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Kansas Legislative Committee Hears Spending More On Education Works, And Doesn't

Sam Zeff

The Kansas legislative session is still a few weeks away and already lawmakers are grappling with what to do about school funding.

A special committee set up to make recommendations on a new formula wanted to know if spending more money leads to better classroom achievement.

At a hearing Wednesday lawmakers heard yes from Mark Tallman, associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards. He said KASB research not only shows the more you spend the better the outcomes, but Kansas is one of the most efficient states in the country.

"Given the state’s classroom success for the dollars spent, state policy makers should be cautioned to 'first, do no harm,'” Tallman testfified.

But the committee heard just the opposite from Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. The research he presented says there is no correlation between how much is spent and student achievement. Trabert said we'll never know if districts are truly efficient until we include differences in curriculum and teacher effectiveness. 

“There is total disagreement on whether more money means better outcomes. What, I think, everyone does agree on, how you spend that money makes the biggest difference of all,” said Rep. Ron Highland, the Republican committee chair from Wamego.

While the goal is to write a new school funding formula to replace the current block grant scheme, Highland said he's not sure that can happen in 2016, an election year.

“Hopefully our report will either hurry the process along or they will say, let’s study this a little more," he said. "I don’t know how the leadership is going to fall on that.”

The committee has been collecting hundreds of pages of data from school districts in Kansas. At Wednesday's meeting they received information from the Kansas State Department of Education (KDSE) on how much districts spend on coaches and athletic facilities. Only one question was asked about the data. Some educators believe the committee, dominated by conservative Republicans, is trying to build a case that districts are wasting money.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.

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