MUNIS - Education Financial Management
MUNIS is the overall name for the statewide financial management system used by the Kentucky Department of Education and all of the state’s public school districts and individual schools.
It is a complex system intended to account for a large amount of school spending data.
MUNIS, an acronym for Municipal Information Systems, is a product of Tyler Technologies of Falmouth, Maine. The state uses a number of software modules from Tyler to create its customized fiscal accounting program.
MUNIS uses a very large set of accounting codes, or objects, to capture revenue and expense information. These accounting codes are coordinated with, but not identical to, a model federal accounting program created by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The detailed statewide MUNIS accounting codes are identified in the MUNIS Chart of Accounts document.
Figure 2.G, taken from a Legislative Research Report on education efficiency, provides some insight into how the expenditure codes are set up.
There are four levels of coding in MUNIS accounts. For example, the part of the hierarchy of coding for the revenue functions in MUNIS shown below is found on the Chart of Accounts tab “REVENUE OBJECTS.” Once again, a hierarchy is obvious in this small subset of the MUNIS coding, which deals with identification of money received from various tax sources that can be levied by local school districts.
Department of Education MUNIS Support Tools
The Kentucky Department of Education maintains a large number of supporting tools for MUNIS professionals in its Web site. These include links to the Tyler Technologies MUNIS Web site and a variety of user guides for various accounting modules.
Items of Interest to Parents
Aside from taxes, school activity funds, which include such things as money collected by clubs and ticket sales, are captured in MUNIS. To learn more see Kentucky School Activity Funds.
Supporters of MUNIS
Using a standard statewide fiscal accounting system for education ultimately leads to savings due to the economics of purchasing and maintaining only one software product.
Using a standard system makes it much easier to conduct school to school and district to district comparisons. Using a standardized system also greatly simplifies the Kentucky Department of Education’s fiscal reporting requirements both to in-state and federal agencies, many of which require or request this information.
Critiques of MUNIS
Munis is plagued by many reporting errors and omissions that seriously undermine its accuracy and usefulness.
Not Capturing All CATS Costs
A January 2009 audit from the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts on the management of the CATS testing contracts (view audit here) notes that school and district level expenses associated with the CATS assessment program are not being captured in MUNIS. In addition, other state agency costs directly associated with CATS are not being identified in MUNIS. Therefore, the true cost of the CATS program is not known and may be seriously underestimated.
For example, the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission (LRC) looked at a number of issues with the CATS program in Research Report #328. The commission found that total state level expenditures on CATS in fiscal year 2004 were approximately $20.8 million while local school districts spent another $16.4 million. At that time, the annual cost for the CATS contract as reported in legislative meetings by the Kentucky Department of Education only included the cost of the prime contractor’s contract, then about $10 million a year. None of the other costs were being captured in MUNIS as CATS related expenses.
Earlier LRC reports, such as Research Report 312 from August 2003 also urged that CATS costs should be getting captured at the local level, as well (page xiii). Clearly, there was realization even at that time that CATS costs were not accurately accounted for in MUNIS.
Today MUNIS still does not come close to capturing the true costs of the state’s assessments. This isn’t a new problem, but so far it isn’t being addressed.
Not Capturing All Extended School Services Costs
Aside from the CATS assessments, the Kentucky Department of Education funds a large number of other critical, but expensive, programs. The Extended School Services program is one example. This program is a coordinated effort to provide extra help to students who need it, which includes such things as summer school, after school, and weekend programs. More recently, some extended school services have been provided during regular school hours, as well. LRC Research Report # 353, which was published in February 2008, says on page 39 that some of the costs of this program are also not properly captured by MUNIS. The report estimates in Table 2.2 that error generated in the cost is more than $2.6 million.
Many Other Coding Errors/Confusion
MUNIS coding has other major deficiencies, as noted in several Kentucky Legislative Research Commission research reports. For example, Research Report #338 devotes considerable attention to many MUNIS account coding problems on pages 53 to 62. On page 59, for example, the report indicates that expenditures for the very critical area of teacher professional development are not being coded properly. That makes it impossible to know what the state’s overall true costs for this critical teacher enrichment program are. There are also cases of expenditures that have no code in the MUNIS Chart of Accounts. That makes it impossible to “identify the specific purpose of the expenditures or to evaluate the impact of the spending.” The report also indicates that instructions from the National Center for Education Statistics are not always consistent and accurate (see page 56).
Some deficiencies have been known for years. LRC Research Report 312 indicates one example of confusion on the coding of testing costs at the school districts that has existed since at least 2003. This is due to only one code being available to capture all test costs, whether from CATS or from other assessment packages that are often purchased by local school districts for a variety of reasons (Page 27).
As a result of the many MUNIS deficiencies, not only is it impossible to accurately determine anything close to the true cost of the state’s CATS program, but it is also not possible to do high accuracy “bang for the buck” efficiency studies because many program element costs are inaccurately being captured.
The sorts of financial errors identified by MUNIS critics have important consequences for education planners at all levels as well as government officials trying to establish accurate program costs versus benefits. These continuing shortcomings mean that Kentucky does not, nearly 19 years after the passage of KERA, really know what programs provide the best “bang for the buck” for the state’s students.