••• Education •••

The reality of school spending and achievement

By Dave Trabert and Mike O’Neal

A recent Wichita Eagle editorial ignored state statute in describing the Legislature’s policy goal that school districts should allocate 65 percent of total spending to Instruction.   The goal is not to be measured against current operating spending as claimed by the Eagle; the statute clearly says “It is the public policy goal of the state of Kansas that at least 65% of the moneys appropriated, distributed or otherwise provided by the state to school districts shall be expended in the classroom or for instruction.”

Also, the Kansas Association of School Boards and school districts have consistently said the definition of Instruction should be expanded to include other spending; they want to change the numerator but they have not said that legislative intent for the denominator was inaccurately reflected in statute.

The larger issue, however, is that the Legislature set an aspirational goal to get a larger share of resources where students would benefit the most.  Schools allocated 54 percent of spending to Instruction in 2005 and the Legislature encouraged them to use their court-ordered windfall to put a much larger portion toward the long-standing KSDE definition of Instruction spending.

Instead, local school boards maintained the same basic allocations (on average).  Ten years later and nearly $2 billion more in education funding, school boards only allocate 55 percent to Instruction.

It is sadly ironic that efforts to get more resources into Instruction are criticized, while school boards ignore the fact that education levels remain unacceptably low despite a $2 billion increase over the last ten years.

?  Only 32 percent were considered college-ready in English, Reading, Math and Science on the 2015 ACT exam.

?  27 percent of students who attend college in Kansas sign up for remedial training.

?  Low income 8th graders are 2½ years’ worth of learning behind other students in Reading; at the current pace, it will take 240 years for them to reach the 48 percent Proficiency level of everyone else.

Nothing works better than having effective teachers, yet over the last ten years, local boards increased non-teacher employment at twice the rate of classroom teachers (10 percent vs. 5 percent) while enrollment increased just 4 percent.

With 286 school districts, there are 286 separate systems for accounting, payroll, purchasing, IT, transportation, food service and so on.  Kansans overwhelming support providing such services through a few regional service centers and putting the savings into Instruction, but unions and school boards are vehemently opposed.  Regardless of how they rationalize their opposition, it is a conscious decision to divert money from classrooms.

Simply pouring more money into the system that for whatever reason produced these outcomes is like putting more expensive gasoline into a poorly-running engine.  We need to fix the engine, and that should be done without trying to assess blame.  Everyone is responsible for finding solutions that will give every student the opportunity for a good education and the chance to experience the American dream.

We need to put students first.

Read a version of this commentary in the Wichita Eagle here.