Some people are just determined to dismantle public education. Some of them are legislators and the others work for the Kansas Policy Institute.
Just this week, we attended a presentation by Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson in which he shared Kansans’ views of the successful high school graduate. Watson toured the state speaking with business leaders, parents, and community leaders to learn first-hand what they valued from a student’s educational experience. What they told him was fascinating.
It may come as a surprise to some (and it certainly does to the the anti-public schools legislators and KPI talking heads) that an over-emphasis on academics and the results of state assessments were not front and center for them. In fact, when considering the question, “What are the skills, attributes, and abilities of a successful Kansan?”, members of the public emphasized non-academic skills over academic skills 70% to 23%. Business leaders emphasized non-academic skills over academic skills 81% to 15%.
When looking at the responses, the skills that most often came to the forefront were perseverance, self-regulation, integrity, initiative, empathy, adaptability, problem solving, self-efficacy, and critical thinking. Performance on multiple choice assessments did not surface at all!
Yet here we are under the dome, facing KPI’s voucher-palooza. And every one of their four voucher bills is based on a common theme: Public schools are bad and private schools are good.
So we have HB 2465 by Representative Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center) on behalf of the ACE Scholarship Organization. This is a radical expansion of the tuition tax credit scholarship (AKA voucher) program that would allow private schools – even those without state accreditation – to cherry pick high achieving, low-income students from any public school. Currently the legislation allows vouchers only for free lunch students in the 100 lowest performing schools in Kansas. This bill would expand vouchers to free and reduced lunch students from any public school. Under HB 2465, low-income, high achieving students could be recruited out of the best performing public schools and given a voucher to attend a low performing private school.
Then we got HB 2552 by Representatives Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) and Renee Erickson (R-Wichita). This bill provides a voucher to any 3rd grader in a public school at Level 1 on the state ELA assessment and to any 4th grader at Levels 1 or 2.
Now, at the last minute, KPI’s Mike O’Neal stopped by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee to get two more voucher bills introduced – HB 2724 and HB 2725. These are two nearly identical bills and share the same voucher granting structure as HB 2552 by Williams and Erickson.
HB 2724 grants a voucher to any student in grades 3 through 8 scoring at Level 1 or 2 on the state ELA or mathematics assessments. HB 2725 is nearly identical to HB 2724 except that the voucher is granted to any “exceptional child” or any child “diagnosed with dyslexia or “a related disorder.” Gifted students, while considered exceptional in Kansas and who are on an IEP, are excluded. HB 2725 is not limited by grade level but would apply to any child who is in kindergarten through 12th grade.
What is the common thread? Well, first, there’s the myth that public schools are bad and private schools are good. Then there is the focus on a single day in a school year. All decisions are made based on the performance of a student on one day on one test. It could be the day after a child found out his parents are divorcing or her grandma passed away. It could be the day the child came to school with a horrible toothache or a nasty cold. It would apply to the child with severe test anxiety.
And all of the fretting by KPI and these legislators about the assessment scores generally come from the people who worked hard to see that schools spent more than a decade underfunded; from people who fought for and voted for the repeal of the school finance formula and cuts to school funding; from the very people who opposed all efforts to abandon the Brownback “experiment” and then pass a constitutionally adequate and equitable school finance formula.
Tell your legislators to vote “NO” on any effort to divert money to private schools. Tell them to vote “NO” on HB 2465. Tell them to vote “NO” on HB 2552. Tell them to vote “NO” on HB 2724. Tell them to vote “NO” on HB 2725. Tell them to vote “NO” on vouchers.