capable of more rigorous academic courses. Kansas high school schools must provide programs to meet their needs, as well.

What It Will Take to Succeed

How do the new Kansas assessments address these issues? Because these tests are given in grades three through eight and in once in high school, educators, parents and students will have a better idea how well they are preparing for college and careers long before their junior or senior year in high school, and have more time to adjust plans, choose the right courses and seek additional academic help and career counseling if needed.

It is important to note the higher standards reflected in these tests does not mean Kansas education performance has declined or more Kansas students or schools are somehow “failing.” It does, however, mean more will be expected. Preparing for success after high school will require more challenging courses than many students - and parents - are used to. Many of these students will be the first in their family to attend college. It will require more from teachers and support staff, such as academic and career counselors. It will require more individualized instruction.

Finally, meeting these higher standards will require the right resources. The Kansas Legislature is setting out to develop a new school finance system while the Kansas Supreme Court considers legal challenges to both the previous system and the “block grants” that froze state operating funds for the current and next school year.

This give Kansas the opportunity to fund schools based on what it takes to educate a successful student, which is exactly the standard adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court through the so-called “Rose Capacities.” While those capacities, ranging from basic skills to civics, economic, health, the arts and preparing for postsecondary education, have not been completely defined, one thing is clear: the only states that outperform Kansas across all national measures of educational outcomes spend more money per per pupil and target additional resources at low income and other special needs students. These are the states Kansas will be competing against for high-paying, high-skill jobs.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New polls show mixed attitude on education policies

Two national opinion polls regarding K-12 education have been released, offering sometimes contradictory insights into public views on educational issues.

The 47th annual PDK/Gallup poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools focused heavily on standardized testing and academic standards, including the controversial Common Core. It also polled on attitudes toward school choice, evaluation of public schools and views on the roles different levels of government should play.

The 9th annual Education Next Poll on School Reform addressed some of the same topics, but also covers more in depth issues of interest on what is usually considered the “conservative” side of school reform.

The PDK/Gallup poll broke out results by the nation as a whole, public school parents, political party (Republican, Democrat and Independent) and ethnicity (blacks, Hispanics, whites). The EdNext poll also includes the public and parents, the same three racial/ethnic groups, and a separate category of teachers.


The PDK/Gallup poll reports “Americans agree that there is too much testing in schools, but few parents report that their children are complaining about excessive testing.” Two-thirds of respondents say there is “too much emphasis on standardized testing.”

Only 14 percent of both the public and parents say standardized tests are “very important” to measuring the effectiveness of public schools in their community. On the other hand, 78 percent of the public and 80 percent of parents say student engagement in their classwork was very important. Other indicators of public school effectiveness rated higher than testing as “very important” included students who feel hopeful about their future (77 percent of the public, 81 percent of parents), students who graduate from high school (68 percent of the public, 75 percent of parents), high school graduates who go to college or community college (38 percent of the public, 39 percent of parents) and graduates who get jobs immediately after completing high school (27 percent of the public, 31 percent of parents).

Yet the EdNext poll found that two-thirds of respondents strongly or somewhat favored continuing the federal requirement to test all students in reading and math once a year in grades three to eight and once in high schools.

Forty-four percent of all PDK/Gallup respondents opposed allowing children to be excused from taking standardized tests, with 41 percent supported an opt-out policy. The EdNext Poll found just 26 percent of the public supported an opt-out. While PDK/Gallup found 47 percent of public school parents supported an opt-out compared to 40 percent opposed, EdNext found just 32 percent of parents in support and 51 percent against. PDK/Gallup reported 31 percent of parents said they would excuse their own child. EdNext did not ask that question.

PDK/Gallup asked other questions that found limited public support for testing. Only 16 percent said scores on standardized tests provide the most accurate picture of a public school student’s academic progress, trailing examples of students’ work (38 percent) and teachers’ written observations (28 percent) and grades awarded (21 percent).

Only about 20 percent of respondents thought it was important to use standardized tests to compare students in the community to other districts, states and countries.

However, blacks and Hispanics were generally more supportive of standardized testing than whites.

Although EdNext found more support than PDK/Gallup for standardized testing, only 29 percent of the public and 35 percent of parents thought state tests did a “very good” or “good” job measuring what students learn in reading and math.

Common Core Standards

When the Common Core was introduced several years ago, supporters were confident support would grow when the public learned more about it. That is not reflected in the PDK/Gallup poll.  Sixty-one percent of the public and 72 percent of parents say they know “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the Common Core standards - and 54 percent of both groups oppose requiring teachers to use these standards.

The EdNext poll shows slightly higher levels of support for the Common Core, depending somewhat on the wording of the question, but acknowledges support has been dropping from previous years. In addition, EdNext found that a majority of both the public and parents say implementation of Common Core standards has had a “somewhat” or “strongly negative” impact in their district.

Supporters of the Common Core say they were designed to raise standards. PDK/Gallup found that while opposing the Common Core, 39 percent of the public and 33 percent of parents feel community standards are too low while 37 percent of the public and 48 percent of parents say current standards are about right, and 6 percent of the public and 12 percent of parents say standards are too high.

School Choice

Both polls found strong support for “public” school choice. PDK/Gallup found nearly two-thirds of both the public and parents support the “idea of charter schools,” which generally means a public school at least somewhat independent from the local school board and free from most state regulations; and are in favor allowing students and parents to choose which public school to attend, regardless of where they live. EdNext reported majorities of the public and parents - but not teachers - either completely or somewhat favoring the formation of charter schools.

However, the polls differed regarding public support for private education. PDK/Gallup found 57 percent of the public and 58 percent of parents were opposed to allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.

EdNext asked several different questions regarding private school choice. About 55 percent of the public and parents either “completely” or “somewhat” supported the idea of tax credits for private school scholarship for low income students, and nearly 20 percent were neutral. Kansas passed such a program last year and expanded eligibility this session.

A narrower majority also supported a proposal to give “all” families government assistance to help pay for tuition at private schools. There was less support for proposals to help only low income students attend private schools. In all cases, African-Americans and Hispanics had stronger support for these private school choice proposals than whites or the public at large.

EdNext also reported that support for school choice proposals have been edging down over the past several years.

Evaluating Public Schools

There was no “news” from the PDK/Gallup poll on one issue: as has been the case for 30 years, Americans think highly of their local schools - and think the rest of the nation isn’t doing very well. Two-thirds of parents and the public give the school their child attends a grade of A or B. A majority give an A or B to schools in their community. However, only about 20 percent say schools nationally rate an A or B.

EdNext results were similar, with 52 percent of the public and 55 percent of parents giving their community schools an A or B, and 23 percent of the public and 28 percent of parents giving public schools nationally an A or B.

EdNext also reported that over 70 percent of parents and the public think their community schools deserve an A or B for serving the most talented students, but only 29 percent of the public and 40 percent of parents said the same about serving the least talented students. Respondents also thought public schools were doing a better job with girls than boys.

PDK/Gallup asked what percentage of students in this country were receiving a high quality education. Less than 10 percent of parents and the public believe more than 75 percent of U.S. students are receiving a high quality education, and only 29 percent believed 50 to 75 percent of students are receiving a high quality education. That means about two-third of respondents think less than half of U.S. students are getting a high quality education.

School Funding

As has been the case for the past 10 years, the PDK/Gallup poll found the public believes lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing public schools. Eighty-four percent of the public and 88 percent of parents say how much money schools have to spend is “somewhat” or “very” important. At least 20 percent of every group except Republicans (11 percent) say lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing schools. No other issue exceeds 10 percent except “standards/quality of education” (10 percent of public school parents, 11 percent of Republicans).

EdNext asks a different set of questions. First, the poll asked respondents to guess the average amount of money spent each year for a child in the local community and the U.S. as a whole. The average guess ($6,307 locally, $7,056 nationally) is far below the actual TOTAL revenues reported by the U.S. Government ($12,380 nationally and $11,596 in Kansas in 2012-13).

Next, respondents are asked whether funding for public schools in their district should greatly increase, increase, stay about the same, decrease or greatly decrease. Respondents who were not told the actual level of spending supported an increase by about two-to-one. If told the actual level of funding, support for increased funding dropped - although in most case a plurality still favored increased funding. In no case did more than 12 percent of any group favor a decrease in funding.

Control of Education

Both surveys asked which level of government - federal, state or local - should control certain aspects of educational policy. With some exceptions, most respondents favored the state first, followed by local leaders (school boards) and federal control last.

Personnel Policies

EdNext asked several questions about teacher issues. Fifty-three percent of the public and 58 percent of parents say teachers in their local schools deserve a grade of A or B for the quality of their work. Forty-seven percent of both say teachers nationally deserve an A or B.

EdNext also asked respondents to guess the average yearly teacher salary in their state. The average response was below the actual average salary. As with funding, respondents were then asked if teacher salaries should greatly increase, increase, stay about the same, decrease or greatly decrease. Over 60 percent of respondents thought pay should be increased, and over 45 percent said taxes to fund teacher salaries should be increased.

When told the actual level of salaries, support for higher salaries dropped below 50 percent, and support for higher taxes dropped below 40 percent. However, in no case did more than 11 percent of respondents say salaries or taxes for salaries should decrease.

EdNext also found that a majority of respondents favor basing part of the salaries of teachers on how much their students learn. However, PDK/Gallup found that 55 percent of the public and 61 percent of parents oppose requiring student test performance in evaluating teachers.

Finally, EdNext found that parents and the public oppose “teacher tenure” by about two-to-one, with about 20 percent neither favoring nor opposing. More respondents said teacher unions generally have a negative effect on school funding than a positive effect, but about 20 percent did not have an opinion.