Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card, Sixth Edition

This month, Bruce Baker and colleagues released the sixth edition of "Is School Funding Fair?  A National Report Card" through the Education Law Center and Rutgers Graduate School of Education.   
The Report Card uses nationally available data to rate and/or grade each state on four measures.  Below is a description of each and information on how Kansas performed this year. 

Funding Level 
This measures the overall level of state and local revenue provided to school districts, and compares each state’s average per‐pupil revenue with that of other states. To recognize the variety of interstate differences, each state’s revenue level is adjusted to reflect differences in regional wages, poverty, economies of scale, and population density. 

Kansas ranked 23rd in Funding Level with $9,749 average per pupil revenue.  As noted above, first place went to New York with $16,165 per pupil, and 49th place went to Idaho with $5,838 per pupil. 

Last year, Kansas ranked 22nd 

Funding Distribution 
This measures the distribution of funding across local districts within a state, relative to student poverty. The measure shows whether a state provides more or less funding to schools based on their poverty concentration, using simulations ranging from 0 percent to 30 percent child poverty. 

Kansas got a grade of "C" and ranked 22nd in Funding Distribution, with students in high poverty schools receiving 98 percent of the funding that students in low poverty schools receive ($9,694 and $9,858 respectively).  Delaware got 1st place, with students in high poverty schools receiving 144 percent of what students in low poverty schools receive, and Nevada got 50th place, with students in high poverty schools receiving 59 percent of what students in low poverty schools receive. 

Last year, Kansas also got a “C” grade and ranked 29th, but still had high poverty school students receiving 98 percent of the funding that students in low poverty schools received.  This suggests that the change in Kansas’s rank is due to other states becoming less equitable in their distribution, rather than Kansas becoming more equitable.   

This measures differences in state spending for education relative to state fiscal capacity. “Effort” is defined as the ratio of state spending to gross state product (GSP). 

Kansas got a grade of "C" and ranked 21st in Effort, with a ratio of education spending to gross state product of 0.036.  Vermont got 1st place with a ratio of 0.053 and Hawaii got 50th place with a ratio of 0.025.   

Kansas's effort index is down 4 percent from where it was in 2008.  Last year, Kansas again earned a grade of “C” and was ranked 21st 

This measures the proportion of school‐aged children attending the state’s public schools, as compared with those not attending the state’s public schools (primarily parochial and private schools, but also home schooled). The share of the state’s students in public schools and the median household income of those students is an important indicator of the distribution of funding relative to student poverty (especially where more affluent households simply opt out of public schooling), and the overall effort to provide fair school funding. 

Kansas ranked 33rd in Coverage, with 87 percent of school-aged children attending public school and with the median household income of those not attending public schools at 144 percent of the median household income for public school students.  Utah ranked 1st with 93 percent of children attending public schools and private school family in come at 107 percent of public school families, and DC ranked 51st with 82 percent of students attending public schools and private school family incomes at 288 percent of public school families. 
Last year Kansas ranked 24th and had 88 percent of school-aged children attending public school and median household income of students not attending public schools at 143 percent of that for students attending public schools.  This suggests that other states have decreased the percent of students not attending public schools and/or decreased the disparity in household incomes, since Kansas’s data for the current year is only slightly worse than last year but the rank is much lower.  

Key Findings 
According to the authors, the major findings from the report are as follows: 

  • Funding levels show large disparities, ranging from a high of $18,165 per pupil in New York, to a low of $5,838 in Idaho. 
  • Many states with low funding levels, such as California, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, are also low “effort” states, that is, they invest a low percentage of their economic capacity to support their public education systems. 
  • Fourteen states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, and Illinois, have “regressive” school funding. These states provide less funding to school districts with higher concentrations of need as measured by student poverty. 
  • Students in certain regions of the country face a “double disadvantage” because their states have low funding levels and do not increase funding for concentrated student poverty. These “flat” funding states include Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, and Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest. 
  • Only a handful of states – Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey – have “progressive” school funding. These states have sufficiently high funding levels and significantly boost funding in their high poverty districts. 
  • States with unfair school funding perform poorly on key indicators of resources essential for educational opportunity. In these states, access to early childhood education is limited; wages for teachers are not competitive with those of comparable professions; and teacher-to-pupil ratios in schools are unreasonably high. 

KASB Research Perspective 
There are a lot of different “Report Card” or “Grade Card” analyses out there related to public education, including KASB’s own “State Education Report Card.”  It is important to understand that the selection of the measures to use, the calculations, and the type of results shared is somewhat arbitrary, which is why the authors of such studies are often accused of “cherry picking” data that supports a particular conclusion.  In addition, it is often hard to find measures that are collected and reported consistently across states that would allow for meaningful comparison.   

That being said, Bruce Baker and his team have been using the same approach to their report card for several years now, and this annual report is widely accepted as a credible way to compare states in terms of education funding.  The measures used (average per-pupil revenue, percent school poverty, state education spending, gross state product, percent enrolled in public and private schools, median household income) are all data elements from credible national sources that are frequently used when discussing education at the national level.  In addition, the calculations and types of results they use (adjusting for interstate differences, calculating ratios, using both ranking and grade assignments) are common to most if not all “Report Card” analyses of this kind. 

Based on the results of this report, the following conclusions about Kansas can be drawn: 

  • Kansas is in the middle of the states when it comes to per-pupil spending, but our ranking in this area is dropping. 
  • Kansas is in the middle of the states when it comes to funding distribution, but other states may be becoming less equitable at a rate higher than Kansas. 
  • Kansas is in the middle of the states when it comes to effort, but long term trends show a decrease in this metric over time. 
  • Kansas is below average when it comes to the percent of school-aged children in public schools and the difference in wealth between public and private school students, and saw a sharp decline in standing from last year mostly due to changes in other states’ statistics.   

In other words, this report card supports the same conclusion that KASB has drawn from the research we have done – Kansas is not the worst state in terms of school funding, but there is certainly great room for improvement.  Further, data suggests that the situation in Kansas is getting worse rather than better. 

In addition to the report, the groups also made available the data sets used as part of the analysis via the School Funding Fairness Data System.  For more information, visit www.schoolfundingfairness.org. 

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