The Gannon Decision: Funding and Student Achievement

The Gannon Decision: Funding and Student Achievement

At some point in the next few weeks or months, a three-judge panel is expected to rule on the “adequacy” of Kansas school funding. It is worth reviewing the standards the Kansas Supreme Court established for that decision, and what it might mean. There is strong evidence reaching the standards for adequacy set by the court will require additional funding.

A March 12 memo on the Gannon case prepared by the Legislature’s own legal staff, in the Office of Revisor of Statutes, reads in part:

….[T]he Court reaffirmed its prior decision that Article 6 of the Constitution of the State of Kansas (Article 6) contains an adequacy component with respect to determining whether the Legislature has met its constitutional obligation to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” The “adequacy component is met when the public education financing system provided by the legislature for grades K-12-through structure and implementation-is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards set out in Rose [v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186 (Ky. 1989)] and presently codified in K.S.A. 2013 Supp. 72-1127.” These standards now form the basis for the test to determine whether the Legislature has adequately provided funding for education. The Court then remanded the case back to the district court with directions to apply the newly established adequacy test to the facts of the case.

The Court clearly stated funding provided for schools must be adequate to give students a reasonable chance to meet the Rose Standards adopted by the Legislature. Those standards refer to seven “capacities” for students to be successful, including communications skills, understanding political and economic systems, physical and mental health, appreciation of arts and cultural heritage, and preparation for success in academics, vocational-technical training and the workforce.

Is the school finance system currently giving all students a chance to meet these standards? While there are many aspects of the Rose Capacities that are not uniformly assessed, there is clear and consistent information on basic reading and math skills, preparation for postsecondary education and high school completion, which is an indicator of both preparation for postsecondary education and employment. Consider the following:

  • About 80 percent of Kansas students scored at basic and 40 percent at proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math tests, the highest ever and ranking Kansas in the top 15 states. However, that means one in five students still falls below a basic standard indicating the student is likely to graduate high school, and 60 percent fall below a proficiency standard that indicates progress to “college ready.”
  • Thirty-one percent of students meet all four college-ready benchmarks on the ACT test as juniors or seniors, the highest percentage ever and one of the top marks for states where most students take the ACT. However, over 60 percent of future jobs are expected to require some kind of postsecondary credential, technical or academic.
  • Eighty-five percent of Kansas students graduate from high school in four years, but 15 percent may never finish. Failure to complete high school means dramatically higher unemployment and lower income.

These statistics indicate that while Kansas does very well compared to most other states, too many Kansas students are NOT reaching the capacities defined by the Rose standards. The question is: will more money make a difference? There are at least three reasons to think it will.

First, remember each of these achievement levels is at an all-time high. Kansas has never had better results spending less money and has never had more high need, low income students.

Second, as funding increased in recent years, student achievement increased at a similar or higher rate after adjusting for inflation, employee compensation and enrollment growth, as described in a previous post. Moreover, the last comprehensive educational cost study on student outcomes conducted by the Legislative Post Audit Division found a nearly one-to-one correlation between funding and outcomes.

Third, KASB research shows no other states get consistently better results unless they spend more money, have fewer low income students, or both. On virtually every measure of state education achievement, higher state spending has a positive correlation with student outcomes related to the Rose Capacities. In fact, Kansas is already an “over achiever,” with better student outcomes than expected for the amount of spending per pupil (below the U.S. average or median) and the percentage of low income students (just below the U.S. average, higher than median).