Reviewer gives high marks to school spending study



March 30, 2018 - 11:00 PM

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An independent reviewer has backed the validity of a study that found improving Kansas’ public schools could cost an additional $2 billion a year.

Jesse Levin, a principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C., told a joint meeting of the House and Senate K-12 budget committees Thursday that the study conducted by Texas A&M University professor Lori Taylor and Jason Willis, director at the San Francisco-based nonprofit education research agency WestEd, was “fairly cutting-edge and done very, very well.”

Lawmakers hired Levin to conduct a peer review of the study, which found that Kansas would need to spend an additional $1.8 billion to $2.1 billion a year on education to boost its high school graduation rate to 95 percent and raise significant numbers of students up to grade level or college readiness on statewide reading and math tests, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

Legislators are facing a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to increase spending on public schools. When the results of the study were released earlier this month, they sent shockwaves through the Statehouse, especially among conservatives who quickly dismissed the findings.

Levin said he initially was troubled that Taylor and Willis recommended an increase that was vastly higher than that of a study done in 2006 amid another school finance lawsuit. At that time, the Legislative Division of Post Audit, or LPA, found the state needed to add roughly $399 million in new spending.

However, Levin said the LPA study was based on the cost of providing services that schools are legally required to provide, while the Taylor study looked at the cost of achieving certain educational outcomes like raising the graduation rate and improving test scores. He also said that he believes the LPA study recommended less than it should have, but that both studies indicate the state needs to allocate significantly more money to public education.

On Wednesday, the night before Levin’s review was released, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee passed out a new funding plan that would phase in only about $522 million in additional money for schools over the next five years. Lawmakers are under a deadline to pass a new funding plan before their scheduled adjournment next week for a break. That’s because the Kansas Supreme Court has said the state must file briefs with the court no later than April 30, detailing what lawmakers did to pass a funding plan that will meet constitutional muster.

After briefing lawmakers, Levin told reporters that he thinks the court should take the new study into account when it next reviews the case.

“It seems like a solid study to me after reviewing it,” he said.