The Kansas State Board of Education, Gov. Laura Kelly, and the Kansas Senate have all agreed on a plan adding $90 million a year for four years to the school finance package passed last session as an “inflation adjustment” to resolve the Gannon school finance case.
So far, the Kansas House of Representatives has resisted, with some Republican leaders saying that in the past, the Legislature has added more funding to K-12 education without seeing any better results. They say they’re skeptical that more money will make a difference and that the Legislature should place more strings on funding, implying local school leaders can’t spend the money wisely.
Let’s look at some facts.
From 1990 to 2009, Kansas education funding did rise more than inflation. Over that time, Kansas showed improved education outcomes. However, total funding declines from 2009 to 2017 compared to inflation.
As funding surpassed inflation from 1990 to 2009, then dropped below inflation, how did educational outcomes change over that time?
Since 1990 adult educational attainment has improved. High school completion for Kansas 25 and older increased from just over 80 percent to over 90 percent, and improved for each major ethnic minority group.
Four-year degree completion rose from about one in five Kansans to one in three. All major racial/ethnic groups in the state have been improving although significant differences remain.
The youngest age group reported by the U.S. Census, 18-24-year-olds, has also improved, with data back to 2005. The number of these Kansans most recently leaving the school system increased by over 30,000 from 2005 to 2017, but the number who haven’t finished high school dropped; the number of a high school diploma only remained about the same, and the number with any postsecondary experience, including a one or two year credential, and those with a four-year degree increased by almost 35,000.
Improving Kansas education levels have a direct economic impact because employees with higher credentials earn more. A higher percentage of Kansas with college degrees in 2017 means higher incomes than would have been if education levels were unchanged from 1990.
Short term education measures like test scores have also improved since the previous decade, but many have slowed or declined as funding fell behind inflation from 2009 to 2017.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), a higher percentage of Kansas students scored at the basic level and proficient level in 2017 than in 2003; but both are below their peak in 2009 and 2011. If improving had continued at the same rate as 2003 to 2009, 88 percent of students would be at basic level and over 41 percent at proficient – among the top states in the nation.
Looking at the adjusted cohort graduation rate – the percentage of students who graduate from high school “on time” in four years – Kansas improved from 81 percent in 2011 to nearly 88 percent in 2018, but improvement slowed in the mid-2010’s, while the rest of the nation was improving faster. (Other states were also increasing funding more than Kansas.) In the past two years, Kansas rates have begun rising again, to all-time highs. Kansas graduation rates for low income students also improved, but slowed from 2002 to 2016 and the national average rose faster to match Kansas.
Twenty-nine percent of Kansas students who took the ACT test and scored at college-ready on all four subjects. That’s higher than when ACT began measuring college-readiness in each subject in 2006, but down from 32 percent in 2015 when the percentage began to drop. It stayed level this year. Kansas continues to lead the national average. Once again, performance did not drop immediately after funding cuts began in 2009, but eventually began to fall.
As a share of Kansas taxpayer income, K-12 is lower than in the past.
Although Kansas education funding rose faster than inflation from 1990 to 2009 and has begun increasing the past two years, total funding for K-12 education are a smaller share of Kansas income than most of the years in the 1990 and 2000’s. In other words, Kansans aren’t paying a higher share of income for higher results; they are actually contributing a lower share.
To sum up:
- Kansas K-12 funding has grown more than inflation over time, but has fallen since 2009. Although the Legislature provided “real” (more than inflation) increases for 2017-18 and 2018-19, total funding is still below 2009 levels, and district budgets without capital expenditures, debt service and Kansas Public Employees Retirement System contributions are even farther below.
- Kansas educational levels have also increased, reaching all time highs and increasing incomes.
- National tests of basic and proficient skills, graduation rates and college readiness are all higher than their baseline.
- However, each of those measures slowed or declined in recent years as funding fell behind inflation, although the impact took several years. Educators say this is because educational improvement is cumulative. What students gain isn’t lost immediately, but if educational supports are reduced, it eventually has an impact on learning.
- It’s reasonable to assume that higher education funding will promote higher results.
There are reasons we know funding levels make a difference in K-12 outcomes in addition to these historical results.
First, more funding provides more ways to help students who are not reaching educational standards, such as early childhood, special education, extra time and assistance for at-risk students. Much of the new funding over past decades has gone to these programs.
Second, more funding allows districts to hire more staff to provide these services, keep average class size relatively low, and provide individual student attention. Simply put, there are more adults to both teach and support students.
Third, more funding allows competitive salaries to attract and keep high quality employees and invest in professional development programs to improve performance. Kansas teacher salaries fell behind inflation every year between 2009 and 2018, before rising in 2018 and 2019. An example of professional development is a House committee proposal to fund a program to help teachers better identity and address students with dyslexia.
Fourth, more funding supports services to keep students safe and healthy. This includes more student transportation, improving school security, and school-based mental health services.
Fifth, three previous education cost studies commissioned and funded by the Kansas Legislature have found a positive relationship between funding and outcomes.
Finally, there are many examples of successful programs that show positive results but cost more money. This year, the Legislature has been focusing on the Jobs for America’s Graduates program in Kansas (JAG-K), a program with a strong track record in encouraging students to graduate, but at a cost of over $1,000 per student. It’s a clear example of additional funding making a difference.