Two sweet deals raise questions

State government is such a small world that insider deals can be hard to avoid. But two new ones out of Topeka are raising questions. One of the four contracts privatizing child-support enforcement in Kansas just went to Mississippi-based YoungWilliams Child Support Services, whose CEO and his wife each donated the maximum $2,000 to Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2010 campaign, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, and whose former employee Trisha Thomas has been the state’s director of child-support services since 2011. It was in that role that Thomas announced the privatization in March, telling state employees “the current child-support system is not cost-effective, has an inefficient structure and needs significant improvement.” In the other case, reported by the Lawrence Journal-World and the Kansas Health Institute News Service, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, successfully pushed for a budget amendment providing $12 million in grants to schools over two years for one reading program, Lexia Reading Core5, to be administered by Newton-based Educational Design Solutions – a no-bid arrangement for one company. The grant program was not vetted by legislative hearings or the Kansas State Department of Education and is to be administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families. A DCF spokeswoman disputed any link between the YoungWilliams contract and the Brownback political donations (“The selection was based on lowest bid,” she said). EDS’ Newton-based sales representative has denied any political or financial ties between Rhoades and the company, and Rhoades told KHI: “My only interest is real results for students.”

Editor’s note: According to Angela de Rocha, DCF’s director of communications, YoungWilliams has been a child-support contractor in the state since 2005. She called it “misleading and inaccurate” to suggest there was any connection between the latest contract and either the governor or any state employee.