KASB Funding Proposal Ignores Legal Test of Adequacy

David DorseyEducation

The Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) provided written testimony to the House K-12 Education Budget Committee as the committee held hearings on HB 2410, a would-be new K-12 education funding law. They included a funding proposal to increase K-12 dollars by a whopping $778.7 million per year and tried to justify their wish by tying it to the Supreme Court’s most recent Gannon opinion, claiming: The following are examples of how additional funding would be used to maintain success for the 75 percent of students the Supreme Court found achieving at an acceptable level; improve success for the 25 percent of students not meeting standards, and improve postsecondary success for all students.

That sounds nice but true to form, KASB offers no data-driven rationale for their Christmas wish list as required by the Supreme Court.  The Court says adequacy is met when funding is reasonably calculated so that students can achieve the Rose standards.  KASB (and many legislators) want to change the definition to “wouldn’t it be nice if” because they have to know that “reasonably calculated so that students can achieve the Rose standards” won’t produce the windfall they want.  The base calculation of student aid in HB 2410 and another methodology proposed by Rep. Ron Highland in HB 2347 both showed that schools don’t need hundreds of millions more to meet the Court’s new test of adequacy.

KASB’s desire to use 2009 as a starting point for pay increases and staffing levels is baseless.  The rationale for 2009 funding levels was an old cost study that the Court said is “more akin to estimates than certainties” after learning that the authors deliberately deviated from their methodology to produce inflated numbers. The data in the table below also clearly refute their contention that adding staff and spending more money magically produces better results.

For example, teacher employment has kept pace with enrollment since 2005 but the growth in managers and other non-teachers has grown much faster.

Total funding increased by $1.7 billion and per-pupil funding grew by 34 percent while inflation was just 22 percent.  Student achievement, meanwhile, was relatively unchanged and remains stubbornly low for minorities and low income students.

It’s especially noteworthy that At Risk funding specifically provided to close achievement gaps jumped by 706 percent.  Unfortunately, achievement gaps on NAEP and ACT grew worse.  History buffs will remember that that particular funding increase came from the 2005 Montoy court intervention in school funding.  Now schools and many legislators want to prove Einstein’s definition of insanity by doing the same thing again – and predicting a different result.

Spending money appropriately can make a difference but the Legislature forgot to require that schools spend the new money for the direct, exclusive benefit of under-achieving students – so schools spent much of it for other purposes.  Without strict accountability measures built into the formula, spending more money won’t help students.  And there’s the rub: KASB claims that this amount would satisfy the Court’s 75/25 position, but there’s no assurance the money would be spent by the districts consistent with the KASB proposal. Here’s why. KASB supports a return to the “old formula” that was the funding mechanism prior to the block grants. In order to deliver an additional $778.7 million to the districts as described in the table, the first six categories in the table – money for pay raises and additional staff – would be funded by an increase in base state aid per pupil (a little over $900 in this case). The last three categories, which appear to be directed to at-risk students would trigger an at-risk weighting nearly double that under the previous formula.

Once the districts get that money, they would not be required to spend it on the proposed line-items given the spending latitude districts enjoy, and KASB knows it. What about those districts that have lost enrollment and don’t need more teachers? What about rural districts that can’t find teachers in high demand/low supply subjects like STEM and special education? What if they choose not to have a pre-K program? What if they don’t feel the need for counselors or social workers? They could even choose NOT to spend the money and increase cash reserves, and save it for something like a new track for their athletic program, like the school board did when I was teaching in Garnett.

Or maybe I’m missing an important point. Is KASB suggesting a new relationship between the Legislature and the school districts in terms of HOW money is spent? Would KASB support a new finance law that included Legislative oversight to assure accountability on the part of school districts? Would they agree to have schools return money to the state if, for example, they didn’t hire new teachers, social workers, or counselors? And I’m guessing KASB wouldn’t be in favor of the Legislature setting pay raises for teachers across the state.

Putting aside for a moment that this is an amount of money even a compliant Legislature cannot fund, this is a clear example of wanting it both ways. Putting this spending proposal forth is KASB’s way to make the Legislature believe it will satisfy the Court, knowing full well that once the schools get the money, they will do with it as they please.

Citizens certainly want accountability for efficiency and improved outcomes built into the new formula but school boards, unions and many legislators strongly oppose those accountability measures.  They just want a lot more money, even if it doesn’t meet the Court’s test of adequacy. This proposal should not get serious consideration because it’s nothing more than an old-fashioned cash grab.

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