Every dollar invested in Kansas schools is used to support student learning. Higher earnings by more educated students pays back that investment many times over.
One important note: these are statewide average numbers. Individual school districts will vary because of big differences in population, student needs, geography and local priorities.
How do school districts use their funds?
Start with the teachers. Thanks to efforts to keep classes small, the average class size in Kansas is less than 20 students. Kansas had the 8th lowest pupil to teacher ratio among the 50 states in 2016, the year of the most recent national data. Counting all teachers and other instructional staff, including special education paraprofessionals and other classroom aides to assist these teachers, there are almost two instructional positions for every 20 students.
Salaries for teachers and classroom aides, along with textbooks and instructional supplies, make up just over 53 percent of that “quarter-million dollar” classroom: about $134,000 for a class of twenty. That pays for the salaries of two people, plus benefits, other employment costs, retirement contributions, as well as textbooks and other supplies.
The next largest share of classroom costs is the classroom itself, along with the rest of the school building: the library, gym, auditorium and lunchroom, as well as equipment like computers to go with textbooks and chalkboards. On average, Kansas school districts spent 12 percent of funds on facilities acquisition and debt service, or $30,000 for every 20 students for buildings and equipment, including payments on construction bonds.
Once constructed, schools also must be maintained and operated. Districts spent 8.8 percent, or about $22,000 for every 20 students for heating, cooling, lighting and cleaning school facilities, as well as keeping them safe and secure.
Next, students have to get to school. Districts spend 3.9 percent of funding, about $10,000 for every 20 students, on transportation. State law requires transporting children who live more than 2.5 miles from school and special education students; and many more are bused for safety reasons or to provide a choice in schools or programs. On average, nine students out of a class of 20 will receive transportation services from the school district.
Schools also provide meals for students. Lunch and breakfast programs cost about $10,000 for every 20 students, or 4.1 percent of all funds. Most of this cost is paid by federal student meal programs or fees paid by students and staff. (These fees are also part of the total cost per pupil.) This provides $2.78 cents per day for 180 school days for each student.
In addition to teachers, schools also provide counselors, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists, audiologists, nurses, attendance and resource officers and security staff. Kansas schools have one of these student support positions for every six classrooms of 20 students, at a cost of 4.8 percent of funding or $12,000 for a class of 20.
Schools also need libraries, technology support and professional development programs to continuously improve teaching, and assessment of how students are learning. Kansas districts spend 3.3 percent of funds on these purposes (about $8,500 per classroom). Districts have about one staff member for these instructional support activities for every eight classrooms.
In charge of each school is a principal and his or her staff. These individuals supervise and evaluate teachers and other school support staff, oversee student discipline, and support relations with parents. In small schools, the principal is also responsible for many of the duties listed above. Kansas districts spend 4.9 percent, or about $12,000, for every 20 students on school leadership. Districts have on average one principal or assistant for every 275 students.
All other expenditures - about 4.5 percent of the total or $11,500 per classroom – include general administration and central services, including the superintendent, business office, human resources and legal costs. In small districts, the superintendent is often also a principal and handles these duties and more. Most districts participate in cooperative organizations to share many of these functions and reduce costs.
Return on investment
A quarter-of-a-million dollars per year is a big investment in a classroom of students. But the payoff is even bigger. The earnings difference between a high school graduate and a high school dropout in Kansas is over 5,000 per year; for attending some college up to an associate degree over $9,000; for a bachelor’s degree over $23,000 and for a graduate or professional degree $34,000.
Using current educational levels of Kansans over 25 to project the average number of students in a class of 20 who will reach each of those levels results in total additional earnings of $266,000 each year. If 85 percent of that class is participating in the workforce (current Kansas rate) for an average of 40 years, that results in lifetime increased earnings of over $9 million for each class, compared to the $3.25 million invested in that class ($250,000 for each of 13 years).
In other words, estimated lifetime higher earnings for students who graduate high school and reach various levels of postsecondary education is almost three times the cost of K-12 education.