Tag Archives: Government spending

Visualization: National transit database

An interactive visualization of data over time from the National Transit Database.

Do you wonder how much it costs to run your transit system? The National Transit Database holds data for transit systems in the U.S. I’ve gathered some key statistics and presented them in an interactive visualization.

In the case of Wichita, we see that “OpExp per PMT” for 2015 is $1.02. This is total operating expense per passenger mile traveled. It’s not the cost to move a bus a mile down the street. It’s the cost to move one passenger one mile. And, it is operating cost only, which means the costs of the buses are not included.

Some definitions used in the database:

  • UZA: The name of the urbanized area served primarily by a transit agency.
  • UPT: Unlinked passenger trips.
  • PMT: Passenger miles traveled.
  • Total OpExp: Total operating expense.

The visualization holds three tabs. One is a table of figures. The other two illustrate data for a single transit system or single mode.

Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization for Wichita. Click for larger.

State and local direct general expenditures, per resident

An interactive visualization of state and local direct general expenditures, per resident. Click here to use the visualization.

Data is from State & Local Government Finance Data Query System, available at slfdqs.taxpolicycenter.org/pages.cfm. The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. Data from U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances, Government Finances, Volume 4, and Census of Governments (1977-2015). Date of Access: (16-Oct-2017). Data is not adjusted for inflation.

Kansas government employees

Kansas has a lot of government employees when compared to other states, and especially so in education.

Considering all government employees — state and local — Kansas has 68.35 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per thousand residents. Only two states and the District of Columbia have more.

For total elementary and secondary education employment, Kansas has 30.64 such employees (full-time equivalent) per thousand residents. Only two states have more.

Looking at nearby states and some Plains states commonly thought to be big spenders (Iowa and Minnesota), Kansas has more employees and more education employees, again on a per-resident basis.

This data comes from the United States Census Bureau. I’ve gathered it and present it in an interactive visualization. Click here to learn more about the visualization and to use it yourself.

Example from the visualization, showing Kansas and selected states. Click for larger.

State and local government employee and payroll

Considering all government employees in proportion to population, Kansas has many compared to other states, and especially so in education.

Each year the United States Census Bureau surveys federal, state, and local government civilian employees. I’ve gathered this data and present it in an interactive visualization using several views and supplementary calculations. 1

The Census Bureau collects both counts of employees and payroll dollars. Comparisons based on the number of employees are useful, bypassing issues such as differing costs of living and salaries in general.

Considering all government employees, Kansas has 68.35 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per thousand residents. Only two states and the District of Columbia have more.

For total elementary and secondary education employment, Kansas has 30.64 such employees (full-time equivalent) per thousand residents. Only two states have more.

Click here to learn more about the visualization and to use it yourself.

In this example from the visualization showing Kansas and nearby states, Kansas stands out. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. For details and to access the visualization, see here: https://wichitaliberty.org/visualization-state-and-local-government-employment/.

Visualization: State and local government employment

A visualization of federal, state, and local government civilian employees by state and function.

Each year the United States Census Bureau surveys federal, state, and local government civilian employees. 1 The amount of payroll for a single month (March) is also recorded. I’ve made this data available in an interactive visualization.

The Census Bureau describes the data:

The survey provides state and local government data on full-time and part-time employment, part-time hours worked, full-time equivalent employment, and payroll statistics by governmental function (i.e., elementary and secondary education, higher education, police protection, fire protection, financial administration, central staff services, judicial and legal, highways, public welfare, solid waste management, sewerage, parks and recreation, health, hospitals, water supply, electric power, gas supply, transit, natural resources, correction, libraries, air transportation, water transport and terminals, other education, state liquor stores, social insurance administration, and housing and community development).

The survey provides Federal Government data on total employees, full-time employees, and total March payroll by governmental function. There is no detail available for part-time employment, part-time hours worked, full-time equivalent, or full-time or part-time employee payrolls. Three functions apply only to the Federal Government and have no counterpart at the state and local government levels: national defense and international relations, postal service, and space research and technology. 2

In the visualization, I’ve multiplied the March payroll number by 12 to produce an approximation of annual payroll. Using each state’s population for each year, I’ve also computed the annual payroll on a per-resident basis, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per thousand residents, and the number of residents per FTE employee.

Click here to access the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. United States Census Bureau. Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll (ASPEP). Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/apes.html.
  2. United States Census Bureau. Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/apes/about.html.

State highways

Kansas has a lot of highway miles compared to its population. Interactive visualization included.

Kansas has nearly 100 lane miles of highway per thousand persons, a value exceeded by only five states, with two of those barely higher than Kansas. This figure is for total lane miles, urban and rural, using data reported by the Federal Highway Administration for 2016. 1

Besides a graphic table of population, total lane miles, and lane miles per thousand persons, there are three scatter plots. These plot each state’s population, area, and population density compared to lane miles.

In each plot, I’ve identified Kansas. (In the interactive visualization you can identify each state.) In all three charts, Kansas is an outlier.

These charts do not include Alaska, California, and Texas. These three states are outliers — Alaska because of its area, and the other two because of their size and high population. In the interactive visualization, of course, you may include these states and exclude any others.

Click here to access and use the visualization.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Federal Highway Administration, Office of Highway Policy Information. Available at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics.cfm.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Congressman Ron Estes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Representative Ron Estes discusses trade, FAA reauthorization and his amendment, entitlement reform, and spending. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 195, broadcast May 5, 2018.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Senator Dr. Tom Coburn

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: United States Senator Dr. Tom Coburn wrote the foreword to the book “What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan –- The Undoing of a Good Idea.” He’s here to tell us what went wrong, and what we need to do. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 193, broadcast April 21, 2018.

Shownotes

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, joins Bob and Karl to update us on happenings in the Kansas Legislature. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 192, broadcast April 14, 2018.

Shownotes

  • Senator Ty Masterson at Kansas Legislature
  • Ty Masterson campaign website
  • SB 424: AN ACT concerning education; establishing the office of education inspector general within the office of the state treasurer; providing the duties and functions thereof.
  • SB 393: Legislative committees; all votes of each legislator on motions or other action recorded in minutes.
  • SCR 1611: Making application to the U.S. congress to call a convention of the states.
  • HB 2753: Review of tax credits, tax exemptions and economic development programs.

Wichita baseball consulting contract extension may have no discussion

The City of Wichita proposes to extend a baseball consulting contract without public explanation or discussion.

Wichita city leaders want a better baseball team, not to mention a new stadium. To help find a minor league baseball team, the city engaged a consultant last October. 1 That contract called for a spending limit of $50,000. 2

You may have noticed that there has not been an announcement of a team. It also appears that the $50,000 spending cap of the October contract has been reached (or nearly so). So next Tuesday the city council will consider spending (up to) another $50,000 with the same consultant. 3

Why the need for a contract extension? City documents explain: “Over the course of the past six months, Beacon has made successful inroads into the affiliated baseball community presenting the opportunities for MiLB and its teams. Due to the success in attracting the interest of affiliated baseball, staff believes it is imperative to further pursue affiliated baseball discussions with the assistance and expertise of Beacon Sports Capital Partners, LLC.”

I’m afraid I just don’t understand. The consultant’s effort has been successful, says the city, but yet there is no team. It’s really puzzling because last August Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell was confident there would be an announcement before the end of 2017:

“By the end of this calendar year, we feel confident that we will be able to announce a team, who the team is, all of the above,” Longwell told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon. “We hope that we can complete all of those conversations by the end of this year and be able to announce a contract in place.” 4

That confidence was expressed before the engagement of the consultant in October.

Consent agenda, again

The city council will deal with this matter on its consent agenda. A consent agenda is a group of items — perhaps as many as two dozen or so — that are voted on in bulk with a single vote. An item on a consent agenda will be explained and discussed only if a council member requests the item to be “pulled.” If that is done, there will be discussion. Then the item might be withdrawn, delayed, voted on by itself, or folded back into the consent agenda with the other items.

“Pulling” an item is uncommon, as items on consent agendas are not controversial, at least according to the city’s reasoning. I suppose that applies to this item, as the first contract with this consultant was also handled on the consent agenda. And on March 27 the council authorized the spending of over $7 million on a consent agenda item. 5


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/consultant-help-wichita-confidence-factor/.
  2. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract.” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for October 24, 2017. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/10-24-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  3. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract Amendment.” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for April 10, 2018. Agenda Report No. II-15. Available at <a href=”http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/04-10-2018%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  4. Salazar, Daniel. Expect affiliated baseball team announcement by end of 2017, Wichita mayor says. Wichita Eagle, August 29, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article170095417.html.
  5. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, spending semi-secret. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-spending-semi-secret/.

Kansas highways set to crumble, foresees former budget director

Duane Goossen, former high Kansas government official, says the state’s highways are in trouble. What is his evidence?

In a recent op-ed, Duane Goossen laments the lack of spending on Kansas roads and highways. 1 His focus is his claimed lack spending on maintenance, which, he says, will lead to much larger repair bills in the future.

“But now the Kansas road system is truly threatened.” He raises the common “Bank of KDOT” criticism, writing “The highway fund became a convenient source of cash.”

KDOT transfers from sales tax . Click for larger.
It’s true, as Goossen writes, that a lot of money has been transferred from the highway fund to the general fund. At the same time, the amount of sales tax dollars transferred from the general fund to the transportation fund has risen, and by a factor of five over one decade.

But it isn’t true that Kansas highways are crumbling from lack of spending on maintenance.

Kansas Highway Conditions, through 2017. Click for larger.
Here’s a chart of the conditions of Kansas roads and highways. 2 It shows that, for interstate highways, the percent of the system in good condition has been pretty level since 2001. For non-interstate highways, the percent in good condition fell starting in 2004, but has rebounded.

Based on these charts, there’s no factual basis to claim that Kansas roads and highways are deteriorating.

KDOT spending, major road programs. Click for larger.
KDOT spending, total road programs. Click for larger.
KDOT transfers. Click for larger.
KDOT funding sources, partial. Click for larger.
But Goossen looks to the future, claiming that a lack of spending now will lead to big bills later. Now, it’s important to know that while money has been transferred from the highway fund, that alone doesn’t tell us about the level of spending on maintenance. Looking at actual spending instead of transfers to and from, we find that for fiscal year 2017, spending on three categories (Maintenance, Preservation, and Modernization) was nearly unchanged from the year before, while spending on the category Expansion and Enhancement fell by 31 percent.

For these four categories — which represent the major share of KDOT spending on roads — spending in fiscal 2017 totaled $738.798 million. That’s down 14 percent from $857.133 million the year before, and up from a low of $698.770 million in fiscal 2010. 3

And adjusted for inflation, spending on maintenance programs has declined somewhat, including in the years when Goossen held high office. These declines, however, are far short of setting up Goossen’s prediction of calamity.

Then, there’s this, which is really incredible. Goossen criticizes some of the bonds issued by KDOT in recent years, and he is on the mark: “And a portion of that debt has ‘interest only’ payments in the first years, with the principal payments still to come.”

However: The state also issued “interest only” bonds in 2004 and 2010. 4 Who was budget director during these years, as well as Secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration? Duane Goossen. 5 But now Goossen criticizes as irresponsible the same action the state took when he was in high office.

Given the insufficient factual basis for Goossen’s claims — not to mention the blatant hypocrisy — we have to wonder if this article is politically motivated. Perhaps it is, as we see Goossen making the maximum allowed contribution to Kansas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly.

Either that, or Goossen is auditioning for another government job.


Notes

  1. Goossen, Duane. Trouble coming for Kansas highways. Garden City Telegram, March 30, 2018. Available at http://www.gctelegram.com/opinion/20180330/trouble-coming-for-kansas-highways.
  2. Kansas Department of Transportation. 2017 Kansas NOS Condition Survey Report. Available at https://www.ksdot.org/Assets/wwwksdotorg/bureaus/matResLab/pmis/2017/CSR2017_SW.pdf.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Kansas highway spending. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-highway-spending-2017/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Kansas transportation bonds economics worse than told. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-transportation-bonds-economics-worse-than-told/.
  5. Goossen, Duane. Kansas Budget blog. Available at http://www.kansasbudget.com/.

Kansas and Iowa schools

Should Kansas schools aspire to be more like Iowa schools?

The Kansas Association of School Boards lists Iowa as an “aspirational” state, that is, one that Kansas should consider a role model.

I’ve gathered some data from both states. The United States Census Bureau collects data from the states as part of its Annual Survey of School System Finances program. 1 Data is available through fiscal year 2015. The National Education Association also gathers data. 2 The following table displays some data from both sources.

Note that Iowa spends much more than Kansas. Iowa school teacher salaries are higher, although the student-teacher ratio is nearly the same. (Student-teacher ratio is not the same as average class size, but it’s the data that is collected and reported.)

Since Iowa spends more on schools than Kansas on a per-student basis, we might be concerned that Kansas students are not doing as well as Iowa students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the best way to compare students in different states. 3 The following table shows NAEP data for Kansas and Iowa for 2015, the most recent year for data.

Click for larger.

Considering all students, Iowa has a larger percentage of students testing at “proficient” or better in all four subject/grade combinations.

Looking at subgroups, however, is important, because states vary in the composition of their student bodies. When we look at subgroups, we find that Kansas usually outperforms Iowa for black and Hispanic students. Even for white students alone, Kansas and Iowa tie twice and split the other two subject/grade combinations.

So let’s ask a few questions: Why is Iowa considered an aspirational state for Kansas? Is it because Iowa students perform better, or because Iowa spends more?


Notes

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Survey of School System Finances. Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html.
  2. National Education Association. Rankings of States and Estimates of School Statistics. Available at http://www.nea.org/home/44479.htm.
  3. National Center for Education Statistics. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Available at https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute joins Bob and Karl to discuss his new book What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan –- The Undoing of a Good Idea. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 186, broadcast March 3, 2018.

Shownotes

What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan

From Kansas Policy Institute.

What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan

New Book Outlines Tax Lessons from Kansas “Experiment”

Tax relief opponents have repeatedly pointed to the 2012 Kansas tax plan as their primary example of why tax cuts do not work. But, other states like North Carolina, Indiana, and Tennessee contemporaneously, and successfully, cut taxes. What was different about the Kansas experience?

The answer to that question is multi-dimensional according to a new book from Kansas Policy Institute, entitled What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan — The Undoing of a Good Idea. The book covers the six years between the conception of Brownback’s tax cuts in 2011, the tax package being signed into law in 2012 and later repealed with the largest tax hike in state history in 2017. It documents the many mistakes that occurred, a toxic political undercurrent, and several unrelated economic circumstances that negatively impacted the budget and multiple misconceptions along the way.

Author and KPI president Dave Trabert says, “Much of what went wrong was avoidable. We hope citizens and legislators across the nation can learn from the mistakes made in Kansas as they strive to create the best path forward for everyone to achieve prosperity with lower taxes.”

The final chapter of the book is “Lessons Learned” and includes these big lessons:

  1. Don’t cut revenue and increase spending.
  2. Explain why tax relief is necessary (i.e., what are the consequences of not reducing the tax burden).
  3. Develop a comprehensive plan to balance the budget on less tax revenue, with room for the unpredictable but inevitable misfortunes (like plummeting oil and farm commodity prices).
  4. Have the right systems in place, including performance-based budgeting and a reliable revenue estimating process.

To ensure that lawmakers have this information as they work in statehouses around the country, nearly 8,000 complimentary copies are being distributed to every state legislator across the country in partnership with The Heartland Institute.

Danedri Herbert, an experienced journalist currently writing for the online publication “The Sentinel,” co-authored the book and former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma wrote the Foreword. Coburn writes, “This is a very important book, not only for state and national legislators who try to represent citizens instead of special interests, but also for taxing and spending watchdogs in the press and those involved with good government citizen activist groups.”

What Was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan is published by Jameson Books, Inc. and copies will be available on Amazon.

Trabert concludes, “Kansas could have successfully cut taxes as other states have done. The undoing of a very good idea—allowing citizens to keep more of their hard-earned money—gets to the crux of the serious state and national challenges we face: policy takes a back seat to politics. The efforts of many elected officials are not on solving problems in ways that create the best path forward for all Americans to achieve prosperity, but on maintaining and consolidating power.”

Dale Dennis, sage of Kansas school finance?

Is the state’s leading expert on school funding truly knowledgeable, or is he untrustworthy?

Recent events have found Kansas Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis in the news regarding a possible mistake or misapplication of school funds. The school spending establishment has rushed to his rescue, with Kansas National Education Association, Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, Kansas School Superintendents Association, and American Federation of Teachers Kansas issuing a joint statement. Dale Dennis, says the statement, is “the best friend public education and the kids of Kansas have had.” He is described as “the most trustworthy, honest, and respected advocate for children and schools.”

Consider, however: The goals of these institutions are more spending on schools, less accountability for schools, and stamping out any movement towards school choice. And Dale Dennis accommodates this, especially more spending. This is the basis of the complaint, that he authorized more spending than the legislature intended in statute.

On Facebook, Kansas public school spending advocates mislead about the level of school spending. Click for larger.
No matter how this dispute resolves, Dale Dennis is not trustworthy and honest. Below is a description of a speech he gave to the Hutchinson Rotary Club last year. He portrayed a number called “base state aid per pupil” as all that the state spends on schools. The reality is that the state spends much more. Presenting base state aid as though it was all the state spends is misleading. It’s a lie.

Base state aid is a fairly low figure and it has not kept up with inflation. But total state (and local) spending is much higher and has risen. This is why Dale Dennis is not trustworthy and honest. This is fake government.

But because Dennis is willing to paint Kansas school finances untruthfully and in a way that makes it look like spending is low and has declined, the public school spending establishment loves him. They cite his figures. And then: Who can argue with the Kansas Department of Education Deputy Commissioner?

What can argue with Dennis are the facts. Here’s how to refute Dale Dennis: View spending numbers from the Kansas State Board of Education.

Following, from April 2017, analysis of Dale Dennis and his speech to the Hutchinson rotary Club.

Fake government spawns fake news

Discussions of public policy need to start from a common base of facts and information. An episode shows that both our state government and news media are not helping.

A recent Hutchinson News article1 started with this:

Once you wake up to where Kansas was in 1992 at funding schools and what it needs to do to get caught up, said the Kansas Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis, it’s a shocker.

In 1992, base state aid per pupil was $3,600. That amount, taking into account the Consumer Price Index, would be the equivalent of $6,001.12 in 2013. Base state aid, however, has been frozen at $3,852 since 2014-15.

“The numbers are shocking, shocking,” Dennis told the Hutchinson Rotary Club at its Monday luncheon meeting at the Hutchinson Town Club.

Why is a speech by a government bureaucrat, as covered in a major newspaper, important? It illustrates two problems we face in understanding, discussing, and debating important matters of public policy.

First, can government be truthful and accurate? Dale Dennis — the state’s top official on school finance — certainly knows that the numbers he presented do not accurately characterize the totality of school spending in Kansas. But the problem is even worse than that. To use base state aid as the indicator of state spending on schools is deceptive. It’s deceptive in that, after adjusting for inflation, base state aid has declined. But total state aid to school districts has increased.

Base state aid is a false indicator of total spending on schools by the state. It’s fake — fake government. And for a newspaper to uncritically present this as news illustrates the second problem we face.

Background on base state aid and school spending

Kansas school spending, showing base state aid and total state aid. See article for notes about 2015. Click for larger.
Base state aid per pupil — the statistic Dennis presented — is an important number.2 It’s the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula used before the 2015-2016 (fiscal 2016) school year, and something like it may be used in a new formula.3

Base state aid, however, is not the only important number. To calculate the funding a school district receives, weightings are added. If students fall into certain categories, weightings for that category are added to determine a weighted enrollment. That is multiplied by base state aid to determine total state aid to the district. 4

While this may seem like a technical discussion that doesn’t make a difference, it’s very important, because some of the weightings are large. The at-risk weighting, intended to cover the additional costs of teaching students from low-income families, started at five percent in 1993. In other words, for every student in this category, a school district received an extra five percent of base state aid. The value of this weighting has risen by a factor of nine, reaching 45.6 percent starting with the 2008-2009 school year.

There’s also the high-density at-risk weighting. Starting with the 2006-2007 school year districts with a high concentration of at-risk students could receive an extra weighting of four percent or eight percent. Two years later the weightings were raised to six percent and ten percent. (This formula was revised again in 2012 in a way that may have slightly increased the weightings.)

Kansas school spending, showing ratio of total state aid to base state aid. See article for notes about 2015. Click for larger.
Kansas school spending. See article for notes about 2015. Click for larger.
The weightings have a large effect on school funding. For example: During the 2004-2005 school year, base state aid was $3,863 and the at-risk weighting was ten percent. An at-risk student, therefore, generated $4,249 in state funding. (Other weightings might also apply.)

Ten years later base state aid was $3,852 — almost exactly the same — and the at-risk weighting was up to 45.6 percent. This generates funding of $5,609. For a district that qualified for the maximum high-density at-risk weighting, an additional $404 in funding was generated. (These numbers are not adjusted for inflation.)

So even though base state aid remained (almost) unchanged, funding targeted at certain students rose, and by a large amount.

Over time, values for the various weightings grew until by 2014 they added 85 percent to base state aid. A nearby chart shows the growth of total state aid as compared to base state aid. (Starting in fiscal 2015 the state changed the way local tax dollars are counted. That accounts for the large rise for the last year of data in the chart. For school years 2016 and 2017, block grants have replaced the funding formula, so base aid and weightings do not apply in the same way.)

What have we learned?

We’re left wondering a few things:

  • Did Deputy Superintendent Dale Dennis tell the audience that base state aid is just part of the school funding landscape, and not reflective of the big picture? Did he tell the audience that total state aid to schools has increased, and increased substantially? If so, why wasn’t it mentioned in the article?
  • If Dale Dennis did not tell the audience these things, what conclusions should we draw about his truthfulness?
  • Why didn’t the Hutchinson News article explain to readers that base state aid is not an accurate or total indicator of total state spending on schools?
  • What is the duty of reporters and editors? We’re told that experienced journalists add background and context to the news — things that the average reader may not know. (This article is designated as “Editor’s Pick” by the Hutchinson News.)

By the way, the Wichita Eagle, on its opinion page, cited in a positive and uncritical manner the Hutchinson News article.5 This is notable as the writer of the Eagle piece, opinion editor Phillip Brownlee, was a certified public accountant in a previous career. This is someone we should be able to trust to delve into numbers and tell us what they mean. But that isn’t the case.

Whatever your opinion on the level and trend of school spending, we need to start the discussion from a common base of facts and information. From this episode, we see that both our state government and news media are not helping.

For another take on the problems with this episode, see Paul Waggoner’s column in the Hutchinson News.6 (If not able to access that link, try Shocking News about Kansas Education!)


Notes

  1. Clarkin, Mary. Department of Education’s Dennis: Shocking number when looking at funding gap. Hutchinson News. April 17, 2017. http://www.hutchnews.com/news/local_state_news/department-of-education-s-dennis-shocking-number-when-looking-at/article_4abe359e-8421-53f9-a8d7-1eaa56e95423.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Kansas school weightings and effects on state aid. In making the case for more Kansas school spending, the focus on base state aid per pupil leaves out important considerations. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/kansas-school-weightings-and-effects-on-state-aid/.
  3. For the fiscal 2016 and 2017 school years, the formula was replaced by block grants.
  4. AMENDMENTS TO THE 1992 SCHOOL DISTRICT FINANCE AND QUALITY PERFORMANCE ACT AND THE 1992 SCHOOL DISTRICT CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS STATE AID PROGRAM (FINANCE FORMULA COMPONENTS), Kansas Legislative Research Department, May 20, 2014
    http://ksde.org/Portals/0/School%20Finance/amends_to_sdfandqpa_2015.pdf
  5. Brownlee, Philip. School funding numbers are ‘shocking.’ Wichita Eagle. April 22, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/now-consider-this/article146084839.html.
  6. Waggoner, Paul. Shocking news about Kansas education. Hutchinson News. April 21, 2017. http://www.hutchnews.com/opinion/columnists/shocking-news-about-kansas-education/article_2ebea7d3-6659-51fc-b3b5-409d5b0aa243.html. Or, see https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/shocking-news-kansas-education/.

Wichita check register

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list.

As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. To access a simple list of the data, click here.

Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go Wichita,” which changed its name to “Visit Wichita.”

Similarly, there are payments made to both “Westar Energy” and “Westar Energy — EDI.” These are the same entities, just as “Visit Wichita” and “Go Wichita” are the same entity. To the city’s credit, the matching pairs have the same vendor number, which is good. But resolving this requires a different level of analysis.

Of note, it looks like there were 2,605 checks issued in amounts $20 or less over a period of nearly three years. Bank of America has estimated that the total cost of sending a business check ranges from $4 to $20.

It is by now routine for governmental agencies to post spending data like this, but not at the City of Wichita. Upon inquiry, city officials told me that the present financial management system “does not include many modern system features such as an ‘open checkbook.’” An “open checkbook” refers to a modern web interface where citizens can query for specific data and perhaps perform other analysis. An example is Denver’s open checkbook.

We’ve been promised a modern system for many years.

While the next-generation Wichita financial system will probably have such a feature, there’s no reason why citizens can’t experience some of the benefits now. The spreadsheet of spending data could easily be posted on the city’s website on a monthly basis. People like myself will take that data and make it more useful, as I did. The city has demonstrated that it is able to post documents to its website, so there is no reason why this should not be happening.

Briefs

Another Wichita Eagle publisher

Wichita Business Journal: “McClatchy Co. spokeswoman Jeanne Segal told the Wichita Business Journal on Wednesday that Kelly Mirt has resigned and will rejoin his family in North Carolina. … Mirt was announced as the Eagle’s publisher and vice president of advertising in July. … Mirt came to Wichita after the of former Eagle publisher Roy Heatherly in May. Mirt was the newspaper’s sixth publisher since 2007.” See Wichita Eagle publisher resigns, McClatchy says.

The system is rigged against you

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 6, 2017: “Reading the article about Southeast High School has hardened my resolve even more that my kids will never attend public school.” Dear writer: I’m sorry to inform you, but there is an entire industry in Kansas that works to make sure that public schools are the only viable option for most Kansas families.

Will we ever know the cost?

Wichita Eagle headline: Spirit plans ‘mega project’ with $1 billion investment, 1,000 more jobs in Wichita. This is good news. I wonder, however, if we will ever know all the news, specifically how much it cost to make this happen. Also: Will Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell’s pledge to forego cash incentives apply to this project?

DeMint in Wichita this week

At the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week: Former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. DeMint served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005, representing the fourth district of South Carolina. From 2005 to 2013 he served in the United States Senate, again representing South Carolina. From 2013 to 2017 he was president of the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s leading conservative think tanks. Now he serves as senior advisor to Citizens for Self-Governance, a group which is seeking to call a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution in order to reduce federal government spending and power. See here for details.

Cost per visitor to Wichita cultural attractions

Wichitans might be surprised to learn the cost of cultural attractions.

The price of adult admission to the Wichita Art Museum is $7.00, or free on Saturdays thanks to the generosity of Colby Sandlian, a Wichita businessman.

But the cost of admission is much higher. For 2016, Wichita city documents report a cost per visitor of $54.71. That was down from the previous year’s cost of $55.37.

The cost per visitor figures the city reports each year are presented in a nearby table. For each year the city reports the cost per visitor along with a target for the next years. In the nearby chart, the target values are represented by dotted lines of the same color as the actual cost.

Cost per visitor, Wichita cultural attractions. Click for larger.

We should note that for these attractions much of their costs are fixed, meaning they do not vary with the number of visitors. An example is the employment cost of a museum director. As the number of visitors rises or falls, the salary stays the same. This means that if attendance increased, the cost per visitor would fall, and fall dramatically. (Of course, if attendance really boomed, the museum might need more directors. But that’s a long term decision.)

The source of this data is Wichita city budgets and performance reports. All are available on the city’s website at wichita.gov.

Cost per visitor, Wichita cultural attractions. Click for larger.

Kansas school spending

New data for spending in Kansas schools is available.

Through its Data Central section, Kansas State Department of Education has made spending figures available for the school year ending in spring 2017, or the fiscal 2017 school year.

These are amounts per pupil, adjusted for inflation to 2016 dollars, showing change from 2016 to 2017.

State aid: $8,613 to $8,714
Federal aid: $1,058 to $1,082
Local: $3,460 to 3,441
Total: $13,144 to $13,326

In 2015 there was a shift in the way state and local figures are allocated, so it’s important to look at state and local spending as a sum. This figure increased from $12,073 to $12,155.

In the charts below, state and local total spending, per pupil, adjusted for inflation, has been remarkably level since 2013. At the same time, schools are telling us spending has been slashed.

Click charts for larger versions.

A consultant to help Wichita’s confidence factor

Wichita considers hiring a consultant to help find a baseball team.

In August the Wichita Eagle reported:

Wichitans can hope for an announcement on a new affiliated baseball team coming to Wichita by the end of 2017, Mayor Jeff Longwell says.

“By the end of this calendar year, we feel confident that we will be able to announce a team, who the team is, all of the above,” Longwell told The Eagle Tuesday afternoon. “We hope that we can complete all of those conversations by the end of this year and be able to announce a contract in place.” 1

Evidently the mayor and the city are feeling less confident. Next week’s city council agenda includes a proposal to hire a consulting firm to help the city. The contract the council will consider states: “Wichita desires to retain Beacon Sports as its advisor and exclusive representative for the Assignment, and perform such other advisory services as are mutually agreed upon between the two parties.” 2

The city’s analysis advises: “Based on the encouraging findings, City staff have reached the conclusion that, due to Minor League Baseball (MiLB) rules and protocols, it is necessary to formally contract with a specialized baseball consultant.”

The contract has a cap of $50,000. For this, the contract states, “Beacon Sports will use its best efforts and endeavor to assist Wichita in obtaining and having present to it qualified offers on terms that are acceptable to Wichita, but makes no representation regarding the successful outcome of this Assignment.”

Of note, this item appears on the consent agenda. That’s a collection of agenda items that are voted on in bulk, with one single vote, unless a council member requests an item be “pulled” for discussion and possibly a separate vote. Generally, items on consent agendas are not controversial, and it may hold two dozen or more items.


Notes

  1. Salazar, Daniel. Expect affiliated baseball team announcement by end of 2017, Wichita mayor says. Wichita Eagle, August 29, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article170095417.html.
  2. “MiLB Baseball Consultant Contract,” Wichita City Council Agenda packet for October 24, 2017. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/10-24-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.