Topeka Call it No School Board Left Behind.
Having had her tax increase proposals for public schools rejected last legislative session, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday said she was now coming at school funding from a different direction.
Flanked by business heavyweights from across the state, Sebelius announced a proposal to review the efficiency of public school districts.
"We need to work with districts and provide services and advice that make them as efficient as possible," Sebelius said at a news conference. "It's what's best for schools and taxpayers alike."
Sebelius said the Kauffman Foundation would contract with Standard and Poor's School Evaluation Services to establish a pilot program to review district efficiency. The cost of the contract is expected to range from $300,000 to $330,000.
Standard and Poor's will use national, state and local data to establish performance benchmarks and identify efficient practices. It then will focus on four to six school districts in Kansas for a more comprehensive review that will look at the links between efficient spending and academic performance.
Sebelius said the study would be the first of its kind in the nation.
In an earlier meeting with her Business Education Partnership members, Sebelius said school district expenses as a portion of their budgets varied widely.
For example, instructional costs range from 44 percent to 60 percent of district budgets, according to information provided by the governor's office.
"Once we saw this incredible discrepancy ... it made me even more convinced that we needed to drill down even further," Sebelius said.
Larry McElwain, of Lawrence, a member of Sebelius' business education group, said more business owners and chambers of commerce would support increased school funding if they had confidence the dollars were being spent efficiently.
"I think they'll be glad to see someone is doing this," he said.
His comments were echoed by other state business leaders, including Gary Forsee, chief executive of Sprint, and Terry Dunn, chief executive of J.E. Dunn Construction.
Lawrence school Supt. Randy Weseman said he supported Sebelius' plan. He said the study's results probably would provide evidence that most school districts were spending wisely.
"Over the past five years, my administration has pretty much focused on finding efficiencies, which has resulted in administrative rollbacks of over $1 million," Weseman said.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which last session fought Sebelius' tax proposal for schools, praised the governor.
"The chamber looks forward to the increased efficiencies that will result from the governor's K-12 efficiency team's work," chamber president Lew Ebert said.
School finance hot issue
Standard and Poor's work is expected to be completed during next year's legislative session.
The issue of school finance is a hot one. More than 50 percent of the state budget, or $2.8 billion, goes to public schools.
Last legislative session, Sebelius proposed a $300 million tax increase for schools, but the Legislature rejected the measure and numerous other school funding increases.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lower court decision that found the school finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanged all students, especially minorities and students with disabilities.
Sebelius said her push for an efficiency study didn't diminish her belief that schools need increased revenue.
She said she hoped the study would help "get some real facts on the table" and highlight areas where schools are doing a good job of managing funds. Those "best practices" could then be shared with school districts across the state.
Weseman said his concern was that the study would be ignored by lawmakers who have shelved earlier studies calling for more school funding.
He said he wouldn't mind Lawrence being one of the districts to receive deeper scrutiny unless that required having to devote staff time to help the outside auditors.