Brownback task force opens site for anonymous reports of school inefficiencies

Brownback discusses school spending during a news conference in the Statehouse last week

Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday that his school efficiencies task force has set up a website for people to anonymously report examples of wasteful spending and inefficient practices in Kansas schools.

The website is the latest effort by the Republican Governor to root out inefficiencies in the school system that he recently stressed he has been putting more money into.

Brownback has said not enough money is being spent on classrooms, and he says he wants to improve 4th grade reading levels and the number of students who graduate high school career- or college-ready.

“We hope to hear from a lot of Kansans who take a few minutes to go online and share their thoughts with us,” Task Force Chairman Ken Willard said.

The 10-member task force includes six certified public accountants, including Steve Anderson, Brownback’s budget director. They met for the first time last week, hearing testimony from a limited government think tank and a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Brownback faced criticism from Democrats for not including people on his task force who work in schools. In response, the Kansas Association of School Boards set up its own task force.

Along with the anonymous inefficiency reporting portal, Brownback announced Wednesday that Iola (USD 257) Superintendent Brian Pekarek will join the task force.

Brownback last week stressed that the budget he approved increased school funding by about $40 million. That came as part of his administration’s reaction to a flurry of ads by Democrats that say Brownback has cut school funding more than any other governor.

Under Brownback, the amount of per pupil state aid, a common measurement for how much the state spends on educating each student, has fallen. But overall spending, which includes growing pensions and bond financing, has increased.

“The state has increased total spending on education by almost $1 billion since 2000,” Brownback said in a statement about the online inefficiency reporting. “Many school districts have raised taxes on local property owners during that same time period.  Moving forward, we owe it to Kansas taxpayers to ensure those resources are used as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Democrats have sharply criticized Brownback for the massive income tax cut that he signed into law earlier this year. It is projected to force the state to drastically cut services because it is projected to force more than $2.5 billion in spending reductions over six years.

Brownback has said he will protect education funding. But Democrats say it will be virtually impossible not to cut schools because they constitute the majority of state general fund spending. And they say Brownback is acknowledging the state’s future shortfalls by not ruling out the continuation a temporary sales tax hike approved in 2010 to protect the state from deeper cuts in the wake of the recession.

“Instead of hosting an online forum to complain about public schools, why not discuss all the innovative ways our teachers and administrators have done more with less since Gov. Brownback implemented the largest cut to education funding in Kansas history?” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. “We should celebrate our public schools and fully restore the funding cuts they’ve endured since the recession began. We should not be demonizing them and searching for excuses to cut their funding even more.”