Kansas student outcomes are among the best in the nation, despite the state’s funding level being in the lower third.

Kansas Association of School Boards representatives relayed those findings Monday morning during a public stop in Ottawa as part of its 2018 advocacy tour.

“Kansas, comparatively speaking, does pretty well [despite] spending below the national average,” Mark Tallman, KASB associate executive director, said.

KASB officials met with local educators at the Ottawa school district office to explain the history of educational attainment versus state funding. Ryan Cobbs, Ottawa assistant superintendent, said the information provided was not new to educators that view it daily.

“When you put it all together, you recognize how good our educational system is in preparing for what we want to help [students] accomplish and how we do it pretty responsibly from a financial standpoint,” he said. “As we continue to increase this expectation we have, we are not going to continue to do that at the level of funding we currently have.”

The Kansas Legislature approved a bill this spring to increase school funding $500 million over five years. The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule this month if that was a suitable and equitable provision for education.

Cobbs said Kansas schools continue to turn out students with solid academic credentials.

“We have a lot of Kansas schools that go on to do incredible things in terms of building our nation,” he said. “We have kids that go and do incredible things right here in our local areas and build our local economies.”

“Those of us that are in Kansas education are very proud of the opportunity that we provide for our kids,” Cobbs said. “One of the things I had always hoped is the conversation that is taking place in the courts about funding does not spin our process in a negative way. It is the funding mechanism that has some things that need to be fixed. We really do some great things for kids. The kids that come out of our schools, they are prepared and they are ready to do great things.”

The KASB data showed Kansas is above the national average in many areas, including graduation rates. Kansas sits at 86 percent and the national rate is 84 percent.

“We have typically been a leader in this area,” Tallman said. “Ninety percent of jobs require a high school diploma and every college program also wants you to have completed high school.”

Cobbs said the data shows in terms of funding what Kansas schools need in order to reach new plateaus.

“If we want to get to point A, we can do so with this cost,” Cobbs said. “If we want to get to point B, it is going to be this. If we want to get to point C, 10 miles down the road, it is going to be this cost. This is the first time I have seen all these things put together, especially with the recent study that just came out that has created a different conversation. It is the first time it has been put together and people can take a look at it and say ‘I see why they are having this conversation about educational funding and what it means.”

Tallman said the new study released in March by Dr. Lori Taylor, commissioned by the state Legislature, found money does matter. The study suggested Kansas needed to increase school funding by $2 billion to reach its goals.

“If you want to have a really big increase in achievement, it will take a really big increase in funding,” Tallman said. “The study concluded that Kansas goals would be more than any other state is achieving or more than Kansas has ever achieved in the past.”

The KASB research revealed more than 44,000 of the 70,000 school employees across the state are directly involved in instruction. Tallman said the greatest expense to school districts is its employees, which mirrors the Taylor study that consolidation does not save money.

“The costs are the people, most who are not at the [administration] level,” Tallman said.

Cobbs said educators lean on each other to find ways to better teach students and consolidate expenses.

“That is one of the reasons why we wanted to be a part of the Gemini school redesign,” he said. “It really gives us a platform to talk about what we do well and areas that we can improve. USD 290 specifically has really some great things to be proud of. We want to the best district in our county, in our league, region and state. We get phone calls from outside entities and other schools asking ‘hey how are you responding to this.’ They want to come in and see our pilot programs.”