Expert reviews previous legislative education cost studies

A researcher hired to review two previous Kansas educational cost studies found strengths and weaknesses in both reports but did not suggest those studies were without value. Both studies have been accepted as valid evidence by the Kansas courts in the Gannon school finance case. 

Dr. Jesse Levin of the American Institute for Research discussed his “peer review” with the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance on Wednesday. Levin has also been contracted to review a new cost study commissioned by the Legislature being conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University and Jason Willis of WestEd. That report is due at the end of next week. 

Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that Kansas school funding is unconstitutionally inadequate, based on Kansas student outcomes, cost studies and trial testimony from both school funding experts and Kansas educators. The Supreme Court said that decision placed the burden on the Legislature to show it has made changes to correct the deficiencies it identified. 

The 2017 Legislature passed SB 19, which increased school district operating aid by approximately $300 million over two years. The Supreme Court ruled in October the state had not demonstrated the additional money was enough to remedy the issues, especially since that amount was substantially short of other evidence. However, the court did not give the Legislature a specific amount to reach. 

In December, Legislative leaders approved contracts with Taylor to conduct a new “cost function” study, and with Levin to conduct a peer review of both the new study and the prior studies: one completed by Augenblick and Myers in 2002 and another by the Kansas Division of Legislative Post Audit in 2006. The 2006 Legislature at least partially implemented many aspects of the LPA study, which resulted in the Supreme Court dismissing the Montoy school finance that year because the Legislature had substantially complied. 

Levin was critical of some aspects of both prior studies, but also found other aspects to praise, particularly the LPA study. “My general impression of the LPA study is that it is an impressive piece of work that represents an immense undertaking. Furthermore, the methodology and application seemed to be carefully thought out and implemented very well. Finally, the large volume of work was documented extensively by the authors and laid out in a fairly organized manner.” 

Levin’s major criticism of the LPA study was that its “input-oriented approach” was really an expenditure rather than a cost analysis, because it did not take into account either student outcomes or needs. Furthermore, Levin seemed to suggest that some of the LPA methods may have understated costs. 

He did agree that much has changed in the 10 to 15 years since the previous studies, suggesting that studies should be continuously updated, which could add credence to the new study.  

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