Critics of Kansas public education sometimes claim that too little funding goes directly to teachers and too much to other programs. By cutting non-teaching programs and shifting that money to instruction, some say education could be improved without spending more money.
But national reports (link) show that Kansas already spends less on those programs than other states, including both the top states in student achievement and those most like Kansas.
This data supports the finding of the Legislature’s recent education cost study, conducted this earlier this year. The authors said Kansas schools are among the most efficient in the nation, producing nearly 96% of their potential output, on average. Kansas ranks in the top half of the nation on each of 15 student success indicators and ranks number nine overall, while total funding per pupil is 30th.
Most educators agree that “non-instructional” programs – principals, counselors, nurses, social services, speech pathology and audiology, libraries, food service and transportation, as well as operating school facilities and general administration – also have a big impact on student learning. The most recent data from other states (2016) finds Kansas spending trails other states in these areas.
Here is what Kansas spent on major parts of school operating budgets outside of instruction compared to other states, as reported by National Center for Education Statistics. Kansas funding is compared to the U.S. average, the nine highest achieving states on 15 measures of student success, states bordering Kansas and other Plains states, “peer” states most similar to Kansas in population characteristics, and the 10 states with the lowest student success. (For details of the comparison states, see below.)
General Administration. It is the smallest item in every group. Kansas spent $242 per pupil, $20 more than the national average but lower than the highest achieving states, border/Plains states and peer states, and higher than the bottom performing states. (Note that the lowest spending states spend the least on general administration and the top performing states the most.)
School Administration. Republican candidate for Governor Kris Kobach has criticized some schools as being top heavy with principals, but Kansas spending of $583 per pupil on school building administration is less than any group except border/Plains states (which spent just $8 less). Research indicates that school principals are critical to student success.
Transportation. Kansas spent about $400 per pupil on transportation, less than any comparison group of states, including the U.S. average.
Operations and Maintenance. Kansas spent about $1,000 per pupil to heat, light, cool, clean, maintain, insure and secure school facilities – less than every group except border/Plains states.
Instructional support. This is funding for libraries, media centers, professional development, technology support, and assessment. Kansas spent less than $400 per pupil – much less than any other group.
Pupil support. This area includes counselors, social workers, attendance staff, health and other programs for students needing help outside of instruction. Kansas spent $519 per pupil, about the same as border/Plains states, less than every other group – and only about half what the most successful states provide.
Food service and all other. In addition to funding for student meals, this includes “central office” functions like bookkeeping, payroll and human resources. Kansas spent $579 per pupil, between $100 and $200 less than every comparison group.
Total. Kansas spent a total of just under $3,900 on these “non-instructional” programs, about $350 less than the nearest group (border/Plains states), $700 less than the national average and almost $2,000 less than the highest achieving states.
Impact of reducing non-instructional support
This data indicates that cutting non-instructional programs, which are already funded lower than most states, would not increase efficiency but reduce services. Among the consequences:
- Closing school building to reduce operations, maintenance.
- Reducing student services like counseling and health, which are not “academics” but critical to improving preparation for postsecondary education and addressing issues like suicide.
- Cutting school administration, which reduces teacher supervision and feedback and resources to address discipline, bullying and other student issues.
- Cutting professional development (continuing education) for educators, making it more difficult to redesign schools for improved student success and improve teaching.
- Eliminating transportation for students where not required but provided for safety and attendance.
- Consolidating school districts (which saves little funding because it is already the lowest area of expenditures). Closing small, rural districts reduces connections to local communities. Larger school districts actually begin to have higher costs as enrollment increases, according the Legislative study.
Comparison state definitions
The U.S. is the national average.
Top achieving states are nine states with higher overall achievement than Kansas on 15 measures of student success: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont.
The Plains states are North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, with the border states of Colorado and Oklahoma included.
Overall peers are states most like similar to Kansas in student demographics, adult population characteristics and geographic population distribution: Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Bottom achieving states are the ten lowest-ranked state on 15 measures of student success: Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Oregon.