Well, here’s a former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback-era program that, after an audit by his successor administration run by Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly, turned out to be a profit center for a private contractor…
It’s the Reading Roadmap program, which no-bid Washington contractor Hysell & Wagner reached into Kansas to milk as much as $2.3 million in 2014 and 2015 from the program.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) last week canceled the contract after an audit of the program’s management, which was started and not finished five years ago, was essentially protected from public review. A later audit this year of the program which helps children learn how to read was the tipping point to cancel the Hysell & Wagner contract.
The firm says that contracting issues were fixed, that the program is running well and that it is providing the services it contracted to perform. But DCF is apparently not convinced.
Look for the issue to wind up in a court somewhere, but it’s just money at stake there, and the bigger issue for Kansans is the program itself.
Whatever the reason for the no-bid contract and whatever the reason for short-stopping that early audit that saw misuse of funds, the program of assisting generally poor Kansas schoolchildren to learn how to read is a great idea. Not sure Brownback thought it up himself, or where it came from, but any program that assists children to learn to read and to help their families learn how to encourage that reading is a good investment.
Simply, Kansas prospers the smarter its residents are. That reading assistance, which was carried out before and after school and at summer camps and by meeting with the generally poor families of those children (administered by Hysell & Wagner), is the right thing to do.
It’s a social issue, of course, government assisting parents in raising their children, but those children are the future of the state and the better their basic skills—even just reading which most of us don’t think about much—prepares those kids for better performance in school and better jobs when they leave school and better skills to help their children learn to read and prosper.
The contract hassle may divert lawmakers next session from the program itself, and that would be a mistake. Children and Families is going to make sure that the more than 30 school districts and a handful of social service agencies get the money appropriated for them last session, so the Reading Roadmap programs will continue under local management. That’s good.
But the preservation of the program gets a little complicated for lawmakers this winter.
Why is this educational undertaking financed with federal funds which are part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that is aimed at providing needed food assistance for those families? DCF Secretary Laura Howard likes the program, sees its merit, but wonders why it is financed from the pot that ensures that mostly children, the poor and disabled are able to buy food. It’s a stretch, isn’t it?
Seems more like a program that ought to be operated by the Department of Education? Sure, but then, the TANF money is federal money, and the Department of Education doesn’t get that money and would have to find the cash from somewhere else…which likely means it would need a bigger appropriation from next year’s state budget.
Reading Roadmap? A good program with some management issues but essentially free for the state.
Wonder which way this is going to go? We’ll see when the election-year Legislature opens in January…