Two initial appointments to a K-12 study group have set a political tone for a body that should take a broad, nonpartisan approach to looking at ways to improve Kansas schools.
Hopefully, the remaining appointments to the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission will provide some much-needed balance and expertise to this important group.
It was announced Tuesday that House Speaker Ray Merrick had selected his two appointees to the commission, which was created as part of the legislation that provided additional funding to public schools for next year. The commission is charged with studying and making recommendations to the Legislature about ways to make more efficient use of taxpayer money allocated to K-12 schools with special attention to administrative expenses and other expenditures it sees as not directly related to student achievement.
The commission is to have nine members. Gov. Sam Brownback has three appointments, Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle each have two appointments, and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Paul Davis each have one. Only two members will be appointed by Democrats, but that shouldn’t matter if the people making the appointments strive to put together a commission with knowledge about education and no particular allegiance to a political agenda.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with the first two appointees selected by Merrick: Mike O’Neal, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. Neither has any professional expertise in K-12 education. Both are registered lobbyists representing groups that have been highly critical of the state’s public education system.
The K-12 Commission shouldn’t shy away from criticism of Kansas schools, but its members should be able to approach their task with open minds, not preconceived agendas. It’s also imperative that the commission include people who have worked in and are knowledgeable about K-12 schools. A school superintendent or two would be good choices and perhaps some state university faculty members with expertise in education, special ed or related fields. If the commission is focused on “efficiency,” perhaps a business professor would offer some valuable insight.
Merrick’s appointments suggest the direction — and perhaps even the subsequent recommendations — he has in mind for the K-12 Commission. Hopefully, the remaining appointments will provide the philosophical and professional balance that could give this commission — and its conclusions — some credibility throughout the state.