Gov. Brownback's expert school panel omits educators, by design
The Kansas City Star
Kansas school superintendents will tell you that years of tight budgets have provided plenty of incentives to run their districts efficiently.
But Gov. Sam Brownback thinks more savings could be wrung out of the state’s public schools, and he has appointed an “efficiency task force” to find them.
Curiously, none of the 10 members works in a school.
Brownback’s task force is top-heavy with accountants. They occupy six spots. The chairman is Ken Willard of Hutchinson, who serves on the State Board of Education but whose professional expertise is in the insurance industry. Other members hail from the business sector.
Intended or not, the exclusion of practicing educators comes across as a show of disrespect for the people in the trenches who understand what resources are necessary to educate the children of Kansas.
Once again, Brownback has shown he will heavy-handedly wield the state’s authority over local communities even as he decries the idea that the federal government should have a say in what goes on in the states.
In a news release announcing the task force, the governor’s office said that only 15 of the state’s 286 school districts “adhere to state law” and spend at least 65 percent of funds provided by the state on classroom instruction.
Technically, the release was inaccurate. Kansas law describes the 65 percent mark as “a policy goal,” not a requirement.
The so-called “65 percent solution” is a trendy idea in conservative circles but has proven unwieldy in practice. For one thing, there is no consensus on exactly what constitutes classroom instruction. Does that include librarians? What about professional development?
Also, there is no evidence that directing 65 percent of resources to classroom instruction actually improves learning.
An educator might say that good teachers work best with ample administrative support, and what looks like overhead to an accountant actually serves a crucial purpose in a school.
Mark Tallman, advocacy director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said his group hopes Brownback’s task force will at least talk with educators. He cautioned against a “one size fits all” approach, noting that every school district and community is different.
“The focus really ought to be on the outcomes you want, and let people on the local level figure out how to achieve them,” Tallman said.
That is sound advice. The governor and his task force would do well to take heed.