Nearly half of Kansas lawmakers signed a letter expressing their support for Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis. The Jan. 26 letter, signed by 63 legislators, may have persuaded members of the Kansas State Board of Education to reject a Kansas House and Senate Leadership recommendation to suspend Dennis with pay while the misappropriation of funds could be investigated.
Though the wording of the letter was widely circulated, a list of signatories wasn’t. The letter says its signers were “disappointed” by a decision of legislative leadership to condemn Dennis.
“Mr. Dennis is a highly respected, 50-year professional, who holds a vast amount of knowledge regarding Kansas school finance,” it reads.
A legislative post audit determined Dennis allocated funding outside of state law for the last five years and possibly for as many as 40 years. The letter in support of Dennis says he has been forthright about it.
“He has responded to legislative post audit reviews regarding it, and has always responded professionally to any legislative request,” it reads. “Many of us have relied upon his expertise as we have sought to understand and improve the process of funding schools.”
In a recent column for the Kansas City Star, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said that defense is not logical or reasonable.
— Jim Denning (@JimDenning4KS) February 5, 2018
“So the rationale is that the district’s own funding formula has become lawful simply because the law has been broken for so long–perhaps decades–or because a great number of people may have known this was happening but did nothing to stop it,” he wrote. “In other words, the lawlessness was open and transparent.”
Though the Kansas State Board of Education decided not to suspend Dennis or conduct an audit into its fund distribution, the debate over how to handle the unauthorized overpayments to school districts isn’t yet settled.
Denning wrote that state law requires schools to repay the state for past unauthorized funding, though there are bills before the legislature that would simply codify for the future the way Dennis calculated funding. Legislators also face a court-mandated deadline of April 30 to draft a new school financing formula.
Denning says without an audit of the Kansas State Department of Education’s fund distribution, the legislature will be left without a remedy to fund schools according to the law.
Signatories to the letter supporting Dennis stop short of requesting any such audits. Instead, they hope “that any investigation into Mr. Dennis’s actions be guided by integrity and transparency.”
The signers include 47 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Republicans who signed the letter include Sen. Bruce Givens, and Reps. Emil Bergquist, Diana Dierks, Shelee Brim, Susie Swanson, Stephanie Clayton, Brenda Dietrich, Roger Elliott, Mary Martha Good, Larry Hibbard, Anita Judd-Jenkins, Jim Karleskint, Greg Lewis, Melissa Rooker, Mary Jo Taylor, Joy Koesten, and Kent Thompson.
Only two Democrats in the Kansas Legislature–Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Jim Ward–didn’t affix their signatures to the letter.