The Kansas at-risk program, which spent $3.6 billion over the past 23 years, failed its mission to improve the performance of the very students it was designed to serve. Achievement gaps in academic performance (in this case the difference between low-income and not-low-income students) are universal, significant and persistent despite the incredible growth in funding, in particular the increases since 2005.
That and other findings and recommendations are in Kansas Policy Institute’s just released research report At-Risk Funding: Increased Money Fails to Increase Achievement. The at-risk program is chronicled from its small beginning in the 1990s to one that grew to spend nearly $400 million annually.
Four basic reasons the program failed in its mission are: dollars were not targeted exclusively to at-risk students, some funds were actually targeted directly to non-at-risk students, school districts were not held accountable, and scant information about the at-risk program was made available to the legislature and the public.
Despite the shortcomings, an at-risk component should be included in the new education finance law, with these fundamental changes: at-risk students must be clearly identified and dollars targeted directly to them, the method of funding the program should be changed, and school districts must be held accountable to the public.
It is important to note that there is no recommendation for reducing the amount of funding for at-risk students, but a call for a more effective use of the dollars.
Eric Hanushek, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University and education policy authority, made these concurring remarks:
This report on at-risk funding in Kansas accurately identifies what is a national problem. While we directly fund a number of programs to improve the education of at-risk students, we never follow-up to see that the money is used effectively. If we are going to solve this problem of achievement gaps, we need to fund programs to support at-risk students but to hold schools accountable for results.
As the Kansas legislature crafts a new K-12 finance law, it is the perfect opportunity to overhaul the approach in addressing inequities in achievement based on economic status. It’s time to put all Kansas students first.