Watchdog.org, according to watchdog.org, is a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. It isn’t hard to trace this Watchdog’s pedigree, though, as it’s own web pages describe it as “joint project” between the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) and the Franklin Center as recently as 2011.
Watchdog, for all practical purposes, is another branch of the billionaire-funded agenda-pushing machine that goes by many different names in many different states. These are not friends of public education.
On the eve of final arguments in the current school finance lawsuit, Watchdog.org published an article titled “Kansas test scores counter argument for more school funding.” The article is little more than a podium for KPI president Dave Trabert; thus is essentially a KPI press release.
In ubiquitous KPI style of half-truths, twisted statistics, and over-simplifications; Trabert argues that Kansas’ stagnant ACT scores prove funding doesn’t affect educational outcomes. In short, it’s yet another KPI call for gutting public school funding.
Is KPI right? Let’s look.
Watchdog tosses around a few ACT scores from Kansas over the past few years; to show how scores have remained relatively constant. Then, Watchdog makes the argument that funding has increased dramatically; asserting that Kansas spends $12,454 per student now, compared to $8,488 ten years ago. These figures are referenced to none other than the Kansas Policy Institute.
While the numbers may be technically correct, KPI is well known for twisting numbers to mislead the public. If the numbers look big, that’s because the standard figure used compare yearly funding has always been the base state aid per pupil (BSAPP).
KPI’s large figures include a variety of state-level adjustments, as well as local and federal funds. Technically, KPI isn’t lying. They’re just using numbers they know full well will mislead a lot of people.
Currently, the BSAPP is $3,838 – the lowest it’s been since 1999. But let’s use KPI’s numbers anyway, to give the benefit of any doubt.
If schools spent $8,488 per pupil in 2002 and spend $12,454 now; that represents a 46% increase over a ten year period. But notice how KPI makes NO mention of inflation – as if public schools are somehow immune to inflation. Of course this isn’t true.
The cumulative inflation rate over the past decade was about 28%. Thus, more than half of the funding increase in KPI’s numbers can be attributed to inflation alone. Furthermore, that 28% inflation rate is an average; and some costs have risen more than others. Fuel for buses and health insurance for employees are major expenses for school districts. How much have those costs gone up in ten years?
In 2000, gasoline averaged $1.51/gallon. Now, that same gallon costs $3.50; an increase of 233%. In 2000, the monthly health insurance premium for Lawrence Public Schools employees was $176. Now, a much more anemic insurance policy costs $394 per month; an increase of 223%.
What else do schools buy now that they didn’t buy a decade ago? If you looked into a turn-of-the-century classroom, you wouldn’t likely see a networked computer on every teacher’s desk, or even a phone in every classroom. You wouldn’t see computer projectors or Smart Boards. You wouldn’t see laptop computers for students, or digital data-collection devices for science labs.
You also wouldn’t see the invisible costs that go along with today’s technologies: computer network hardware, wiring, servers, software licenses, and the salaries and benefits of the skilled employees who install this technology and keep it working.
Basically, even using KPI’s inflated numbers for school funding, practically every new dollar allotted to schools would be eaten up by inflation and the ever-growing costs of keeping up with today’s technological norms.
Does KPI want our schools to move backwards to chalk boards and inkwells? Apparently, they do.
KPI idolizes states that spend less on public education. The Watchdog continues: “Trabert points to states such as Colorado and Texas, saying they spend about $1,000 less per pupil than Kansas while posting better scores on tests like the ACT.” That sounds like Kansas is wasting a lot of money, unless you check Trabert’s facts.
ACT.org reveals the truth: neither Texas nor Colorado beats Kansas on the ACT. Kansas’ composite score average of 21.9 beats both those states and tops the national average. Kansas also shines in sheer numbers of students taking the ACT. 81% of Kansas high school graduates took the ACT. This tops the national average (52%), and downright whoops Texas (39%).
But Trabert said tests “like” the ACT. He didn’t say “the” ACT, did he? Funny how Trabert can be literally truthful; yet create an impression so very different from the truth. It’s almost as if he’s a professional at it – which of course he is.
Kansas Policy Institute, personified by Dave Trabert, exists to promote an extreme agenda; including the slow dismantling of public education as we know it. Trabert’s job is basically that of a salesman (Watchdog.org’s entry on Wikipedia is currently flagged as being “written like an advertisement” – which begs the question of who wrote it).
But what Trabert is selling few would buy if they did more than kick the tires, let alone examine the fuzzy math under the hood. If you want more than slate blackboards, three R’s, and inkwells for Kansas schools; look carefully under KPI’s hood and check their math. Otherwise, we’ll all be making a lot of lemonade.