What would Kansas schools do with more money?

What would Kansas schools do with more money?

If the Kansas Supreme Court orders the state to raise school funding by several hundred million dollars, what would local school boards do with that money?

Keep in mind three things. First, about 66 percent of total school district spending goes to salaries and benefits for school employees and another 14 percent goes to contracts for services provided by employees of the contractor. In other words, most school funding goes to people. If districts receive more money, they will spend it on people. That’s what happened when schools received a court-ordered increase in 2006 through 2009 following the Montoy school finance decision.

Second, Montoy funding was reduced following the Great Recession of 2008. Since then, total school funding in Kansas has barely kept up with inflation and operating budgets – which exclude retirement contributions and costs of new buildings – have fallen behind inflation. In addition, there are more students to educate, and more students with special needs. So, for eight years, school districts have not had ANY “extra” money to improve programs.

Third, the Kansas State Board of Education’s “Kansans Can” vision has set new goals for K-12 education. Comments from school leaders across the state make clear local school boards will have the following priorities for additional funding.

Early Childhood. Because many students start school far behind their peers and some never catch up, giving more attention to the youngest students helps “level the playing field.” After the Montoy decision, the percentage of districts providing all-day kindergarten increased from about 50 percent to 95 percent.

However, the State Board has set a goal of getting more students ready for kindergarten. Districts now provide preschool programs to about 5,000 students statewide, compared to a kindergarten class of 37,000. More funding would allow districts to offer free preschool for thousands more low income students.

Individual plans of study for career preparation. Last year, districts employed 1,110 school counselors, less than one for every 400 students. To help students and families decide what classes and programs match their interests and leave high school better prepared for college or the workforce, the State Board has made individual career planning a Kansans Can priority.

More funding would allow high schools and middle schools to add more career and academic counselors and continue to help students with social and emotional issues (another Kansans Can outcome). Thirty-three states have a lower student to counselor ratio than Kansas and private schools have much lower ratios than public schools, according to national data.

Graduation rates. Although Kansas performs better than most states, low income, disabled, and English Language Learners continue to lag behind in high school graduation, which is a requirement for postsecondary education (and most jobs). To meet the Kansans Can goal of higher graduation rates and more Kansas students prepared for higher skill (and higher paying) jobs, districts must provide extra support for these students.

More funding would allow districts to address the intensive needs of students with physical and emotional disabilities, help students learn English faster, provide additional tutoring and enrichment before and after school and during the summer, and assist low income and first generation college students in preparing for more rigorous college programs and testing.

School districts did all of these things after the Montoy funding increase, but have had to cut back on these services as funding fell back.

Technical Education. Experts predict 71 percent of Kansas jobs in the year 2020 will require education beyond high school, and many will require a technical certificate rather than an academic degree. Offering these programs in high schools lets students get a lower cost head start on a well-paying career, but such courses tend to be expensive because of specialized equipment and lower pupil-teacher ratios.

More funding would allow school districts to expand student options for career paths, especially in more rural parts of the state; strengthening the state and regional work forces.

Teacher salaries and learning time. Since 2008, Kansas teacher salaries have slipped from 37th to 41st in the nation. With limited dollars for raises, many school boards and teachers have negotiated for fewer school days, but also added more minutes in each day. On average, students have lost a full week of days from the school calendar.

More funding would make Kansas teacher salaries more competitive with other states and, in exchange, allow districts to add back days for student learning – which would support all of the Kansans Can outcomes.

Costs to parents and property-taxpayers. Because state operating aid has been so limited, districts have been raising fees and adopting new charges to make up the difference, and have increased local option budgets, which are primarily funded by local property taxes.

The result is a higher burden on low-income students and low-wealth communities. More funding would allow districts to rely more on general revenues rather than on those who can least afford it.

Kansans “can” expect these results if more money is provided to public schools, whether by the Supreme Court or otherwise.