Does a Report on State Education Funding Play Loose With Facts?

The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities stirred up a cloud of dust when it published a report concluding that education funding hasn’t yet recovered from the cuts necessitated by the 2008 economic recession. The original study said that even as state revenues continue to recover, education funding continues to lag from 6 years ago – by as much as 20% in some states.

Kansas was one of the states singled out for spending 16.5% less on its schools today than it did in 2008. But according to Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute, the claims made by CBPP are at, at best, “misleading.”

For a start, the study failed to account for the complex way in which Kansas funds its schools. Like elsewhere, the state legislature allocates towards education from its budget and if that was the end of it, the report would be correct. However, in addition to the schools line item in the budget, lawmakers also fund schools from other sources of revenue. Of the $3.2 billion sent on schools in the 2011-12 fiscal year, only $2.1 billion came directly from the budget — an additional $1.546 billion was set aside by the State authority from property tax revenues.

By focusing only on one piece of funding, CBPP conveniently ignores that many states, including Kansas, used ARRA stimulus money to backfill recession-driven declines in other funding.  The funding sources may have temporarily shifted but schools were nearly held harmless.  CBPP just wants to pretend otherwise.

State and local funding in Kansas is arbitrarily determined by which government writes the last check, but taxpayers write the first check… so it’s only appropriate to consider total taxpayer support when the impact on schools.

There may be more amiss with the report than being simply too flexible with the numbers. While the CBPP paper concludes with a call for an funding increase, it stays suspiciously silent on what taxpayers can expect to receive for all that additional money. Maybe that is because – at least in Oklahoma – the answer is “not very much.”

According to Patrick B. McGuigan of Watchdog.org, Oklahoma topped the “list of shame” in the CPBB report, with funding running 22% below its 2008 peak. Yet the academic outcomes of Oklahoma students didn’t seem to vary at all – remaining more or less flat during the period of high spending and periods of when spending declined or stagnated.

In Oklahoma, about three-quarters of our students take the ACT before high school graduation. We are in the handful of states that have the equivalent of an exit examination that, over time, provides a consistent measure of what most kids get from 12 to 14 years of schooling.

And? Since 1990, less than a five percent improvement — despite a 40 percent-plus spending increase — in ACT scores for graduating seniors. Since 2007, Oklahoma has been stuck at or around an average score of 20.7.