KSDE: School spending to exceed $17,000 per student this year

January 20, 2023

The Kansas Department of Education estimates that school districts will spend $17,358 per student this year.  Actual spending for the 2022 school year was $16,993.

A review of the 25 largest districts based on enrollment shows budgeted spending ranging from a low of around $13,000 per student for Andover to more than $24,000 for Salina, Dodge City, and Geary County Schools.  Andover has considerable enrollment in its virtual learning program, and funding for those students is much.  Spring Hill is another district with a large virtual learning program.

Six other districts with budgets exceeding $20,000 per student are Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka, Emporia, Hutchinson, and Turner KC.  But this is just among the 25 largest districts; there are likely many more budgeting more than $20,000 per student.  Last year, 65 districts spent more than $20,000 per student.

Extra federal funding is driving some of the budget increases, but KSDE estimates that schools are also receiving $290 million more in state funding this year.  Total funding is budgeted to be $8.1 billion, and Gov. Kelly wants to give them another gift of $72 million per year for each of the next four years for special education.  Schools say they are underfunded, but their methodology doesn’t count all of the aid they receive; they are overfunded if all the money is counted.

Details on each district’s actual spending for FY 2022 can be found here, and their budget reports are here.

Spending on Instruction, other cost centers

Spending is allocated across ten cost centers – Instruction, Student Support, Staff Support, Administration, Operations & Maintenance, Transportation, Food Service, Other Operating, Capital Outlay, and Debt Service.  Total spending per student increased twice as fast as inflation since 2005 (76% vs. 37%).

The Department of Education accounting guidelines allow some capital spending to be allocated as operating costs, but this analysis doesn’t do that because capital outlay often fluctuates a great deal from one year to another.  In 2005, school districts allocated 54% of spending to Instruction ($5,177 out of $9,667); last year, Instruction accounted for only 52% of the total.

$20,000 per student based on the cost of living

The Kansas Association of School Boards tries to downplay the amount of funding schools receive relative to other states, but Kansas is now likely to be in the top ten.

A dollar spent in Kansas buys a lot more than a dollar in New York or California, so the cost of living must be taken into account for comparison to other states.  According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), Kansas has the fourth-lowest cost of living in the nation, at 87.3% of the national average. Nominal spending of $17,358 per student is, therefore, the national equivalent of $19,883.

Kansas was #11 for COL-adjusted spending in 2020, when nominal spending was ‘only’ $15,192.