Overcounting Low-Income Families

Schools get a bonus or each student from a low-income family. The Kansas City Star now says that a state report alleges that districts have been padding their statistics.

According to the Total Expenditures by District report from the KSDE (open up your copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader and then click on “State Totals”), there were 441,868 full-time equivalent (FTE) students in the 2004-05 school year. (We don’t have the numbers for this year, but it shouldn’t be much different). Official numbers say that 135,294 students considered “at risk,” based on family income. That’s 31 percent of all students declared “at risk.”

For two years, Ken Daniel, who publishes KSSmallBiz.com, has argued that the numbers are inflated. (See: Which Kansas Districts Cheat the Most?, January 2006; Education Council Recommends Continued Cheating, October 2006, and Free Lunch Cheating: Exchange With Superintendent, November).

Are Daniel’s claims right? We like to operate in good faith, and hestitate to accuse school officials of cheating. It should be said, however, that the Kansas Legislative Division of Post-Audit now says that the number of at-risk children is too overstated.

Of the students considered to be at risk, 23,000, or 17 percent, don’t qualify. The result is an additional cost to state taxpayers of $19 million.

Getting the numbers right is an important financial consideration. According to the Star, “By 2008-09, the state will be spending $261 million on at-risk programs, five times as much as it did in 2004-05.”

Also: “Districts receive extra money per student – $822 for the 2005-06 school year, rising to $2,021 by 2008-09.”

So who’s to blame? The possibilities are several: overly aggressive (or perhaps simply incompetent) school employees, parents who game the system for whatever purposes, and parents who are tripped up by the reporting instructions.

Open up your copy of the Adobe Acrobat Reader, and call up the report at the Post-Audit web site.

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