Francie and I value education. Our five kids have gone to Lutheran, Catholic, and Public Schools. Our daughter is a public high school teacher. I have served on the Catholic and the Public School Boards. I strongly support the best possible education for all of our children in Kansas. What I do not support is simply throwing money at education – or any program – and not getting the results that we deserve.
Kansas students deserve a good, adequately funded education. The focus must be on the student and the quality of the education – not just spending more. The taxpayers also deserve proper use of their money.
Unfortunately, most of the discussion about education in this election is about funding. That would be good if it were about how much is enough and what sort of results are we seeing. However, there has been almost no attention paid to finding better ways to address our education problems and how to provide increasingly better education. Instead, there are stories of drastic cuts that have happened or are happening or will happen and the terrible consequences. This is just blatant fear mongering and it is being fed by some in the teachers’ union as well as the school districts. These are the people who want the money – they are also the same people who do not want the accountability for performance – or transparency as to where the money has gone.
We need better education approaches with more clearly defined goals and better measurements. Funding must be adequate to achieve those goals. Important to the appropriate approaches is local control, parental choice, focus on individual students, more respect for the profession of teaching and the individual teachers and building principals. Education must not continue with the current, increasingly bureaucratic, top-down, one size fits all, cookie cutter approach.
First, take a look at a recent exchange between my opponent and myself.
My opponent referred to “drastic cuts” in education since 2008. Here is the chart of funding for Unified School Districts showing various sources of funding and not counting private donations. At no time since 2007 has per pupil funding dropped below $12,000. Prior to 2005 it had been below $10,000 dollars. Clearly the steep increases of 2006, 2007, and 2008 have not been continued. This hardly constitutes “drastic cuts” especially considering that K-12 education is almost sixty percent of the state general funds budget – and state revenues have been reduced by the economic recession. What my opponent fails to say is that all but one of the cuts she refers to were done under a Democrat governor and while she was in the legislature. Yet, she somehow wants to blame the current administration and me for her own failed record.
But with all the increases in spending that we have seen in more than a decade we have seen virtually no increase in student scores. Since 1998 spending per pupil has almost doubled while all measures of student performance have remains essentially the same.
The increases in spending have more than compensated for inflation – much more – as shown on the chart below.
So, where is the money going? That question is not really answered in the chart below as it is not clear what is in each of the categories but it seems that funding of “instruction” has been rising pretty well as in 2011 it is over nine thousand a pupil while in 2005 it was under six thousand – a huge increase. But spending on instruction is not keeping up with the pace of increase in overall spending. In other words, the schools seem to not be getting the money to the classroom because of other priorities. As mentioned, what is in each category is not clear and the composition of the categories could be different in each year – and in each reporting district.
Let’s take a look at the history of school funding at the local level. The chart below reflects two things only: headcount by year and spending by year for the Leavenworth School District. I am proud of the school district and I can brag on the district for many things – and I often have. My children graduated from Leavenworth schools and got fairly good to excellent educations – a lot depends on the child.
We should keep in mind that Leavenworth has large special education expenditures – and has for all the years covered by the chart. Nonetheless, the chart reflects total expenditures against total attendance with information from the Kansas Department of Education.
Yet, Leavenworth School District is one of the districts using taxpayer money to fund a lawsuit against the taxpayers of Kansas for more money.
We should be talking about how to get more students performing better, more students completing successfully, more students achieving at the top of their capabilities. We should be finding ways to let teachers actually practice their profession, ways for building principals to do their jobs better. Instead we are locked into satisfying the never ending demand of the union and its allies for more and more and more while they hold our children’s futures hostage.
Money is not the problem and money is not the answer. Education must be adequately funded but we cannot ignore our responsibilities by just writing bigger and bigger checks. We must demand better value for our money – for our kids. We can do better and we must. Our children’s future and ours depends on it.