By MARK TALLMAN
The latest national report on K-12 education funding by states showed that Kansas was still far below 2009 levels in 2019, compared to both the national average and states in the region.
The Legislature and Kansas Supreme Court agreed in the Gannon school finance case to increase school operating funding back to the 2009 level over a six-year period, from 2018 through 2023. The 2021 Legislature appropriated funding for the final years of the plan.
The U.S. Census Report conducts an annual survey of public elementary and secondary school finances. It was recently updated to include 2019 information – the second year of the Gannon plan.
The report shows Kansas total revenue per pupil in 2019 was $13,851, 15.7 percent higher than 2009, when it was $11,939. In the 2019 the U.S. average was $15,685, 28 percent higher than 2009. The consumer price index increased 19.2 percent over that period.
In 2009, Kansas revenue per pupil – all funding from state, local and federal sources – was 2.5 percent below the U.S. average. By 2017, it has fallen to 10.9 percent below. In 2018, the first year of Gannon school plan, Kansas rose slightly to 9.7 percent below the national average, but fell to 11.1 percent below in 2019.
Compared to states in the region (Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota), Kansas per pupil funding was 9.3 percent higher than the regional average in 2009 but dropped to 2.0 percent lower than the region in 2017. Kansas increased slightly to 0.7 percent above the regional average in 2018, before falling 0.4 percent below in 2019.
Kansas would have improved compared to other states in 2019 if the Legislature had not reduced KPERS funding to help balance the state general fund budget. Although total school district spending in 2019 was $219 million higher than in 2018, KPERS funding dropped $115 million. In 2020, KPERS funding increased $258 million, and total K-12 spending increased $363 million. As a result, Kansas could make gains on other states when 2020 data is released, but that will depend on school finance decisions in other states.
As the chart above shows, Kansas has been below the U.S. average in per pupil funding for the past two decades but was moving close to the nation until 2009. Funding most states declined for several years after the Great Recession of 2008-09, but Kansas did not replace funding as quickly. The U.S. average recovered by 2016. Kansas was still below inflation-adjusted 2009 funding in 2019.
Regionally, Kansas consistently provided higher funding than most neighboring and Plains States during the 2000’s but dropped below the regional average in 2011 and generally been slightly above or below the regional average since.
In 2019, Kansas ranked fifth in the region, down from second in 2009. Kansas funding increased 15.7 percent from 2009 to 2019 (not adjusted for inflation) compared to a regional average of 26.7 percent. Only Oklahoma had a lower percentage increase of 13.6 percent.
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Mark Tallman is the associate executive director for advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards.