••• Education, Education Research •••

Research shows Kansas students left behind despite huge spending increases

A KPI analysis of education spending and student achievement in Kansas over the last 30 years shows that despite huge spending increases, many students have been academically left behind. The study, conducted by Dr. Ben Scafidi, a professor of economics and director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University, compared public school funding and achievement since 1993 to determine whether there was a return on taxpayer investment. According to Scafidi, “(t)he primary finding is that between 2003 and the early 2020s achievement fell despite large inflation-adjusted spending increases.”

In support of this finding, Scafidi presents the following evidence:

  • Between 2003 and 2020, total inflation-adjusted total spending per student in Kansas public schools increased from $11,279 to $14,894, an increase that exceeded the national average and the increases in all neighboring states during this time period.
  • While “current” spending per pupil (which excludes capital and debt service expenditures) increased by 25 percent, adjusted for inflation, for that same period average teacher salaries fell by almost 1 percent, adjusted for inflation.
  • Much of the increase in spending went to school district administration. While the number of Kansas public school students increased by 6 percent, the number of district administrators increased by 23 percent, the number of teachers by 12 percent, and the number of all other public school staff increased by 15 percent.
  • The large increase in spending was not associated with gains in academic achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP is administered by the U.S. Department of Education every two years and is considered the “gold standard” by KSDE. While national averages in math and reading increased during this period, Kansas average scores dropped, now to a level that is below the national average.
  • While Kansas scores dropped, two states that have embraced school choice, Arizona and Florida, witnessed sizable gains.

This evidence is consistent with what KPI has been presenting over the years, that increases in educational funding – mostly court-ordered – have no association to like-increases in student achievement. Scafidi’s research provides the same conclusion utilizing a deeper analysis.

So, what can be done to create an environment that is favorable to increases in student achievement? In a word (two words): school choice. Scafidi recommends Kansas follow the choice models in Arizona and Florida. These models include broadened public charter school opportunities and robust private school options through educational savings accounts (ESA) and expansive scholarship programs for special needs students.