••• Education •••

USD 416 audit report is further evidence the public school system ignores state laws

The Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit’s recent examination of USD 416 Louisburg found that 21% of the expenditures it examined were not spent as required in state law.  The audit also disclosed that the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) does not require school districts to publish all their spending.

These discoveries come as no surprise, and neither do the reactions of the education system.  USD 416 and KSDE essentially dismissed the findings with weak excuses, puffery, and haughtiness.

USD 416 officials mostly patted themselves on the back for doing “great things” for students, knowing that KSDE takes no action against districts that violate state laws.  They showed no remorse and brushed off the findings as insignificant dollar amounts.  The limited audit chose mostly small-dollar expenditures to examine, but the amounts aren’t the issue.  As any CPA will tell you, finding a 21% violation rate is a really big deal, even in a limited audit.

Kansas Division of Post Audit of USD 416 LouisburgThe audit examined 13 expenditures of At-Risk fund funding, which must be used to provide “above and beyond” regular classroom services to students who are academically at risk of failure.  Nine of the 13 – 69% – were found to be unlawful.  Auditors note that the expenditures were not randomly selected, so the error rate cannot be extrapolated to all At-Risk expenditures, but it’s a fair bet that a lot of At-Risk money is not being spent lawfully.  In Louisburg, 20% of low-income students and about 12% of their more affluent classmates are below grade level in reading and math.

Two statewide audits of At-Risk expenditures – in 2019 and 2023 – determined that school districts were not spending At-Risk money as legally required, and both times, KSDE took no action.

$7 million of expenditures missing from USD 416 published reports

Auditor Heidi Zimmerman told the Legislative Post Audit Committee that $7 million of USD 416 expenditures were not reflected in the district’s budget publications.  The books showed $31 million in expenditures, but budget reports only show about $24 million for the 2023 school year.

Zimmerman said the difference relates to Facilities and Construction expenditures.  The Legislature passed the Uniform Financial Accounting and Reporting Act about ten years ago to ensure transparency, but the statutory language references district budgets; KSDE does not require school districts to budget expenditures bond proceeds in the Construction fund, so KSDE believes that Construction expenditures must not be disclosed to the public.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Frank Harwood told the auditors, “There is not a statutory requirement to include bond expenditures in the USD Budget, therefore, the practices of Louisburg USD #416 and the guidance provided by KSDE are in compliance with current law.”

Given KSDE’s recalcitrant view of transparency, the State School Board should require districts to publish a budget for the Construction Fund, or the Legislature will have to step in if the Attorney General agrees that there is currently no statutory requirement to do so.

The findings and reactions to this audit are only the most recent indication that Kansans cannot count on most education officials to put students’ interests first.  Most administrators no doubt want better outcomes, but not if it requires them to change their behaviors.

If you find that hard to believe, Kansas Policy Institute will send you a complimentary copy of our book that tells one story after another of education officials deceiving parents and legislators, de-emphasizing academic preparation, and violating state laws designed to improve outcomes.