The controversial school funding law that the Kansas Legislature cobbled together over the course of a very long weekend this spring sets up a “student performance and efficiency” commission to advise lawmakers.
And who better to sit on the commission than a couple of lobbyists who have been advising the Legislature’s conservative majority all along?
As the Topeka Capital Journal reports here, the first two appointees are Mike O’Neal, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce president; and Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute.
Both men are registered lobbyists and their groups receive generous funding from Koch Industries in Wichita. Both have questioned whether Kansas public schools need more money. Trabert is a long-time supporter of school privatization and charter school efforts, and a member of a tax task force for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded group that influences state legislatures.
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Trabert is known for distributing misleading information. Last year, in his quest to promote “school choice,” his think tank financed an ad campaign deceitfully suggesting that Kansas public schools have low standards for reading and math. He is fond of the work of one Matthew Ladner, a researcher who has been called out by academics for shaping his findings to fit his policy agenda, which includes vouchers, charter schools and tying teacher pay to high-stakes testing.
These two cynical appointments are the work of Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell. The legislation creating the commission gives two appointments to the House speaker, two to the Senate president, three to the governor, and one each to the House and Senate minority leaders.
One can hope that the other leaders will select appointees with a measure of objectivity. But Merrick’s appointments suggest the commission will be agenda-driven, not an objective panel. Instead of hearing testimony from lobbyists, the panel will consist of lobbyists. It’s hard to think of a better fox-in-the-chicken-coop scenario.