Up until now, worries about what will happen to public education funding once income taxes begin disappearing in Kansas has been limited to those outside Gov. Sam Brownback's tightknit band of conservatives. The state's chief executive has been steadfast in his assertion that trickle-down economics will reinvigorate Kansas and more than compensate for the loss of income tax revenue in time.
And to ensure his roadmap to prosperity didn't contain speed bumps, the governor took an active role in eliminating moderate members of his own party during the primary election. Democrats already were in a decided minority status. Starting next session, they'll have nobody to join forces with as the state goes headlong into reform.
So it was almost surprising last week when Brownback formed a task force to find ways to run public schools more efficiently. With no formidable opposition in the capital, it would not be difficult for the governor to simply tell educators do more with less as the state economy starts shrinking. Of course, Brownback maintains that won't happen. Still, he appointed 10 individuals to "identify best practices for cutting administration cost, reducing overhead, and providing a greater percentage of state resources to support instruction."
That sounds suspiciously like a backup plan -- just in case.
The Governor's School Efficiency Task Force is packed with six certified public accountants and the other four have business backgrounds. Only two of them have served on boards of education; zero work in a school. Such a group of intelligent bean-counters undoubtedly will find ways to reduce costs, although we can't help but wonder how they will define a quality education.
The chairman, Ken Willard of Hutchinson, does not inspire confidence in that regard. Willard has served on the Kansas State Board of Education since 2003, consistently voting to change science standards to question the validity of evolution as a well-established, core scientific concept. Willard believes in a faith-based understanding of the universe known alternatively as Creationism or Intelligent Design. Twice, he joined fellow conservatives in placing ID as a "fact-based" alternative on par with the "fairy tale" of evolution -- blending religion and science in the same textbook. In both cases, the standards were reversed after the succeeding election removed conservatives from majority status.
Willard keeps getting elected, and his fervor for intelligent design has not waned. Earlier this year when Kansas was helping draft national standards that stuck to science, Willard said: "They are preferring one religious position over another."
He also said people who have doubts about the theory of evolution shouldn't be treated as "crackpots."
And Willard is the chair of Brownback's efficiency task force.
The lack of educational expertise is unfortunate. We believe there are efficiencies to be gained in the $3 billion annually spent on K-12 public education in Kansas. But anything the blue-ribbon panel comes up with will need to be taken with a large grain of salt. When the group's leader can't distinguish facts from myths, there's good cause to be wary of anything they claim will be good for students.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry