Lawsuits and tax increases not necessary to fund Kansas schools

By Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute President

A recent commentary by Kansas State Board of Education member David Dennis said educators “…just ask that they (legislators) make their decisions based on accurate information, with the future of our students in mind. “We completely agree, and just ask that educators do the same. Unfortunately, some have been making their case for tax increases and lawsuits with a healthy dose of inaccurate and/or misleading information.

For example, Mr. Dennis said another Board member “…alleges…” that schools started the current year with $700 million in carryover cash reserves (in addition to money for capital projects and bond payments). This is no allegation, it is a fact that we obtained from the Department of Education. Here are some other facts we discovered that have been confirmed by the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE):

  • Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis says schools can legally use those reserves for current expenses, freeing General Fund receipts for other purposes.

  • That $700 million total has grown 53% over the last four years, which means that schools haven’t spent all of the money they received.
  • No independent audit of the necessary ending balances in each fund has been performed.

Certainly some carryover is necessary but the minimum required balances have not been determined, so combined with the fact that these balances have grown 53%, it’s quite likely that a good portion of it could be used to avoid budget cuts.

Here’s another fact confirmed by KSDE that has been conveniently ignored or distorted:

  • Schools are getting a lot more than $4,012 in Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP). Total aid to schools from state, federal and property tax sources this year is $12,225, or just 3.43% less than last year.

There is also ample evidence that schools are spending more money than necessary. A July 2009 study by the Legislative Division of Post Audit (LPA) found many districts are much less efficient than others and offered 80 recommendations to save money. The 2010 Commission ordered the study, Phase 2 of which would have sent auditors into schools to help find ways to save money. But districts objected, so the 2010 Commission canceled Phase 2 and now is calling for more state aid to schools, knowing that other options exist.

Our own study of K-12 expenditures found per-pupil spending in 2007-08 ranged from $9,017 to $25,240. If high-spending districts had been just been at the median cost-per-pupil of similar-sized districts, it would have saved $636 million. The complete analysis is available at www.KansasPolicy.org.

Mr. Dennis referenced another LPA report that found a correlation between increases in education spending and achievement scores, which he and others have used to justify their demands. They neglect to mention, however, that LPA did not say that higher spending caused test scores to increase. (It’s a well-known research principle that correlation does not imply causation). That same LPA report also said the educational research “…offers mixed opinions about whether increased spending for educational inputs is related to improved student performance.”

The truth is that these facts and others refute schools’ case for higher spending.


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