KASB Statement on Funding for At-Risk Programs

KASB Statement on Funding for At-Risk Programs

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate
Committee on Education
is scheduled to hear testimony on SB 103 –
Definition of At-Risk Pupil.  
The bill would change the way school districts receive funding for at-risk student programs.  Currently, funding is based on the number of students in the district eligible for free meals.  The districts use those funds to provide services to students who demonstrate a need for additional help, regardless of whether or not they quality for free lunch.
SB 103 would change the criteria for students in grades four and above to the number of students who score below proficient on state reading and math tests.
The following is KASB’s prepared testimony on the bill:
Thank
you for the opportunity to testify on SB
103
.  This past December, the
Delegate Assembly of the Kansas Association of School Boards overwhelmingly
adopted plan called “First in Education, the Kansas Way,” with the goal of
making Kansas the top state the nation for college and career-ready
students.  One of the specific priorities
in that plan is to maintain the current system of using free lunch as the
primary factor in determining the level of funding for services to at-risk
students.  We also believe other factors
should be used to supplement this factor, which means we support the current
non-proficient weighting.  We believe
that maintaining the “Kansas Way” of serving at-risk students is one of the
keys to moving Kansas from number seven to number one in achievement.  Therefore, we oppose SB 103.  Please consider the
following reasons why.
Use of free lunch
eligibility is an appropriate indicator of at-risk students
There
is overwhelming evidence that economic disadvantage is negatively correlated
with academic achievement.  Low income
students (usually measured by free and reduced price meal eligibility) have
lower test scores and graduation rates than their middle and higher income
peers.  This is true on state assessments
for public school students; on state assessments for participating private
schools in Kansas, on the National Assessment of Education Progress for states
and private schools, and other state and nation reports for educational
attainment, such as graduation and drop-out rates.
There
are numerous reasons for this fact, but perhaps the most important is that
education levels are strongly associated with income.  Low income students are more likely to have
parents with relatively less education, which means they are less able to
provide academic help at home and less able to provide a stable environment
that meets basic needs.  There are, of
course, many examples of low income students who thrive academically and higher
income students who struggle.  The
current at-risk weighting system uses the number of free lunch students to
determine the amount of money a district receives to provide at-risk
services.  The district then determines
which actual students will receive services, and at what level.
The current system is
working effectively meet the needs of at-risk students.
Because
the school system cannot compensate for all of the factors that negatively
influence a child’s academic performance, an achievement gap for low income
students will probably always exist to some degree.  Fortunately, schools under our current system
have made progress in helping these students succeed.  State assessment data shows that Kansas has
begun to narrow the gap between low-income students and their peers, despite a
significant increase in the percentage of Kansas students qualifying for free
lunch.
In
additional, Kansas is one of the highest achieving states in the nation,
despite a higher percentage of low income students than 29 other states, and
spending less per pupil than 26 other states. 
Kansas ranks especially high in performance of low income students.  On the 2011 National Assessment of Education
Progress, only six states had higher average fourth and eighth grade reading
and math scores than Kansas, and all six spent more pupil than Kansas and had
much higher percentages of low income students to serve with those dollars.
State
Percent of Low Income
Students At Basic or Above (2011)
Percent of Low Income
Students at Proficient or Above (2011)
Current Spending Per Pupil,
2010
Percent of Students
Eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch
Massachusetts
72.8%
28.7%
$14,350
32.9%
New Hampshire
70.4%
28.6%
$12,383
23.5%
Vermont
70.5%
28.6%
$15,274
34.6%
Montana
72.1%
28.7%
$10,497
40.0%
North Dakota
70.9%
24.8%
$10,991
33.8%
Wyoming
71.3%
26.8%
$15,169
35.2%
Kansas
69.8%
25.5%
$9,715
45.7%
In
fact, as we have previously presented to the committee, Kansas ranks seventh
overall on four separate measures of educational attainment.  The highest achieving state with a higher
percentage of free lunch students than Kansas is Illinois, which ranks 18th
in achievement and spends almost $2,000 more per pupil than Kansas.  No other state with as many lower income
students does as well as Kansas, especially for the amount of resources
provided.  Quite simply, the Kansas
system is working effectively and should not be changed unless there is clearly
a better system.
SB 103 would
create serious problems for the state, school districts and students.
Because
SB 103 would shift the basis of
at-risk funding at grade four and above from free lunch eligibility to students
who are not proficient on state reading and math tests, those districts which
have had the most success with low income students would lose
the most money
.  Last year, it
was estimated that this concept would reduce at-risk funding by over $100
million.
That
reduction would not occur generally across the school system, but would be
taken from at-risk programs which are required to be targeted to at-risk
students, regardless of whether the students are low income or not.  In other words, this bill would reduce
funding for all at-risk students.
 Because
this bill would significantly reduce funding for programs specifically designed
to help students reach proficiency, we believe the most likely outcome would be
more students failing to reach proficiency. 
In that case, the Governor and Legislature would have to increase
at-risk funding, quite possibly back to the same levels as before.  Unless the legislature has set aside the
“savings” initially achieved by this bill, new money for at-risk funding would
have to come from cuts to other education programs, such as base state aid,
other areas of state spending, or tax increases.
 Students
are often at-risk because of long-term individual, family or social
problems.  These problems cannot be fixed
with one-time intervention.  The current
system gives districts a relatively stable source of revenue to help at-risk
students before they take state assessments, and continue to provide support to
maintain proficiency.  Under this bill,
districts would not receive funding for most students until after they fail the
test, and would lose funding once the student passes the test – at least until
they next time they fail, when they would again have qualify for funding.
 Finally,
remember it is the students who will bear the real impact of this bill: larger
classes, loss of special services and less additional time for learning.  We urge the committee to maintain support for
a program that is working.