A closer look at per-pupil spending and student achievement lowers Kansas rank

When comparing 2019 NAEP composite scale scores and per-pupil expenditures among the 50 states, Kansas ranks 27th in both categories. However, when applying a cost-of-living factor to per-pupil spending, a much different picture emerges – Kansas is spending more than most states and achieving less on what KSDE considers the “gold standard” of educational assessments.  A KPI examination comparing adjusted per-pupil spending with 2019 NAEP scores was conducted by Benjamin Scafidi, Professor of Economics and Director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University. Scafidi utilized census education spending data from 2017 (the latest available) and applied an adjusted cost-of-living formula developed by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC).

Table 1 shows that when adjusting per-pupil spending for cost of living, Kansas jumps 10 positions from 27th to 17th in the nation. This means that Kansas SPENDS MORE than 33 states when adjusting for cost of living.  (Note: Kansas could now be in the top ten given that KSDE estimates 2020 spending to have increased by nearly $2,000 per pupil since 2017.)

Table 2 ranks the states in 2019 NAEP average composite scale scores. When looking only at those scores, Kansas ranks 27th in the nation with an average composite of 251.1, below the national average of 252.3. However, when calculating a COL-adjusted per-student cost per NAEP scale score point, Kansas drops to 34th, as shown in Table 3. In other words, Kansas spends $59 for every NAEP scale score point, which is also more than 33 other states. Regarding this cost-per-point perspective, Scafidi says, “this analysis is an approximation of the productivity of the public school system in each state.”

Other highlights of the research include:

-> Regarding state and local combined per-pupil funding as opposed to spending, Kansas is 12th highest in the nation adjusted for cost of living.

       -> State funding per-pupil is the 9th highest in the nation adjusted for cost of living.

-> Massachusetts has the highest NAEP composite, but ranks 18th in per-pupil spending, even lower than Kansas.

-> At the opposite end of the scale, Alaska is last in NAEP composite, but 15th in adjusted per-pupil spending.

-> The starkest example of the disconnect between spending and outcomes is comparing Idaho and Wyoming. Idaho is 49th in COL adjusted per-pupil spending ($8,682) yet Idahoan students have the same NAEP composite as neighboring Wyoming, which has the highest COL adjusted per-pupil spending ($20,211) in the nation.

-> As shown in Table 4, COL-adjusted education spending varies widely among states to achieve similar student outcomes (Note: Table 4 is both 2017 spending and 2017 NAEP).

There are three main takeaways from this research. The first is that using an apples-to-apples comparison of per-pupil spending, Kansas outspends two-thirds of the rest of the states. The second is that Kansas performs in the bottom half of the states in student achievement, and the bottom third when considering a per-dollar performance.  Finally, once again KPI shows that when looking at the 50 states’ spending patterns and student performance, there is little relationship between the two.