Math error could cost taxpayers $83 million per year

Dave TrabertEducation

Senate Bill 251, which is the Kansas Senate’s proposed new school funding formula, contains an unintentional math error that could cost citizens $83 million per year in unnecessary taxation if not corrected.  The methodology for calculating Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) in the new formula is based on actual spending of 41 districts identified that exceeded specific outcomes.

Kansas Legislative Research Department explains the methodology.  “The sum of expenditures from the general fund, supplemental general fund, at-risk funds, and bilingual fund (excluding flow-through aid, transfers and transportation expenditures) was divided by the weighted enrollment according to the weightings recommended by the Legislative Division of Post Audit cost study. This amount was then divided by 1.4, to account for the fact that local option budgets are approximately 40 percent of general fund budgets, to get to a per weighted pupil base amount. The average of those per weighted pupil base amounts of the identified schools was $4,080.”

Kansas Policy Institute’s review of the underlying calculations discovered a math error in arriving at $4,080 per pupil.  Instead of calculating a weighted average for the 41 districts, KLRD confirms that they merely used a simple average of each district’s per-pupil amount; i.e., they calculated an average of averages.  The weighted average spending for those 41 districts is actually a lower number, of which only $3,956 is attributable to BSAPP.

Applying the $124 per-pupil difference to the 671,500 weighted enrollment would cost $83.1 million more each year.

Senator Jim Denning, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on School Finance, allowed KPI to submit testimony to the committee today explaining the math error in base state aid per pupil so that our discovery is part of the permanent record.  It’s unknown at this writing whether the Committee will take corrective action.

If history is any guide, however, taxpayers will be on the hook for the unnecessary funding in base state aid per pupil.  In 2006 Legislative Post Audit discovered a mistake in the calculation of transportation aid in the old formula of roughly $14 million per year.  Even though LPA recommended fixing the error, legislators balked over the years because some school districts would lose money to which they weren’t entitled – so taxpayers have been overcharged by about $140 million rather than follow the intent of the formula and anger the education lobby.

SB 251 technically fixes the transportation math error but it also modified the funding so that schools continue to receive $14 million more originally intended.

Economist Thomas Sowell explains why so many legislators take such action.  “No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems.  They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are No. 1 and No. 2.  Whatever is No. 3 is far behind.”

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