The Iron Triangle
In Political Science, the phrase the Iron Triangle refers to the policy-making relationship between the Congress, the Bureaucracy and the interest groups.
Since 2016 I have had the opportunity to participate in the triangle by representing the Kansas Association of School Boards as a Government Relation Specialist, a Lobbyist if you will.
Over the past two years working with and for KASB, the main focus and discussion in Topeka has been around the school finance plan and the Supreme Court case of Gannon Vs. Kansas.
As I have watched the process play out over the last 20 or so months there have been progress and setbacks, and often times a little bit of both at the same time.
For many the release of the long awaited K-12 Education Cost-Analysis Study being conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor from Texas A&M and WestEd Consulting last Friday was just that, a little bit of both.
It confirmed what many people, KASB being one of them has said for many years, that Kansas has one of the most effective and efficient K-12 Education systems in the country, with outcomes that often exceed the inputs or money invested.
It also supported the notion that K-12 Funding in Kansas has fallen behind over the years and just catching up was going to be a significant investment, $451 Million to start.
The set-back came with the conclusion of a couple different paths forward to achieve the goals that have been outlined by the State of Kansas. To achieve a Statewide 95% Graduation rate and raise standardized test scores in a way that Kansas would “Lead the World” would cost between $1.7 and $2.1 Billion, with a B, in additional investment.
As I have began talking and thinking through where we go from here my mind kept drifting to another interpretation of the “Iron Triangle” this one from the world of project management.
In the project management world, this concept is simple and most likely familiar. There are three factors that influence the quality of the product you are working on. The Scope, the Cost invested and the Time.
To put it another way, you can choose two: Fast, Cheap or Good.
As outlined in the Kansas Constitution the State Board and Department of Education (The Bureaucracy) has done their part in the triangle by outlining the Scope of Work in their Kansans CAN vision and plan.
Schools and their advocates (Interest Groups) have done their part (with the help of the Kansas Supreme Court) in bringing the issues forward and pushing for action in a timeline that is reasonable, but still helpful for improving the Quality of Public Education in Kansas.
Now, with the results of the study available, it is time for the last part of the triangle, the Kansas Legislature (Congress) to decide what the Cost, or investment will be.
The question shouldn’t be how much can or can’t we afford in dollars and sense, the question, as explained by the Triangle is simply this:
What is the level of Quality that Kansas expects its students to be educated? Once we decide where we should be, then we can look on that scale and find out what the cost will be.
Somewhere between $451 Million and $2.1 Billion lies the correct answer, we just have to make sure we stay focused on the right question.
My name is Rob Gilligan, and That’s Something to Think About.