Archive for Saturday, January 14, 2006

Education audit sounds familiar to some

January 14, 2006

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— An audit on education funding has legislators discussing how to get more money to public schools, but that audit reached many of the same conclusions as a 2002 study that many legislators have reviled or ignored.

The Legislative Division of Post Audit released a much-anticipated study this week saying legislators must spend between $400 million and $470 million more on K-12 education to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to adequately fund schools. The price tag was less than the 2002 study by Denver consultants Augenblick & Myers that made recommendations costing $852 million.

But both studies suggest legislators rethink many policies made in 1992 that still underpin the existing school finance formula. Among the similarities are recommendations that legislators take into account regional differences, such as teacher salaries, poverty, enrollment and cost of living.

Despite the similarities and the cost, legislators gave the latest audit a warmer reception.

"There was trust in the independence of the auditors and the quality of their work," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

In 2002, the cost study was a new idea and a 1999 lawsuit filed on behalf of parents and administrators in the Dodge City and Salina school districts was in its early stages. The plaintiffs argued that the state spent too little on its schools and that the finance formula distributed money unfairly, hurting poor and minority students.

In 2001, legislators writing the final version of the annual school spending bill added language ordering the study. A committee later outlined its scope and hired Augenblick & Myers, which had done studies in other states and had a reputation for proposing bigger funding increases than lawmakers expected.

See the stories

Two studies designed to determine how much Kansas should be spending on education are available online.

¢ Legislative Division of Post Audit cost study

¢ 2002 Augenblick & Myers cost study

"We weren't going to listen to Augenblick & Myers because they had no credibility with the majority of the Legislature," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka.

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said legislators made scapegoats out of the outside consultants - and tried to cast the Kansas Supreme Court in the same light when it sided with the plaintiffs last year.

"This is a time when we can't turn our back on our study," said Hensley, D-Topeka. "Once again, we've created a situation for ourselves that we're going to have to deal with."

With the 2002 study, few lawmakers looked beyond the cost, said Senate Vice President John Vratil. Most failed to review the policy recommendations.

"What has changed is the school finance lawsuit has progressed to a point where the Supreme Court is breathing down the Legislature's neck and applying considerable pressure," said Vratil, R-Leawood.

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