Testimony in Kansas school-finance suit centers on preparednessBy JOHN MILBURN
Kansas school districts are concerned not only about the money they need to educate students, but also about how well students are being prepared for their futures, a top state education official testified Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging how the state funds its schools.
Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander finished his second day of testifying in the trial of a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of 54 school districts in Kansas, along with dozens of individual students and their parents.
“There’s more to a kid being prepared for beyond school than just a (test) score,” Neuenswander said.
The lawsuit claims the state hasn’t been spending enough money to satisfy the Kansas Constitution’s requirement for providing a “suitable” education. Lawyers for the state contend that the Legislature has done the best it could to fund schools as state revenue declined during the recession that began in December 2007.
Neuenswander said schools are focused on meeting goals for student proficiency in math and reading, but that it takes additional resources to prepare students to be ready for college or the workforce.
“We know where we want to go. The challenge is how we get there with the resources,” he said.
State attorneys countered Wednesday with testimony from Eric Hanushek, a school finance expert with the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. Hanushek refuted what he called “conventional” thinking that adding more money to school budgets for reducing class sizes would lead to better achievement.
He said data indicated that the education levels of teachers and their years of classroom experience were better indicators of student success. Hanushek also compared Kansas scores on national education exams with those of other states, concluding that the students were performing better than states that spend more per student than Kansas.
“Kansas schools are doing quite well,” he said.
Testimony before a three-judge panel began June 4 in Shawnee County District Court, and is expected to conclude June 28. However, attorneys for both sides are likely to ask to file additional documents after they finish presenting evidence and that they will be back in court for a final round of closing arguments.
There is no deadline for the judges to issue a ruling in the case, which is expected to be appealed directly to the Kansas Supreme Court.
Hanushek testified in the last Kansas school-finance case, which resulted in the state’s highest court ruling that more money was required for schools. Legislators responded with increases over four academic years but made cuts when state revenue declined starting in 2008.
In his preparation for the present case, Hanushek compared education spending in Kansas to that of Wyoming, which has similar school demographics, including large numbers of rural schools. Wyoming has increased its spending per student in recent years, but he said the data shows that despite spending more on education, Wyoming doesn’t see the same results on national measurements that Kansas does.
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