Topeka Legislators trying to craft a school spending plan to meet a court mandate received yet another piece of information that could help them decide where the money should go.
On Thursday, analysts from Standard & Poor's delivered a 40-page report giving a list of policies used by districts they say are getting the best return on their dollars.
Legislators said it wasn't too late for the report to play a role in the session's school finance debate.
"Yes, this year and from here on out," House Education chairwoman Kathe Decker said.
Senate Education chairwoman Jean Schodorf said the bigger impact would come when House and Senate negotiators meet to hammer out the session's final school finance bill.
Analysts compared spending practices of districts with more than 200 students to how those districts' students fared on statewide assessment tests. They concluded that given their resources and the number of poor students, 17 districts exceeded expectations in student achievement because of how they used their resources.
Of those, Scott County, Geary County, Arkansas City and Olathe were selected for further review.
Decker, R-Clay Center, said the report validated some legislators' opinions that districts could spend their money better and that many districts are getting good academic results. Some argue that increased spending doesn't solve the problem of low academic achievement.
Meanwhile, Schodorf, R-Wichita, has scheduled extra time Monday to work on a $660 million, three-year plan that Senate leaders drafted after negotiations with House leaders and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. The House also has a three-year plan amounting to $500 million.
Both plans are in response to a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that ordered increases in school funding to meet constitutional mandates to provide all students a suitable education.
Kansas spends more than $3 billion on K-12 education, including $290 million in increases legislators approved last year in response to Supreme Court orders in a lawsuit filed in 1999.
Standard & Poor's was hired in 2005 by Sebelius to analyze school spending.
Michael Stewart, an analyst who reviewed the Geary County district, said the report should be viewed as another piece of information to go with a legislative cost study completed in January, not a substitute.
"Many of these things are common sense, but not in common use," Stewart said of the findings.
He said the purpose of examining school spending and performance - the first type of audit Standard & Poor's has done of this scope - illustrates ways districts are getting the most out of their resources.
Some of the strategies include stringent hiring practices, matching young teachers with experienced teachers early in their careers, increasing professional development and increasing the amount of time that students spend each day on math and reading.
In the Arkansas City district, for example, schedules were adjusted to double the amount of time students spend on math and reading during the school year.
The report found that Kansas spends an average of $7,500 per student, with a proficiency rate of 67 percent on state tests. That equals about 9 percent in proficiency for every $1,000 spent.
Meeting federal mandates to reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014 could cost the state more than $11,000 per student, analysts concluded.
"One thing that was said that was so right was that we can't spend our way to make a 100 percent proficiency, because it will bankrupt the state at the rate of return," Schodorf said.
Standard & Poor's School Matters report on Kansas schools can be found at www.schoolmatters.com/pdf/special_reports/Ks/District_Strategies.pdf