Archive for Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kansas lawmakers, education groups react with caution to efficiency task force report

January 22, 2013


Kansas lawmakers and representatives from various education groups gave cautious, and in some cases skeptical, reactions Tuesday to a report calling for changes in the way the state funds public schools and how school districts manage their budgets.

The final report from Gov. Sam Brownback's School Efficiency Task Force made specific recommendations, along with a list of proposed “best practices” that the group said were intended to “get more money in the classroom and less in administration and overhead costs.”

One of the immediate questions raised, however, is how to define what qualifies as a classroom expense, as opposed to administrative overhead.

In fact, one of the recommendations calls for forming a task force to establish a commonly accepted definition of instructional spending.

“There currently does not exist a consistent understanding and uniform level of acceptance as to the definition of what functions constitute instructional spending,” the report stated.

The standard definition from the U.S. Census Bureau, which is used for state reporting purposes, is limited to “activities dealing directly with the interaction between teachers and students. It includes the cost of teachers and teachers aides, for example, but does not include the cost of librarians, guidance counselors, speech pathologists, school nurses or many other services.

“We always tell our members everything in your budget should be about improving instruction,” said Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards. “And so we're always uncomfortable with the idea that you draw these lines and say, 'this is getting to the classroom or helping the classroom.' It ought to all be about helping, and that may look different in different districts.”

Lowering overall costs

Many of the recommendations were geared to lowering overall costs to the state, rather than redirecting current expenses from administration to instruction.

Those included recommendations to review, and possibly limit, money the state spends to subsidize bond and interest payments and capital outlay budgets for lower-wealth school districts.

Those subsidies are known as “equalization aid,” and they are intended to make sure districts with low property valuations can finance construction projects and major purchases by levying roughly the same property tax mill levies as wealthier districts.

Kansas stopped funding capital outlay equalization after fiscal year 2009. That year, the program cost the state about $22.4 million, according to the State Department of Education. A court ruling earlier this month in the school finance lawsuit declared that unconstitutional unless the Legislature resumes funding the equalization.

But the state still funds bond and interest equalization, at a cost of about $107 million in the current fiscal year, an expense the task force described as an “open-ended obligation” because the cost in any given year is determined by how much debt local school districts issue, not by how much the Legislature decides to spend.

“The intent is to retain the principle of equalization, but allow the Legislature to place an annual (or) biannual cap on new equalization obligation to be incurred,” the task force said.

Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, who chairs the House Education Committee, said she supports efforts to limit future expenses in those categories.

“I think going forward, we've really got to look at what the available revenue is,” Kelley said. “I am not of the impression that it's a practice that needs to stop. But I do think we probably need to slow it for a couple of years and take a look at what we have as far as money available.”

But House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said limiting equalization aid could cause more legal and constitutional problems for the state.

“I do think that we do run the risk of drawing the ire of the court if we don't maintain some equity in the way that we finance schools. We have to be very mindful of that issue because we will simply land back in court if we are not able to disburse funds in a manner that shows equity to the best degree that we can.”

Teachers unions

Perhaps the most controversial part of the report calls for revising or narrowing the Professional Negotiations Act, the state law that governs collective bargaining between school districts and teachers unions.

The task force made three recommendations in that area, including one that would allow districts to pay higher salaries to some teachers based on performance or on what subjects they teach.

Currently, most districts have salary schedules that apply to all teachers, with increases based solely on their level of education and years of service in the district. But many school administrators have argued for years that they should be able to offer higher salaries to attract teachers into hard-to-fill positions such as special education and high school science and math.

But Karen Godfrey, president of the Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said there is no need to change collective bargaining laws to accomplish that.

“If there is a need to differentiate the pay, that's why you bargain it,” Godfrey said. “If the intent is to make something work well in the district, it seems to me getting the buy-in of the teachers would make a lot of sense.”

Meanwhile, Deena Burnett, president of the Lawrence Education Association, said it has been a long-standing policy of the local teachers union that all teachers should be paid a fair wage.

“We are asked to work with the whole child, and we're asked to produce the whole child who is able to function in the world,” Burnett said. “And I believe if we begin pitting teachers against one another due to salary, or due to availability of positions, then we begin to destroy the foundation that it takes for us to present that whole child in a healthy, whole way.”

The task force also recommended narrowing the list of items that are automatically subject to negotiation, and reviewing the entire state policy on granting teachers tenure, which entitles them to a due process hearing before they can be fired or laid off.

KNEA President Godfrey said the task force report, combined with other legislative proposals being introduced, threaten to greatly reduce the ability of teachers to be part of education policy decisions.

“It is important to us that our voice is heard, and there do appear to be a number of bills that would limit our ability to have a voice in decisions that affect our kids and our working conditions,” Godfrey said. “Some of the issues look to be an attack on teachers.”


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

This task force clearly has only two goals-- Decrease expenditures on schools and weaken the NEA to a point of irrelevancy, and both of those are just part of an overall goal of dismantling the public school system.

deec 5 years, 1 month ago

To that end, there is a hearing today on HB 2023 which limits the free speech of professional organizations.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

I have zero confidence in our governor, this legislature, or professional educators to fix the problems in our schools. That's because the problems inside the school have their genesis in the home. Schools are nothing but a reflection of the problems of the larger society. Those who say they know the solution are blowing smoke up our collective, well, you know.

I'm not one to advocate just throwing money at a problem, hoping some of it will stick. I frequently frown at the inefficiency of government. But I make an exception when it comes to schools. There is no single issue as important as education, in my opinion. So to our tightwad governor and his lemmings in the legislature, I say fund our schools at levels not just barely adequate. Fund them fully. And then throw a little more their way, hoping some of it will stick.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

What a bizarre idea.

First you say that schools can't fix the problems, and then that you'd like to throw more money at them anyway.

Why not direct resources where they're more likely to actually help solve problems?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

"Why not direct resources where they're more likely to actually solve problems"? - Because we haven't a clue how to solve those problems. So if we throw money at a school, hoping it will stick, or we throw it at the problems in the home, hoping it will stick, has the same low chance of success.

If you're of the opinion that it would be better to throw money at the war on poverty, you are certainly entitled to that opinion. I'm of the opinion that the war on poverty will never be won, so monies spent there are nothing more than a hope that some of it will stick, which, of course, is no different than my philosophy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

Actually, the "War on Poverty," after being implemented during the Johnson Administration, made a dramatic reduction in the poverty rate in this country. As funding for those programs has been reduced and restricted over the years, the poverty rate has risen.

In pretty much every other developed country in the world, higher spending for social welfare programs has a direct correlation to lower rates of poverty. So it's no real mystery why the US, with the lowest expenditures on social welfare in the world among developed countries also has the highest rate of poverty.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Heck, we could just eliminate poverty if we just gave everyone a bunch of money.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

There is some truth to that.

But the main point is that the assertion that social welfare programs don't reduce poverty is demonstrably untrue, and in the many developed countries around the world which do much more in the way of social welfare, there is little or no support for the contention that it does nothing but create a culture of dependency-- quite the opposite, it allows the poor the opportunity to become full participants in the economy. That's why social mobility is much greater in most countries in Europe than it is here.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

While living in San Francisco, what can only be described as the most politically progressive city in America, I saw more money spent with less positive results than could possibly be imagined. The fact is, that if the city simply gave every poor person in that city a million dollars, it would have been more cost effective in the long run.

Now if you'd like to ague that all that money spent had some small measure of benefit, you're probably correct. It probably did make the lives of some people marginally better. but not better than if we just gave them the million dollars.

So where did all that money go? Caseworkers, case managers, social workers, program managers, analysts, secretaries, office space, computers, file cabinets, utilities, office custodians, paper, pens, desks, chairs, buildings to put all that stuff in, and on and on. And yes, a very little bit of it did stick.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

Well, bureaucracy will never go away. It's a necessary part of living in a civilized world, no matter how aggravating (and wasteful) it may seem to be.

Perhaps if there wasn't such widespread disdain for the poor, more people might be able to escape the nearly permanent culture of poverty in this very socially and economically stratified country.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

The deal is that there are some within that poor community you speak of that are worthy of our distain. There are others who are not. And those who are in the best position to distinguish between the two, those in the bureaucracy, have no incentive to make that distinction. In fact, the have a disincentive in that their very livelihoods depends on not making that distinction. Talk about a conflict of interest.

chootspa 5 years, 1 month ago

San Francisco is not the most politically progressive city in America. Santa Cruz is. Even so, neither city exists in isolation of state and federal policies.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Santa Cruz? Not Bezerkeley? Whatever.

So the failures of the right in Kansas lie at the feet of Washington, since we don't exist in a vacuum either?

Really, if the policies of progressives fail, they blame conservatives and if the policies of conservatives fail, they blame progressives. Thankfully, those of us in that muddled middle, libertarian, utopian, commie, pinko, wing nut, right are without blame yet still get to blame everyone else.

chootspa 5 years, 1 month ago

Santa Cruz has had consistently progressive leadership for longer. Also banana slugs.

If you want to get right down to it, Lawrence was intentionally founded to be a liberal city, and it's never been anything but. Austin is totally liberal. But none of these cities has any power to override the state when it comes to budgeting problems or state infrastructure, none of them is really doing anything that new or different, and all of them exist within a country where we find it acceptable for very very rich people to pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than their secretaries.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Actually, there are a number of programs that have been found to be helpful, you just have to look for them.

I'm not of the opinion that "throwing money" at anything is useful, however I do understand that analyzing a problem is helpful in determining how to best try to solve it.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

If you start with a false premise, then no matter how much analyzing you do, you will come up with a false conclusion. If you then spend money on programs designed upon that false conclusion, then you're just throwing money at that problem, hoping some of it will stick.

What are some of the false conclusions we as a society have bought into? How about this, everyone values education. How about no one wants to be poor. How about no one chooses to be an addict. These are just a few examples of things we'd like to be true, but aren't. Then, based on these false conclusions, we develop programs to solve those problems. Good luck with that.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

I don't necessarily believe any of the things you mention.

If you analyze the problem, and conclude that it starts in the home and that schools can't fix it, then it's illogical to "throw more money" at schools hoping that it might.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Throwing money at any problem, hoping some of it will stick isn't logical. I didn't say it was. I just said it was my opinion. If all my opinions were logical, I'd have pointy ears and my name would be Spock.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago


If you prefer having illogical opinions and suggesting courses of action that won't work, I guess that's your right.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Everyone else in this forum does it. Even you. Why shouldn't I?

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Do what you like - it's your life.

I do my best not to do those sorts of things, to base my opinions on facts, and come up with effective ideas.

Scott Bonnet 5 years, 1 month ago

You realize that the differentiated pay proposal will end up serving as a tool to hire athletic coaches at higher salaries. We know what priorities look like.

Centerville 5 years, 1 month ago

"I do think that we do run the risk of drawing the ire of the court" said Paul Davis who doesn't have 'Truth to Power' bumper sticker on his car.

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