Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
One of the most politically interesting efforts by Gov. Sam Brownback to change the face of K-12 public education in Kansas is buried down in sections 33, 34 and 35 of his proposal to dramatically overhaul the financing of schools.
The finance parts of his school plan are interesting enough, and appear less complicated than the byzantine formula which now distributes nearly $3 billion in state aid to K-12. But at least there is the handrail provided by the Kansas Department of Education—a computer run that shows which districts get more and which districts get less money as a result of any changes in the finance plan.
That makes much of the decision Scby legislators relatively simple: Do my districts get more or less? More money and it’s a sound, well-thought-out plan. Less money and the plan is an assault on public education in the state—and one that might require higher local property taxes.
That does make it pretty simple, doesn’t it?
The dramatic and complicated change in K-12 finance proposed by Brownback doesn’t have any first-year financial losers, which makes it instantly attractive to lawmakers who don’t pay close attention to the internal provisions of the bill.
But, those three sections (of 98 sections in the bill as it is now taking shape) provide for a public grading system for schoolteachers, one that even conservative lawmakers don’t like, though it is likely to appeal to the governor’s conservative voter base.
The grading system basically scores teachers—rating them by another of those congenitally complicated rating systems that non-educators are prone to devise and order the State Board of Education to flesh out—as “highly effective,” “effective,” “progressing” or “ineffective.”
Oh, and it orders school districts to post the ratings of those teachers on the Internet (apparently without Nick Nolte-style mug shots or mentioning that the teacher is the winningest high school football coach in decades).
If the Internet rankings are objectionable, districts can send letters to parents warning them that their children are being taught for a second year in a row by a teacher ranked “ineffective.”
That “ineffective” rating does touch off remedial and improvement courses for teachers, which presumably will allow them to work their way out of the bottom ranking.
But we’re thinking that the whole program also essentially does away with teacher professional organizations—that would be “unions”—and teacher tenure within a few years.
Blame the teachers? Blame the pupils who could drop rankings and are assigned to a teacher? This gets more and more complicated, doesn’t it?
It’s an interesting gambit by the governor. Parents want effective teachers for their children, unions want their members to be effective teacher, and at some point, some parents want a chance to opt out of public education for their kids, instead getting vouchers or scholarships or tax credits for choosing private schools and academies.
See how many ways this little issue plays out?
It’ll be interesting to watch.
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com