A yearlong study of how Kentucky funds K-12 schools has led to a comprehensive proposal to replace the existing SEEK formula with a model focused on the resources each school needs to achieve academic success for all students.
“Adequacy and Equity for Excellence in Kentucky” was prepared for the Council for Better Education (CBE), a consortium of 168 Kentucky public school districts. The study was detailed Sunday and Monday in Louisville at the winter conference of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS).CBE President and Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said the proposed “evidence- and researched-based model,” if fully implemented, could cost up to $2.4 billion more than the state currently spends on elementary and secondary schools, for a total of $9.4 billion.
However, Shelton and others involved in the study also said the new model offers several advantages “even if we didn’t get an additional dime” from the state.“This is not a study of SEEK. This is not more evidence to say we are underfunded. This is a new model to tell us what we need to provide the resources for all students to be college and career ready,” he said. “It is a model of what it takes to have a successful school. This is about improving the investment Kentucky makes in its public schools.”CBE Treasurer and Hardin County Schools Superintendent Nanette Johnston said, “If the state looks at this, even putting the numbers aside, looking at what the research says, the study gives good information for the state to establish funding priorities.”Basis for changeOne key to the new model is a school-by-school, district-by-district calculation of “what it takes for students to reach proficiency,” said Dr. Michael Goetz, a senior associate with the school finance consulting firm Picus, Odden & Associates and one of the authors of the $130,000 study.“What legislators want to know is, ‘Why do you want more money?’ This approach gives a rationale why you need more money,” Goetz said. “Evidence suggests this is what we need to reach the proficiency standards that (the General Assembly) has mandated to us.”The study included comparisons of Kentucky school spending for more than a decade for various school cost and academic issues – per pupil spending, teacher salaries, NAEP scores, graduation rates – with two groups of states: “peer states” Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and academically “high achieving states” Vermont, Minnesota, New Jersey, Kansas, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.Another author of the study, Michael Griffith, told the superintendents that, in general, Kentucky is in the middle of the pack with peer states on several measures but trails high- achieving states almost across the board.“Over the past decade, Kentucky has consistently funded education below national averages, (but) Kentucky has led the nation in new, higher standards to bring students to college, career readiness,” Griffith said.According to Goetz, the comparative research gives Kentucky school leaders a solid “road map” for proposing a new funding model, which is used in a similar form in Arkansas and Wyoming.“Nothing in my model mandates anything. It doesn’t say SEEK is wrong. What it does say is we’ve taken the demographics associated with your schools – your students, your region – and here’s what it’s going to take to build the best school that research suggests is possible. Period. It does that for preschool, elementary, middle and high school,” he said.Staffing priorities under the modelDuring one Monday session at the KASS conference, Johnston reviewed how the model would help superintendents, school boards, principals and school councils examine how they are using current staff resources.The model offers a “prototypical school staffing,” using factors including class size, core content teachers, specialist teachers, special ed teachers, instructional coaches, core content coaches, tutors, substitute teachers, counselors, nurses and aides, librarian, principal, secretary, professional development, technology, instructional materials, student activities, gifted/talented students and formative assessments.“I’m going to look at the current resources that we have, what the evidence says in this report, and see what will give us the highest return on our investment,” Johnston said. “If it doesn’t, I’m going to re-evaluate. What you have to do with this report is that you have to remove the people from the positions. A lot of time we think we need to do away with this position or add this position. It’s not about the person and how effective they are. It’s about the position and how effective the position is in helping students learn.”For example, the model gives a “very high return on investment” to school- and district- allocated resources to instructional coaches, but not instructional assistants.“We can argue about the merits of such positions to the school,” the Hardin County superintendent said. “But the study offers valuable information to analyze the effectiveness of your instructional assistants on learning. Currently, our teaching assistants are solely interventionists. The last thing we want to do is to take our teaching assistants and have them work with the lowest-performing students. They aren’t trained for that. In our district, I’m going to use this with our principals to say, ‘How are you using those assistants? Are they working with kids who need individualized support? Are you training them alongside teachers in reading strategies?’”Next stepsAcknowledging that the CBE proposal involves “a huge amount of money,” Shelton predicted it could take five to seven years before full implementation, even if state leaders sign on during the 2016 budget-writing legislative session. And he warned that it would be “apples to oranges” to compare current SEEK-funded school support with a fully implemented CBE model, which would include things like state financed all-day kindergarten, expanded early childhood programs and reduced class sizes.But the Fayette County superintendent reiterated his belief in a long-term value for the state of a shift to the new model.“It always seems to me how education is funded in Kentucky is very arbitrary. Every two years, our General Assembly will make a determination in how much will be spent on education. It takes an arbitrary amount of money and tells you how much will be given to our districts,” Shelton said.“When you think about SEEK, it’s really not a funding formula; it’s an allocation formula. SEEK itself did do exactly what it was intended to do – to address huge inequities all across our state. But it was not based on adequacy issues; it was based on equity issues,” he said. “When you start looking at inadequate funds put into the formula, then when the base is inadequate funding, you begin creating new equity issues.“The exciting part about this is that when someone asks what you need extra money for, you can talk specifically about what the research says is needed and why. This will give Kentucky a means of looking at what resources it will really take to ensure that all students are college and career ready,” Shelton said.