Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Brownback’s task force on school efficiency includes no one who works in a school

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Gov. Sam Brownback has formed a task force to find ways to run schools more efficiently but he didn't appoint anyone to the task force who works in a school.

Of the 10 members that Brownback put on the Governor's School Efficiency Task Force, six are CPA's, including Brownback's budget director Steve Anderson.

Of the other four members, all have business backgrounds, and some have served in education areas.

The panel will be chaired by Ken Willard of Hutchinson, who is on the State Board of Education and is a retired insurance industry executive. Another task force member has served in the past on a local school board, and another has served for 20 years on the board of Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.

But no one on the task force goes into a classroom or school building each day. There are no teachers, principals, superintendents, or school fiscal officers.

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said the governor wanted the task force to have expertise in finance and spending.

And the news release from Brownback's office on the task force says that currently "only 15 of the 286 school districts in Kansas adhere to state law that requires at least 65 percent of funds provided by the state to school districts are to be spent in the classroom or for instruction."

But there is no state law that requires 65 percent of school funding be spent in the classroom.

There is a state law that says "it is the policy goal" of the state that at least 65 percent of funds from the state be spent in the classroom or for instruction. Jones-Sontag said Brownback believes school districts should be hitting that 65 percent mark.

But like similar provisions in other states, the so-called "65 percent solution" has been controversial because there is a lot of debate on what should count as classroom spending.

The Kansas Department of Education provides an annual report to the federal government that shows the percentage of instructional dollars spent out of each district's operating expenditures.

In this report, most districts are in the 60 percent to 65 percent range.

For example, in the 2010-11 school year, the Lawrence school district was at 61.76 percent, while Eudora was 61.17 percent and Baldwin City, 61.43 percent.

In the report, however, some expenditures that some say contribute to student performance are not counted, such as librarians, school nurses, counselors and transportation.

The issue of school funding has been at the forefront of political campaigns this year.

A lawsuit brought by some districts alleges the Legislature has failed its constitutional duty to adequately fund schools because of approximately $500 million in state cuts to education during the recession.

And Brownback and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature recently pushed through massive tax cuts that critics say will lead to classroom cuts because school funding makes up about one half of the state budget.

In announcing the task force, Brownback said, "Providing a quality education to the children of Kansas is one of the core functions of state government and will remain a top funding priority for my administration."

Brownback said the task force will "identify best practices for cutting administration cost, reducing overhead, and providing a greater percentage of state resources to support instruction."

Willard, the chairman of the new task force, said, "I look forward to working with this outstanding group of Kansans who have varied private and public sector experiences and expertise – especially in accounting and budget planning."