Kids Count report: Kansas sees drop in national education ranking

photo by: Nick Krug

In this file photo from Aug. 13, 2014, a student raises his hand within a circle of second graders at Woodlawn School.

Several measures of public education in Kansas have gotten worse over the last several years, causing the state to slip in a national ranking. Kansas dropped from 12th to 20th nationally, with measures of reading, math and early childhood education showing declines.

“We’re lagging behind and other communities are doing better, and those numbers are kids,” said Lawrence school board President Vanessa Sanburn. “Those are kids that aren’t getting the resources that they need to become successful adults.”

The findings were published in the latest Kids Count Data Report, a national project by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that tracks child welfare indicators state to state. The report looks at trends over time, the most recent comparing data from 2008 with 2014. Education is one four categories measured by the report, which also tracks economic well-being, health, and family and community.

In the overall ranking of all four categories, Kansas ranks 19th this year, down from 15th in 2015. In addition to the drop in its education ranking, the state also dropped from 13th to 24th in the overall health category. The economic and family and community categories saw no change, both holding their place at 9th and 24th.

“There’s a lot of troubling trends that we’re just now at the beginning of,” said Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, a statewide child advocacy organization.

The report was released as a special legislative session to makes changes to the school funding formula approaches. The Kansas Legislature and the Supreme Court have been going back and forth regarding the formula, which the court has ruled inequitable and therefore unconstitutional. The court gave state lawmakers until June 30 to make changes, and the special session will begin on Thursday.

McKay said she thinks the drop in the state’s education ranking is the direct result of insufficient state funding for K-12 education, early childhood programs and social services in the state.

“It tells me that increasingly, we’re not preparing kids, we’re not giving them the best start and we’re not equipping them with the tools that they need to enter kindergarten ready to learn,” McKay said.

The education ranking looks at four indicators: young children not in school; fourth-graders not proficient in reading; eighth-graders not proficient in math; and high school students not graduating on time. Kansas ranks above Missouri and Oklahoma, which came in at 26th and 42nd. Nebraska, Iowa and Colorado rank before Kansas in education, named 8th, 11th and 12th nationwide.

Kansas saw poorer performance in three of the four education categories. The most recent data for Kansas indicates that 65 percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, 67 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math and 56 percent of young children are not in early education programs such as Head Start or prekindergarten. At 12 percent, the measurement of high school students not graduating on time was the only indicator to improve.

Sanburn said she thinks the numbers in the report are telling and important for lawmakers and others to pay attention to, especially in discussions regarding funding for schools and social services.

“I think that expecting hard work and perseverance to save us year after year after year, it’s just not a sustainable model that’s going to work forever,” Sanburn said.

The state Kids Count report, which includes a county-by-county breakdown of the data, will be released in the fall.