Kansas schools cut, yet fail to spend

According to an Associated Press article as printed in the Wichita Eagle, Kansas schools cut 816 certified staff this year, including 653 teachers. The article cites school spending advocates who warn that without additional revenue for schools, further cuts — even school closings — may happen.

But in spite of this dreary picture, Kansas schools have failed to spend all the funds at their disposal.

Kansas school carryover fundsKansas school carryover funds. Click for a larger view.

According to figures supplied by the Kansas State Department of Education as presented at KansasOpenGov.org, carryover cash balances have increased at the same time schools have laid off teachers and threatened to cut programs and close schools.

From 2009 to 2010, for all school districts in Kansas, carryover funds increased from $699,150,812 to $774,648,615. That’s an increase of 9.7 percent. These numbers exclude debt service and capital outlay funds. Those funds have been mostly increasing, too.

School spending advocates argue that these carryover, or unencumbered, funds are necessary for various reasons, and they’re correct. Most businesses or organizations need a cushion in the bank to pay bills before revenue comes in.

But the only way the balances in these funds can grow — year after year as they have — is that schools simply aren’t spending all the money they’ve been given. (Schools did spend some of these funds, however, in spite of claiming these funds couldn’t be spent.)

School districts, aided by a sympathetic Wichita Eagle editorial board, argue that outsiders simply can’t understand the intricacies of Kansas school finance.

If that’s true, we have to wonder how the Wichita Eagle editorial board can claim to understand Kansas school finance. And how can journalists, legislators, the governor, school board members, parents, and taxpayers understand well enough to provide oversight and accountability?

Instead, we are to be left at the mercy of a handful of experts who are the only people who understand Kansas school finance. All of them, of course, employed by the public school bureaucracy, with a vested interest in seeing it grow at the exclusion of everything else.

That’s nonsense. But it’s the way schools like it. The less that ordinary Kansans know about schools, their financing, and their operations, the better for school spending advocates.

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