The unpleasant prospect of being forced to repay $45 million in funding for busing has been laid at the feet of about 20 school districts in Kansas.
Locally, Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley, Kansas City, Kan., and Bonner Springs could be affected. Understandably, a retroactive threat that could cost millions of dollars is daunting to districts already struggling with tight budgets.
This is just the latest fracas surrounding educational funding formulas. Some legislators argue that a number of districts have received extra transportation funding beyond what state law allows for years.
The contention has raised the concerns of the Kansas Association of School Boards, the districts, state education officials and many legislators. This week, the House speaker and the Senate president demanded that Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis be suspended for allowing overpayments for transportation costs to some of Kansas’ largest districts.
Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, are among those demanding answers and a definitive audit.
Clearly, what is missing is hard data, gathered and analyzed by a neutral party without a stake in this escalating disagreement.
An independent state auditor would be well positioned to do just that. But Kansas, unlike Missouri, has no such elected position.
This most recent flare-up over educational funding follows a December report by a legislative audit committee that raised questions about whether the state had veered from financing standards established by law. But that committee, as the name suggests, is not independent of the Legislature. It’s tied to it.
A state auditor, elected by the people, could handle contentious issues such as school finance, and so much more within Kansas government.
Had there been a paper trail of reports detailing transportation spending, the current disputes and the consternation they are causing for school districts might have been avoided.
A state auditor, with the power to subpoena, could tackle issues such as these. And a constitutional amendment voted on by the public could put an auditor in place.
Jeff Colyer was sworn in as governor last week promising more transparency on his watch.
“I will set a tone and insist on an environment of openness, honesty and respect,” Colyer said.
He can begin by advocating for the installation of a state auditor to keep watch on his administration and the Legislature and to protect the interests of Kansans.
Note: This editorial originally mischaracterized the Kansas Association of School Boards’, state school districts’ and education officials’ positions on the funding dispute.