February 25, 2023

Liz Meitl: Case for Kansas school vouchers riddled with misleading statistics, cherrypicked data

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Liz Meitl is a Kansas teacher and public ed supporter. In this piece for the Kansas Reflector, she looks at the work of one of the outside “experts” brought in to sell the legislature on the lousy voucher bill.

In advance of the vote the legislators entertained a Georgia economist, Ben Scafidi, a big name in the national “school choice” crusade, who regaled the committee with a long story about why he thinks Kansas schools are failing. Aside from the obvious issues inherent in paying a guy from out-of-state to tell us about our own numbers, the presentation was riddled with problems.

Specifically, it wasn’t true.

Scafidi’s first slides were about total spending per student. He claimed that Kansas has increased its spending per student, from 2003 to 2020, by 25%. This is a total misrepresentation of district budgets.

What he did was take a bunch of different kinds of money (local, state, federal and extra Covid-19 funds) that is spent for a whole bunch of different things (such as food, transportation and insurance) and put it all in a big pile, and then compare that pile to 2003’s spending.

It’s such a messy equation as to be useless, but in a classic conservative move he made it seem to be all about administrator salaries.

She unveils some more of the trickery before moving to facts.

Let’s look at real numbers. Let’s do actual base state aid per pupil.

I’ll start in 2003 because he did, but I’m going to go all the way up to the current year because … truth.

The base state aid for each student in 2003? $3,863. The base state aid for each student in 2022? $4,846.

That’s a 19% decrease when adjusted for inflation (using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Calculator).

We are spending less per student than we were in 2003.

Scafidi also took a whack at Kansas test scores.

Scafidi made a big show of talking about how bad Kansas kids do on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the NAEP. First of all, we don’t do poorly on the NAEP. Our scores have gone down in recent years because our funding has gone down. That’s just a national educational reality. Scores on standardized tests reflect parental income and state spending on education.

But more importantly he tried to unfavorably compare us with Arizona and Florida, two states that have implemented large-scale voucher programs. Again, he used data from 2003 and 2019, which is weird, because the 2022 data is available. Those years aren’t random, of course. He cherry-picked and manipulated numbers to tell a fictional story of Kansas educational decay. Here’s some truth — the most up-to-date score comparison, which you can easily view on the NAEP website.

Read the full piece here. 

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