State Policy Network
State spotlight: Giving Kansas students a fighting chance

A quality education is one of the best pathways to success. But achievement for many students (especially low-income and minority students) across the country is much lower than parents have been led to believe by the public school system. The story that students and parents constantly hear from politicians, school officials, and teacher unions is that if we “invest” more money in our public schools today, our students of tomorrow will prosper.

But that’s a false narrative.

Data proves that simply putting more money in schools does not improve the educational outcomes for students. In community after community and state after state, positive results for students are only achieved when education funding is paired with accountability programs and structural reforms.

The facts are on our side, but we’re not in a fact-based fight.  We’re fighting a battle against decades of entrenched beliefs.

Enacting structural reforms paired with accountability into the Kansas education system is exactly what the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) continues to do with their campaign—Giving Kids a Fighting Chance.

Throwing money at the problem for too long

According to the Kansas Department of Education and adjusting based upon cost of living, the state of Kansas spends more than $16,500 per pupil in 2019. Yet, despite having some of the highest per-pupil education spending in the nation, 47% of Kansas high school students are below grade level in math and only 21% of Kansas high school graduates who took the 2021 ACT are college-ready in all four core subjects—English, mathematics, science, and writing.

For years, Kansas special interest groups and politicians tried to convince parents that dumping more money into public schools would solve the state’s education problems. But year after year, Kansas students have continued to fall behind while simply being passed onto the next grade.

To combat this endemic problem with the Kansas education system and to finally enact meaningful reform for Kansas students, KPI launched their “Giving Kids a Fighting Chance” campaign. This campaign aimed to show Kansans how too many of the state’s public schools were failing students; that more money was not helping students achieve education milestones that prepare them for the future; and a pathway for reform.

Inspiring change by showing success

To show Kansas parents how their reforms could impact their students’ lives, Kansas Policy Institute produced a short documentary film showing how systemic education reforms produced significant benefits for students in Florida.

The documentary featured former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, along with education advocates, teachers, and local leaders discussing how Florida’s education reforms of the early 2000’s elevated Florida students and put millions of Florida students on the path to success.

Florida’s education reforms included giving parents more power and choice over where their students attend school, ending the practice of simply passing students on from grade to grade if they aren’t proficient, injecting more accountability into Florida’s education system by issuing grades to every public school in the state, and providing incentives for schools to improve by issuing grants and awards for schools that improve student performance.

Because of these reforms, low-income 4th graders in Florida went from having some of the worst reading scores in the nation, to ranking first among 50 states on the national reading test and Florida now beats Kansas on 6 of the 8 key measurements on the Nation’s Report Card.

And Florida was able to achieve all these results while spending thousands of dollars less per pupil than Kansas.

After showing the incredible results that Florida schools were able to achieve after enacting their reforms, KPI proposed three major policy reforms for the Kansas education system:

Earning results for Kansas students

By providing Kansans with clear, easy-to-understand reforms and proof of those reforms’ benefits, KPI began important conversations around finally reforming Kansas schools. KPI reached over 1.4 million people using social media and email from June 2021 to May 2022. They grew their Facebook audience by 13% and earned more than 140,000 views on their documentary over 6 months.

Their influence and reach positioned KPI to introduce meaningful reforms to Kansas parents and voters. They were able to elevate the reform discussion to encourage elected officials to enact those reforms for Kansas students.

Since every SPN partner is responsive to the needs of their state every SPN partner priority is important. However, campaigns like Kansas Policy Institute’s “Giving Kids a Fighting Chance” is especially meaningful because as Governor Jeb Bush said in KPI’s documentary, “If you’re an [elected official], what are you doing if you’re not reforming the things to assure that the next generation has a fighting chance?”

Policy Issues: K-12 Education
States: Kansas
Organization: State Policy Network