Tag Archives: Tom Holland

Kansas Bioscience Authority hearings, day 2

At the second day of testimony (January 26, 2012) regarding a forensic audit of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, a representative of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was strongly critical of the audit itself, and also of the Board of Directors of KBA. Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale A. Rodman, who oversaw the audit process on behalf of the Brownback Administration, also said that legislators who voted to form the KBA should “feel outraged that a golden opportunity that you helped create was taken away from your efforts.”

Rodman urged the committee to step back and look at the situation from a distance, saying that many of the issues are “deep and buried.” To him, he said the important issues are first, is the KBA obtaining the performance expected, and second, is the KBA worthy stewards of Kansans’ money?

Based on his investigation, Rodman listed several measures that troubled him, specifically: “The KBA spent $200,000 per job before Tom Thornton and $700,000 per job after he became the CEO of the KBA.” Thornton is the former CEO who resigned shortly after the audit process started. At yesterday’s hearing, Senator Chris Steineger, a Kansas City Republican, presented figures that estimated a cost of $750,000 per job created, using a slightly different set of data.

A second troubling measure, Rodman said, is that KBA spent “nearly 40 cents of every dollar invested on overhead expenses.” He said the KBA board must be responsible for these results.

In a separate letter sent to KBA Board Chairman Dan Watkins, Rodman listed more detailed concerns, including that only 347 jobs are shown by KBA as having been created since 2007. Another concern, he said, is that there appear to be many instances of double counting of invested funds. He said that certain companies were not reporting as required, and some numbers were being “filled in.”

Rodman said the expenditure of over $18 million for KBA headquarters was excessive, a concern shared by many legislators.

What amazed Rodman, he said, was when acting KBA CEO David Vranicar told Rodman he was not there to create jobs. This, along with the earlier evidence he cited, showed him that KBA was not fulfilling the mission of the Kansas Economic Growth Act, the legislation that created KBA.

In follow-up correspondence from KBA, Watkins cited the larger mission statement of KNA, and also that “the longer-term mission is more robust: to build a bioscience infrastructure that will generate high-paying bioscience jobs today and for future generations of Kansans.” Near-term job creation is not the sole focus, the letter added.

Rodman also spoke about the conflict of interest issues, which were prominent in Wednesday’s hearings. BKD auditors said that KBA board followed policy by disclosing that they had a financial interest in a potential KBA investment or grant, and refraining from voting. But Rodman said that is not enough: “Whether or not it is legal is not the issue. It does not pass the smell test. If it smells bad, it is bad, and you should not do it.”

Rodman cited the governing Kansas statute, which reads “No part of the funds of the authority shall inure to the benefit of, or be distributed to, its employees, officers or members of the board.” The statute has exceptions which do not apply in this case.

Rodman, both in his verbal and written testimony, cited the case of KBA board member Bill Sanford. Quoting from the KBA audit, Rodman said “Bill Sanford is the COB and 14% owner of NanoScale, a bioscience company that received four grants totaling $674,996 from KBA.”

Relating a discussion he had with Sanford, Rodman told the committee: ‘Director Sanford looked at me and said ” If you want to get something done, you have to hire someone like Thornton. If we had hired a laid-back Kansan we would not be where we are at today.’ You know, I have to agree with him, we would not be in this room today. With a good Kansan in charge we would not be having this meeting.”

The issue of Thorton’s unethical behavior is at the center of this affair, with a related issue being whether Thornton’s departure solves all problems with the KBA, or if there is a deeper problem.

Also highlighted by Rodman was the issue of missing intellectual property. This refers to the loss of data, along with backups of that data, on the so-called “J-Drive,” a shared and restricted storage location on KBA’s network. Thornton also erased and digitally scrubbed data from his personal laptop computer. Computer forensics experts were not able to recover any of this missing data.

Rodman told the committee that the KBA board, immediately after learning that Thornton quit to go work for a competing firm (Cleveland Clinic Innovations), should have issued a “cease and desist” order, saying “This will inform the competitor that knowledge the employee has belongs to the former employer, and use of that information will result in legal action.” As he believes the KBA board did not do this, Rodman said he concludes “Kansas has lost intellectual property.”

Summarizing, Rodman said that “Thornton was a mistake,” and that the KBA board should have recognized this. He urged the committee to fix the problem, as Kansas needs growth in the bioscience industry.

Senator Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who chaired the meeting, noted the statute that Rodman cited regarding conflicts of interest, saying that it prevents board members or employees from receiving a financial benefit based on their position. The BKD audit, she said, cites many such instances of financial benefits, and in every instance the audit concludes that since board members disclosed their conflict was resolved, and that procedures are in place to prevent conflicts of interest.

Of the BKD audit generally, Rodman said the document is complex, and “probably deliberately so.” Wagle, who has been concerned that the audit is “sanitized” and doesn’t present the full scope of issues and problems, asked “Could that be sanitizing conclusions?” Rodman demurred, answering “There was a lot of work on the report.”

Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, asked Rodman what needed to be changed at the KBA. Rodman said he wasn’t ready to answer that now, despite having thought about it. He did say there had to be some dramatic changes in the system.

Masterson also asked about the costs of the audit: Did Thornton’s action in deleting data increase the cost of the BKD audit? Rodman said we should go after Thornton for possible increased costs of the audit.

A question from Representative Les Osterman, a Wichita Republican, framed the issue this way: Do we need different or better rules and laws, or does the problem lie with the composition of the KBA board? Rodman answered that If the KBA board had done their job, we wouldn’t be here today. He repeated that there is a statute to take care of conflicts of interest, but there is a problem with the governance of the KBA board.

Follow-up by Republican Senator Ray Merrick expressed concern that since Thornton, who he labeled a “bad apple,” is gone, the problem is over. But the same board is in place, the same people are in charge, and that he was not satisfied going forward.

But not all members of the committee shared these concerns. Tom Holland, a Democratic Senator from Baldwin City, pressed Rodman as to whether intellectual property had actually been stolen from KBA due to the loss of data from the J-Drive and Thornton’s computer, or was there only the potential for that? Rodman said yes, intellectual property was taken, although that was not stated in the audit.

Holland repeated his questions from yesterday: Does KBA have appropriate management procedures, policies, and controls in place? And does KBA follow these consistently? Snyder, the BKD auditor, had answered yes to both of these questions, although with one exception. Today, Holland pressed Rodman if he took “ownership” of the BKD audit. Eventually Rodman said he did. Holland then asked if the audit was “an accurate summary of life at the KBA.” Rodman said yes, but with qualifications, and Wagle expressed her concern, also.

There is a factor not brought up in testimony, nor in my reading of the BKD audit report, that complicates the KBA governance and may be a source of problems. The KBA has an independent source of revenue that is not dependent on appropriations from the legislature. This source is the incremental growth in tax withholding from employees of Kansas bioscience companies and research institutions. I asked both Wagle and a spokesperson for Governor Brownback if this was a factor or a problem. Both said this is a question for the KBA.

Kansas committee asks if KBA audit did enough to expose problems

By Bob Weeks, Special to KansasWatchdog.org

Members of the joint Commerce and Economic Development Committees expressed concern that a forensic audit of the Kansas Bioscience Authority was not broad enough and that deliberate deletion of data from a KBA computer left questions unanswered.

On Wedesday James Snyder, managing partner for BKD’s Forensics and Valuation Services, told the committee that while his firm was hired and paid by KBA, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s administration was heavily involved. Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman served as the main contact for the Brownback Administration, although Caleb Stegall, the governor’s chief lawyer, and Steve Anderson, the Budget Director, also participated.

Snyder told the committee the audit process was designed to avoid a situation where after the final report was released, people would ask why certain facts were not considered or covered. “This process was specifically designed to avoid that, and it worked pretty well,” he said.

The Kansas Legislature created the KBA in 2004 and gave it $581 million to bring bioscience research and jobs to Kansas. KBA has been under fire for expenses and salaries paid to top executives and for giving grants to fund projects out of state.

Any disputes about the report’s contents were ironed out by January, but on Sunday, the day before the report was to be released, Rodman raised a difference of opinion over a possible conflict of interest involving former KBA board member Angela Kreps. Snyder characterized this as the only difference of opinion, and that it was a narrow and minor one.

Committee chair, Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, recognized that BKD’s position was “difficult,” as the firm was hired and paid by KBA, but it was also in frequent communication with the Brownback Administration. Snyder said the administration was involved in an oversight role, and also in defining the scope of the audit.

Senator Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, expressed concern over possible deletion of computer files and that BKD could only “dive into that which you had, that you were provided.” BKD’s timeline of the audit showed that KBA leadership was apprised of an audit on March 10th, 2011. The next day CEO Tom Thornton accessed a computer hard drive on KBA’s network. The drive was accessible to only four people and held personnel records and confidential company information.

BKD was hired on April 11th, a fact Masterson said he found “fascinating” because KBA used a 30-day rolling backup scheme that would not have retained files deleted on or before March 10. The time lag from March 11th to April 11th means that if information was deleted from the J-Drive, it was not available to the BKD audit team.

The timing of this is “highly suspect,” Masterson said.

Snyder said the audit team had access to much information and that BKD received everything they asked for, but Masterson pointed out that we don’t know what might have been missing. Thornton’s personal laptop computer was erased or “wiped” days after the audit was called for in a way that made it impossible for the computer forensic team to recover the deleted data.

Snyder said that the committee should have high confidence in the audit’s findings and that the number of people and computers the team had access to was in many cases “extraordinary.” He also said that core KBA business records had integrity and there was no reason to suspect these systems had been compromised.

Masterson quoted from page 133 of the audit report: “Our analysis found 301 payments without a contract, including 102 payments that violated KBA’s Contract Policy. The total contract cost involved totaled $1,219,271.81 in payments without a contract, including $571,828.20 in payments which violated Contract Policy.”

Masterson noted that there’s no indication anything was technically illegal, but that the purview of the committee went beyond that. “Why do we put policies in place? It’s so that we can show best practice, best stewardship. You have shown over 300 violations of policy … I don’t know how we can paint this in the light that this is instilling confidence, and that it is clearing the air.”

Masterson also said that the best case seems to be that there was unethical management combined with inadequate oversight. He said there is the possibility of a coordinated cover up of behavior that could potentially be illegal.

Snyder answered that over time they observed “increasing sophistication” of board participation and compliance with procedures and that there had also been changes initiated by the board that offered protection.

Wagle said she received faxes from KBA employees expressing concern that the Senate Commerce Committee received altered documents. “It became very apparent that we could not rely on the information we were receiving,” she said. She asked Snyder if it was possible that documents were altered or erased so BKD did not see them.

Snyder said that although one expense report was altered, there was no indication of a “systematic issue” of alterations or erasures.

Wagle and Snyder disagreed over the extent of BKD’s contact with Wagle contending that it did not constitute an “interview” as claimed in the audit report.

Democratic Senator Tom Holland asked Snyder two questions relating to whether KBA has business policies and procedures in place to effectively run the organization, and has KBA consistently followed these? Snyder answered yes, with very few exceptions. “We found a very high level of compliance.”

Republican Senator Chris Steineger of Kansas City asked a series of questions regarding the mission of the KBA, which is, according to KBA “advancing Kansas’ leadership in bioscience” as well as creating investment and jobs in Kansas. Steineger expressed concern that much of KBA’s funding is spent on overhead, such as lawyers, architects, office buildings, travel, and dining.

Steineger distributed a series of calculations based on KBA data in the audit that he said reveals that KBA made $265 million in commitments resulting in 1,347 jobs for a cost of $196,808 per job created.

Steineger showed that removing the largest company from the mix — Quintiles, which created 1,000 jobs for a KBA contribution of $3.5 million — the remaining jobs cost more than $750,000 each.

Senator Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, mentioned that there had been criticism of the KBA for insider activities among board members, conflicts of interest, cronyism, and fraud and asked Snyder if these accusations were true. Snyder said these generalized accusations were not true, although there was one instance where there was “some technical violation of a conflict of interest rule.” He said that KBA is not “fraught with fraud or self-dealing.”

The audit report also noted that KBA made regular use of executive sessions not open to the public and that, “No notes or recordings are made of Executive Sessions. This is a common business practice. Therefore, information discussed in Executive Session was not available for BKD’s review and could not be considered with regard to the findings of this report.”

In response to another question, Snyder said that no changes were recommended to the Kansas Economic Growth Act, the legislation that created the KBA. There were some recommendations to KBA board policies and procedures.

Wagle also noted that conflict of interest rules don’t really resolve conflicts. Generally, if KBA board members disclose that they have a conflict of interest — such as a company they have financial ties to getting a grant — they can refrain from voting to satisfy the rules. “To me, I don’t know if it’s okay with the people of Kansas,” Wagle said.

The joint hearing will continue tomorrow with a presentation from Rodman.

This article originally appeared on Kansas Watchdog.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday October 26, 2010

Karl Rove. “Former George W. Bush aide Matt Latimer was there to observe the dealings of Karl Rove during the previous administration, and he writes that there’s no secret why most conservatives have now come to view Rove as a fraud. Latimer says that Rove has become symbolic of a GOP establishment that’s known for its utter betrayal and ruin of the Party that Reagan had left so strong. Now that his secret is out, Rove’s influence will only continue to diminish as time goes on and the Tea Parties take over.” A fascinating look at the legacy of Rove, and illustrates the tension between the tea party and the Republican establishment. From Karl Rove’s Flameout.

Waiting for Superman. The Kansas Policy Institute will host a free screening of Waiting for Superman on Thursday November 4th. Of the film, the Wall Street Journal wrote: “The new film ‘Waiting for ‘Superman’” is getting good reviews for its portrayal of children seeking alternatives to dreadful public schools, and to judge by the film’s opponents it is having an impact. Witness the scene on a recent Friday night in front of a Loews multiplex in New York City, where some 50 protestors blasted the film as propaganda for charter schools.” In Kansas, the Wichita Eagle printed an op-ed penned by the education bureaucracy status quoSharon Hartin Iorio, dean of the Wichita State University College of Education in this case — to inoculate Wichitans against the effects of what I am told is a powerful film. Let’s hope this film gets Kansans to thinking about public schools in our state, as Kansas is way behind the curve on innovation, compared to other states. The film will be shown at 7:00pm at the Warren Theatre East (11611 E. 13th St.). KPI asks that you RSVP by Tuesday, November 2 to James Franko at james.franko@kansaspolicy.org. Space is limited.

Brownback at Wichita Pachyderm. Friday’s meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm club will feature United States Senator and candidate for Kansas governor Sam Brownback. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Right to work = economic growth. In The Daily Caller, Emporia State University’s Greg Schneider looks at the history of unions in America and right-to-work laws. The number of union jobs has declined as unionized companies became less competitive, not because of right-to-work laws.

Kansas private sector loses jobs, government grows. “Roughly 7,600 private sector jobs in Kansas disappeared from August to September, while government jobs grew by 21,000 over the same time period.” Most of the government jobs were in schools, writes Rachel Whitten in the Kansas Reporter.

Tea Party plans to exert influence. As newly-elected members of Congress arrive in Washington to assume their seats, a tea party group plans to lay down expectations. “The meeting of newly elected officials, the date of which hasn’t been set, is designed to keep new representatives connected to ‘what we expect from them,’ according to the memo. Incumbent Republican members of Congress and the party’s national leadership won’t be invited, said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, in an interview. ‘The incumbents have allowed us to get into the problems we are in now,’ he said. ‘We hope to get to the freshmen before the incumbents get to them, and start twisting their arms.”” The full story in the Wall Street Journal is Group Plans to Keep Pressure on Newly Elected Conservatives. There is definitely conflict between the Tea Party and the Republican Establishment.

Goyle numbers explained by rats and cats. Candidate for U.S. Congress from the Kansas fourth district Raj Goyle says he has voted with Republicans in the Kansas House of Representatives 80 percent of the time. While a detailed analysis of the votes would be difficult and time-consuming, the majority of measures voted on by legislatures pass nearly unanimously — the so-called “rats and cats” bills. The important cases this year where Goyle voted against his party — the big-spending budget and the statewide sales tax increase — represent either a genuine change in Goyle’s political philosophy, or election-year window dressing. Voters have to make the call.

Holland claim doubted. In an interview with the Dodge City Daily Globe, Kansas governor hopeful Democrat Tom Holland said “Now I have a proven track record in the Kansas Legislature of reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans.” Evidence, however, points the other way. In the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, Holland is the only Kansas Senator that earned a score of 0 percent. KEFI is not designed to group legislators into Republican or Democratic camps, but Holland ranks alone at the extreme end of the spectrum — voting against economic freedom in all cases.

Arts in Wichita promoted. Today John D’Angelo, manager of Wichita’s Division of Arts and Cultural Services, contributes a piece to the Wichita Eagle titled How can Wichita sustain, grow arts sector? The answer to this question is: reduce government involvement in the arts, first by abolishing Mr. D’Angelo’s department and city taxation for spending on the arts. This will force arts organizations to meet the demands of consumers as expressed in free markets. Currently, a board of cronies dishes out tax money to arts organizations using political rather than market criteria. This process lets these organizations exists by appealing to Wichita’s cultural elites, rather than the broad market. See Government Art in Wichita. Economic fallacy supports arts in Wichita provides background to D’Angelo’s claim of the economic benefit of the arts, at least government spending on arts.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday October 15, 2010

Moran at Wichita Pachyderm today. Today’s speaker at the Wichita Pachyderm Club is current United States Representative and Republican Party Senate nominee Jerry Moran. As a large audience is expected, please arrive by 11:45 to get your buffet lunch in time for the noon start (the larger meeting room will be used). Cost is $10, which includes lunch.

Rasmussen: Voters don’t trust politicians’ promises. “Half (50%) now believe that when politicians break campaign promises, it’s because they deliberately made a false promise to get elected. Thirty-nine percent (39%) disagree and say unforeseen events after they took office forced them to break their promises.” In keeping with my belief in limited government, I might suggest that candidates promise to do less. But then liberal candidates say that conservative candidates don’t have a plan. More at Voters Believe Overwhelmingly That Politicians Don’t Keep Their Promises, and Most Say It’s Deliberate.

No developer welfare; no apartments. The Wichita Business Journal reports that since developer Jason Van Sickle isn’t able to obtain federal historic preservation tax credits on a property, he’s abandoning plans to develop the project. Tax credits are, in effect, grants of money paid to — in this case — real estate developers through the tax system. But not to worry for the developer: he’s planning to hit up the state of Kansas and its taxpayers for historic preservation tax credits.

Capitalism saved the miners. Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal: “It needs to be said. The rescue of the Chilean miners is a smashing victory for free-market capitalism. … The president of the U.S. is campaigning across the country making this statement at nearly every stop: ‘The basic idea is that if we put our blind faith in the market and we let corporations do whatever they want and we leave everybody else to fend for themselves, then America somehow automatically is going to grow and prosper.’ Uh, yeah. That’s a caricature of the basic idea, but basically that’s right.” Henninger lists all the innovative technology used in the rescue, that innovation driven by capitalism in the countries where it is not snuffed out. A lesson: “In an open economy, you will never know what is out there on the leading developmental edge of this or that industry.” Innovation is driven by private companies with profit as their motive.

Holland demands debates, then skips out. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, “[Kansas Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Tom] Holland was invited to the hour-long debate broadcast on WIBW radio and TV, but he declined because he said WIBW had already sponsored an earlier gubernatorial debate at the Kansas State Fair, and because the debate moderators were conservative radio talk show hosts Raubin Pierce and Megan Mosack.” Yes, Pierce and Mosack are conservatives. But Holland, who at one time demanded a series of 10 debates with Brownback, should have appeared. Conservative candidates and officeholders are summoned before liberal newspaper editorial boards all the time. They go and suffer the inevitable criticism. Holland should have done the same — and by all accounts, the questions were fair. And if the questions weren’t fair, Holland could have done what many candidates do in forums: they say whatever they want without regard to answering the question that was asked.

This Week in Kansas. KAKE’s Chris Frank appears to talk about Hawker Beechcraft and Louisiana. Then Kansas Public Radio Statehouse Bureau Chief Stephen Koranda and myself discuss Kansas politics and poll results. Tim Brown is the host. “This Week in Kansas” airs in Topeka on WIBW TV channel 13 Saturdays at 11:30 am, and in Wichita on KAKE TV channel 10 Sundays at 9:00 am.

Jim Anderson Program features candidate debate. Kansas fourth Congressional district hopefuls Democrat Raj Goyle and Republican Mike Pompeo will appear on Anderson’s radio show. Evidently, minor party candidates Susan Ducey (Reform Party) and Libertarian Shawn Smith will not appear, despite having made credible appearances on a recent KWCH televised forum. After this, Attorney Genreal candidate Derek Schmidt will appear. The Jim Anderson Program airs from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm Saturdays on KNSS Radio 1330 on your old-school AM radio, live on the station’s website, or on your iPhone through the station’s free app.

Kansas statewide races polled. KWCH and SurveyUSA report poll results under the headline GOP poised to win statewide races. The closet contest is for Attorney General, where challenger Derek Schmidt leads incumbent Stephen Six 48 percent to 40 percent. For the race the pollster notes: “Compared to other, stable Kansas statewide contests, there is notable volatility in the Attorney General race, uniquely; any outcome is possible.”

Stossel on the future, tonight. “This Friday at 10pm [9:00 pm Central time], Fox News will broadcast my heated argument with NYC Transit Worker’s Union President John Samuelsen. It’s part of my special, ‘The Battle for the Future.’ More at Stossel’s blog.

Tea party rules? The New York Times reports: “Enough Tea Party-supported candidates are running strongly in competitive and Republican-leaning Congressional races that the movement stands a good chance of establishing a sizeable caucus to push its agenda in the House and the Senate, according to a New York Times analysis. … While the numbers are relatively small, they could exert outsize influence, putting pressure on Republican leaders to carry out promises to significantly cut spending and taxes, to repeal health care legislation and financial regulations passed this year, and to phase out Social Security and Medicare in favor of personal savings accounts.” Related: FiveThirtyEight estimates Congressional Tea Party Caucus founder Michele Bachmann has 98.9 percent probability of winning her reelection contest.

Vote Smart Announces VoteEasy. A new project presents information on federal offices. Select your state and zip code, and you’ll have information about the candidates you’ll be voting for — or not for. Click on VoteEasy to get started.

Political site FiveThirtyEight looks at polls, statistics

The political website FiveThirtyEight provides an innovative look at political forecasting and also supplies useful information about candidates and political districts.

The site FiveThirtyEight.com was active during the 2008 campaign season. Now it is a feature of the New York Times and can be accessed at fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com. The name comes from from the number of electors in the United States electoral college.

FiveThirtyEight uses a variety of methods to arrive at its results, including polls, where polls are weighted by several factors including recency, sample size, and the polling firm’s track record. Some polls are considered so unreliable that they are not included. The weighted polls results are adjusted by several factors, including a trendline adjustment and likely voter adjustment.

The data is further adjusted by factors such as the state’s Partisan Voting Index, individual monetary contributions received, and “a variable representing stature, based on the highest elected office that the candidate has held.”

There are additional steps in the analysis. Finally, the FiveThirtyEight procedures uses simulation, where various factors are considered randomly over a large number of trials.

When FiveThirtyEight reports its results, it also calculates the probability that a candidate will win the election. It might forecast, for example, that a candidate will finish with 55 percent of the vote, with the probability of winning at 85 percent. Winning, of course, means that the candidate gets at least one more vote than the closest opponent — no margin of victory is implied in the probability.

The site is also a useful repository of information such as voting record in selected issues, campaign finance, district demographics, and previous election results.

The FiveThirtyEight site doesn’t say this, but we can easily surmise that the lead that some candidates currently enjoy is the result of not only the policy positions of the candidate and the political landscape of the district, but importantly the product of the campaign the candidates have waged so far. Candidates with leads need to realize this and keep up their efforts.

FiveThirtyEight forecasts for Kansas

In Kansas, here are the results FiveThirtyEight forecasts:

For United States Senate: Democrat Lisa Johnston 31.2 percent; Republican Jerry Moran 66.2 percent. The probability of a Moran win is 100 percent. This forecast has held steady over time.

For Kansas Governor: Republican Sam Brownback 60.5 percent; Democrat Tom Holland 37.6 percent. Probability of a Brownback victory is 99.9 percent. The vote difference has been narrowing very slightly, but the probability of a Brownback win is still overwhelming.

For U.S. Congress, District 1: Republican Tim Huelskamp 72.7 percent; Democrat Alan Jilka 24.5 percent. Probability of a Huelskamp win is 100 percent.

For U.S. Congress, District 2: Democrat Cheryl Hudspeth 35.6 percent; Incumbent Republican Lynn Jenkins 62.8 percent. Probability of a Jenkins win is 100 percent.

For U.S. Congress, District 3: Democrat Stephene Moore 42.5 percent; Republican Kevin Yoder 55.0 percent. Probability of a Yoder victory is 92.7 percent. This is the only Kansas Congressional district that is remotely competitive, described as “leaning Republican.” Yoder’s margin has been increasing very slightly.

For U.S. Congress, District 4: Democrat Raj Goyle 36.5 percent; Republican Mike Pompeo 61.0 percent. Probability of a Pompeo victory is 99.9 percent. Pompeo’s lead over Goyle has been growing since the September 17th version of the model for this contest. These results don’t include the SurveyUSA poll of just a few days ago, which showed Pompeo’s lead over Goyle widening.

School choice solution to Kansas school funding

In its search to find a solution to the problem of funding its government schools, Kansas is overlooking a sure solution: widespread school choice.

While proponents of public school spending argue that school choice programs drain away dollars from needy, underfunded public schools, this is not the case.

In 2007 The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. According to the executive summary: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.”

How can this be? The public school spending lobby, which in Kansas is primarily the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), would have us believe that educational freedom would kill public education. They say that school choice program drain scarce resources from the public school system.

But when researchers looked at the actual effects, they found this: “In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state’s formula spending per student. This means states are spending the same amount or less on students in school choice programs than they would have spent on the same students if they had attended public schools, producing a fiscal savings.”

So at the state level, school choice programs save money. They don’t cost money to implement; they save money.

At the local level, schools districts have more money, on a per-student basis, when school choice programs are used: “When a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels. Thus, school choice produces a positive fiscal impact for school districts as well as for state budgets.”

According to news reports, no Kansas legislators are proposing school choice programs — not even an expansion of charter schools — as a solution to school finance. Sam Brownback, Republican candidate for governor, does not include school choice in his program to reform Kansas education. Democratic candidate Tom Holland proposes more spending on the current failing system.

Only Libertarian Party candidate Andrew Gray proposes school choice, through the Kansas Education Liberty Act.

Next Democrat Strategy: The October Surprise?

A guest Op-Ed by Sue C.

So far this election cycle Democrat strategies used against Republicans have included demonization, fear mongering, racism accusations, and voting record fabrications. None of which seem to be working well (here), proving that most people distrust not only politicians but also the liberal media. Regardless, we need to be prepared for the next level of attack: The Democrat October Surprise.

I predict that this tactic will be widely used this fall. Expect it to be delivered within days of the election. Timing will be crucial. Democrats will want to ensure that the “surprise” inflicts the most possible damage to their opponent. Truly, Democrats must play this card, because their “accomplishments” since 2008 are so offensive to most Americans they don’t dare run on them.

Not only are the Liberals running away from their records, they are even hiding from their party’s leaders. (See Fewer Democrats Turning To Obama For Campaign Help, Almost all Democratic Senate candidates would welcome Obama , and Barack Obama Tacitly Acknowledges He is Now a Pariah and the Democrats Are Screwed in 2010). Some even choosing to be “out of town” when fundraisers for them are held.

The Washington Examiner recently stated that the Democrat party is “triaging” races. This includes pulling money away from the races they are behind in, and putting up “fire walls” on the salvageable candidates. Here in Kansas, we have seen the Democratic Governors Association pull away funding for Democrat Gubernatorial candidate Tom Holland, who lags in the polls behind Sen. Sam Brownback, the Republican candidate.

Just what could these October surprises against Republican candidates include? It is any one’s guess. Staffers are most likely working overtime to uncover anything they can use to destroy their opponents. They will strike close to election day, when time constraints make it difficult to mount a defense.

To lessen the impact of this mud-slinging, one pundit suggests we “hold a contest to see who comes up with the most creative suggestion for what the Dems might do.” An interesting concept, although it sounds a bit flippant for something so grave.

History has shown the October Surprise to be a serious threat. Its potential for inflicting damage to a Republican candidate must not be ignored. Accomplices in the liberal media will assist in the destruction with biased news coverage.

We must remember that being forewarned allows us to be forearmed. “Be prepared” may be a good motto to adopt. November is coming, but we have to get through October first!

Americans believe teachers should be paid based on merit

A Gallup poll finds that Americans overwhelmingly believe that teacher salary should be paid “on the basis of the quality of his/her work.” 72 percent of public school parents believe this.

A related question asked “How closely should a teacher’s salary he tied to his/her students’ academic achievement?” 75 percent of public school parents answered either “very” or “somewhat closely tied.”

Then, 78 percent of parents answered “yes” to this question: “Do you have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools?”

Taken together, the responses to these question indicated that Americans like the people who teach their children, but may have a problem with public school administration and unions. After all, it’s administrators and unions that are responsible for the way teachers are paid. The unions vigorously resist any attempt at starting merit pay programs.

President Barack Obama has said that merit pay is important, but doesn’t seem to push it very hard. In Kansas, Republican candidate for governor Sam Brownback has proposed a master teacher program, which is a very weak form of merit pay.

Democratic candidate Tom Holland doesn’t mention teacher merit pay on his website. It would be surprising if he supported any ideas that the education establishment in Kansas opposes.

Libertarian Andrew Gray promotes the Kansas Education Liberty Act. This does not specifically mention teacher merit pay, but it proposes an expansion of school choice in Kansas. This means more charter and private schools, where teachers are usually paid based on merit.

Merit pay is important. Why? Research is conclusive in showing that teacher effects are the most important factor in student achievement that is under the control of schools. The best teachers need to be rewarded, and the worst ushered out of the field or into improvement programs.

The education establishment in Kansas, however, does not believe in this. Their prescription is more of the same: more spending, more buildings, and basing pay on measures that have been shown to have little or no significance to quality teaching: longevity and education credentials gained.

As the Gallup poll shows, Americans like their teachers but believe they should be paid based on merit, just like almost all other workers. It’s the education establishment that stands in the way of meaningful reform. In Kansas the two most prominent faces of the education establishment and maintaining the failing status quo are the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB).

Brownback paves plan for Kansas education reform

Last week near Emporia Sam Brownback, surrounded by Kansas educators and legislators, laid out the start of his plan for improving Kansas education if he is elected governor.

His opponents in the race for Kansas Governor are Reform Party candidate Ken Cannon, Libertarian Andrew Gray, and Democrat Tom Holland. Mark Parkinson, the incumbent, decided not to run.

In his remarks, Brownback said that education is “primary function of the state.” While Kansas has excellent schools, he said that more innovation is needed.

In the area of teachers, Brownback wants more mentoring opportunities available to young teachers. He supports a master teacher plan that offers higher salaries to teachers who “provide models of excellence within their schools.” He also called for alternative teacher certification programs that allow those who did not follow the traditional teacher education and certification path to become teachers.

On funding, Brownback said that Kansas school funding formula needs revision. He called for an end to school finance litigation, saying that school finance is the responsibility of the legislature, local school boards, and voters, but not the courts. A focus of a new funding formula will be on getting dollars into the classroom, he added.

One of the five key benchmarks in Brownback’s administration will be fourth grade reading achievement. He cited National Assessment of Educational Progress scores that indicate 28 percent of fourth-graders fail to achieve a “basic” score. “If you can’t read, your world starts closing in around you. But if you can read your world starts opening up,” he said. Fourth grade is a key time to measure reading, he added.

He also called for a refocused emphasis on career and technical education, citing a wind turbine program at Cloud County Community College. With innovative programs like this, he said it is unacceptable that any child would drop out of school.

Brownback said that it is crucial that we find ways to support our higher education system. He said he would highlight and support the work of community and technical colleges, stabilize funding for public universities, support the national cancer institute designation at KU, building the national bio and agri-defense facility at KSU, the Kansas Polymer Research Center at Pittsburg State University, and the National Center for Aviation Research at Wichita State University.

In response to a question, Brownback said he is not looking to redefine the state’s responsibility for funding education as mandated by the Kansas Constitution. He said he wants to get more money into the classroom. The disputes we’ve had should not be resolved by the courts, he added. The percentage has not been as high as he thinks it could be.

He added that if local taxpayers vote to spend more on local schools, he would support that and allow them to do that. Currently the local option budget formula places a limit on how much local districts can add to what the state allocates.

Continuing, Brownback said the problem with school funding is the Kansas formula. The money is not getting in the classroom, as there are too many “nooks and crannies” in the formula. He would focus on renovating the formula, he added.

Another question mentioned two reforms that some states are using and the Obama administration supports — charter schools and teacher merit pay — and noted that these reforms are absent from the plan presented today. Brownback replied that the master teacher program is a form of increased pay for highly qualified and gifted teachers. On charter schools, Brownback said that additional proposals may be rolled out, and that he didn’t want to lay out everything in one day.

The complete press release announcing the plan may be read at the Brownback campaign website.

Commentary

If we wonder why conservatives are not fully gung-ho for Sam Brownback, the education plan provides a few reasons why. The two missing reforms asked about (the questioner was me) — charter schools and teacher merit pay — are popular with conservatives, but vigorously opposed by the existing Kansas education establishment, especially the teachers union.

The master teacher pay plan proposed by Brownback is a long away from merit pay. Under a master teacher plan, it seems like a relatively small number of teachers would be rewarded. Merit pay usually means that all teachers are paid according to their effectiveness, as is the case with most workers, especially professionals.

I didn’t get a chance to ask another question about another reform battle that is being waged: teacher tenure reform. But it seems like the relatively meek reforms proposed by Brownback indicate a candidate who would not be willing to take on the teachers unions over the issue of tenure.

Brownback’s reliance on the NAEP scores as a measure of student achievement is refreshing, as the Kansas school establishment would like to ignore this test. The NAEP is a more rigorous test than the Kansas-administered tests. According to figures at the Kansas State Department of Education, in 2009 87.2 percent of Kansas fourth graders were reading at a level the department considers “at or above standard.” This number has been increasing at the same time the NAEP score are mostly flat. Brownback didn’t talk about this discrepancy, but if he is willing to advocate for an honest measurement of Kansas schoolchildren, that would be a big step.

Brownback’s advocacy for allowing local school districts to vote for more school spending is sure to be vigorously opposed unless the money is “equalized.” In the Kansas House this year, there was a proposal to let counties charge an additional sales tax to be given to the school districts in the county. A Johnson County — a large, wealthy county — legislator proposed the measure, which was vigorously opposed by counties without Johnson county’s wealth. If some of the money raised by a Johnson county sales tax was shipped to poorer counties through the equalization formula, the opposition would disappear, almost certainly.

An interesting commentary on the coverage of Brownback and Holland and their education proposals is at the Kansas Republican Assembly blog: Analyze this: Opinion masquerading as news.

More about Brownbacks plan from the Kansas Education: Public Policy in Kansas and Beyond blog is at Sen. Brownback offers weak tea of reforms.

Holland/Kultala ticket endorsed by Kansas Governor Parkinson

At an event this afternoon in Wichita, bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle — plus some Sam Brownback bashing — was the theme as outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson endorsed the team of Kansas Senator Tom Holland of Baldwin City and fellow Senator Kelly Kultala of Kansas City for the Democratic Party nomination for Kansas governor.

Parkinson, who became governor last year when Kathleen Sebelius took a position in the Obama cabinet, declined to seek election to his current office. The Holland/Kultala ticket will not face opposition on the August 3rd primary election ballot. The likely Republican nominees are Sam Brownback and Kansas Senator Jeff Colyer as lieutenant governor.

In his remarks, Parkinson said that Kansas has made “remarkable progress” in the last eight years in working through a recession, creating jobs, and “bringing people of all parties together.” He said that Holland would continue that work.

He told the audience that Holland is a successful businessman, experience that he said Holland’s likely opponent did not have. He said that Holland has a record of working with people of all parties, and that Holland has worked for Kansans in the legislature.

He praised Holland’s and Kultala’s role as leaders in passing the budget this year.

Parkinson said the election will be an “uphill climb,” but that a Holland/Kultala victory is possible.

Holland said that the next governor will need to work with the coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, who he said have been leading the legislature for the last few years. He said that only he and Kultala — the “moderate and pragmatic leadership” — can continue with this tradition.

He blasted Brownback as a “career Washington politician” who deregulated the banks and “put the Kansas economy in a tailspin.” He said Brownback opposed the budget this year, and he opposed paying for the transportation plan.

He said that Brownback “sits on the extreme fringe of his party” and has no interest in working with moderate Republicans or Democrats.

In a question after the event, Parkinson expressed confidence that the increase in the sales tax that took effect today will roll back in three years as scheduled, despite the failure of a sales tax increased passed in 2002 to live up to its rollback schedule.

Parkinson also said he did not know of Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who was recently critical of Parkinson’s decision not to seek election to his current office, saying he “left his party high and dry.” In his analysis Sabato described the Kansas Democratic party as “imploding.”

Analysis

Holland makes the argument that he and Kultala are “pragmatic and moderate.” Evidence from the candidate’s voting records is different, however. In the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, Holland earned a score of zero, the only senator to do so. Kultala earned a score of seven percent, earning her a tie for 36th place among the 40 senators. She voted in favor of economic freedom only once.

In a score card just released by the Kansas Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, Holland again earned a score of zero percent. Kultala matched that “perfect” score.

It might seem that someone interested in bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle might vote that way just once in a while.

As to the governor’s portrayal of Holland and Kultala as leaders reaching across the aisle, background discussions with several Republican members of the Kansas Senate could produce no recollection of any significant issue where Holland or Kultala played a leadership role. Both have served in the Senate for just two years and are in the minority party.

The portrayal of Brownback as “fringe” must be examined. Brownback’s record in the U.S. Senate, according to National Journal vote ratings for 2009, places him near the middle of Senate Republicans in terms of voting for conservative positions.

Holland / Kultala ticket pairs two Kansas Senate liberals

Today Kansas senator and gubernatorial candidate Tom Holland chose fellow senator Kelly Kultala of Kansas City as his lieutenant governor running mate.

Earlier today Holland characterized the two candidates as “pragmatic and moderate.” Evidence from the candidate’s voting records is different, however. In the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, Holland earned a score of zero, the only senator to do so. Kultala earned a score of seven percent, earning her a tie for 36th place among the 40 senators. She voted in favor of economic freedom only once.

In a score card just released by the Kansas Chapter of Americans for Prosperity — an organization that promotes limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels — Holland again earned a score of zero percent. Kultala matched that “perfect” score.