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Archive for Wednesday, August 24, 2005

School districts not making funding grade

Kansas ranks 41st in putting education dollars toward teaching

August 24, 2005

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— Kansas ranked 41st in directing its education funds into classroom instruction, statistics released Tuesday showed.

And fewer than 8 percent of Kansas school districts are hitting the mark of spending 65 percent of their funds on instruction.

But the figures can be deceiving, officials said in a presentation to the Legislative Educational Planning Committee.

"The variables are endless," said Carolyn Rampey, an analyst with the Legislative Research Department.

Kansas spent 59.2 percent of its education dollar on instruction, with the remainder spent on administration and support services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But those statistics were based on the 2002-2003 school year, before recent increases in school funding that were directed mainly to the classroom.

On that list, the national average was 60 percent, with New York at the top with 68.7 percent, and the lowest being New Mexico at 55.5 percent. Regionally, Nebraska had the highest ranking with 63.8 percent; Missouri, 61 percent; Iowa, 59.5 percent; Oklahoma, 57.9 percent; and Colorado, 57.3 percent.

A state analysis used the 2003-2004 school year, which also was before the injection of new cash. That analysis showed that of Kansas' 300 school districts, only 23 put more than 65 percent of their funding into classroom instruction, with the highest being the Holton district at 69.44.

The average was 60.01 percent; Lawrence was at 60.74 percent.

The 65 percent figure is important because under legislation that increased school funding this year, lawmakers included a goal that 65 percent of state funding be expended in the classroom or for instruction.

In addition to the age of the statistics, there is debate over what counts as funds for classroom instruction.

Under federal guidelines, schools cannot count for instructional purposes, monies spent on transportation, administration, food service, construction, maintenance, repairs or support services such as nurses, librarians and counselors.

Sparsely populated districts, for example, may spend a larger portion of their budget on busing students, but they can't count that as part of the cost of instruction.

Similarly, larger districts which may have added administration to conduct extensive support programs for students can't count those expenses. School advocates also questioned why, for example, if a student needed a speech pathologist that expense would be excluded from the classroom instruction tally.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said he has seen studies that show while Kansas' classroom instruction portion is lower than other midwestern states, Kansas has better student performance rankings. "So, go figure," he said.

A national movement called First Class Education, funded by Arizona-based Internet retailer Patrick Byrne, who is president and chairman of Overstock.com, is seeking approval in all 50 states of legislation that would require 65 percent of education operating budgets be spent in the classroom.

But while Kansas has set that as a goal, lawmakers appeared hesitant to make it a requirement,

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, and chair of the LEPC, said, keeping the 65 percent mark as a goal "gives the public a way to measure and ask questions of their school district and their money."

Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said she wasn't sure there was anything special about the 65 percent figure and the current definitions about what counts as classroom expenses and what expenses are excluded from the calculation.

"Do we get to count as classroom instruction all the money that goes unreported that teachers spend out of their own pockets?" she asked.

Those currently aren't counted as classroom instruction.

Comments

Richard Heckler 9 years, 4 months ago

Excellent response marci regarding out of pocket expenses paid by the teacher. Keep up the good work.

jimpfaff 9 years, 4 months ago

The unstated message here is that it was unnecessary to for the Supreme Court to impose an overall increase in school funding to get more money into the classroom. This could have been easily accomplished by adhering to a strict requirement that 65% of the school budget go into the classroom while imposing an overall budget baseline tied to inflation plus population growth. This would give teachers all the tools they need to accomplish the implicit goal of increasing student achievement while requiring administrators to apply appropriate spending restraint.

Under the funding bill passed during the special session, actual dollars reaching the classroom will increase, but the crisis remains because there is no decrease of actual dollars directed toward administrative functions which is where cuts most need to be made. True: a standard of 65% "in classroom" spending was attached to the legislation. But when the that goal is not met (as will most certainly be the case), the excuse has already been created: its the "myriad" of line items on school budgets and the "difficulty" of determining which ones should rightly be classified as classroom spending and which administrative.

Ever increasing educational funding in Kansas, as in many other states, is proposed as a rational response to a "crisis" but is more accurately a non-sequitor intended to mask entrenchments designed to protect administrators and their lobby. And along the way, children are considered in the funding equation in word as a political stratagem and not deed evidenced by practical increases in student achievement. Thus we clearly understand why Kansas and other states want to abandon "No Child Left Behind."

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