Several state agencies have failed to fully implement recommendations made by auditors over the last several years.
According to a report from the Sunflower State Journal, the Kansas Department of Legislative Post Audit, found that the departments of Education, Commerce and Agriculture, as well as the state Board of Education all failed to follow multiple recommendations.
Indeed, out of seven recommendations in the 2019 and 2020 audits only one was fully implemented.
According to the Post Audit report, KSDE fully implemented just one of three recommendations from the 2019 audit.
According to the Journal, In 2019, “a legislative audit questioned how some school districts were spending money targeted at helping students who are at risk of failing academically.”
Legislative auditors discovered funds designated for at-risk students went toward teacher salaries as well as programs that did not appear to — as required by state law — specifically address students
The audit additionally found at-risk programs in many of the 20 districts audited lacked strong research findings to document program effectiveness.
It also found districts spent almost $191,000 on programs not directly related to at-risk students.
Auditors recommended KDSE ensure any spending guidance provided to local school districts reflects current state statutes, something only partially implemented.
“In their follow-up, the auditors found that the agency answered 23 questions related to the at-risk program, but several did not capture the statutory requirement for expenses or services connected to the program,” the Journal wrote. “The guidance document indicated that at-risk funds may be used for clerical staff if they work at a school where all of the students have been identified as at-risk but with no mention of programming, the audit report said.”
KDSE said the guidance for clerical staff salaries paid with at-risk funds has been updated and is now posted online.
The agency said its guidance suggests a limit on at-risk expenditures which may be spent for teacher salaries despite the lack of such a limit in statute.
In the follow-up, auditors found KDSE fully implemented the recommendation to establish a process to determine any identified programs and practices are “evidence-based” for at-risk students, but only evidence-based programs or practices approved by the Board of Education.
The 2019 audit found a requirement that at-risk funding be spent on evidence-based practices was “poorly managed at the state level and not adequately implemented at the district level.”
The audit also recommended that the State Board of Education should more thoroughly oversee the process for identifying at-risk programs and policies which has not been fully implemented.
The follow-up audit found that this recommendation had not been fully implemented.
Legislators have provided more than $5 billion in incremental at-risk funding since 2005 to close achievement gaps and improve outcomes, but outcomes for low-income students declined. Since 2015, the first year of the current state assessment, math proficiency dropped from 19% to 16%, and reading proficiency fell from 27% to 19%. State Board president Kathy Busch responded to the 2019 audit with a media column that basically said, “Shut up, go away, we know what we’re doing.” But achievement results reflect otherwise.
The latest audit examined whether the Department of Education adopted policies recommended in 2019, but policies are meaningless if school district officials ignore them (as they did with state statutes).
The Sentinel reached out to Deputy Education Commissioner Craig Neuenswander to ask if KSDE can document that districts are fully following guidance on at-risk spending, but as of publication time had received no response.
(Editor’s Note: Post publication, Neuenswander responded, saying “School districts annually report to KSDE the evidence-based best practices they use and for which they spend at-risk funds.” However, it is unclear if KSDE follows up on those reports to ensure accuracy.”)
Department of Commerce
In November 2020 Post Audit published an audit on the Angel Investor Tax Credit Program. This program gives investors a tax credit for investing in certain Kansas startups. This included a statutory requirement for participating businesses to stay in Kansas for at least 10 years. The Department of Commerce is responsible for determining whether a business qualifies and for monitoring the program’s success.
The audit found the law didn’t provide benchmarks for measuring program success. Auditors recommended the Legislature consider amending the statute to shorten the 10-year requirement and to clarify the program’s goals, including specific benchmarks for program success. The 2021 Legislature shortened the requirement to 5 years for non-bioscience businesses.
The audit recommended Commerce proactively enforce statutorily required timeframes for qualifying businesses to remain in Kansas.
Post Audit was unable to determine if the recommendation was followed.
Department of Agriculture
The Kansas Department of Agriculture partially implemented three recommendations from Post Audit related to a price verification inspection process.
The audit evaluated the Marketplace Equity Protection Program within the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) Weights and Measures division. The program is responsible for overseeing the accuracy of large and small scales, as well as point-of-sale systems across Kansas.
The audit found that retail businesses failed most price verification inspections and that KDA did not respond consistently to those failures. Specifically, KDA didn’t conduct timely follow-up inspections for about 75% of the failed inspections reviewed. KDA also issued legal orders later than it could have, and its fines were small and often reduced further. The audit also found that staffing constraints contributed to the problems.