By Travis Perry│Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — Students’ ACT test scores released last week suggest more money doesn’t improve performance.
The results, released by the state, come as school districts across Kansas on Wednesday will make their respective cases for funding increases.
Kansas high school students who took the ACT this year averaged a composite score of 21.9 out of a possible 36, down from 22 in 2011, though 29 percent of the students met college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading and science, which is up from 28 percent last year.
Both scores beat the national averages — a 21.1 composite score and 25 percent for college benchmarks.
In the past five years, the Kansas Department of Education said in a news release, the state hasn’t seen much fluctuation in the overall score average. But the trend goes back at least twice as far. In 2002, the average score in Kansas was 21.6.
But while overall ACT performance has remained relatively flat, one number has risen consistently — public education funding.
A decade ago, Kansas schools spent an average of $8,488 per student, according to figures from the Kansas Policy Institute, a Wichita think-tank that advocates for free-market solutions and personal freedom. That number has since risen to $12,454 in the 2011-12 school year.
Kansas funds districts at a rate of $6,932 per pupil, while the remainder is filled out by local property taxes and federal money.
Dave Trabert, KPI President, said state and school officials need to focus on the resources they have rather than simply pump more money into the system.
“Everywhere you look you find information that makes it pretty clear that there’s not a correlation or a causation between spending a lot more money and achieving a lot more; it’s not there,” Trabert said.
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. He says it’s more important to properly use the resources at hand rather than to throw more money at the problem.
Tom Foster, director for Career Standards and Assessment Services for the Kansas Department of Education, agreed with Trabert — to some extent.
“There’s no one thing that’s going to solve the problem,” Foster said. “I think just putting more money at it without any other changes is not going to work as well as we’d like it to work.”
Foster said state education officials are addressing the issue highlighted by the ACT, which, he said, can be solved at least in part with a greater focus on getting students college- and career-ready.
“Part of the problem with an ACT score is a lot of kids don’t get it until the end of their junior year or the end of their senior year, and then it’s a little late in the game,” Foster said.
Officials with the Kansas National Education Association, the state union for education professionals, could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday.
“Money doesn’t make the difference, but putting an effective teacher in front of a kid is the number one thing that’s going to raise achievement levels,” Trabert said.
Contact Travis Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on twitter at @kansaswatchdog.