Kansas already has vouchers in the form of a tax credit “scholarship” bill. Under current law, a free lunch student in one of the 100 lowest performing public schools in the state would be eligible for a “scholarship” to attend a private school.

The assumption behind this bill is that private schools are inherently better than public schools because they are private even though there is absolutely no evidence to make such an assertion. Some private schools are indeed excellent while others are quite poor. But the scholarship bill does not differentiate.

This was made clear when Kansas State Board of Education member Jim Porter told the committee that if one looks at the 100 lowest performing state-accredited schools, some of those private schools make the list. Under the current program, students could be given a scholarship to attend a private school with worse performance than the public school from which they are being “rescued.”

House Bill 2465 seeks to radically expand the eligibility of these scholarships. Currently, a child who attends one of the 100 lowest performing Kansas public schools and is eligible for free meals can apply for the private school scholarships. HB 2465 would allow any public school child to apply for the private school scholarship who qualifies for free and reduced meals. If this bill passes, private schools would be free to seek out the highest performing low-income student from even the best schools in the state and recruit them into the private school – even a low-performing private school.

What was once sold to the legislature as a plan to take struggling students out of low performing schools and put them in private alternatives would be now intended to poach the best students out of the best public schools.

Private schools already have the ability to reject students based on academic performance. Or for that matter, based on religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, athletic prowess, or any other sorting mechanism they might put in place. Catholic schools in northeast Kansas recently instituted a ban on students living with same-sex parents.

Private schools do not have to meet accountability standards. Under the current plan, private schools do not have to be state accredited. Some of them – notably the Catholic schools – are accredited by the state and report state assessment scores but many more refuse to participate in state accreditation. In those schools, there is no way to determine if the school has standards as rigorous as public schools or if they are meeting the academic performance standards expected of accredited schools. They don’t administer the state assessments and they don’t publicly report performance indicators so there is no way to determine if they are or are not better than a public school.

Of course for the supporters of HB 2465, nothing really matters outside of their fundamental ideology that considers public schools to be failing and all private schools to be paragons of excellence. For all their demands that public schools should be subjected to ever more accountability measures and ever more accountability reporting, they are content to demand no accountability of private schools that are getting the benefit of millions of taxpayer dollars given away as tax credits.

We know that the chair of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee strongly supports this bill, as do a number of committee members, so we anticipate the committee working and potentially sending the bill to full House sometime in the near future.