••• Education •••

More court-ordered money to schools wouldn’t make them any more accountable

KASB asks the question: “What would Kansas schools do with more money?” Despite the fact that this is a question that could be asked every school year, since K-12 funding keeps increasing annually, the query is a reference to the pending Kansas Supreme Court decision in the Gannon case.

And why not speculate? Given the track record of all the courts in this lawsuit (and all the other suits that have preceded it) reveling in their ability to usurp legislative authority, why would anyone think the Supreme Court will have a collective crisis of conscience and do the right thing this time?

Let’s assume the Supreme Court will order $ __ __ __ million (fill in the blanks) to education, and for now disregard the crippling consequences that this will cause in the Kansas economy and the rest of state government because it will precipitate a massive tax increase and a potential decrease in other state services. (This is what happens when a court wants to play legislature.)

KASB believes that the additional money will “allow” the 286 school districts across the state to fulfill the latest initiative from the Kansas State Board of Education: Kansans Can. Kansans Can is not based on data; on the contrary, it is but a vision that serves as vehicle to justify more inputs into the education system.  There is nothing in the initiative that addresses achievement, other than giving attention to graduation rates as KPI showed here and here.

Several of those Kansans Can inputs are addressed in the KASB report. However, I will limit my response to three.

  • Early Childhood Education (Pre-K). One of the Kansans Can cornerstones is getting more kids to school at an earlier age. Pre-K is something that sounds like such a natural that it’s almost intuitive. Certainly, getting a good education at an early age is important. But the truth is, Pre-K is nothing more than a pig in a poke. Research that was cited in this blog, shows that there is no evidence that Pre-K provides long-term gains to students. Researchers at the Brookings Institute call Pre-K “a bad idea.” And it’s no secret that a half-century of Head Start has failed to make progress among low-income students. Research that has found learning advantages gained from Pre-K, reports that gains disappear by third grade. No amount of money can overcome “a bad idea.”
  • Individual plans of study for career preparation. This is another that falls under the heading of “sounds like a good idea,” but it is actually an intrusive, unnecessarily burdensome, and ultimately ineffective concept. First of all, this is not to be confused with individualized education, which KPI stands behind and is a pillar of school choice. The individualized plan concept is a top-down approach, administered by school counselors. In this blog I addressed this idea, pointing out the weaknesses of an effort that would require all students to have a post-secondary plan. This comes with many unanswered concerns, including: parental role in the process, monitoring and implementation, what happens when plans change, will schools “direct” students or “push” students into something they don’t want, how to track students after high school, among others. Ultimately, individual plans would be an administratively bloated bureaucratic nightmare.
  • Teacher salaries and learning time. The one nail KASB hits on the head is the idea that the money will go to teacher salaries and benefits. It’s a safe bet that that’s where most of the money will go because once the court super-sizes K-12 funding, the teachers’ unions will be at the ready, making sure it will get directed to their members. This is exactly what happened after the Montoy decision a decade ago. We teachers were given sizable raises and more employees were hired, but the money was not targeted to improve student outcomes.

Effective teachers should be treated like real professionals and paid for performance, but simply plugging any additional money into a pre-existing salary matrix will fail to recognize the differences among teachers. There is no data that says putting more money into a one-size-fits-none salary scale produces better outcomes.  Retaining and rewarding effective teachers could make a difference, but school boards and unions are perpetually opposed to a pay-by-ability approach.

The heart of the counter argument to the KASB report is that schools already have the money that allows them to address the Kansans Can vision. More money is not going to change that. School districts are given a wide berth when it comes to spending given the absence of state direction or mandate. And keep in mind any additional court-ordered money will also come with no strings attached, since Kansas has no mechanism for requiring schools to be accountable for what they spend. Spending decisions are made at the local level, not the state level.

Any money the Supreme Court orders will provide nothing other than more of the same. It would be a redux of the post-Montoy decision in which the bulk of the extra money ordered to education ended up in the pockets of people – people who were already there. (I know because I was teaching at the time.) The money the Supreme Court ordered pursuant to Montoy was supposed to improve student outcomes, especially those deemed at-risk. It is evident from this graph that it didn’t’ work.

at-risk-funding-and-naep-scoresEven though, according to the KASB report,  local school boards “across the state“ will make Kansans Can the priority for additional funding, when given the money the schools will revert back to what they’ve always done: give more to the teachers and administrators at the expense of improving student outcomes.

Instead of fantasizing about what Kansas schools would do with hundreds of millions more, Kansas school boards should be held accountable for wasting a good deal of the money they already are given by taxpayers.  The Kansas Association of School Boards is hoping that the Kansas Supreme Court will ignore their own test on adequacy and appropriate up to $1 billion more for schools, but simply spending more money won’t do much for students.  Kansas already tried that once but still has large achievement gaps for low income kids and the majority of the more affluent students need remedial training.