States compare public school funding

State board of education members discuss Kansas education budgets and expenditures as compared with other nearby states. From rear left Wednesday are Bruce Wyatt, Dan Biles, Janet Waugh and Andy Tompkins, the state's education commissioner. Kansas school districts spent about the same on teaching as surrounding states but slightly more money on administration, according to a report from the federal government.

Kansas public school districts spent about the same on teaching as neighboring states but slightly more money on administration.

A federal report found Kansas districts spent about 58.99 percent of their budgets on teaching in 2001-2002, somewhat less than Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa but more than Colorado and Oklahoma.

State Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis presented the information to the State Board of Education on Wednesday.

Kansas districts spent an average of 9.61 percent on administration in 2001-2002.

All five neighboring states spent less, 7.99 percent to 8.94 percent of their budgets, on administration.

However, Dennis questioned how some of the states did their reporting, saying some budget categories for other states were excessively high.

“I’m convinced that not all states follow the rules,” Dennis said.

For example, Colorado school districts spent an average 9.17 percent of their budgets on “other support services,” which includes human resources and administrative information technology. Kansas school districts spent an average 2.64 percent of their budgets on this.

Some board members said the information was not very useful without comparing it with states’ academic achievement.

“I don’t think we can separate this away from what the results are,” said Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City. “I think we’re doing a disservice by not attaching results to it also.”

Dennis told the board that Kansas’ academics were among the top 10 states in the nation.

“You’ll find very few states with the dollars spent and the results we have,” he said.

He elaborated after the meeting, saying Kansas has been ranked 41st or 42nd in the nation in teacher salaries. Kansas also spent about $600 less per student than the national average in 2001-2002, he said. But students’ ACT scores and math and reading scores put Kansas among the top 10 states in the nation, he said.

Ken Willard, of Hutchinson, said it would be interesting to know how much academic results would change by spending more or less money in the different categories.

Abrams pointed out that Mississippi, Kentucky and Arkansas spent a higher percent of their budgets on instruction than Kansas. But these states are “not known for having superior schools,” he said.

School administrative spending has caused uproars in Kansas before. In 2001, a report released by the Legislature’s auditing division said the average Kansas district spent a smaller percentage of its budget on classroom teaching than Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri districts in fiscal year 1998. The auditors also offered evidence that Kansas districts had unusually large administrative staffs.

That audit was used by public school critics as evidence there was waste and inefficiency in school spending.

But an audit the next year showed that the 2001 report was off by about $200 million.

Adding this money into the comparison boosted Kansas from 48th to 41st in the percentage of money spent in the classroom, and in the middle of the group of nearby states.

The Lawrence school district spent 55 percent of its budget last year on instruction. The district has budgeted 51 percent of its budget this year for instruction.

It spent 6 percent of its budget last year on administration and has budgeted the same amount for this year.

The district spent the remaining 39 percent of its budget last year on things like social workers and guidance counselors, operations and maintenance, capital improvements and debt services.