Archive for Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Spending 65 percent of state funds on classroom instruction depends on what is counted, official says

December 18, 2012


— The 65 percent solution is a problem.

That's the opinion of the Ken Willard, chairman of the Governor's School Efficiency Task Force.

"Our general belief is the 65 percent number is a bit arbitrary," Willard told legislators on Tuesday.

Gov. Sam Brownback formed the task force in September, saying that the vast majority of public school districts in Kansas failed to spend at least 65 percent of their state funding on classroom instruction.

Willard said that after several task force meetings, it became evident that the percentage of classroom instruction depended on what was counted as classroom instruction.

"There are a lot of things normal people would think are included in instruction that are not included in that definition at the present time," he said.

For instance, he said, if a speech therapist was needed to help a student, that should be counted as classroom instruction, but it isn't. He also said that school districts experiencing fast growth may have trouble hitting that 65 percent threshold because a larger portion of their budget is spent on capital improvements.

"One of our recommendations will be to redefine what that number is. If we are going to have a number, it should have some meaning," he said.

The task force is expected to give Brownback a set of recommendations to consider for the 2013 legislative session, which starts on Jan. 14.

In addition, Willard said the task force will recommend that the Legislature fund public schools on a two-year budget cycle. Brownback has already said he will propose a two-year budget for all of state government.

"The goal of this to create some degree of certainty," Willard said.

Some members of the Legislative Educational Planning Committee, however, voiced skepticism.

State Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, noted that the Legislature approved a three-year school funding plan after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school finance system unconstitutional, but when the recession hit that plan was abandoned, and cuts were made to schools.

"The three-year plan that we passed and implemented partially came to a big halt because we didn't have the funding. We had the plan, but we didn't have the funding," said Schodorf, who was defeated in the Republican Party primary and won't be returning for the session.

The efficiency task force has been under fire for, at first, not having any educators on the panel, and then not making time to hear testimony from teachers. Democrats had said the task force was appointed by Brownback to find fault with school spending and justify cuts. Willard and Brownback have denied those accusations.

Willard said he has visited a number of schools in the past three months, and said some of the task force recommendations are based on the best practices at the schools. "There is a lot of great work going on in schools," he said.


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