Opinion Columns & Blogs

Dave Trabert: Low achievement, not funding, is the real school crisis

There are those who believe Kansas has a school funding crisis – even though spending exceeds $13,000 per student and continues to set records – but low student achievement is the real crisis. It’s a shame that so much attention is paid to money and so little focus is on actual learning.

Only 32 percent of Kansas students are college-ready in English, reading, math and science on the ACT exam. Just 20 percent of low-income fourth-graders are proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and only 27 percent in math. Of students who are not low-income, barely half are proficient in reading and math. In eighth grade, less than a quarter of low-income kids are proficient in reading and math, and less than half of students who aren’t low-income.

The Kansas State Department of Education moved to a new state assessment in 2015. Here is the uncomfortable truth – the percentages of 10th-grade students (low-income and not low-income) who are on track to be college- and career-ready:

▪  State average, math: 11 percent (low-income) and 32 percent (not low-income).

▪  State average, English language arts: 17 and 40 percent.

▪  Wichita, math: 9 and 27 percent.

▪  Wichita, English language arts: 12 and 34 percent.

▪  Andover, math: 17 and 48 percent.

▪  Andover, English language arts: 20 and 50 percent.

▪  Goddard, math: 12 and 29 percent.

▪  Goddard, English language arts: 21 and 42 percent.

Here are some questions every local school board member should publicly answer:

▪  Do you find these outcomes to be acceptable? If not, what is acceptable?

▪  If you believe schools are underfunded, what is the right number, how do you justify it, and does that account for efficient use of taxpayer money?

▪  If schools get that amount, when will outcomes be acceptable?

And if you’ve been told that more spending is correlated with better outcomes, know this: The Kansas Legislative Research Department says correlation cannot be proved, and even researchers who find correlation admit that simply spending more money does not cause outcomes to improve.

Public education will always cost a lot of money, but it’s how the money is spent that makes a difference rather than “how much.”

Kansas can have great public education for all, but not until current outcomes are acknowledged and corrective measures are taken.

Dave Trabert of Overland Park is president of the Kansas Policy Institute.