Study overshot schools goals

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April 1, 2018 - 11:00 PM

REPORT

A report meant to guide Kansas school spending appears to have overshot the mark by more than half a billion dollars.

Consultants who wrote the document chased aggressive academic gains that exceed outcomes even in some of the state’s highest-performing schools.

Goals the authors chose outpace even the state’s already optimistic pledges to the federal government for raising graduation rates and test scores by 2030, marks that education advocates caution haven’t been achieved anywhere in the country.

“That’s been kind of what included in the report but provided by the authors to lawmakers later.

Willis confirmed the Kansas News Service’s math.

The $2.1 billion figure was one of two that the authors offered, as Taylor said, to identify how much Kansas needs to spend to fulfill education obligations set out by the Kansas Supreme Court, which has found current public school funding unconstitutional.

The cheaper estimate in the report is $1.79 billion, but that, too, appears to be half a billion dollars too high for similar reasons.

Regardless, lawmakers are likely to settle on something closer to what school districts suing the state have been seeking. Those districts have argued for at least $600 million.

Tallman, of the school boards association, said Kansas Supreme Court justices will need to decide what is “constitutionally acceptable.”

Kansas contracted with Taylor and WestEd in late January and received their analysis on March 15. Past studies of Kansas school finance have taken upwards of six months.

The report is riddled with mistakes — grammar errors, dummy text, and in some places numbers written into the narrative that don’t match math shown in tables. At least one table is missing and a map of Kansas shows the state with the Kansas City-Johnson County metro missing from its borders.

Taylor said she and Willis have apologized to lawmakers, and that the errors don’t affect the report’s conclusions.

“I can assure you that the flaws were cosmetic,” she said in an email.

But the mistakes have opened the door my standard reaction has been — it is much more aggressive than any plan,” Mark Tall-man, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said of the new school finance analysis. “But that’s also part of the reason it’s so expensive.”

The report — commissioned by lawmakers for $245,000 — sent shock waves through the Capitol last month for suggesting it could take as much as $2 billion to meet the state’s education obligations.

Though lawmakers are not seriously considering adding that much money to K-12 education, the $2 billion figure made headlines across the state. The report could remain a reference point in school spending debates for years to come.

Reports from the early and mid-2000s that found Kansas schools underfunded continue to play a prominent role in political and legal arguments more than a decade later.

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