Another Lame Attempt by KS Legislators to Screw High Poverty Districts!

I’ve gotta give them some credit. The Kansas Legislature is getting more creative and arguably a little better at math over the years. But, the primary objective remains the same – find some way… any way… blatant or more preferably deceitful… to redirect funding allocated for higher poverty larger town and urban school districts to someone else… preferably the ‘burbs and when necessary, small rural districts.

Over the years, the Kansas legislature has come up with many angles to achieve this policy objective – like allocating “new facilities” weighted aid to suburban districts in amounts that for years dwarfed at risk and bilingual education aid to poor urban districts next door. Most recently, when legislators realized that the jig was up… and they at least had to call the aid, at risk aid, they concocted a scheme to shift some of the at risk aid, to “children who are not poor and do not live in poor districts but fail the state assessments.” Yes, failure based aid for the ‘burbs.  A brilliant solution.

Them Kansas Legislators have been convinced for years that them darn city liberal and minority folk are suckin’ the state budget dry by stickin’ a “poor kid” label on everyone they can find and even ones they can’t find – fudgin’ the numbers and gettin’ rich in the process. (this was part of the reason for the move to the non-poor failing child weight).

They’ve now come up with a new way to correct them-there-fudged-numbers. Okay… back to civilized speech.

HB 2357 proposes to base each district’s at risk funding on the lesser of the district’s actual at risk count or the district’s U.S. Census Poverty Rate times 2.37. The multiplier is, in theory (I’ve not seen their math), based on the idea that at risk counts are higher than census poverty rates because they are based on national school lunch program cut points for family income, which are at higher income thresholds.

The problem with using the same multiplier (2.37) for smaller and larger districts across the state is that the ratio of at risk children to census poverty tends to be higher in larger districts – about 3.3 (over 2,000 students) to 3.36 (over 5,000 students) – and lower in smaller districts (under 2.0 in districts enrolling fewer than 2,000 students). This happens because of the way in which those income thresholds cut differently across urban and rural areas. Too little time to fully explore this issue here.

Here’s a figure that shows the slope for larger and for smaller districts in Kansas based on three years of data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Relationship between Census Poverty Rates and Subsidized Lunch Rates in Kansas
Relationship between Census Poverty Rates and Subsidized Lunch Rates in Kansas

Now, I don’t suspect that the legislators who proposed this new trick really understood quite why this new approach would lead to reduced at risk funding for large high poverty districts, but I have little doubt that they understand fully that this policy will have this effect (and that they chuckled when they had this revelation) – and that is precisely why it has been proposed.

HB 2357 follows a long line of similar Kansas policies both prior to and following court rulings –  from new facilities weighting, to the “high priced house” adjustment, to the middle/upper middle class failure weight.

While I must congratulate them on their new found creativity, I must urge the Kansas Legislature to simply get over it and for once try doing the right thing!

DUMP 2357, or at least fix those ratios to be differentiated on the basis of district size.


Quick rerun of the equations for 2008 KSDE % Free Lunch numbers as a function 0f 2007 Census Small Area Poverty Rates:

Small district (<2000) equation is

%Free =  1.787355  x Census Pov + .0594738


Larger district (>2000) equation is

%Free =   2.771016  x Census Pov + .0101273


By the way… it doesn’t look like there are a whole lot of outliers among the larger districts. They’re not the ones with the irregular free lunch counts – at least by reference to poverty rates… so why implement a policy that penalizes them?



  1. My related post on

    Imagine that… they covered it.

    While it is a reasonable approach to use Census data to correct for potentially biased free lunch counts, it is entirely unreasonable to take such an approach and manipulate it with the purpose of cutting poverty based aid to the state’s highest need largest districts. The bill offers a ratio of 2.37 to estimate how many free lunch kids would be associated with a given percentage of kids in poverty (census poverty rate).

    The reality is that the ratio among larger districts (over 2,000 pupils) is about 2.77 using most recent data, and the relationship is very “tight.” (large districts aren’t falling out of line with estimates). However, if you calculate large district free lunch using 2.37 x poverty, you’ll end up cutting at risk funding for nearly all high poverty large districts – which appears to be the goal here.

    But, since the ratio for smaller districts is actually about 1.79, you end up preserving at risk funding for the smaller districts.

    A typical strategy in KS school finance. When will it ever end?

  2. One additional thought on this topic… In typical KS legislative style, the bill is written so that it can only lead to a reduction correction to a district’s poverty based aid, not an increase. If you’re going to correct for biases, you should really correct for biases in either direction – over or under estimation. Setting up the bill in this way exposes it’s real intent!

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