Last year, Kansas invested over $6.4 billion to educate students in public schools. KASB estimates that will increase to $6.64 billion this year. With current headcount enrollment of 499,000 students, including preschool students not counted in the school finance formula but receiving services, this amounts to about $13,300 per pupil.
So, it’s reasonable to ask: what are Kansans getting for that investment? To start with, higher educational attainment results in higher lifelong earnings, which currently equal almost three times the amount Kansas spends on K-12 education. But there are more benefits.
What Students Are Getting
Small class sizes. Over half of school funding (53.7 percent, or $7,151 per pupil) goes directly to teachers, aides and paraprofessionals and classroom materials. Kansas has about one educator for every 11 students, and the 8th lowest pupil-teacher ratio in the nation.
Other skilled support for learning. Kansas schools provide one student support position (like counselors, nurses and speech pathologists) for every 118 students; one instructional support position (librarians, technology staff, reading specialists) for every 160 students, and one principal or assistant principal for every 280 students (and for every 25 teachers). These account for $1,119 per student.
Special education services. Nearly $590 million is the “excess cost” of special education. That’s $1,180 if divided by all 499,000 students but amounts to an average of $8,429 for each of the 70,000 special education students.
School construction and operations. About 20 percent of funding ($2,719 pe pupil) goes to operations and maintenance – hearing, lighting, cooling, cleaning and security for classrooms and other school facilities – and paying for school construction approved by local voters and other building equipment costs.
Low administrative costs. Less than 5 percent of funding ($594) goes to general district administration and other central services like payroll and human resources.
How Kansas Compares in Funding and Results
Below-average costs. Twenty-nine states provided more total revenues per pupil than Kansas, including neighboring and Plains states North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. Nineteen states provided less, including Colorado, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Missouri provides just $24 less than Kansas. (Most recent data, 2016)
Above-average results. Nationally, Kansas ranks 24th for high school completion, 13th in college attendance and 19th in four-year degree completion for 18-24-year-olds. Kansas ranks 23rd in high school graduation rate for both all students and low-income students, and 5th limited English proficient and disable students. Kansas ranks 13th on national reading and math tests at the basic level and 17th at the proficient level.
What Parents are Getting
Per pupil funding includes services that families would have to pay if not provides by the school districts.
Transportation. About 224,000 regular students receive transportation services to and from school. Many more students may be bused to activities. These costs are 4 percent of total spending or $531 per student per year. At IRS mileage rates, it would cost nearly $500 per year for a 2.5-mile round trip to and from school, and most students are transported more than 2.5 miles.
Food service. Most students now eat breakfast and lunch at school. Food services make up 4 percent of total spending, or about $526 per student per year – less than $3 per day.
Other services. Schools provide safe environments, counseling and social workers, and structured activities programs, some with fees included total spending per pupil. Without schools, many families would have significantly higher child care costs, or more unattended children.
What Communities Are Getting
Every dollar a school district spends is a dollar an employee or business receives as income.
Employment. Kansas public schools employ over 5 percent of Kansas workers, and pay about 5 percent of Kansas wages. Schools are often one of the largest employers in the city or county.
Business activity. Kansas districts will spend over $1.5 billion on goods, services and property this year, mostly with Kansas businesses, and school building and remodeling is a major part of the state’s construction industry. Of course, school employee wages also become consumer spending, savings and investment. And those wages and spending are taxed by the state and local governments.
Community focus. School are often the social hub of their communities, providing recreational, cultural and sports activities for students, families and others.
What Kansas is Getting
Over $13,000 per year is a big investment in each student. But the payoff is even bigger.
Individual earnings. The earnings difference between a high school graduate and a high school dropout in Kansas is over $5,000 per year; for attending some college up to an associate degree over $9,000; for a bachelor’s degree over $23,000 and for a graduate or professional degree $34,000. In fact, the estimated lifetime higher earnings for students who graduate high school and reach various levels of postsecondary education is almost three times the cost of a K-12 education.
Higher incomes, less poverty. Nationally, Kansas ranks 17th in adults over 25 with a high school diploma or higher, and 14th in adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher – in the region, only Colorado and Minnesota rank higher on both. Kansas also has the 24th highest per capita income and 21st lowest poverty rate – in the region, only Colorado, Minnesota and North Dakota do better on both.
Notes and Sources:
One important note: these are statewide average numbers. Individual school districts will vary because of differences in population, student needs, geography and local priorities.
Total school districts spending for the current year: KASB estimates explained in this blog: (link)
Current count enrollment: KSDE Data Central, Headcount Enrollment Report: (link)
Percentage of school expenditures on budget functions: based on 2018 data, KASB report from KSDE budget data: (link)
Number of school district employees by job title and function: KASB report from KSDE personnel reports: (link); divided by 499,000 headcount enrollment
Pupil-Teacher Ratio compared to other states: Digest of Education Statistics (link)
State total revenue per pupil: Public Education Finances 2016 (link)
Student achievement data: KASB research. Graduation rates (link); 18-24-year-old education attainment from Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder (link); national reading and math tests from National Assessment of Educational Progress (link)
Transportation; students transportation, most over 2.5 miles: Kansas Legislative Post Audit (link) IRS mileage allowance rate $0.545 per mile x 2.5 miles x 2 (roundtrip) x 180 school days = $490.5 per year
School food service expenditures: $526 per student per year divided by 180 days = $2.92
School district employees as share of total Kansas employment and wages: KASB analysis of data from Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis (link) pages 10-11
Business Activity: 2018 spending by object on purchased property, supplies and materials, purchased property services, purchased professional and technical services, and other purchased services (link) applied to KASB estimate of current year spending
Return on investment estimate:
|Median Annual Earnings (Kansas)||Earnings more than no diploma||Percent of Kansas Over 25||Number in Class of 20||Additional earnings in class of 20|
|No high school diploma||$23,425|
|High school graduates only||$28,685||$5,260||26.2%||5||$27,562|
|Some college to A.A. Degree||$32,765||$9,340||31.5%||6||$58,842|
|Graduate or Professional Degree||$57,533||$34,108||12.2%||2||$83,224|
|Class of 20 additional earnings for 40 working years, 85% in workforce||$9,053,673|
|Cost K-12 Education for 20 students at $250,000 for 13 years||$3,250,000|
Using current educational levels of Kansans over 25 to project the average number of students in a class of 20 who will reach each of those levels results in total additional earnings of $266,000 each year. If 85 percent of that class is participating in the workforce (current Kansas rate) for an average of 40 years, that results in lifetime increased earnings of over $9 million for each class, compared to the $3.25 million invested in that class ($250,000 for each of 13 years). In other words, estimated lifetime higher earnings for students who graduate high school and reach various levels of postsecondary education is almost three times the cost of K-12 education.
State income and poverty: KASB analysis from American Factfinder, Topics “People/Education,” Educational Attainment Table S1501 (link); Bureau of Economic Analysis for per capita income.