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Northwest High prank, some underlying facts

Instead of pranking, Wichita public school students and their leaders might consider a few facts. From April 2016.

KSN News reported on an April Fools’ Day prank at Northwest High School in Kansas. The message is that the school is short of funds.

The KSN news story reported: “Wendy Johnson, the Director of Marketing and Communications for Wichita Public Schools also said, ‘This appears to be someone’s effort at a humorous April Fool’s commentary on the funding crisis that public education is facing in Kansas.'”

Also: “USD 259 Board of Education member Lynn Rogers called the prank, ‘very ingenious.’ Rogers says there was no harm done, but, the education funding issue is at its core, ‘no laughing matter. There’s some dark days for public education right now, and people have been very discouraged,’ Rogers said.”

When looking at this story, I wonder how the pranksters — likely students at the school — developed an opinion of issues like school funding. Who told them there was a “funding crisis?” Is that an opinion high school students developed on their own, or is it an opinion spoon-fed to them? The quotes from school district leaders provide the answer to that question.

It’s unfortunate that students are fed this opinion. Because when we look at actual numbers, the idea of a crisis doesn’t hold water. There is a lot of controversy over school funding in Kansas. Should teacher retirement fund contributions be included, or not? What counts as classroom funding? Should dollar amounts be adjusted for inflation, and at what rate? (Schools argue that their costs rise faster than the general price level.)

Schools tell us that their largest expenditure is on personnel costs. Across the country, the portion of current expenditures going to salaries and benefits hovers around 80 percent. 1

Enrollment and Employment at Wichita Northwest High School.

Enrollment and Employment at Wichita Northwest High School. Click for larger.

Looking at the number of school employees strips away most of the confounding factors and concentrates on the largest, and most important, cost schools face: Teachers and other employees.

Enrollment and Employment at Wichita Northwest High School. Click for larger.

Enrollment and Employment at Wichita Northwest High School. Click for larger.

As it turns out, Wichita Northwest High School shouldn’t be complaining about a funding crisis. For one thing, enrollment at this school is falling, from 1,580 in 2009 to 1,399 in 2015, a decline of 11 percent. While the number of teachers and certified employees has varied, the ratios of students to these employees has been level or declining.

Employment ratios in the Wichita school district. Click for larger.

Employment ratios in the Wichita school district. Click for larger.

For that matter, the ratios of students to teachers and certified employees for the entire Wichita public school district is on a long downward trend, with small interruptions.

  1. National Center for Education Statistics: The Condition of Education, Elementary and Secondary Education, Finance, Public School Expenditures. Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cmb.asp.