Archive for Sunday, October 14, 2012

Analysis: Education funding debate hits key issues

October 14, 2012


TOPEKA — Kansas Democrats hope to avoid another election-year wipeout by making funding for public schools a major issue in legislative races, and their move highlights key differences between them and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Democrats are criticizing Brownback and his conservative allies over massive income tax cuts enacted this year, suggesting they’ll create big budget problems. They contend the tax cuts will force the state to dramatically reduce aid to public schools and that Brownback has shown he’s willing to slash education funding.

Brownback and House Appropriations Committee Marc Rhoades sought to undercut the criticism in separate news conferences by pointing to cuts in education funding under Brownback’s Democratic predecessor, Mark Parkinson.

The back-and-forth showed that Democrats see increased spending on public schools as a much higher priority than tax cuts, while Brownback and his allies place the biggest premium on reducing income taxes to stimulate the economy. Also, the debate showed that Democrats view money as the biggest concern in education, while Brownback and his allies see other policy issues as important.

“For a lot of years, we’ve been high-centered on finances,” said Rhoades, a conservative Newton Republican. “I’d like to add to the conversation.”

Democrats hope a debate over education funding inoculates them against almost-certain mailings and advertising by conservative groups tying them to President Barack Obama and the federal health care law he championed. The same tactic resulted in big GOP gains in 2010 and fueled a purge of moderate Senate incumbents in this year’s Republican primaries.

Brownback’s news conference last week was an attempt to counter Democrats’ suggestions that he’s anti-education.

In 2011, he pushed legislators to reduce the state’s base aid to schools by 5.9 percent to help close a budget shortfall. But his staff handed out a data sheet and set up a big poster-board chart showing the overall decline was bigger under Parkinson in the wake of the Great Recession and that the state has committed more total dollars to schools since he took office.

The state will spend $3.2 billion under its current budget on aid to public schools — not quite as much as it did during the 2008-2009 school year but more than it has since then. Base aid per student is still nearly 13 percent lower than in 2008-09 because the state had to compensate for a loss of federal stimulus funds and shifted resources into teacher pensions and capital improvements.

The Kansas Democratic Party declared in recent mailings in legislative races that, “nothing is more important than good public schools,” and Democratic leaders see restoring education funding to pre-2009 levels as a compelling need. With the economy recovering, tax cuts should be considered when schools are properly funded, they argue.

“We would have restored the cuts to public schools first before you pass this massive income tax cut,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said during a news conference following up on Brownback’s event.

Brownback and his allies took another path this year. The state will cut individual income tax rates for 2013 and exempt the owners of 191,000 businesses from income taxes. The final measure was more aggressive than Brownback proposed, but he signed it, even in the face of projections from legislative researchers that it would lead to collective budget shortfalls approaching $2.5 billion over the next six years.

The governor has acknowledged the likelihood of budget problems over the next two years, but he and other conservatives believe the legislative researchers’ projections are too pessimistic.

Conservatives also dispute the idea that pushing aggressively for tax cuts means they’re ignoring schools’ needs. They argue that the growth resulting from tax cuts will boost state and local revenues.

“I can’t emphasize this enough: Growth is the key to education funding,” Brownback said during his news conference.

Brownback also has attempted to shift the debate from a focus on raw dollars to how effectively those dollars are spent by appointing a school efficiency task force dominated by certified public accountants. He contends the state needs to do a better job of making sure its aid finances classroom instruction.


Dave Trabert 5 years, 2 months ago

It's good to see it acknowledged that State aid has been rising as opposed to being cut back to 1990s levels as claimed by some. Here are some other pertinent facts.

  • Total taxpayer aid to public schools hit an all-time high in 2012 at $5.771 billion. See for data provided by KSDE. Total aid per-pupil was just $4 shy of the record, at $12,656.

  • State aid per-pupil was $6,983, of which base state aid was $3,780...KPERS was $ support was $230...and there was another $2,283 per-pupil in other aid, most of which is weightings. See for data provided by KSDE in an open records request.

  • Large increases in spending and the decline in 2010 had no effect on student achievement. Scores on independent national exams like NAEP and ACT have been essentially flat for many years. The only reason the ACT composite score declined by a tenth of a point in 2012 is that the demographic weighting of the scores changed; applying the 2012 weighting to actual scores for prior years shows that the composite score has been at 21.9 for several fact, it only declined in 2009 which perhaps ironically was when state aid peaked. See for details.

  • That last link is to the presentation on efficiency opportunities given to the K-12 Efficiency Task Force. Note the tremendous disparity between per-pupil spending at each enrollment level beginning on slide 33. The variance in Administrative spending, which is completely voluntary on the part of districts, is particularly noteworthy, with potential savings of $112 million based on actual spending levels of many districts.

It certainly takes a lot of money to operate schools but it's how the money is spent that matters - not how much.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

Another key issue is whether or not you want Koch-funded "think" tanks to frame the debate. This message brought to you by Dave Trabert, funded by Kochs and serving corporate interests.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

"Regional" apparently includes the states that touch us plus Texas but not Arkansas or Iowa. You cherry pick your data points and use ethnicity for the comparison instead of poverty, because it shows what you want it to show. Kansas has a stronger correlation between ethnicity and poverty levels than does Texas, so it is not unexpected that the lower poverty levels translate to better educational outcomes. Kansas does better than Texas in educating the poor in general.

Also funny: ACT scores. That's a voluntary test that only kids wanting to enter a regional university will take. It does not correlate to spending, nor should it. You know better, but keep on trotting out that lie for the ignorant, eh?

The dip in state spending may have been at least partially offset by local reserve funds that were used to compensate, so it may not measure a true reduction in funding for the year. You have not clarified how much was offset by ARRA funds, how much was offset by local reserves, and how much was done through local school borrowing, etc. Not that a single year reduction would be enough to find a correlation, since the students being tested would still have benefited from the cumulative spending in the preceding years.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

Yup. Lawrence will be fine. Rural Kansas will not be. Ironic point is ironic.

Dave Trabert 5 years, 2 months ago

Frankly, that has always been the case in most parts of the state. Government has no money of its only has what it collects from taxpayers and redistributes. It doesn't matter who writes the last check; the local taxpayer sends money to state and local governments and that is what funds public schools.

question4u 5 years, 2 months ago

Cutting funding has no effect on quality of education, just like cutting funding for the military has no effect on national security. No...wait, it's just like cutting calorie intake has no effect on weight loss. No...wait, it's just like cutting oxygen to the brain has no effect on... No...wait, it's just like cutting supply has no effect on demand. No...that's not it. No...wait, it's just like cutting taxes has no effect on the economy. can't be that.

Well, education is an exception. You can cut funding to education all that you want and it won't have any effect. It's just common sense.

Time to order 10,000 Chia Pets. In Kansas people will buy anything.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

You know, the funny thing about money is that it actually all comes from the government in the first place.

So, folks that talk about the government having no money of their own kind of get it backwards.

First, the government prints money, without which none of us would have any at all, then it gets distributed and circulated into the economy in a variety of ways, and then the government takes some of it back.

Dave Trabert 5 years, 2 months ago

That's right up there with 'you didn't build it...the government built your company.'

Government merely determines the legal tender. government might print the money but Individuals and employers really make it.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Without government, there would be no money at all, at least no common established currency with consistent values.

So, government "makes" the money, by printing it.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

Government built the roads and bridges, which was always what was referenced in the sentence, but gosh I'm so shocked to hear the "non partisan" group's spokesperson repeat a Republican line. Shocking.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

Will Mr. Trabert accept puka shells in payment for services?

Greg Cooper 5 years, 2 months ago

Mr. Trabert, that is the lowest you've sunk yet, misquoting. You know better, but do it anyway because your bosses tell you to. That is how your credibility sinks even lower than it is.

If the Republican Party wants to be the party of the people, it had damned well find a way to be the party of ALL the people, not just those who lie to gain suppoet.

You, personally, seem to have no grip on the reality of the situation, and I, for one, am sick of hearing tea party talking points from one who is supposed to have the education and knowledge to impart to us.

tomatogrower 5 years, 2 months ago

I pay plenty of taxes, Dave. Don't drive on my bridges and highways. You didn't make them.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

He should also stop listing his degree from a public university on his resume.

KSManimal 5 years, 2 months ago

Oh, dear Mr. Trabert....surely you aren't trotting out that old sad "you didn't build that" nonsense...? Oh, wait. Your DAVE TRABERT - so of course you are.

Riddle me this: name ONE Koch product that doesn't require a public infrastructure to bring it to market. Then, name ONE branch of Koch Industries that makes zero profit from money spent by public school districts. We're waiting.....

tomatogrower 5 years, 2 months ago

The crickets are loud and tired, Mr. Trabert.

lucky_guy 5 years, 2 months ago

What I want to know is what is the predetermined answer?. The Gov doesn't have any educators on the efficiency committee so he wants no dissension in the ranks. The answer will be whatever the answer was 6 months ago when the outcome was arrived at. Probably school consolidation, elimination of the state school board and consolidation into either county or regional school districts. Then a block grant to each district that the state can cut or postpone as need arises to make the Gov look better. Is that the answer? We all know that there is no creative thought going on in the committee. You have stated yourself that you don't believe that money has anything to do with acheivement, so you are more than willing to cut more from schools. I am just wanting to get this over with.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

The pre-determined answer is to take taxpayer money and fund parochial schools and charters outside of district control. It doesn't matter that there's no good evidence this would improve things or that there's a profit motive in gaining tax money to fund for-profit charters. The ALEC has spoken. So shall it be done.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

The sad irony is that rural Kansas will suffer disproportionately under this plan. Residents of Johnson County and Lawrence will ensure that their schools are funded through local means. Once the statewide spigot turns off for rural Kansas, they will really be hurting.

Irony, or maybe comeuppance?

Paul R Getto 5 years, 2 months ago

For some reason the "simple farmer from Parker" wants to destroy rural Kansas. Go figure.

lucky_guy 5 years, 2 months ago

Defunding schools would destroy rural Kansas. There are no parochial schools in Sumner County, for instance. Though I suppose that the Gov would consider it "growth" when he consolidates the schools in rural counties and someone starts a "religious" school to fill in the void.

Dave Trabert 5 years, 2 months ago

no one in the administration, Legislature or KPI is talking about defunding public schools to promote parochial or private schools. That is nothing more than a scare tactic floated by those who are opposed to substantive reform of public education and don't want parents to know the truth about student achievement and school funding.

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

ORLY? Gotta love a used car salesman and his wiggle words.

"Meanwhile, in a separate news conference, House Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said two school reforms that will probably be considered next session include legislation making major changes to teacher tenure and vouchers that would allow tax dollars or tax credits to be used to send students to private and parochial schools." LJ World, October 8.

And from August we have, "As a U.S. senator, Brownback supported school vouchers and there are many legislators who also endorse this view. Last session, a bill surfaced that would have given taxpayers a 90 percent tax credit for contributions made to an organization that would provide scholarships for students to attend private or parochial schools. House leaders also have pushed for a number of education policy changes that the Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, and Vice Chair John Vratil, R-Leawood, resisted. But Schodorf was defeated in the primary and Vratil is retiring."

KPI aso praises such efforts, as has Dave himself. Funding parochial schools with taxpayer money, check. The wiggle words come in when he tries to deny it defunds public schools.

The official KPI stance from their materials is that school competition won't defund public schools, because charters also have to build buildings and parents can supplement the tuition of voucher schools. (It's not true, btw. Sometimes charters can kick out the existing public school and take over the building. Sometimes they just rent space instead of building it, causing an inefficiency in resource use.) In other words, we'll take tax money away from public schools and in some cases demand parents make up the difference between our coupon/scholarship and the true cost of tuition with out-of-pocket expenses (good luck, disadvantaged students), but we'll pretend that this isn't removing funding from public schools or eliminating some efficiency created by the economics of scale. Also - schools should have less money, and it's just a coincidence that we want to fund private and parochial schools using a mechanism that makes the state have less money. The glass may be half empty because I drank out of it and encouraged people not to fill it as full, but I didn't drain the glass.

KSManimal 5 years, 2 months ago

KPI is all about painting public education as a bottomless money pit.

That's all KPI (a.k.a "Dave Trabert") seems to do. When do we get to hear your ideas for alternatives? Or, better yet, alternatives OTHER THAN charter schools managed by for-profit companies, and other "free market solutions"?

You talk a lot about what your agenda is NOT, (in spite of all available evidence to the contrary....); but we never hear what you'd do instead....other than cut funding.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 2 months ago

" That is nothing more than a scare tactic floated by those who are opposed to substantive reform of public education and don't want parents to know the truth about student achievement and school funding."

Mr. Trabert is apparently not above fighting perceived scare tactics with scare tactics of his own.

"Those" are very scary people.

Centerville 5 years, 2 months ago

There's wealth, then there's currency. And then there is, sadly, public education.

Tracy Rogers 5 years, 2 months ago

You say "administration, Legislature, and KPI" like they are different entities. They're all pretty much the same thing with the Kochs pulling the strings.

George Lippencott 5 years, 2 months ago

Exactly what does increased educational spending buy?? Better teachers? Better classroom environment? More teachers?

deec 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes. Also updated textbooks, an adequate supply of paper and other materials for the whole year, materials for creating bulletin boards and hands-on learning projects and toilet paper. Increased spending restores advanced classes, art, music and other classes that have been eliminated.

A great way to find out what extra spending pays for is to ask a teacher. They can tell you what supplies they no longer have and what supplies they are purchasing from their own pocket.

George Lippencott 5 years, 2 months ago

How old are my textbooks? Don;t we have a policy on replacement? Are we following it?

How much more do we need for paper? Wife spent money for years for paper. Kind of like professionals in many lines of work who contribute to the organization bottom line for the common good of the employees. Is that stuff still deductible?

How do advanced/special classes contribute to better student performance? Certainly the few that take them will perform better on some things but how does that help the majority?

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

Did you seriously just argue that we should dumb down class offerings and hold back advanced kids to the pace of the average student? Yeah, that's an argument that goes over well.

George Lippencott 5 years, 2 months ago

Did I say that?? I vote for the average kid. Once she/he is well served we can talk about enhancements. Nice try with your strawman

deec 5 years, 2 months ago

Other than my brief stint in the 1980s as a teacher, I have never had a job where I was expected to buy basic supplies for my employer. Why should teachers need to supply basic materials to the school?

Advanced classes help students prepare for college and a higher-earning future. The arts develop creative thinking and separate humans from the other animals.

Foreign language courses prepare students to function in a global economy. Higher salaries for teachers, as in every other field, draw better-educated and better-qualified employees. Public employees are just like everybody else. If they make better wages, they are more motivated.

George Lippencott 5 years, 2 months ago

All true. Now as a professional I (as are many) was expected to participate in unpaid proposals. Unpaid paper would have been a lot cheaper. I know some teachers give time – as professionals should. The paper is a silly argument.

If my basic curriculum is not preparing the kids for college and life we need to talk about what needs to be fixed. In most systems advanced (gifted) classes are only for a few.

I believe we still offer basic foreign languages

The correlation between money and quality of education (assuming we could agree on a definition of the latter) is not specific after a point. I am all for more money for salaries tied to performance and not longevity. You do well and you get paid more - just like in just about every other professional field.

Of course everybody wants to live better but to do so somebody gets to live worse. It is a zero sum game and your arguments are unconvincing to those not in your field and paying your bills. Try harder!!

chootspa 5 years, 2 months ago

Money tied to test performance is controversial for a reason. Teachers in one famous experiment were offered huge bonuses for improved test scores. They didn't do significantly better than the control group. It turns out that teachers weren't holding back in the first place.

If you want to claim that some teachers are going to be better than others, so why shouldn't they be paid more - that's a fair argument, but nearly impossible to assess. What portion is the teacher, and what portion is that child's home environment? Why would you punish a student for having a low income child in his or her class? Talk about unintended consequences!

deec 5 years, 2 months ago

Most teachers work many hours every day off the clock so to speak. Preparing lesson plans, grading papers, etc. take many more hours than the single planning period.

I think an effective protest technique for teachers would be to stop donating their time and money to the education system. Teachers should stop spending their own money to equip the school. They should work 40 hours a week and no more.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

I think the problem with that is that they'd just get blamed for the decrease in performance and/or fired.

Also, unless the job specifies a 40 hour week, they can't just work that amount. And, I believe that most teachers are "salaried", which means you just have to do the job, even if it takes longer than that.

But, I do get your point - I wish people had more understanding of what teachers actually do, and how hard they work. And, I completely agree that it's absurd for them to have to spend their own money on school supplies.

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