KMBC-TV perpetuates false school funding claim

Dave TrabertEducation

It’s bad enough when media’s rush to sensationalism gets them snookered into reporting false information, but they become accomplices when they willingly ignore data that undermines their initial report.  The most recent example comes from KMBC-TV in Kansas City, which aired a live phone interview with Kansas City, KS school superintendent Cynthia Lane last Wednesday, getting her thoughts on the Supreme Court school funding hearing.

KMBC may not have known that Dr. Lane is a charter member of the pants-on-fire club but they could have prevented her false claims had they allowed someone with an alternate view to participate.  I wrote to news management that morning (the full text of my email is shown below) offering to set the record straight but they declined.  Nine news people read the email but none responded.  Two messages left for the news director were not returned.  I finally got another news manager on the phone Friday who said they would take the information into account for future stories.  That’s the polite brush off which means they won’t let viewers know that they screwed up.

Media bias and sloppy journalism runs rampant and if anything, it’s getting worse.  So this January, there will be a new online media venture that will hold media and government accountable, led by two experienced journalists. Every day will bring new examples of bias, false claims and misleading information.  We’re introducing the journalism Dream Team this Saturday, October 1 at KPI’s 20th Anniversary Gala in Wichita.

Now here is the fact-sourced email ignored by KMBC:

kmbc-emailYour news team probably had no idea that Dr. Cynthia Lane made false and misleading statements in this story today, but I would appreciate an opportunity to set the record straight while here claims are fresh in your viewers’ minds.

Funding is not at 1998 levels as she claimed.  Per-pupil funding was $6,975 in 1998 and now is over $13,000.  Funding for her district is even higher.  She also blamed funding for their decision to limit tutoring and expand class sizes but the truth is that those are choices made by her and her school board.  For example…

  • They could choose to spend some of the $35 million in unspent aid from prior years (the difference between All Other cash reserves in 2005 and 2015)
  • With a 7% increase in enrollment between 2005 and 2015, they chose to hire 19% more managers and 34% more other non-teachers.  They hired 14% more classroom teachers and drove down the student/teacher ratio, so if they have larger class sizes with a smaller student/teacher ratio, they have a management problem.
  • They choose to pay well above market for maintenance and other positions (according to a Legislative Post Audit report); see here for recent examples from our Open Records request of their 2016 school year payroll.

Cynthia Lane’s torture of the truth is legendary.  Ask Senator Ty Masterson how she told the Senate Ways & Means committee that her funding had been cut…and then it was proven that her funding had been increased.  This piece I wrote last year documents multiple false and misleading claims she made.  She even testified under oath that funding is responsible for low achievement after blaming achievement on low state performance standards in her own blog!

Your staff likely had no knowledge of her deception but now that you are aware, when can we do an interview to set the record straight?

I look forward to your prompt reply.

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