Kansas fund balances disputed despite evidence of their existence, benefit

A Wichita Eagle op-ed by Kansas State School Board Member David Dennis (Fund balances won’t save schools) and another by Rhonda Holman dispute evidence that Kansas can make it through the current financial situation by making use of large fund balances in state agency accounts.

In his op-ed, Dennis writes that while he doesn’t disagree that Kansas schools have $700 million in funds excluding capital and bond payments, he writes “That fact by itself is very misleading. Each account must be analyzed separately.” He then proceeds to list some of these funds, their balances as of July 1, and what the fund is used for.

This recitation, however, doesn’t qualify as “analysis.” An analysis would look at the change in fund balances over the course of a budget year, and the trend of the balances over years. Dennis doesn’t do any of this. Of course, that type of material doesn’t make it into most newspapers.

Evidence gathered by the Kansas Policy Institute has found that statewide, these fund balances have grown by 53 percent over the last four years. For the Wichita school district, these balances have grown from $74 million to $94 million over the last four years. These funds grow when more money is added to them than is spent — strong evidence that schools have been receiving more money than they have needed.

So we have a member of the school spending lobby disputing the availability of these funds and calling for more tax revenue to be spent on schools. Not much new here.

What’s more disturbing is Wichita Eagle editorial writer Rhonda Holman’s recent editorial (Work together to solve budget crisis). It doesn’t come right out and say that the idea of using fund balances to make it through a tight spot is bogus. Instead, Holman shades her claims, using phrases like “If that were true” and “But a very different — and more realistic — scenario faces Parkinson and returning legislators.”

This is after slamming the think tank that found these balances and promotes their use as “conservative.” (Believe me, that was meant as an insult.)

It’s neither conservative nor liberal to look at facts.

But the fact that these fund balances are available — and the fact that they’ve been growing in recent years — isn’t comfortable for big-taxing and big-spending liberals in Kansas. First, the growing balances mean that these funds have been stocked with more money than has been necessary.

Second, for agencies to draw down these fund balances means that they’re going to have to be more careful in managing their finances and accounts. It’s easier to operate with large fund balances, no doubt, but many Kansans right now are operating on tight household budgets. We should expect government to do the same.

Then, if we find that Kansas can make it through this tight spot without tax increases, that deprives Kansas government spenders of future tax revenue. After all, if new taxes are implemented now, they’ll probably be around after the economy recovers, providing even more tax revenue for Kansas government to spend.

Tough economic times ought to provide an incentive to look for ways that government can become more efficient. But hardly anyone in Kansas government is looking for savings. In the case of Kansas schools, planned performance audits were canceled last year because school administers were too busy working on budget cuts. School districts could voluntarily participate in the audit — Derby did — but the Wichita school district didn’t participate.


7 thoughts on “Kansas fund balances disputed despite evidence of their existence, benefit”

  1. Since when does an ‘analysis’ NOT look at legal restrictions placed on that fund? For instance, the Food Service fund cannot be spent outside of that fund! The article by Mr. Weeks in response to Mr. Dennis’ op-ed piece is an excellent example of subversive, misleading, anti-public ed bull****!

  2. That’s exactly right Anonymous. It’s really easy to say let’s use these fund balances right now to fix the budget. Any serious “analysis” would look at each fund and see if there are any restrictions for the balances in the fund.

    For example, if I sweep money out of one agency’s fund could the agency lose federal funding? Is there a statute in place on another fund that limits what it can and cannot be used for?

    Also, there were fund balances transferred last year from some agency fee funds to the state’s general fund, but it was meant with a lot of opposition from Republicans in the Legislature. My guess is because the former governor of our state recommended it and she is a Democrat.

  3. The fact is you cannot get blood out of a turnip. The producers of this state are on the very edge of mounting a revolt. The reality is that someday all government (public) schools will have to be privatized or paid for on a local or even a neighborhood level. Those who choose to send their children elsewhere should be exempted from being taxed. That also goes for people without children and people with children no longer of school age. Government (public) schools are really just statist indoctrination stations. I Pledge Allegiance to the State……

  4. clearly not one of the comments attaching the KPI article is from anyone who knows more than a tiny bit about unencumbered fund balances. Go read the original article and it mentions that some may not be accessible BUT many will be especially by statuatory or agency action!! And the comment about federal matching is not only idiotic but if you try to save federal funds longer than 18 months they lapse and any interest earned must be returned. You cannot “save” federal funds!! Go read the OMB directives so you have a clue. Amazing how little the editorial writer(s) know about fund balances really work and what unencumbered means.

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