Public school “shakedown” for vouchers.

Williams, Hoffman Push Voucher Bill Out of House K-12 Budget Committee

Voucher-Palooza continues unabated as House K-12 Budget Chair Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) and Vice-Chair Kyle Hoffman (R-Coldwater) pushed HB 2465, a radical expansion of the existing tuition tax credit voucher program, out of committee in a 10- minute meeting. The bill was amended by Rep. Adam Thomas (R-Olathe) to include HB 2526, the bill that removes Ft. Leavenworth from the capital improvement state aid schedule. There were no other amendments.

ICYMI: School Vouchers’ Dismal Record of Failure Comes Into Focus

So, what exactly does HB 2465 do? Currently, in order to be eligible for a voucher under the program, a child must be qualified to be a free-lunch student in one of the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state. This bill would extend eligibility to reduced lunch-qualifying students and eliminate the restriction on schools. In essence, this bill is intended to allow private schools to recruit high-performing, low-income students from any public school in Kansas – even the best schools. It brings more money into private schools – including schools that are not accredited by the Kansas State Board of Education and do not report any student performance data – while allowing those schools to cherry-pick only high achieving students. It is based on the mythology subscribed to by voucher advocates that any private school is better than any public school.

Williams, along with Representatives Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) and Renee Erickson (R-Wichita), proposes expansions to the existing voucher program and new voucher programs every session. In their world-view, there is nothing a public school can do to prove their value.

We urge you to contact your representative and urge him or her to oppose HB 2465 when it comes to the full House for consideration. The original plan was sold as a way to help struggling children in struggling schools. HB 2465 turns it into a plan to serve private school financial needs and allows private schools to select only the highest achieving students from even the best public schools.

Beloit Counselors Showcase District Work to “Build a Culture of Relationships”

Counselors Stephanie Litton and Brennan Eilert from Beloit Junior/Senior High School were invited by Senator Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg) to make a presentation to the Senate Education Committee on Beloit USD 273’s work to transform the culture of their school into a culture of relationships in order to address bullying and general behavior issues.

Litton and Eilert shared an initiative based on four pillars – PRIDE (and an advisory program), social-emotional learning, character development (in Beloit’s case, using the Boys Town model), and civic engagement/service-learning. Beloit has shifted from a counselor-based to an advisory-based culture with counselor support. They have also shifted from an administration-centered to a student-centered culture. In making these shifts, they have developed a school that empowers students, moves students to take responsibility for their own actions, and builds a positive school-to-community climate.

The results shared today were powerful and got us thinking about some recent legislative initiatives. It was when Senator Larry Alley (R-Winfield) asked what impact this had on at-risk students that we remembered House Bill 2540 which has passed the House and will have a hearing in the Senate Education Committee next week. HB 2540 does three things: 1) it extends high-density at-risk funding; 2) it restricts spending of at-risk money to only programs on a KSDE website list with some one-year “provisional” exceptions; and finally, 3) it demands significant reporting requirements on the efficacy of each program used on individual at-risk students.

Here’s what came to us as we listened to Eilert and Litton: They are not talking about “programs.” Most of what they talked about was transforming educator “practice.” While it is true that they did buy a program – the Boys Town program – much of what they are doing is changing the practice of teachers, administrators, and related service professionals to “transform the culture” of their school.

Changing “practices” to “transform a culture” is not a program that you can buy off an approved list but it still costs money. Professional development costs money. Mentoring and coaching cost money. Professional learning communities cost money. And all of those are things that are not packaged as programs.

Beloit is a Mercury redesign school which also reminded us of a display at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. Have you been there and seen the room in which you can view the twisted wreckage of a number of Mercury capsules while watching rocket explosions on a video screen? We forget that transformations are sometimes made concurrently with some failures; failures that become “teachable moments.”

It seems to us that the legislature would do well to stop demanding strict adherence to their preferred programs or downplaying the importance of transforming educators’ practices or insisting on seismic shifts in student performance within months of getting new funding or starting a new program.

Maybe it’s time to say to administrators and teachers, “We trust you. We know you want to do what’s best for your students and it is our job to give you the time and tools necessary (even if they’re not on our list) to do it.”

We can dream, can’t we?