Who Stole Money From Disabled Kids in Kansas?
TOPEKA – December 26, 2018
A true scandal has broken out in quiet, rural Kansas, as auditors have said that a significant amount of money was stolen from students who either were gifted or had a disability, and it seems things are getting really serious there, as this story could jump to the federal level.
The complex analysis revealed a lack of compliance from 2012 to 2017 with a Kansas law requiring the state to cover 92% of each school district’s special education costs not met by federal allocations or base state aid. Auditors said the driving force during the period was then-Governor Sam Brownback’s strategy of restraining state spending on special education, sometimes called categorical aid, without jeopardizing the flow of federal dollars. It’s unknown whether it was solely Brownback’s fault or if some other authorities “helped” him, but there are signs that imply corruption.
“As a result in school years 2015 through 2017,” the auditors said, “categorical aid was only funded at 78% to 81%,” so up to 22% of all money sent to the kids with special needs was stolen.
The Legislative Post Audit Division, in a report ordered by the 2018 Legislature, recommended the state finance special education at the statutory amount or amend the education law to reflect the year-by-year method preferred by lawmakers.
Different political parties acting in Kansas already blame each other for this issue. The auditors said the Republican-led legislature passed and Brownback signed a series of bills that sidestepped the statutory rate and shaved millions of dollars annually from appropriations to special education. The threshold of 92% was established to “encourage prudent spending” by school officials, the audit said, which is still pretty far from 100%.
The potential fraud might have also affected job opportunities for teachers in Kansas. The auditor’s framework also included districts hiring 1,000 more special education teachers and reducing lower-wage paraprofessionals attending to students by 4,000.
Another violation of procedures was registered, as auditors examined 33 Kansas school districts where the expenditures on special education varied widely. The range could be influenced by a district’s per-student cost of services, salaries paid to special education teachers and the amount of unreimbursed costs for special education, including technology purchased by districts for the benefit of students, or, it could be influenced by corruption.
For example, the Lansing District was at that low end of the compensation scale, receiving just 57% of extra costs for special education. At the same time, the Wellington District was on the high side, receiving the equivalent of 148% of excess costs, auditors said, which is pretty suspicious.
Whatever the nature of this shortfall, the result is known – disabled kids were underfunded, which directly affected their lives. Unfortunately the adults failed these kids in Kansas.