TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators continued their full immersion in education spending and policies on Monday, the start of another week of joint meetings by the House and Senate Education Committees.
The meetings are meant to bring the large number of new legislators up to speed on school finance issues and related topics.
State Board of Education member Ken Willard addressed the panels Monday. He also is the chairman of the School Efficiency Task Force created last fall by Gov. Sam Brownback, which is charged with finding ways for public schools to put more of their state funding directly into classrooms.
Willard outlined the panel's 12 recommendations culled from testimony gathered over three months last fall from policy analysts, administrators and education advocates. He says the goal isn't to cut funding for schools but to reduce inefficiencies in such areas as purchasing and data collection.
"That wasn't our assignment at all," Willard said, adding that most of the recommendations would require legislative action to remove perceived barriers to efficiencies.
Brownback included several of the task force findings in his budget recommendations presented Jan. 16. One would create two-year budgets for schools to provide predictability in spending, while another proposal calls for defining classroom expenditures. Brownback says the state is failing at the goal of getting 65 percent of education spending in the classroom.
However, Willard said the common definition of classroom expenditures failed to account for such positions as librarians, counselors or speech pathologists who play a daily role in instructing and assisting students. He also said there was "no science" behind the theory that getting 65 percent of spending in the classroom really created the best learning conditions.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the task force's recommendations for changes in the teacher negotiation process would do more harm than good, and that school boards already had the power to offer unilateral contracts should they disagree with terms of negotiations between teachers and the district.
"I think there is going to be a full-frontal assault on the rights of teachers," said Hensley, who is also a teacher.
House Speaker Ray Merrick said the unusual aspect of the continued joint meetings was a byproduct of the changes in the Legislature, which saw the departure of several veteran lawmakers who were members of the education committee. The Stilwell Republican said the committee needed the extra time to review background on school policy, but expects legislation to begin moving in the coming weeks.
The dynamics in the House and Senate committees have dramatically changed and there is a lot of interest in student achievement-oriented reforms.
Merrick also said the Jan. 11 ruling in Shawnee County District Court, which declared that the state was failing to meet its constitutional mandate to properly fund K-12 education, was a chance for legislators to rethink not the amount of money that's spent but how it is spent.
"I've directed my education committee chair (Rep. Kasha Kelley) to examine creative and effective policies that will give our children the best chance to succeed," he said. "We need to put more power in the hands of parents and encourage accountability from parents, students and teachers."
The committees will continue their joint meetings through at least Friday, including a bus trip to view school innovations at a rural life center in central Kansas and career and technical education institute in Oklahoma City.
Senate Education Chairman Steve Abrams said there was value in the field trips.
"As good as these reports are, we believe you can't gauge how good these programs are unless you see them in person," said Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican and former State Board of Education member.