Monday, January 09, 2006

Post-Audit report out

Schools must get $316-399 million more than currently allocated, on top of the $289.5 million allocated in last summer's special session.

Report available here.

Will report more anon.

The report is long and the entire state's punditry is trying to download it. I have the executive summary, and have flipped through it.

The study found significant increases associated with lower income students, and with problems in the special education formula.

The lower number above is derived from an inputs based analysis in which the committee examined what it would cost to maintain a 25 student classroom given the way money is currently spent.

Actually, that isn't quite right. They wound up with substantially fewer teachers in their modeled schools than actually occur (presumably because they underestimated the ability of teachers to multitask, though I hope the full report will clarify). Their model also assumed that non-salary expenditures would be as low as those of the bottom third of schools. That means that 2/3 of schools spend more than the value they used. If funded at the level this model recommends, most schools would still be underfunded, though they'd argue that this gives room for increases in efficiency. Without those assumptions (resulting in 6% fewer teachers and 21% fewer "non-instructional staff") the estimate would be higher still.

To achieve a 20 or 18 pupil classroom, substantially more than $316 million would have to be added to the budget.

The higher number derives from a statistical analysis of costs required to achieve state standards (like the science standards under dispute right now). Revisions have raised the bar in many areas, so the standards in 2005 might allow cuts in base state aid per pupil, but the 2006-2007 school year would bring a substantial hike in the cost of schooling.

Again, those studies differed in methods, but the real cost changes came when you added in funds to support low-income students and students with special needs. The state currently allocated $112 million for low-income ("at risk") students, but the report recommends raising that to $350 to $361 million. There is currently no urban-poverty component in state funding, and the report indicates that that's a serious problem.

Indeed, this report would make it laughably easy for Topeka, Wichita, or KCK schools to sue, arguing that their students are underfunded. Since many of those students in "urban poverty" tend to be minorities, there could even be federal claims if the state doesn't add an "urban-poverty" component to the formula. (I'm not a lawyer, I could be wrong.)

The report found underfunding of special ed amounted to $419 million. Explaining the discrepancy, the authors state:

Our estimated costs are much higher because, in our opinion, the current formula for computing the “excess” cost of Special Education signifi cantly overstates how much districts realistically could reduce their regular education costs when students receive Special Education services. As Figure 10 shows, the current formula subtracts out the average operating costs per student for regular education from districts’ Special Education costs. This step assumes there’s a 1:1 reduction in districts’ regular education costs for each FTE Special Education student.

As our analysis …
shows, most students who receive Special Education services still spend all or most of their time inside the regular education classroom. For these students, districts’ regular education costs wouldn’t change at all.

For students who do spend most of their time outside the regular education classroom, districts may be able to reduce their instructional costs somewhat. But because most of the services for those students still are provided in the same school building, we think it’s unlikely districts could reduce their costs for such things as operations and maintenance, district administration, librarians, principals, secretarial staff, and all the other non-instructional costs that make up average operating costs.
Again, this looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

The report emphasizes that making certain forms of reporting more uniform may assist the legislature, and that lowering class size is probably the best way to spend additional educational funds.