Cost Functions Should Not be Used to Make Education Spending Decisions
by Kansas Policy Institute
June 1 - Wichita - A cost study recommending a school funding increase upwards of $2 billion survived a peer review by a scholar the Legislature hired; but, another respected school finance scholar says cost studies should not be used to set funding levels.
Benjamin Scafadi, Ph.D., a professor of economics and director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University, says, “cost function studies do not provide valid and reliable estimates of the minimum 'cost' of achieving a given outcome.”
Knowing the Legislature’s WestEd cost study would define the conversation on education spending and impact further judicial proceedings, Kansas Policy Institute partnered to do an independent peer review with Dr. Scafidi. His findings disprove the notion that spending more money causes student achievement to improve.
In response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Gannon V case, the Kansas Legislature recently contracted with a vendor conducting a $285,000 study to analyze the “cost” of educating public school students in grades K-12. The Legislature asked the vendor, WestEd, to “estimate the minimum spending required to produce a given outcome within a given educational environment.” WestEd used a “cost function” approach to estimate the costs of providing students in each public school in Kansas with an adequate education.
Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, commented, “These cost studies may be done with the best of intentions, but they fail to provide results that are useful in guiding policy decisions. In practice they only take a partial look at one variable – spending – and ignore all other variables that impact learning.”
Scafadi said, “The estimates vary widely and do not track with historical data on spending and achievement.” The review outlined the reasons why supposed “cost” functions do not provide valid and reliable estimates of the minimum “cost” of achieving a given outcome.
“One glaring problem we found with the WestEd study is that researchers do not have access to data on all external factors that impact the cost of educating students.” Trabert said.
Scafidi’s study for Kansas Policy Institute included in its exhaustive review a complete recommendation of best practices that should be performed to “check carefully for robustness and reliability of results.”
His data determined it unreasonable to conclude that giving the Kansas public school system, as currently constituted, a large boost to spending would significantly improve student outcomes.
“Given the vast sums of taxpayer funds at stake, the Kansas Governor, Legislature, and the State Supreme Court should implement the five best practices, as laid out in my review, to discover the truth about the relationship between spending and valuable student outcomes.” Scafadi concluded.
Editor's Note: Such mathematical games accomplish little more than feed the lawyers who feast on endless court decisions that force the Kansas Legislature to raise taxes violating both the separation of powers and the people's right to determine fiscal policy.