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Archive for Monday, October 11, 2004

National education group notes funding disparities in Kansas

October 11, 2004

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— Kansas school districts with the most minority students have less to spend per student than districts with fewer minority students, a national report says.

The report by The Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group, said school funding experts generally agree that schools with higher numbers of poor or minority students need more money to meet the same educational standards.

"The shortfalls we found are starkly at odds with our national goals for closing the achievement gap," the report said. "They fly in the face of any reasonable, rational notion of how to support our public schools."

The report comes as the Kansas Supreme Court considers forcing the state to overhaul its school funding formula.

During the 2001-02 school year, the report found that Kansas districts with the fewest minority students spent $1,590 more per student than those with the most minority students.

The study also compared spending based on the number of students living in poverty. Kansas fared better in that category, with the state spending $122 more per student in high-poverty districts than in the wealthiest districts.

In 31 of 49 states studied, the report found school districts with more minority students spent less to educate each student than those with fewer minority students. In 25 of 49 states studied, the study found districts with more poor students got fewer resources than those with fewer poor students.

Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the Kansas Department of Education, said the state's school funding formula is weighted to provide more money for districts with small student populations. The state has determined it's more expensive to educate each student in a smaller district because districts with fewer students don't benefit from the same economies of scale as larger districts.

The weighting contributes to Kansas faring poorly in the study because the larger school districts have the highest percentage of minority students.

"The median-size school district in Kansas is 550 kids," Dennis said. "We have a lot of schools in rural Kansas that take great pride in their low enrollment. Our largest district covers 992 square miles and has 425 kids."

While the state has adjusted its school funding formula to reflect additional costs incurred by schools with low enrollment over the years, few adjustments have occurred for poor or minority students.

Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock declared the school finance law unconstitutional in December. He said it failed to distribute school aid equitably to students and did not serve the needs of poor, minority, disabled and non-English-speaking children.

In August, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case. A decision is expected this year.

The report suggests that additional funding would help to close the achievement gap for the nation's poor and minority schoolchildren, but that money isn't the only solution.

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