What we learned from the new Kansas school finance study, and what it confirms that we already knew

What we learned from the new Kansas school finance study, and what it confirms that we already knew

The new Kansas education cost study offers a way to establish a long-term plan to fund long-range goals that can make Kansas the leading state in student educational attainment, which will increase earnings and employment, attract high wage jobs to Kansas for high skill workers, and reduce poverty and social service costs. No investment is more important to our future prosperity. 
Here are the key points from the study, and why its findings are not really surprising. 
First, the amount of money does make a difference in educational outcomes. 
According to the report, “the analysis finds a strong, positive relationship between educational outcomes and educational costs, once differences in scale, need and price are taken into account.” In other words, higher spending equals higher results. 
How does that finding compare to other research? This is the same finding as the 2006 Kansas Legislative Post Audit study, which found a nearly one to one correlation between spending and results based previous Kansas assessments results and funding. 
It is also the same as a recent report based on a comprehensive review of the high-quality empirical evidence on whether and how money matters in education, written by Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker. Baker concludes that, “on average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes,” while “schooling resources which cost money … are positively associated with student outcomes.”  
Finally, it’s the same KASB research reports on other states, the past experience of Kansas comparing increased funding and educational outcomes, and the cost of specific educational programs and strategies to improve results. 
Second, Kansas has highly efficient schools. 
The new report found that Kansas schools were producing nearly 96 percent of their potential output, on average. “Given that inefficiency in this context means unexplained expenditures, not necessarily waste, and that many buildings may have been producing outcomes that were not reflected in test scores, the average efficiency level was quite high.” 
How does that compare to other measures of Kansas efficiency? KASB’s Comparing Kansas report has found that Kansas ranks in the top 10 states when averaging 15 measures of student outcomes, yet spends below the national average. Every higher-ranking state spends more per pupil, and no state that spend less than Kansas has higher overall outcomes. Unfortunately, Kansas results have been falling compared to other states that have been investing more per pupil over the past decade. 
Third, it costs significantly more money to reach significantly higher outcomes. 
The report says it would take a 38.4 percent increase funding ($1.886 billion) to achieve 95 percent graduation rate and to get 90 percent of Kansas students to “grade level” on reading and math tests in five years, and a 44.4 percent increase ($2.067 billion) to get 60 percent of Kansas students “on track for college ready” in the next five years with a 95 percent graduation rate. 
Setting a lower goal with a 90 percent graduation rate would require an additional 28.5 percent ($1.326 billion) to reach 90 percent on grade level and 34.1 percent ($1.587 billion) to reach 60 percent on track for college. 
How does that compare to the highest achieving states? From the Comparing Kansas report, the top nine states had an average 88.2 percent graduation rate in 2016. In 2015, these states have an average of 79.7 percent of students at the “basic” level in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Kansas had 76 percent of students at basic, compared to 72.5 percent of students at “grade level” on state tests. The top nine states had 42 percent of students at the “proficient.” Kansas had 36 percent at proficient, compared to 36.3 percent of students on track for college on state tests. 
These nine states that exceed Kansas on educational outcomes had average operating expenditures per pupil of $14,616, or 31 percent higher than Kansas at $11,106 – when adjusted for regional cost differences. (Without the regional adjustment, these nine states spend 47 percent more in operating costs.) 
In other words, the highest achieving states in the nation spend 31 percent per more pupil to achieve lower graduation rate and assessment rates than “lower” goals for Kansas in the new report, so it is reasonable to assume it would take a 44 percent increase to reach even higher goals. 
Fourth, additional funding can be phased-in over time. 
The report noted the importance of appropriately using new investments over time. “It is not practical to make a one-time, significant investment in a statewide public education system and expect at the end of that school year to see dramatic movement from current performance to the aspiration targets. Alternatively, making ongoing and incrementally larger investments in the system over time with established targets may be more practical for practitioners to plan and determine the appropriate ways to invest the funding. One consideration is to consider these investments over a 5-year period of time.” 
What has happened with previous funding increases? The Kansas Supreme Court essentially allowed a four-year phase-in following the Montoy decision in 2005. Adjusted for inflation (2017 consumer price index), general operating funding increased from $3.842 billion in 2005 to $4.700 billion in 2009; a 22.3 percent “real” increase (over inflation) over five years. 
Over a much longer period, general operating funds increased from $3.250 in 1990 to $4.701 billion in 2009 (adjusted to 2017 dollars) or 44.6 percent (about the same percent increase called for in the report for the higher level of outcomes). Since 1990, the percent of Kansas adults with at least a high school diploma increased from 81 percent to over 90 percent; the percent with some college but less than four years increased from 27.3 percent to 35.5 percent, and the percent with four years or more of college increased from 21.4 to 32.2 percent. 
These increases in adult education levels have boosted Kansas earnings by over $6.2 billion compared to 1990 education levels, because more educated employees earn substantially more. This increase compares to an increase in total K-12 funding of $2.2 billion (inflation adjusted) since 1990. 
However, since Kansas funding peaked in 2009 when adjusted for inflation, scores have fallen on both state and national tests, graduation rates have been flat, the percent of students scoring college-ready on the ACT has dropped, and more states are surpassing Kansas in both funding and achievement. 
Fifth, the Legislature has multiple options. 
The choice is not between doing fully funding the recommendations in a single year or doing nothing. The study allows Kansas to set long-term goals for education and a plan to fund them.