A frequent question as the Legislature debates school finance is this: Will increased funding result in better student outcomes?
The experience of the past 28 years has shown educational outcomes generally rose with higher funding and eventually declined or slowed when funding fell behind inflation. It’s reasonable that increased funding provided by the Legislature in response to the Gannon school finance lawsuit will result in further increases in educational outcomes – which is the basis of the Gannon decision.
The following includes data KASB presented to the House K-12 Education Budget Committee on March 19.
Kansas school funding has increased more than inflation in the long term but fell behind inflation between 2009 and 2017.
From 1990 to 2009, total and per pupil funding increased from about $2 billion to $5.7 billion and almost $6.5 billion in 2018. However, adjusted to 2009 dollars, total funding was about $4 billion in 1990, rising to nearly $6.6 billion in 2009 before falling until 2017. With additional funding provided last year, 2018 funding will still be below 2009 levels.
Total funding includes all school district revenues and expenditures; not only general operating funds but building construction and repair, debt payments, KPERS pension contributions, federal aid and food service. Looking only at general operating funds, special education state aid and local option budgets, actual expenditures rose from about $1.7 billion in 1990 to $4.1 billion in 2009 and nearly $4.4 billion in 2018. However, when adjusted to 2018 dollars, these operating funds increased from $3.3 billion in 1990 to $4.8 billion in 2009 before dropping to $4.3 billion in 2017 and rising to $4.4 billion in 2018 after increased state funding.
By the state’s own calculation in the Gannon case, foundation funding in 2017 was about $500 million less than in 2009, after adjusting for inflation. The “five-year plan” adopted by the 2018 Legislature was based on adding $500 million over five years to get back to adequate or suitable levels in 2009. The Kansas Supreme Court accepted that plan, but said the Legislature needs to provide some type of inflation adjustment for the phase-in period. That adjustment is the current focus of the Legislature in SB 142.
A similar pattern is found in per pupil funding. For this chart, KASB uses headcount enrollment, rather than the FTE enrollment used in KSDE school finance reports, because in prior years it did not count students in full day kindergarten programs as full-time students and does not count students in district-funded preschool. As a result, the FTE number understates the number of students actually enrolled and thereby overstates the amount per pupil. (Expenditures divided by a lower number equals a higher number.)
Kansas school funding trends are pretty clear. For at least two decades, school funding usually increased every year in “real” (more than inflation) terms, then declined in “real” terms for eight years, until the Legislature began adding new funding in 2018. What has happened to both long- and short-term education outcomes?
Long Term Adult Educational Attainment (tied to income and employment) has risen
KASB believes the most important educational results are levels of educational attainment. First, are students completing high school? Then are they prepared for and successfully completing postsecondary programs?
As KASB presented in previously, Kansas has improved, and exceeds the national average in these areas. Since 1990, Kansans over 25 with a high school diploma went from 81 percent to 91 percent. Those with any postsecondary education went from less than one-half to almost two-thirds, and those with a four-year degree from one in five to one in three.
Looking only at younger adults, since 2005 the percent of 18-24-year-olds – those just out of the K-12 system – without high school completion dropped from 18 to 11 percent; those with some college or higher increased from 51.9 to 58.9 percent.
Note these increases have occurred as the Kansas student population has become more diverse, more low income and has more students with disabilities – factors which make student success more difficult.
Graduation Rates: Progress after 2010 stalled after several years, increased in 2017 and 2018; low achieving groups improved more
As this data shows, Kansas has clearly improved its overall high school completion to an all-time high.
Shorter term, Kansas and other states have only been using the current “four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate,” which basically is designed to see what percentage of ninth-graders graduate “on time” in four years, since 2010. From 2010 to 2012, following a decade of increased funding and several years of funding cuts, Kansas graduation rates increased over 5 percent, then flattened out until 2017, before ticking up again in 2018 (following increased funding).
Although low income students have a lower graduation rates than all students, their rate has increased more since 2010. In fact, that is true of almost all “lower performing” students, as shown below.
National Assessment of Educational Progress: most assessments showed improvement in 2000’s, then declined and remain below their high point despite some growth in 2017
Kansas Legislative Research Department staff presented data to the House K-12 Education Budget Committee on Kansas. Looking at data from 2000 to 2017, performance generally increased as funding was increasing and for a few years after and generally fell within several years after funding began to fall.
Let’s compare eight measures: fourth and eighth grade tests in both reading and math, with percent of students at basic and percent at proficient on those four tests.
On five of eight measures, the percent in 2017 was higher than in 2000 or 2002, and on six of eight, was higher in 2017 than in 2003. On six of eight measures, the percent proficient reached its highest level between 2007 and 2013. (Inflation-adjusted funding reached its peak in 2009.) On seven of eight measures, the percent proficient was lower in 2017 than its previous high, after funding had been declining since 2009.
Kansas state assessments show a similar pattern, but it is important to understand that the state tests were significantly changed after 2013. From 2007 to 2012, average reading and math scores for all grades rose from around 80 percent to nearly 90 percent, and low-income students from around 70 percent to 80 percent, but dropped noticeably in 2013. Since the new tests were introduced in 2015, average scores have been dropping. (2018 results were also lower but have not yet been added to this graph.)
In other words, test results rose during and after increased funding. After a few years of funding decline, scores also began to decline. We have had a single year of testing since “real” increased funding began.
ACT began reporting on students scoring at college-ready benchmarks in 2006. The percent of Kansas scoring at that level on all four subjects rose from 25 percent in 2006 to a high of 32 percent in 2015, then dropped to 29 percent in 2017 and remained at that level in 2018.
In other words, after significant funding increases from 2005 to 2009, the five following graduating classes improved on the ACT. Performance did not fall immediately after funding cuts (compared to inflation) but did after several years.
Conclusion: Funding matters
As long term education funding increased, long-term education outcomes in Kansas improved to all-time high marks during the past three decades. Shorter term measures, like state and national assessments and ACT rates were also rising during the late 2000’s as real funding peaked in 2009.
Within three years of 2009, state assessments and National Assessment of Educational Progress results were declining. Most of these tests measure students below high school: state assessments in grades three through eight and once in high school; NAEP only in fourth and eight grade. ACT tests, taken by high school juniors and seniors, continued to rise for until 2015, then began to decline. Graduation rates have continued rising since 2009, but growth was minimal between 2012 and 2016.
Correlation does not guarantee causation. Common sense must prevail as well. However, does it make sense that after districts used additional funding to add staff, services, professional development, better technology and improved facilities over two decades, educational results were rising from some other, unidentified reasons; and that after the eight years of reducing staff, services and professional development, performance just happened to fall or falter for some other, unidentified reasons?
History tells us that school districts used additional funding to keep salaries competitive for employees teaching, supporting students and leading schools; to provide more help for students who are struggling; to keep students safe and healthy so they can learn; and to better prepare them for further education after high school. Those are the same goals districts have for additional funding now.