The state of Kansas is only slightly above average when it comes to financing public schools and making sure all schools are financed equitably, according to a new national report out today.
The report is being released just as legislatures in Kansas and many other states are beginning their 2013 sessions, where school finance issues are expected to play a prominent role.
The rankings are based on state spending in Fiscal Year 2010, which researchers said is the most recent year for which comprehensive, nationwide census and spending data are available. That was also a year when Kansas and many other states were making deep cuts in education funding in response to the economic collapse that began the year before.
Using a formula that adjusts per-pupil spending to account for regional cost differences, the report says Kansas spent an average of $11,785 per student in 2010. That was slightly below the national average of $11,824.
But Kansas got relatively high marks for ensuring that poorer districts are funded at least as well as wealthier districts.
According to the Quality Counts analysis, lower-wealth districts in Kansas actually received slightly more funding per-pupil than higher-wealth districts. Furthermore, there was only a $3,784 per-pupil difference in spending between the highest-spending and lowest-spending districts. Nationwide, the spending range was $4,411.
Dale Dennis, deputy education commissioner, said that's largely the result of the 2005 school finance case, Montoy vs. Kansas. Part of that case dealt with the issue of equity, and the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to change the state's school finance formula to provide for more even distribution of funding across districts.
"The Legislature made those changes, and the Court approved it," Dennis said.
The figures used in the Quality Counts report is based on "current expenditures" reported by each state to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Those include day-to-day operational costs such as salaries, benefits, supplies and purchased services.
They do not include things like bond and interest payments or capital outlay, which can vary greatly from year to year, but which also make up a large part of a district's "total" expenditures. The figures also do not include the cost of programs outside the scope of K-12 education such as community programs and adult education.
Meanwhile, Kansas scored better than average on what the researchers call the "Chance-for-Success" index, which looks at a number of social, economic and education factors in each state that influence an individual's chances of success throughout his or her lifetime.
The report gave Kansas a B- in that category, ranking 14th in the nation, compared with a national score of C+. Factors in that category include "early foundation" indicators such as family income and parents' level of education; "school years" factors such as student scores on national standardized tests; and "adult outcomes" such as adult educational attainment, annual income and full-time employment rates.
Kansas was ranked above the national average in 11 of the 13 factors included in that category. In particular, Kansas students were much more likely than their national peers to score proficient or better on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exams, in elementary reading and middle school math.
Kansas also has a higher high school graduation rate than the national average. Based on the class of 2009, Kansas had a graduation rate of 78.4 percent, ranking 11th in the country, compared with the national average of 73.4 percent.
Kansas also had a slightly higher proportion of young adults enrolled in post-secondary education than the rest of the nation: 56.2 percent in Kansas vs. 55.6 percent nationally, based on 2011 data.
Kansas scored below the national average in terms of preschool enrollment. Based on 2011 data, the report said only 46.1 percent of Kansas 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschool, compared with 47.9 percent nationally.
One area where Kansas showed up poorly compared with the rest of the country deals with "transitions and alignment," or the extent to which states "connect the K-12 education system with early learning, higher education and the world of work."
But that's an area that's been a focus of efforts recently between the Kansas State Department of Education, which supervises K-12 schools, and the Kansas Board of Regents, which supervises public universities, and officials say they believe Kansas' score should go up in the future.
"That's part of what our college and career ready standards bring to the table, that kind of alignment with post-secondary education," said KSDE spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes. "As we continue to focus on college and career readiness, I would expect those things would improve as well."
For example, Kansas was marked as "in progress" on having a formal definition of college readiness and career readiness. Those definitions were formally adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education last month.
Kansas was also marked down for not requiring college preparation classes for a high school diploma or for aligning high school course credit requirements with post-secondary requirements.
But the report made no mention of Kansas' long-standing "qualified admissions standards," which define the courses and grade point average students need to gain automatic admission to state universities. Although high school students can graduate without taking that pre-college battery of classes, all districts are required to make those classes available to their students.
The Quality Counts report also gave grades and rankings in three other areas, but those sections were not updated since the 2012 report was issued, according to a spokeswoman for the project. Those included:
• K-12 achievement, where Kansas received a D+, ranking 26th in the country. Although Kansas students performed better than the national average on NAEP reading and math tests in 2011, those scores were little improved since 2003, while most other states saw bigger gains in their scores. In addition, Kansas saw a widening achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students over that time while the rest of the nation reduced those gaps.
• Standards, assessments and accountability, where Kansas earned a B-, but ranked 34th in the country. The state was marked down for using exclusively multiple-choice questions on its tests.
• And the teaching profession, where Kansas earned a D+, raking 37th in the nation. There, Kansas was marked down mainly for low pay and lack of funding for professional development. According to the report's parity index, average teacher salaries in Kansas are only 88.4 percent of average salaries for comparable occupations that typically require a bachelor's degree or higher to gain entry.