In Topeka, on the corner of 10th and Quincy, is a small building only a few stories tall. The Kansas State Department of Education takes up barely a quarter of a block , but the majority of your state tax dollars—more than all other state agencies combined—is spent through the Department of Education....disbursed across Kansas in local school districts.
Therefore, every Kansas citizen should be interested in who is running the KSDE. With current Commissioner Alexa Posny leaving for Washington, DC, who will take her place? And what pressures does a Kansas Commissioner of Education face?
There are 50 state constitutions and 50 different ways of managing education.
If you want to be an education czar, go to Minnesota or Wisconsin,,,they have no state board.
In other states, there is a state "board of education" that makes policy. But the day-to-day operations are in the hands of a chief education officer, called either a Commissioner—as in Kansas—or a State Superintendent of Instruction.
Kansas is one of eight states that elect a state board that then appoints the Commissioner. Kansas has a strong populist tradition. Despite several attempts to change the system, we are always going to elect five of our ten state board members each two years, to serve four-year terms. Our system provides an overlap, a continuity in policy is not found in most states.
A Kansas Commissioner of Education does not have to worry about re-election. If there are no major swings in the politics of new Board members, the Commissioner can serve a long time, manage crises, and carry through with administrative reorganization and development over many years. Commissioner Andy Tompkins served many years across many new boards and through the evolution-creationism battles. Back then, State Board issues were local control, routine program approvals, and a reasonable amount of reform.
Today, the Kansas Commissioner faces a mountain of new NCLB reporting requirements tied to federal money. Kansas is pursuing the high stakes "race to the top" for billions in federal pork. Schools are facing dramatic budget constraints, and the Kansas Legislature controls the money. The economy may require major school consolidation. Special interest groups—parents with autistic children, English language learners—exert their own pressures.
And the Kansas Commissioner must run this huge department while major policy decisions remain in the hands of the Board. ...And while the federal government is attempting to take over education nationwide.
Searching for a new commissioner will take many months. The Commissioner oversees where we send our children and the majority of our state tax money...more responsibility than any other state governmental position, including the governor.