Taxpayers are being taken for a ride with cost of education

TRACKSIDE © by John DíAloia Jr.

March 18, 2003

A Wichita Eagle Op-Ed about the funding plight of K-12 education in Kansas was reprinted in our local paper. The author closed with the thought that perhaps the state should fund just "a suitable education," with small districts funding themselves anything they wanted to offer above and beyond the defined "suitable education." The idea sounds good but to put you in the right frame of mind for understanding reality, harken back to how an ex-President toyed with the definition of "is."

Two years ago, the Kansas legislature spent $225,000.00 of your tax dollars to quantify how much it would cost to fund a "suitable education." The legislature provided a definition that started off centered on what you and I would consider the core items in a suitable education curriculum and was probably along the lines of what the Op-Ed author had in mind, but then educrats were given the opportunity to load up the definition with bells and whistles, and that they did. The expansion of the definition to include what could be described as mission creep and nice-to-have programs and functions, programs and functions not critical to education success, and the spending syndrome that stalks the legislature and the education hierarchy are recognized out in the hustings. One citizen put it thus: "we cut the funding for needed infrastructure that is the responsibility of local governments so we can spend more on architecturally beautiful school buildings that donít mean squat to the education of our kids."

It should be no surprise that the stateís consultant came back with numbers that significantly exceeded current K-12 state expenditures - it was the same consultant, Augenblick & Myers, Inc., of Denver, Colorado, who years back developed the school finance formula now in effect in Kansas. And it probably should not be much of a surprise that the consultants recommended spending a lot more. Just about everyone they talked to were the same people in the education establishment who have been saying for years that they are starving, that they just cannot make do with the dollars they are getting. The consultantís principal recommendations were to continue use of the same type of funding program, just tweak it a bit more here and there, raise the state base aid to $4,650 per student (at the time it was $3,820,) increase the state-wide school mill levy from 20 mills to 25 mills, and retain the 25% local option budget. Those Kansas readers who just uttered something about the mill levy going up more than the five mills recommended by A&M recognize that the authorized LOB amount (and thus the LOB mill levy) will also go up as the base aid number goes up.

There are simpler ways of determining both the definition and cost of a suitable education, methods that do not require the expert from out of town with a brief case, or the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars for esoteric analyses. These methods would probably have the same margin of error regarding costs as does A&Mís study. One way would be to do a bit of historical research. Go back, say 60 years, and look at the subjects being taught in K-12 schools in 1940. Find out how they were teaching those subjects and what it cost them in constant dollars. The core subjects of reading, mathematics, and the humanities are relatively constant in subject matter over time. Overlay that curriculum with current science and technology and you will have an acceptable definition of a suitable education.

A second way of defining a suitable education and its cost would be to survey the private schools, secular and religious, that consistently turn out students who score above average on the national standardized tests. Determine the content of their curriculum and their tuition. A third way to define a suitable education and its cost would be to conduct a survey of the curriculum developed by companies to support virtual and brick and mortar charter schools. Bill Bennett, former Secretary of Education, has one such curriculum that is recognized as setting a high academic standard and has been adopted as the curriculum in several statesí virtual charter schools, including Colorado and Pennsylvania. The curriculum emphasizes fundamentals - Language Arts, Math, Science, History, Art, and Music - and the essential skills of reading, writing, measuring, calculating, thinking logically, questioning, and analyzing.

Me thinks that using these methods, it will be shown that taxpayers are being taken for a ride, that a suitable education can be provided for less than is now being poured into Kansas schools.

See you Trackside.


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