In wake of transportation funding dispute, State Board agrees to audit of K-12 state aid

In response to criticism from Republican legislative leaders, an audit will be done of the state education department’s computation and distribution of K-12 state aid.

The audit was requested by Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson and was unanimously approved Tuesday by the State Board of Education.

“It’s important for the public to have confidence in our agency in the distribution of funds,” Watson said.

The Kansas State Department of Education has been under fire from Senate President Susan Wagle, House Speaker Ron Ryckman and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning for making what they say was unauthorized additional funding to densely-populated school districts for transporting students bused back and forth to schools.

KSDE has said the so-called “minimum level” allocations followed past legislative intent and noted a recent audit said the additional funding was probably justified.

Earlier this month, the State Board supported the actions of KSDE but directed Watson to come back with proposals to ensure the accuracy of the funding and to increase transparency.

On Tuesday, Watson called for a comprehensive audit of the computation and distribution of the major categories of school state aid programs authorized by the 2017 Legislature under the Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act.

Board member Sally Cauble said the criticism of the department was “game-playing” by politicians as the Legislature works to respond to a Kansas Supreme Court order to fix the school finance system, which the court said was inadequate. Board member Ann Mah agreed, saying the public trusted the department. “There is a small pocket of people who will never like what we do,” Mah said.

Board member Ken Willard, however, said whether justified or not, there was a distrust by some legislative leaders in the department’s allocation of funds.

Watson said he didn’t know how much the audit would cost, nor how long it would take. He said he would work with legislative leaders and Gov. Jeff Colyer’s office in putting together the scope of the audit.

Watson also won State Board approval to establish the Kansas School Finance Distribution Commission that will be charged with reviewing computations and distribution of K-12 state funds. The commission will include members of the Legislature or their designees, two members of the State Board, three CPAs and one attorney having expertise in school finance.

Here are other details of the board’s action:

To address areas where administration of the transportation funding formula doesn’t align with state statute, KSDE will:
— Remove the minimum funding level from its funding calculation, starting with the 2018-19 school year;
— Develop a process to ensure only student for whom “transportation was made available to” are counted.
— Count students for whom “transportation was made available to” as 1.0 FTE in all distance categories.

The Kansas School Finance Distribution Commission will review the computation and distribution of the major categories of K-12 state aid including highlighting and examining all changes in state law, policy and economic factors that affect the distribution of state aid to school districts.
The voting membership of the KSFDC will consist of:
Chair or designee of Senate Education Committee
Chair or designee of House Education Committee
Chair or designee of House K-12 Education Budget Committee
Minority leader of the Senate or designee
Minority leader of the House or designee
Two members of the State Board of Education
Three CPA auditors doing business in Kansas as K-12 school auditors
One attorney having expertise in school finance
Non-voting members of the Commission:
Deputy Commissioner of Education, Division of Fiscal and Administrative Services
Director of School Finance at KSDE
Director of K-12 Fiscal Auditing at KSDE
Two members of the Kansas Legislative Research Department

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