Gov. Sam Brownback announced Oct. 17 a brand-new initiative in his quest to get more education funding into classrooms with a website for people to report incidents that show room for increased school efficiency.
At least, that’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is as Brownback’s latest effort to drum up excuses to cut school funding. Brownback likes to cite a report that says only 54 percent of school funding goes into classrooms and for instruction, with the implication that the remaining 46 percent is wasteful spending.
There are plenty of perfectly valid school functions that aren’t counted in Brownback’s 54 percent. Students can’t learn if they can’t get to school, and buses are expensive and require trained drivers. Unless Brownback wants to switch to half-day school for all grades, kids need lunch. Hungry children are unfocused children. Districts certainly attempt to minimize the amount they subsidize food service, but few lunch programs are able to operate in the black. Librarians, counselors, speech pathologists, and others contribute directly to students’ learning but aren’t included in Brownback’s 54 percent.
Even sports and extracurricular activities can serve an academic purpose. Many students don’t appreciate how important education is to their futures, so other incentives may be necessary to motivate them. By demanding students meet academic eligibility requirements to participate in sports and activities, schools have an extra way to motivate students.
Brownback likes to talk about schools working together to reduce costs, but it isn’t as if schools aren’t already working together. Just in Marion County we have two monumental examples of districts working together: Marion County Special Education Cooperative and Technology Excellence in Education Network. Both programs directly increase student learning opportunities and improve educational outcomes while doing so more efficiently than any single district could.
Brownback says the right things about wanting to improve schools, but his actions tell a different story. His school efficiency task force only has one member whose career has been in education, and that was a late addition to a team filled with accountants and efficiency experts. That sounds more like a CEO planning layoffs than a governor trying to improve education.
— ADAM STEWART