The Kansas Association of School Boards claims lagging tax revenues have led to “declining investment in school funding,” which is a euphemism for “we’re not getting all the money we want.” That’s the theme of the next installment of their 3-part essay, a trilogy that sets out to make the case for a tax increase in order to funnel more to public education funding.
The “evidence” they provide to support this idea could be best described as data overload. Sixteen of the 18 paragraphs burst with a variety of government tax and spend financial numbers that are meant to justify their position – percentage increases since the 1970s, inflation adjusted numbers, changes in per-pupil percentages, gaps in tax receipts, state revenue expenditures, revenue projections, and on and on and on…
All are meant to overwhelm the reader with figures to generate a “they must be right, just look at all those numbers!” response. Aside from their error-prone use of personal income data that was exposed by Dave Trabert in part one of KPI’s response, it’s not just that some of their data is wrong, it’s worse than that. It’s presented to support the flawed assumption that a causal relationship exists between money and student performance. The report’s author, Mark Tallman, states that since the recession “indicators of student success – test scores, graduation rates, preparation for and participation in postsecondary education – have slipped for Kansas students.” Although he doesn’t specifically state it, the fallacious implication is clear, the reason for the dip is reduced funding – Exhibit A in the causal relationship between money and outcomes myth. However, KPI has shown over and over that not only is there a lack of causation between money and student performance, there is scant evidence of the two even being correlated. Even KASB has gone on record to admit they cannot show a causal relationship, but innuendo persists.
The statement regarding the dip in student performance is somewhat puzzling coming from KASB, because they recently published a report declaring Kansas as having the 10th best public education system in the country. It seems they want to have it both ways – simultaneously telling the world what a great education system Kansas has, but more money is still needed because they’ve been cut to the bone!
But KASB is careful to frame the reduction in funding in recent years in terms of inflation. They begrudgingly admit that per-pupil spending has increased, but they downplay that fact by whittling their argument to the narrow postulate that money for general operating expenses has not kept pace with increased costs. However, they fail to mention that if schools are indeed spending less than inflation for operating expenses, it is because they have chosen to do so. The proof is found in the increase in carry-over cash balances – money that could have been used to pay teacher salaries or fund special education, among many other possibilities, but instead they chose to sock it away. What KASB and the districts would rather you not know is that one in every six dollars funded for operating expenditures is “spent” by putting it in the bank. How can you complain about not having enough money to operate when you keep putting more away in savings? Statewide, that figure broke the $900 million mark in 2016, up nearly 7% from 2015 and 29% from 2009, a year KASB likes to use as a baseline.
Ultimately, this KASB report is nothing more than 1) a dog whistle to whip up support from its member organizations and 2) a foundation from which to convince the state legislature and the governor to increase taxes to get more money to KASB’s members.
KPI’s next and final response will provide a different perspective of KASB’s data in terms of record education spending, personal income and misuse of historical financial information.