Did you hear that? No? I did. It's the cry of the educrats. "We need money! The children will come out at dumb as Karl Rove if you cut even one dime from our budget! Oh, oh, oh the humanity! We're so hard up for cash even on penny less and we'll have to shut down half the schools, sell all the computers and start teaching with chalkboards again!"
Yes, the educrats are ramping up to save the sacred cow called education funding. That's why a new study by the Flint Hills Center is such bad news. Turns out they've been sitting on quite a sum of cash for a while. $1.36 Billion to be exact. That's billion with a "B."
In fairness, it's not all their fault. In the state's quest to make sure programs are effective, they've forced districts into sequestering money into 26 different funds. And because anything left over in their general fund is subtracted from their next disbursement from the state, anything left over is moved into one of those funds. And quite honestly I can't blame them. If someone told me I was going to be punished with less funding next year simply because I was responsible and didn't spend as much as was budgeted this year, I'd move the money too. But once it goes in, it doesn't come back out. So now over $1 billion is just sitting there, waiting to be used.
The report comes at a critical time for the state. Faced with a nearly $400 million shortfall, legislators are looking to cut whatever they can. The problem arises when they try to go after the biggest part of the budget, K-12 education. Now with nearly $1.36 billion in found money, are legislators willing to cut K-12 knowing that the resources are there for districts to provide the same level of education they always have? I think there will be an attempt, but educrats will be quick to fight back.
Some of the issues to be raised will be the variability of funds across districts. Some are flush with cash, like Wichita and Johnson County schools. Others have significantly less. How do you redistribute money equally between these schools while avoiding the ire of the Supreme Court?
And the money is in special funds. I'm sure educrats will be quick to point out that money should be spent on the programs the fund was set up for. Normally I'd agree, but the assessment depends on how much of that money was originally earmarked for that fund and how much was moved in just to avoid future cuts to general funds. What a mess to figure out.
It's sticky issue and one that needs to be dealt with in the next session. Current funds need to be used before coming to the taxpayers for more. At the very least, lawmakers need to institute uniform accounting practices between districts. After all, how can the state ensure equal funding if everyone counts their change differently?