Friday, August 6

Combining policy with spending is the only way to help Kansas students

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Combining Policy with Spending is the Only Way to Help Students

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute

A recent editorial in Investor’s Business Daily on the Kansas school finance ruling proclaimed, “Hallelujah! What a concept: School performance shouldn’t be based on the inputs — i.e., money — but the actual academic results.” IBD got it exactly right, but the Kansas school lobby and their allies in media and the Legislature are not about to permit the focus to shift to students. For them, it has always been about money and politics — and that’s really why the school lobby and some legislators are opposing efforts to combine policy reforms with funding the equity provisions of the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon.

The “official” position on student achievement in Kansas had long been that achievement was sky-high, but that was put to rest on February 6 in a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees. Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker agreed with what KPI has been saying for years — there is a large and growing achievement gap for low income students, as shown in the testimony we presented that day.

Roughly half of Kansas students (those eligible for free and reduced lunch based on income) are several years’ worth of learning behind everyone else. At Risk funding specifically intended to help this group of students was increased seven fold between 2005 and 2013 — from $52 million to $385 million — but student achievement barely changed.

Source: Kansas Department of Education; National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

Some legislators have been trying for years to expand educational opportunities for low income students through public charter schools and tax credit scholarships, but the education lobby and their allies vehemently oppose these student-focused efforts.

We fully support the legal premise of equity with regard to school funding. But equity should not apply exclusively to money; it also applies to educational opportunity. It’s appallingly hypocritical that so many people who claim to believe in equal opportunity for women, minorities, the disabled, veterans and many other groups also vigorously oppose equal educational opportunities for low income students. Oh, they say they aren’t opposed to more opportunities for low income students … as long as those schools operate exactly the same as the schools that aren’t working for them.

Money and politics are the real drivers of education policy in Kansas. The school lobby prioritizes money over student interests. Some people are quite happy to exploit the issue for political gain (getting elected and/or getting someone out of office) while others would rather not discuss it because they might not get elected. You see, if you stand up for students in Kansas, you’re accused of hating teachers, wanting to abolish public education and somehow enrich wealthy people.

There is certainly nothing new about combining policy and funding in Kansas or anywhere else; it’s actually quite common. The simple truth is that combining policy with funding is the only way to prioritize student needs ahead of institutional and political demands.