Funding Facts: The Truth of Education Spending in Kansas

Did you know Kansas spends more than 67 percent of the state budget on education? More than 55 percent of the funding is for K-12 education and about 11 percent is for higher education. (page 12)

Did you know that the Shawnee Mission School District spends $12,670 per pupil to educate our students?

On average, school districts throughout the state spend on average $12,330 per pupil.

Every year – every session – the Kansas Legislature has a heated debate about school funding in Kansas.

Let’s make it clear – Kansas has great schools, including right here in Shawnee and Lenexa, where Shawnee Mission Northwest was recently recognized as one of the top schools in the country. There is not one legislator or interest group leader who wants that to change.

However, every year since the infamous 1992 decision regarding school financing in Kansas, board members, administrators, union heads, and the media have all screamed very loudly to teachers, parents, and taxpayers in general that school funding was being cut, that conservative legislators were attempting to destroy education through deep funding cuts.

This false rhetoric has been used repeatedly to paint conservative legislators as “extreme” or “radical” despite the fact that over that same 19 year period, education spending has increased at a steady rate, even while in some districts, like Shawnee Mission, enrollment has gone down over that same period.

Though the Legislature has time after time largely acceded to the demands of school districts for more funding, proven by facts and figures which demonstrate the spike in spending, for the 19th consecutive year, we are hearing once again about how funding is too low – with some even claiming that we are spending at what are effectively 1992 levels.

This assertion is simply incorrect by a basic review of the facts.

According to Kansas Legislative Research, state spending on education this year is $2.971 billion, up from $2.710 billion last year. Next year it will spike to $3.057 billion, which is more than DOUBLE what we were spending in 1992.

In 1992, the SMSD spent $5,966 per pupil. Therefore, the 2010 $12,613 figure is an increase of $6,647 – up 111.41 percent from 1992.

How then, can one state that education funding has been reduced to 1992 levels?

When one uses only a portion of the funding – the base state aid per pupil – to represent the total funding, it distorts the overall picture. There is much more to the school finance formula than just the “state base aid per pupil.” Take a look at some components of the school finance formula:

It certainly doesn’t help when the school finance formula is confusing, making it difficult to communicate to the public exactly what the education funding situations are in Kansas.

According to the formula, amounts required for Special Education, pension payments and the state's portion of local bond payments are deducted from total aid and then the remaining balance is then distributed according to the formula on a weighted per-pupil basis. Since the increases in those 'off the top' items are greater than the $86 million increase in total state aid, a reduction in base state aid was necessary. Still, average total aid from the state, with federal and local sources, will still be about $12,000 per-pupil next year, which would be a 5% reduction since FY 2009. (Federal aid is returning to pre-stimulus levels but local aid should be slightly higher.)

When looking at that small, 5% reduction, it is important to look at the period of time in which that occurred – one of the worst recessions in our state’s history. Unemployment is high. Corporate profits are extremely low. Private sector job growth is nil. Add those factors together which lowers revenues to the government, and it is clear tax increases on the suffering public would simply be wrong, not to mention bad for the economy.

After severely cutting funding to other state agencies in past years, public education had to take a modest reduction. It is also important to note that larger attempts at savings and reforms, such as school district consolidation (there are nearly 300 districts in Kansas), charter schools, or school-based-budgeting has largely been rejected by the education establishment. This doesn’t even take into account the fact salaries for administrators making well over $200,000 a year has increased at a steady clip, even at a time when wages for most private sector Americans are frozen. On average, SMSD teachers have received 8 to 10 percent salary increases since 2008, with many higher than 15 percent. (It is the local school board members who determine these increases.) SMSD teachers make an average wage of $66,806 including benefits and $60,277 without benefits.

This year, the legislature did take aggressive steps to allow districts to use unencumbered funds and transfer money from some “task-specific” accounts to general funds, which will increase flexibility for districts throughout the state. It is also important to recognize that it is conservative legislators who are often the ones most aggressively advocating for long term reform to the state funding formula, including removing courts from the process of allocating money to schools, which has been largely responsible for forcing much of Johnson County money to rural districts at a rate that is not fair nor sustainable. We will continue to push for these changes.

The best thing we can do to improve school district revenue is by improving the economy, by expanding private sector job growth and removing impediments to economic growth by reducing taxes on entrepreneurs and employers, thereby spurring economic activity by Kansans, which will in turn increase revenue. Obviously this cannot occur through further increases in taxes, as many on the left advocate.

Next time someone provides you statements which seem to be painting a picture of poverty for schools, check their statements with the facts. Johnson County conservative legislators are fighting to reform education in Kansas so our schools remain the best over the long haul. Parents and teachers deserve better than incomplete information that skews the overall picture.

It is an honor to serve you and I will continue working to cut spending, make government more transparent, and limit the growth of government.

In honor of your liberty,

Mary Pilcher-Cook

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Paid for by Mary Pilcher Cook for State Senate; Sheila Wodtke, Treasurer
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