What’s Not the Matter with Kansas? Lessons from Kansas for the Future of State School Finance Reform

What insights can Kansas offer about using research evidence to inform school finance reform?

This study will examine the extent to which the Kansas school finance system and district-level expenditures align with the introduction of empirical research evidence during three specific litigation periods (2002, 2007, and 2018). Baker will build on decades of his research on school finance by examining the factors that may contribute to the use of research evidence to establish adequate and equitable school finance reform. Candidate factors include: 1) an independent State Board of Education, to which the state constitution provided authority over elementary and secondary education; 2) a legislature that is responsible for making school finance provisions and is responsive to judicial pressure to increase and/or redistribute funding; 3) the existence of a non-partisan legislative research division that enables the legislature to use research evidence to implement school finance reform; 4) the state’s judicial selection and retention process, which limits turnover and has led to a panel of high court judges with a deep understanding of the complexity of school finance policy and litigation; and 5) legal counsel with deep knowledge of relevant evidence. Baker will conduct a longitudinal analysis of Kansas school finance data to examine both the equity and adequacy of school funding and the extent to which district resources align with equity issues addressed in research-informed judicial orders. The study will leverage spending variation in district-level data on per-pupil cost estimates, state data on the state school finance formula, and Baker’s national panel data from the School Funding Fairness Data System. Findings from this study will illustrate the extent to which high quality research evidence and the design of adequate and equitable state school finance systems aligned in Kansas, and the contextual and historical factors that seemed to facilitate the use of research evidence.