Archive for Friday, September 27, 2013

School funding: Is it up or down?

September 27, 2013


In a little more than a week, the Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit claiming that school funding in Kansas is unconstitutionally low.

Plaintiffs in the case argue that since the Great Recession began in 2008, state lawmakers have cut public funding to schools, reducing per-pupil funding to its lowest point since the mid-1990s.

But others claim just the opposite, arguing that "total" funding — counting all state, federal and local sources of revenue — is actually at or near an all-time high.

According to state budget reports, there is evidence to support both arguments.

“Total” spending — which includes everything from teacher salaries and retirement contributions to boiler repairs and federal subsidies for school lunches — has indeed increased since the last school finance case was resolved by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2006.

Related document

Kansas School Spending FY 2006 - 2014 ( .PDF )

But almost everyone who works with school budgets on a day-to-day basis will argue that the amount of money available to pay for teachers and general operating expenses — what is often called “classroom” spending — definitely has gone down.

“The operating money is down, but KPERS (the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System) and bond and interest is up,” Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said.

What the numbers say

According to figures published by the Kansas Division of the Budget, in annual documents called the Comparison Report, “total” public spending on Kansas schools grew almost 24 percent from 2006 to 2013, to $5.24 billion.

In addition, total state spending has grown about 17 percent, to $3.4 billion in the current fiscal year.

However, according to budget reports, that increase is more than explained by the growth in KPERS contributions, the money the state puts in to cover the employer's share of school employees' retirement benefits.

That's the result of legislation passed in 2003 that called for stepping up the state's employer contribution rates each year in order to address the retirement system's long-term unfunded liability.

Although advocates on both sides of the school finance debate agree that it's legitimate to include the cost of retirement benefits as part of the overall cost of operating a school system, school officials argue that they have no control over those costs, or over the benefits that public employees receive through KPERS. Those are matters determined solely by the Legislature.

Another major category that has increased over the years is bond and interest aid — a subsidy the state pays to poorer school districts so their property tax rates for repaying bonds can be roughly equal to that of wealthier districts. According to state budget figures, that has grown 106 percent since 2006, to $118.5 million this year.

Classroom spending down

Under the Kansas school finance system, local districts have two major sources of money to pay for day-to-day operating costs: the Base State Aid Per Pupil formula, which provides a flat amount of money per pupil based on the district's "weighted" enrollment; and supplemental aid, often referred to as the Local Option Budget, or LOB.

The LOB allows districts to levy local property taxes to supplement their base funding from the state, but only up to 31 percent of their state aid. And like the bond and interest program, the state subsidizes the LOBs for poorer districts to help keep their property tax mill levies down.

Before the last school finance case went to the Supreme Court in 2005, the base aid formula was set at $3,863. As a result of that case, the Legislature agreed to a multiyear plan to raise that amount, eventually reaching a peak of $4,400 in Fiscal Year 2009, which began in the summer of 2008.

That translated to $1.9 billion in spending by the state for both base aid and LOB subsidies.

But that was the year the Great Recession hit, resulting in huge declines in revenue flowing into the state.

Then-Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, was the first to cut the base formula by executive order. A series of cuts continued into the first two years of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.

Today, the formula is set at $3,838 per pupil. But even that is misleading, education officials say, because in 2005 the Legislature also changed other parts of the formula. The equivalent under the pre-2005 formula would actually be $3,594 — or $269 per pupil less than it was before the last school finance case. That resulted in about $2.4 billion in spending by the state on base aid and LOB subsidies.

The base aid formula is scheduled to go up next year to $3,852.

In 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that amount was too low because it was not enough to cover the actual cost of providing all the educational services required under state and federal law, particularly in schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students.

One of the key questions the Court will be asked to decide on Oct. 8 is whether anything has changed to make that a suitable funding level now.

Education news
Have a story idea?
Contact Journal-World education reporter Elliot Hughes:


Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

Kansas MUST STOP ALEC"s assault on public education. Kansas is but one victim. This is an organized effort to turn OUR tax dollars over to private industry.

ALEC Private Schools - Corporate Education Reformers Plot Next Steps at Secretive Meeting

16 states – from Maine to Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey to Colorado,Michigan,Ohio,Florida,Texas etc etc etc are being invaded by ALEC politicians in a huge takeover attempt that will net this unwanted force trillions upon trillions of tax dollars for their bank accounts. All of these state have governors in place like Brownback managing the ALEC takeover.

How best to accomplish this feat? Stop funding public education adequately then ramp up an already existing misinformation campaign declaring public education doesn't work. Which is beyond the word scandal. This is downright fraud.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

I also contend that the Virtual School K-12 program is an ALEC tool as well...... as is/was No Child Left Behind.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 8 months ago

Don't see ALEC behind every bush, but schools have become entangled with the business community in recent years. Many corporations enhanced educational opportunity and continue to do so. Lobbying groups, ALEC, for example are generally not benevolent. Visionary business people know good public schools will always be our genius and they help as they can. Motive is the question. Does the corporate interest want to improve schools or privatize them and sell parts of the corpse to their buddies? NCLB is a good example. Follow the money into BUSHCO pockets and to their friends. Money talks and BS walks. That's why it is important to suitably fund the schools.

chootspa 4 years, 9 months ago

Nice outline as to why the argument that "we're spending more than ever but not getting better results" is totally deceptive. You really can't count backfilling KPERS payments as spending the money on "education."

Paul R Getto 4 years, 8 months ago

Bookkeeping tricks are old hat. Between the 50's and the early 90's, both R and D administrations have done so, but they tried to find more money for schools. The latest iterations, laundering pension and Special Education money to inflate the number, all the while starving the classrooms and supporting privatization, are corporate inspirations intended to prove schools have enough (or too much) money, not to enhance funding levels. Padding the numbers is easy; funding the schools is hard. Corporations may be people but they are soulless. It takes leaders and voters who know the difference between the two camps to sort this out.

Devin Wilson 4 years, 8 months ago

It's frustrating. Bought a house in an area with "good schools" over 10 years ago. Paid KS taxes all my working life. Now with my kids in school I am seeing class sizes all over my district go through the roof, and schools making big sacrifices, big cuts. K-5 classes should never have more than 20 per teacher, we are seeing 25-30, even in the lower grades! I want what I have paid for before my kids graduate. Stop spinning the numbers. Sure if you stand on your head, the charts show increases in actual student funding. I appreciate that more and more people are sifting through the B.S. Here is a spin-free analysis of the claims: Know who in the Kansas Legislature are members of ALEC. Understand who is pushing policy at the statehouse. I guarantee it isn't the kids trying to strong-arm an agenda.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.