More on Jefferson County Schools funding level

I wrote two days ago about a local National Public Radio affiliate’s article on public school finances that seems to portray the per pupil funding for Kentucky’s largest public school district, the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in a questionable way.

That first blog used enrollment and spending information from the US Census Bureau’s “Public Education Finances: 2013” document to rank JCPS spending against the Kentucky wide total and the US average. This document has the most “apples to apples” education funding comparisons I have found to date.

But, even my earlier blog seemed a bit apples and oranges to me, so I have now pulled more data from “Public Education Finances: 2013” to assemble the table below, which ranks the per pupil total expenditures in JCPS against the other 49 largest school systems in the US (by enrollment, JCPS is the 27th largest school system in the US).

As you can see, JCPS ranks very high in 14th place.

JeffCo PP Expenditures Ranked with 50 Largest US School Systems

I still have not found the cost of living data that NPR supposedly applied to the spending figures, but I am pretty sure that Jefferson County’s cost of living is not likely to be way out of line with the other large school systems listed.

Certainly, compared to other large districts in the US, Jefferson County’s funding looks pretty good.

Jefferson County schools poorly funded?

National Public Radio is starting a series on school funding across the US, and the local affiliate station in Louisville, WFPL, just ran an article titled “Louisville Is Behind The Curve In Public School Funding,” which draws some data from the nationwide series.

But, is Louisville (actually the Jefferson County Public School District [JCPS]) really behind? Is it even spending only $10 more per student than the Kentucky-wide average?

When I am looking at funding across states, as NPR is doing, the first source I go to is the US Census Bureau’s Public Education Finances series. Census issues these reports annually, and the latest one, Public Education Finances: 2013, just happens to cover the spending year mentioned in the WFPL article – the 2013 Fiscal Year, which is essentially the 2012-13 school year. This table shows the per pupil total expenditure figures I calculated from the expenditure and enrollment figures found in the Census’ document.

JeffCo Vs KY Vs US Per Pupil Funding 2013

As you can see, Jefferson County gets considerably more money per student than Kentucky schools statewide receive. Jefferson County even gets more per pupil than the nationwide average.

Now, NPR says it has adjusted its funding figures by regional cost of living factors. That might lower the Jefferson County spending a bit in relation to the statewide and national figures. So far, however, I have not found the cost of living adjustments used, so I don’t know if they are reasonable or not. NPR didn’t link to these adjustments. Can the cost of living in Louisville really be enough to offset a difference of over $1,590 in spending between JCPS and Kentucky schools statewide?

This gets even more interesting.

The Kentucky Department of Education also shows school funding data in the Kentucky School Report Cards. I accessed the Jefferson County school report card for 2014-15, which lists finance data for 2012-13 in the “Finance” – “Revenue and Expenditures” section. Per the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), in that year the total expenditures per pupil in Jefferson County amounted to $14,877 while statewide they were $12,874.”

Those figures are considerably larger than what the Census Bureau reports, for reasons I currently am still researching.

Never the less, whether we talk Census or KDE data, spending in Jefferson County is a lot higher than across Kentucky. Could the cost of living differences really be large enough to offset that? I wonder.

Charter school bill clears KY Senate’s Education Committee

A new bill to bring charter schools to Kentucky, Senate Bill 253, was passed in a nine-to-two vote by the Kentucky Legislature’s Education Committee yesterday amidst expected union pushback and an amazingly frank charge from Hal Heiner, Kentucky’s Secretary of Education, that the Kentucky Education Association is standing in the way of the best policies for children.

KET webcast the meeting and the video is now available online in the KET Archives.

There was some pretty sharp discussion during the meeting, making this video of more than average interest.

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Courier: JCPS restrained thousands of kids, but didn’t report it

The Courier-Journal is reporting that the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS) very seriously under-reported the number of incidents where students were restrained or secluded in its schools last year. The Courier says this data is required to be reported by state regulation.

Making things more uncomfortable, the article says that the Kentucky Department of Education asked for confirmation of the tremendously low numbers JCPS provided, apparently after JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens knew there was a major problem with the reported figures. Never the less, she did not correct this massive error.

Hargens blames the problem on the use of two different database systems in JCPS, but I have to ask why two separate, overlapping systems are in use in the district. Does this point to inefficient management? Is that second system in use to obscure the true picture about whatever data is being collected?

For sure, the “Learning Environment” – “Safety” section of the current 2014-15 Kentucky School Report Card for JCPS shows a total of only 168 restraint cases and just six seclusion cases were reported to the department of education for that school term, a total of only 174 cases, just as the Courier reports. The Courier says the correct number is over 4,000 cases.

If the rest of Courier reporter Allison Ross’ story is confirmed, some very pointed questions need to be asked about whether the serious and possibly knowing under-reporting of data required by state regulation rises to the level where action must be taken.

After all, if the Kentucky Department of Education does not protect the accuracy of the data it is required to collect, then the department will start to share in the JCPS’ problems. And, if such grossly inaccurate data were knowingly confirmed by JCPS, that would be a very serious issue indeed.

Jefferson County Schools’ achievement gap problems show in KPREP, too

It wasn’t long after the Bluegrass Institute released our new report on “Blacks Continue Falling Through the Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, the 2016 Update” before the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS) honored us with a response.

In fact, the JCPS Response came out only a few hours after our report release news conference ended last Monday.

JCPS clearly isn’t happy with the disturbing evidence we uncovered that three years after our last Blacks Falling Through Gaps report, the achievement gaps in Louisville’s schools at best have not really improved much and in some cases like readiness testing are largely getting worse.

Still, the JCPS criticized the institute for not looking at gains in proficiency rates, as this extract from their response shows.

JeffCo Response Extract on KPREP

That got us thinking. Our report shows that proficiency rates for blacks generally have declined between 2011-12 and 2014-15 on both the EXPLORE and PLAN readiness tests, so Jefferson County had to be talking about KPREP test scores.

We did not pay attention to KPREP trends over time because of recent evidence we assembled at the institute (see here, here, here, here and here) that KPREP is showing some signs of score inflation.

Still, the JCPS brought the subject up, claiming blacks had made progress on KPREP. But, while the JCPS Response talked about black score increases, it was strangely silent about white score trends. Hmm, we thought. Why is that information not discussed?

So, we pulled the 2011-12 and 2014-15 KPREP test results from the Kentucky School Report Cards for Jefferson County into a set of tables similar to Tables 1 and 2 in our report, which cover the EXPLORE and PLAN trends. Pretty quickly, we saw why the JCPS response didn’t mention white scores.

Here is the table for the elementary school KPREP proficiency rate results for whites and blacks in Jefferson County. There are four subjects that we can examine for achievement gap trends over time (KPREP’s science test is in rewrite and no 2014-15 scores are available).

JeffCo Elementary KPREP Gap Changes 2012 to 2015

Now we can see why the JCPS Response was silent about what white scores were doing. The last two columns show that between 2011-12 and 2014-15 white elementary school students’ KPREP scores rose faster in all four subject areas. As a consequence, the WHITE MINUS BLACK KPREP ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN JEFFERSON COUNTY’S ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS GOT WORSE ACROSS THE BOARD, as noted in the column highlighted with the red background.

Black scores did go up, but white scores went up more. And, don’t forget, some of the score increases may be illusory because it looks like KPREP might have some inflation issues.

We looked at still more. Click the “Read more” link to see what happened in the middle schools and high schools.

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‘JCPS bus problems underreported, review shows’

The above is the headline in the Louisville Courier-Journal’s recent article reporting on the latest developments in the school-busing mess in the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

It’s hard to determine the seriousness of problems if important data isn’t included in the records that supervisors use to evaluate them. Apparently, as C-J reporter Allison Ross discovered, a whole lot of JCPS bus-driver complaints never made it into the supervisors’ system.

JCPS as we’ve previously discussed is having so many problems with kids misbehaving on the buses that drivers don’t even want to cover some of the district’s bus routes. The district has come up short despite even offering bonuses to drivers who would take on these extra-challenging routes.

In any event, as we show in our new update report on the problems with achievement gaps in Jefferson County Schools, busing doesn’t seem to work all that well for minority students.

Maybe it’s time for JCPS to finally drop busing – an idea that even the US Supreme Court figured out years ago just doesn’t work – thus saving some serious diesel by cutting down on rush hour traffic, which would expose kids to less danger, and then to use the millions of dollars saved to focus on getting Louisville’s West End schools up to snuff.

Taking 70,000 kids out of an enrollment of about 100,000 and busing them all over the place twice a day does not equate to a better education for those students. In fact, it may very well be harming them.

Press conference for release of new BIPPS report on achievement gaps in Louisville’s schools

The Bluegrass Institute released “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps: The 2016 Update” on Monday. Here’s the video of the press conference.

School choice in Kentucky’s largest school district? Not so much, really

Check out these comments about “school choice” availability in the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS):

“The current choice system is far from perfect. Many families don’t get their first choice, and about 20% don’t get either first or second choice. Family logistics and the student assignment plan mean that many families must choose based on factors unrelated to the best academic fit for their child (Emphasis Added). And perhaps most frustrating, communication from the District about choices, application processes and decision criteria is confusing – sometimes almost impenetrable. To note that choice is offered is not to express satisfaction with how school selection works today for most families.”


And, no, BIPPS didn’t write this. It is found in an article titled “Thoughts on Charter Schools” from JCPS board chair David Jones.

One of the big arguments being raised against charter schools by the education bureaucracy that is the Jefferson County Public School System is that they already offer choice. But, it looks like even the JCPS board president understands school choice in Jefferson County really isn’t much choice at all.

There are more interesting revelations in Mr. Jones’ article, but I am going to hold further comments until after BIPPS releases our new report on the black students’ achievement gap mess in the JCPS on Monday.

By the way, WLKY in Louisville is running an extensive review of charter schools both on air and online. The first installment is online now, and coverage will continue today at 5 pm when Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters is expected to appear.

Another school system transparency law violation

The Courier-Journal reports that the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office just hit the Jefferson County Public School District with an Open Records Law violation for not making public information available in accordance with the law.

This adds to a growing list of violations of the state’s transparency laws by various education agencies which even includes an Open Meetings Law violation last year by the Kentucky Board of Education.

Maybe it’s time to put some real teeth into the laws for those in state agencies who chose to ignore the requirements for them to be transparent to the public.

Even Kentucky shows great public school innovation can come from outside of the public school community

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The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank, joins with hundreds of groups nationwide to celebrate the fifth annual National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30). Since its beginning more than 12 years ago, the Bluegrass Institute has been the leading voice to give Kentucky parents effective alternatives to ensure that each child receives a quality education. As part of National School Choice Week, the Bluegrass Institute will publish a series of blogs offering information on school choice. This series will be one of 16,000 events nationwide taking place as part of this year’s National School Choice Week.

For our second blog of this series, we are going to discuss how great ideas for education don’t necessarily come from within the traditional public education establishment. In fact, some within the establishment will fight programs that really work well for kids when those programs run counter to “adult interests.”

Let’s begin with another look at the Kentucky State of Education report from Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt.

In his new report on “The State of K-12 Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Pruitt discusses a very exciting program that dramatically improved our public school students’ opportunity to take and succeed in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

On Page 8 the State of Education includes this graphic, which shows both the numbers of AP test takers and the numbers of AP tests taken have notably grown in Kentucky since 2011.

AP Test Data 2015 in Kentucky

Furthermore, Pruitt’s report candidly admits that a specific program is largely responsible for this, saying:

“For the past eight years, AdvanceKentucky, a statewide math and science initiative, has had a significant impact on the growth of Advanced Placement in the state, especially among those who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in AP courses.”

In fact, the vast majority of increased AP participation in math, science and English subjects in Kentucky over the past decade is found in AdvanceKentucky’s partner high schools.

AdvanceKentucky is a proven program, something the Bluegrass Institute has recognized for many years.

For example, in just the second year of the program, we blogged about this AdvanceKentucky graph that showed the first two groups of Kentucky high schools to join the program produced proportionately far more AP qualifying scores (QS) in math, science and English (MSE) than either the nation or the overall Kentucky public school system.

AdvanceKentucky 2009 to 2010 Graph

But, there is still more to the story that the State of Education report didn’t cover. A key message is that ideas that really work for education can, and do, come from outside of the traditional education establishment. And, sometimes, the traditional school culture will actually fight innovation that works for kids.

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