Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Has KERA Equalized Funding for Poor and Rich School Districts in Kentucky?

– Educators don’t agree

It was the underlying fundamental issue that eventually led to the dubiously overreaching Kentucky Supreme Court decision that threw out all of the laws in Kentucky dealing with the operation of public schools. That issue – is funding for Kentucky’s public schools equitable?

Nearly twenty years later, people still don’t agree about whether funding between Kentucky’s richest and poorest districts has gotten closer.

Surprisingly, two very different opinions showed up within days of each other in Kentucky educator Richard Day’s Web site.

The most recent “shot” in the discussion was fired by Georgetown Professor Skip Kifer in “Never a Center Without a Spread.” After looking at a statistical presentation of how the distribution of per pupil funding in Kentucky’s schools changed between 1990 and 2004, Kifer concludes “I do not see the equity in funding. In fact, spreads, a measure of inequity, may have increased.”

OK, but only a few days earlier Day himself, a retired public school principal now also serving as a college professor, posted “Snapshots of Fiscal Equity” (Which does not have a direct link, so scroll down from the Kifer piece to find this one). Here Day concludes, “Equitable funding is KERA's clearest success.”

Well, if these educators ever figure out if KERA’s funding initiatives succeeded or failed, I hope they let us know.


Richard Day said...


I must confess, I didn't see this coming.

Every other report I've seen seems to validate what I saw in the field; that historically poor districts got better funding while the better funded districts got frozen. Fayette County was operating on a 1991-92 budget until recently. These various sources include reports that might be said to be on different sides of some other issues including most recently Bill Hoyt's study. I suspect we've got some kind of measurement design issue at work.

I sent a copy of Bill's report (which seems to be missing from your site now) to Skip to munch on. We'll see where this goes.

One factor is likely to be the dates under consideration. In the early 80s Fayette County spent 8 times more money per child than Whitley County. That's my starting point for comparison. I don't remember Bill's. Skip begins with 1990.


Richard Innes said...

For Richard Day and our other readers –

I was also surprised by Prof. Kifer’s analysis – at first – but then as I thought about it, I realized there is a problem with his approach. His analysis can’t show us if high property wealth districts (rich districts) which had the highest funding back in 1990 continue to be the best funded districts today.

In fact, based on some research that Prof. Phil Roeder at UK did some years ago, I suspect that rich district/poor district school funding probably did do a flip-flop some years ago.

Thus, even if the gap has grown, it is probably also reversed. Again, I don’t think Prof. Kifer’s statistical approach can identify that issue.

I am presently looking at this interesting situation from another direction, and may have something to post shortly.

Also the Hoyt/Jepsen/Troske report I think Richard is looking for was moved during our Web site reorganization. It is now at: