Kobach’s 75 per­cent class­room spend­ing plan hard to achieve

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - News - BY DION LEFLER

Gov­er­nor can­di­date Kris Kobach’s pro­posal to shift 75 per­cent of school fund­ing to class­rooms plays to rave re­views from his Repub­li­can base on the cam­paign trail, but ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts say it would be dif­fi­cult to im­pos­si­ble to im­ple­ment.

The main rea­son is that statewide, more than 25 per­cent of to­tal school fund­ing is locked up in fed­eral grants for spe­cific pur­poses, build­ing funds that can’t be used for any­thing else by law, or pay­ments like util­ity bills that have to be made, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts and an Ea­gle anal­y­sis of the break­down of school fund­ing.

Kobach hasn’t of­fered specifics about how he would get to his 75 per­cent in the class­room goal.

He has said he would start with cuts in ad­min­is­tra­tion and build­ing spend­ing.

“The num­ber of ad­min­is­tra­tors in the last 25 years has gone up 40 per­cent in Kansas, but the num­ber of teach­ers has gone up 17 per­cent, so there’s been a mas­sive in­crease in ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions,” Kobach said. “That’s why you have two schools in Wi­chita with five as­sis­tant prin­ci­pals each. That’s why you have build­ings like the crys­tal palace in the ShawneeMis­sion school dis­trict that looks like a cor­po­rate head­quar­ters and it’s their ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ter.”

God­dard school Su­per­in­ten­dent Justin Henry said there’s no way to get class­room spend­ing up to 75 per­cent of to­tal spend­ing just by cut­ting and shift­ing funds around.

“We did two com­mu­nity meet­ings last week about this very topic,” Henry said. “If the state­ment is 75 per­cent of all of your ex­pen­di­tures should be for teacher salaries and ben­e­fits, I think it’s im­pos­si­ble to get the math to work with­out dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing the over­all spend to schools, so you can in­crease pro­por­tion­ally the teacher salaries to get it up to 75 per­cent of your to­tal bud­get.

“One of our core be­liefs is re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing world-class teach­ing staff,” he said. “But re­al­is­ti­cally, you have other bills you have to pay, and the math doesn’t work.”

Su­san Wil­lis, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of the Wi­chita school dis­trict, said meet­ing a 75 per­cent thresh­old on di­rect class­room spend­ing might be barely pos­si­ble but would re­quire dev­as­tat­ing cuts from ar­eas that are crit­i­cal to stu­dent suc­cess.

“Nurses, cus­to­di­ans, so­cial work­ers, paras, li­brar­i­ans, school-based ad­min­is­tra­tion, even ba­sic util­ity costs, which are 4 per­cent of our bud­get, are not con­sid­ered ‘in­struc­tion’ and would have to be part of a cut con­ver­sa­tion to get to 75 per­cent in­struc­tion,” she said. “There sim­ply aren’t enough other cen­tral of­fice ex­penses to cut to get to 75 per­cent in­struc­tion (with) re­stricted funds ac­count­ing for al­most 20 per­cent of our bud­get.”

Kobach’s plan is an ex­pan­sion of what used to be called the 65 Per­cent So­lu­tion, an idea pop­u­lar in some con­ser­va­tive cir­cles 10 to 15 years ago. It pro­moted re­quir­ing schools to spend 65 per­cent of their op­er­a­tional fund­ing on class­room ex­penses.

The idea was pro­posed by a Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant run­ning a group called First Class Ed­u­ca­tion and funded by Over­stock.com founder Pa­trick Byrne.

The Kansas Leg­is­la­ture con­sid­ered adopt­ing the 65 Per­cent So­lu­tion as a man­date, but ul­ti­mately set­tled on mak­ing it a non­bind­ing guide­line in 2005.

Na­tion­ally, in­ter­est in the 65 Per­cent So­lu­tion waned af­ter a Stan­dard & Poor’s study and oth­ers found no sig­nif­i­cant cor­re­la­tion be­tween the per­cent­age spent on in­struc­tion and stu­dent achieve­ment.

First Class Ed­u­ca­tion’s web­site went in­ac­tive in 2009 and is now a place­holder page ad­ver­tis­ing on­line col­lege pro­grams.

Kobach’s plan not only adds an ad­di­tional 10 per­cent to the 65 per­cent goal, it also in­cludes cap­i­tal ex­penses and bon­dand-in­ter­est pay­ment in the mix, mak­ing it even harder to achieve.

BUD­GET BREAK­DOWN

Dale Den­nis, deputy com­mis­sioner of ed­u­ca­tion for the state, said there are sev­eral key ar­eas in school bud­gets that can’t be shifted to in­struc­tion, in­clud­ing:

Bond and in­ter­est pay­ments: These ex­pen­di­tures are to pay off the cost of bor­row­ing money to build new school build­ings. The state and school dis­tricts could con­ceiv­ably de­fault on the bonds, but the dis­tricts would lose the build­ings and “some­body else takes over the fa­cil­ity,” Den­nis said.

That ac­counts for 8.8 per­cent of over­all school fund­ing statewide.

Cap­i­tal ex­pense: This is the money that comes from lo­cal bond is­sues to pay for new build­ings, ma­jor build­ing re­pairs, new equip­ment and buses. When vot­ers ap­prove a school bond, the money can only be spent for the pur­pose for which it was ap­proved.

That’s 6.3 per­cent of

AAschool fund­ing.

Food: More than 90 per­cent of the bud­get for food ser­vice comes from two sources: the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and the money stu­dents and teach­ers pay for their meals. If a dis­trict tried to shift that money to in­struc­tion, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment wouldn’t send the money to buy food and no­body would pay for lunches they don’t get.

That’s 3.9 per­cent of school spend­ing.

Main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions: This line item pays for clean­ing, re­pairs and util­i­ties. While some main­te­nance could be de­ferred, about one-third of it is util­ity bills that have to be paid if schools want to keep the heat and lights on.

Over­all, that’s 7.4 per­cent of school fund­ing. Util­ity costs alone would be roughly 2.5 per­cent, Den­nis said.

Stu­dent sup­port: This in­cludes so­cial work­ers, coun­selors, school nurses, psy­chol­o­gists, speech pathol­o­gists and the costs of at­ten­dance-record keep­ing. Nearly all of these ex­pen­di­tures are re­quired by fed­eral law to meet spe­ciale­d­u­ca­tion re­quire­ments, Den­nis said.

That makes up 4.8 per­cent of school fund­ing.

Trans­porta­tion: This is the cost of bus­ing chil­dren to and from school. State law re­quires dis­tricts to pro­vide stu­dents with trans­porta­tion if they live more than 2.5 miles from the near­est school.

The state could change that, but “as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, if you don’t haul kids who live out in the ru­ral ar­eas, your at­ten­dance rate’s go­ing to go down. It’s a flat fact,” Den­nis said. “We have a lot of poor peo­ple who live in ru­ral ar­eas that if you didn’t trans­port their kids, I’m afraid they wouldn’t be there a lot of times.”

Trans­porta­tion is 3.5 per­cent of spend­ing.

AAAADISCRETIONARY

Put to­gether, the can’ttouch ex­pen­di­tures to­tal up to 29.8 per­cent of cur­rent school spend­ing statewide, records show.

That leaves two ar­eas of the bud­get where spend­ing is mostly dis­cre­tionary and funds could be moved over to in­struc­tion.

The largest of those cat­e­gories is ad­min­is­tra­tion. This in­cludes money to pay for su­per­in­ten­dents and prin­ci­pals and their of­fice staffs, along with school board ex­penses.

That’s 9.1 per­cent of school spend­ing statewide.

You couldn’t move it all to the class­room, be­cause state law re­quires every school dis­trict have a su­per­in­ten­dent. Some of the smaller dis­tricts get by with a part-time su­per­in­ten­dent who splits time as a prin­ci­pal or teacher, Den­nis said.

The other dis­cre­tionary line item is staff sup­port. This in­cludes costs for me­dia, li­braries and li­brar­i­ans, au­dio-vis­ual, tele­vi­sion, com­puter–as­sisted in­struc­tion, cur­ricu­lum de­vel­op­ment and teacher train­ing.

That’s 3.3 per­cent of the bud­get.

If the state shifted all its ad­min­is­tra­tive and staff sup­port spend­ing to class­room in­struc­tion, it would raise the class­room spend­ing per­cent­age to 65.1 per­cent. If you added in all build­ing main­te­nance money ex­cept for util­ity bills, it would still barely reach 70 per­cent.

Kobach said he de­rived the num­bers be­hind his plan from post­ings on the web­site of the Kansas Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a freemar­ket con­ser­va­tive think tank.

KPI got the num­bers from a state re­port and pegs class­room spend­ing at 52.7 per­cent, the num­ber Kobach quotes in his speeches.

KPI is a lead­ing critic of pub­lic school spend­ing and sup­ports us­ing pub­lic funds to help pay costs of par­ents who choose to send their chil­dren to pri­vate schools.

KPI hasn’t specif­i­cally em­braced Kobach’s 75 per­cent plan but agrees with him that schools could and should be run more ef­fi­ciently, said

Dave Trabert, pres­i­dent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“In terms of how you could shift more money to in­struc­tion, there’s lots of ways other than just giv­ing schools an­other bo­nanza which isn’t needed,” Trabert said. “They’re op­er­at­ing pretty in­ef­fi­ciently in a lot of ways.”

He said dis­tricts across the state could con­sol­i­date func­tions such as hu­man re­sources, pur­chas­ing, trans­porta­tion and food ser­vice through re­gional ser­vice cen­ters and save money by econ­omy of scale. Schools could also stop buy­ing sup­plies from lo­cal stores, where they pay full re­tail prices, he said.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing when you talk to school su­per­in­ten­dents, it seems like the only so­lu­tion is ‘We have to cut pro­grams, and they never want to talk about re­duc­ing the ex­cess cost of those pro­grams, or (the al­ter­na­tive is) give us a lot more money,” he said.

‘PICK A NUM­BER’

Kobach has left him­self some wig­gle room on the 75 per­cent goal.

He said he might ask the Leg­is­la­ture to rede­fine what counts as class­room spend­ing, turn­ing away from fed­eral def­i­ni­tions used by every school dis­trict in the na­tion in re­ports to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

That could in­crease the per­cent­age of “in the class­room” fund­ing with­out ac­tu­ally chang­ing spend­ing.

That would be wel­come news to ed­u­ca­tors, who have bit­terly com­plained for more than a decade that costs for stu­dent sup­port, build­ing main­te­nance and other line items di­rectly af­fect­ing the stu­dents aren’t counted as class­room spend­ing.

Un­der the fed­eral def­i­ni­tion, Wi­chita’s spend­ing on class­room in­struc­tion is 49 per­cent, Wil­lis said.

But if you count up ev­ery­thing af­fect­ing stu­dents, the dis­trict meets Kobach’s 75 per­cent thresh­old and then some, she said.

“We would put forth that go­ing di­rectly to the class­room, we’re al­ready there,” she said. “We would ar­gue that we’re spend­ing al­most 88 cents of every dol­lar to sup­port class­room in­struc­tion, whether di­rectly through a teacher, or through sup­port ser­vices, nurses, coun­selors, so­cial work­ers, paras, trans­porta­tion, nu­tri­tion ser­vices.”

Wi­chita spends 1 per­cent on its cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion and 11 per­cent on site ad­min­is­tra­tion, Wil­lis said.

Kobach left open the pos­si­bil­ity of walk­ing back his 75 per­cent goal if it turns out to be unattain­able.

“If the Leg­is­la­ture looks at it and says ‘Here’s how we want to de­fine class­room and here’s how we want to de­fine ad­min­is­tra­tive,’ and the way we look at it we don’t see how a school can rea­son­ably get above 70, well 70 can be the num­ber they ar­rive on,” Kobach said. “But we need to pick a num­ber, and again, it’s all based on the def­i­ni­tion of what you count as class­room in­struc­tion. Pick a num­ber that is sig­nif­i­cantly higher than where we are right now that the schools can reach, be­cause right now they’re not reach­ing it.”

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

Wi­chita Ea­gle file

Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Kris Kobach says he would ded­i­cate 75 per­cent of school funds to the class­room.

Wi­chita

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