A board member of the largest school district in Kansas repeated an untruth that has unfortunate consequences for Kansas schoolchildren.
At a recent meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club Wichita school board member Sheril Logan participated in a panel discussion on local government legislative agenda. (The entire program may be accessed here.)
She told the audience, “Truly, data can be maneuvered to make it look like what you want. We all know that. So can funding streams.”
She went on to explain that what happened in the “last couple of years” was, for example, KPERS funds being counted differently.
What Mrs. Logan told the Wichita Pachyderm Club is a standard argument of Kansas public school spending advocates, which is that because of a change in the way teacher retirement funds (KPERS contributions) are handled, it looks like the state is spending more on schools, when in fact it is not. According to her, this happened in the “last couple of years.”
The story about KPERS reporting being changed in an underhanded way told so often by the public school spending establishment that it is difficult to criticize Mrs. Logan for being wrong. Board members and others are told this so often, from sources they believe as authoritative, that they believe it. They want to believe it.
Kansas Policy Institute asked the Kansas State Department of Education about this matter. It found this: “According to Dale Dennis, KPERS funding was last sent directly to KPERS in 2004; it has since been sent directly to school districts included in reported school funding totals.”1
Here, Dale Dennis contradicts what a board member of the state’s largest school district told the Wichita Pachyderm Club. Dennis is Deputy Commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education and head of Fiscal and Administrative Services, widely cited as the leading authority on Kansas school finance..2
Even though Dennis is the state’s top education finance official, we don’t have to rely solely on him to illustrate the error of believing the KPERS spending reporting has undergone recent changes. Information from the Wichita public school district3 shows the same. Here I’ve plotted the funding sent by the state of Kansas to USD 259 for KPERS contributions. As Dennis indicated, in 2005 the Wichita school district started receiving money from the state for KPERS. Prior to that year it received none.
Does it matter?
Does it really matter that there is this confusion about KPERS reporting? Yes. It matters a lot, and for two reasons.
First, what the Kansas public school spending establishment says is incorrect. We should value the truth above all.
Second: If we believe that Kansas public schools are underfunded, there is a ready-made excuse for anything and everything. If anyone points out that Kansas schools have problems, the excuse is that there’s isn’t enough money. This lets Kansas public school officials off the hook, and needed reforms are squashed. Even reforms that will save money.