The Legislature is preparing to embroil itself in a special session after the Kansas Supreme Court threatened to close public schools over a funding dispute amounting to less than 1 percent of the state’s education budget.
Gov. Sam Brownback and like-minded state lawmakers are considered by many in the media to be the enemy here, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Have you ever heard of an elected official who is praised for cutting education spending?
For that matter, have you ever heard an education official say education spending at current levels is sufficient?
But has anyone paused to consider if the education system actually needs so much money and, if so, why?
The widely accepted belief that throwing money at schools will improve educational quality has been disproved time and time again, including during the federal takeover of the Kansas City, Mo., school district. In a 1981 study, researcher Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University found that “there is no relationship between expenditures and the achievement of students.” The Kansas Policy Institute used data from the National Center for Economic Statistics to show in its April 2016report that “graduation rates have steadily increased, regardless of funding levels.”
If more money is not a cure for America’s failing schools, what’s to be done?
First, let’s stop automatically demonizing elected officials for cutting education spending. Ask education departments specifically what they are spending taxpayers’ money on and whether they can show, using empirical evidence, such a strategy will lead to an improvement in students’ educational outcomes. Schools need money, but school districts also need to be held accountable.
Legislatures also need to be open to school choice. Kansas currently has only one school choice program available to parents in the state – the Kansas Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program – and just 73 students participated in the program during the 2015-16 school year. School choice programs save taxpayers money.
What does the state really need to improve educational quality? It’s likely, despite all of the rhetoric claiming the contrary, that money is not really the problem. It’s certainly not a surefire solution.