New School Funding Formula is Bad for Students and Citizens

Dave TrabertEducation

The new school funding formula on its way to the Governor’s desk could have been a lot worse if the education lobby got all it wanted, but it’s still bad legislation for students and citizens.  The funding is much higher than necessary, causing citizens to be excessively taxed, and most important, schools are not held accountable for improving outcomes.

The Kansas Supreme Court says adequacy of funding “…is met when the public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12—through structure and implementation—is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed…” the Rose standards.  The funding in this bill is not based on any such calculation; like the old formula, it merely contains numbers arbitrarily selected.

There was an attempt to calculate base aid but the formula contains a math error; instead of using a weighted average spending per-pupil for the academically-successful districts, they used a simple average of averages.  Unbelievably, legislators declined to fix the mistake and instead chose to foist hundreds of millions of unnecessary income and property taxes on citizens.  The base error alone will cost $58 million next year and $140 million per year thereafter, plus additional taxes each year for Local Option Budgets, equalization funding and higher KPERS premiums.

The new formula also fails to hold schools accountable for improving outcomes and closing enormous achievement gaps for low income kids.  There is some language that says funding for academically At Risk students must be spent on programs identified and approved the Kansas State Board of Education as “evidence based best practices” but with history as our guide, that’s simply well-intended window dressing.  The old formula didn’t require that At Risk funding to be used for the exclusive, direct benefit of those students so most of it was spent for other purposes.  KPI scholar David Dorsey’s “At-Risk Funding: Increased Money Fails to Increase Achievement” provides a thorough review of school districts’ At Risk efforts.

We can count on the State Board of Education to endorse those other purposes used in prior years even though achievement gaps grew worse as funding increased.   The time it would take to close achievement gaps at the current 10-year pace used to be measured in decades; now it’s measured in centuries.

  • Low income students are two to three years’ worth of learning behind their more affluent peers.
  • Less than a quarter of low income Kansas students are Proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • Only 11 percent of low income 10th graders are on track to be college or career ready on the state Math assessment.

The inclusion of periodic audits of At Risk programs is another feel-good but toothless effort.  Legislative audits have no enforcement power, so their findings will be routinely ignored or explained away as has been the case with efficiency audits.

The new formula is simply another bag of money with no strings attached, and that’s bad for students and citizens.

A version of this column ran in the Wichita Eagle

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