False statistics abound in WSJ's attack on Kansas education spending

A June 22 Wall Street Journal editorial used false statistics to criticize a Kansas Supreme Court decision mandating increased state funding for public schools.

Referring to the Kansas Supreme Court's June 3 ruling in Montoy v. Kansas, the Journal criticized the court's interpretation of a clause in the Kansas Constitution requiring the legislature to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” But in arguing that the court had overreached in ordering the state to increase education funding, the Journal misstated both how much Kansas currently spends on education per student and how the state's spending compares with other states:

But just what is a “suitable” amount? Kansas already spends a shade under $10,000 per student in the public schools -- the most in the region and above the national average even though Kansas is a low cost-of-living state. Also ignored by the courts were the volumes of scientific evidence that the link between school spending and educational achievement is close to nonexistent. Perhaps one reason schools in Kansas aren't as good as they might be is that the state ranks 47 out of 50 in education money that actually finds its way inside the classroom.

In fact, Kansas spent $7,292 per student in 2002-03, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, which incorporates federal, state, and local education spending. This per-pupil figure placed Kansas 31st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Though the Journal failed to define the “region” that encompasses Kansas, four nearby states -- Colorado (ranked 30th), Nebraska (24th), Iowa (27th), and Wyoming (11th) -- all spend more, according to the Census. Kansas' spending is also below the national average of $8,019 per student, contrary to the Journal's claim.

Moreover, the Journal argued that more education funding in Kansas would improve little since “the state ranks 47 out of 50 in education money that actually finds its way inside the classroom.” In fact, Census figures indicate* that Kansas spends 60.4 percent of its education budget on “instruction.” The National Center for Economic Statistics places the figure at 59.2 percent+ in 2002-03, ranking the state 40th out of 51 (including Washington, D.C.).

Finally, the Journal falsely claimed that “the state Supreme Court has commanded that the legislature must increase spending on the schools, as well as the taxes to pay for it, by precisely $853 million over the next two years.” In fact, the court did not demand increased taxes. The court ruled that the Kansas legislature must increase education funding, but it did not mandate what the source of the money should be.

*From spreadsheet: $4,401 per pupil for “instruction” divided by $7,292 per pupil overall.

+NCES defined “instructional expenditures” as: “current expenditures for activities directly associated with the interaction between teachers and students. These include teacher salaries and benefits, supplies (e.g., textbooks), and purchased instructional services.”