Friday, September 24

“One Shining Moment” for school choice amidst a sad day?

From Kansas Policy Institute.

“One Shining Moment” for school choice amidst a sad day?

By James Franko

Yesterday will likely be remembered as a sad day for parents and kids seeking more educational choice in Kansas. Two proposals in the House Appropriations Committee died a quiet death; the committee was considering their funding “fix” to the recently-decided Gannon lawsuit and the choice pieces were offered as amendments to the larger package.

However, while proponents of choice were gnashing their teeth in the House, the Senate Ways and Means Committee (working on their response to Gannon) added a property tax credit for private and homeschoolers. The concept of a tax credit for private school education has been implemented around the country but the idea of extending a credit to property taxes is new. As it stands right now, the Senate provision is a good step but it may be fleeting (fleeting defined here about halfway down the page).

But, why choice? Why not spend more money on public schools?

Well, too many kids are being left behind in the current system (starting at slide 25). Low-income and minority students consistently, and tragically, lag behind their higher income and white counterparts on state, national, college prep., and just about any other test you can name. This stubborn fact remains the case despite billions more being dumped into educational programs aimed at these very same populations. More herehere, and here.

By whatever form, school choice would provide an escape valve for students who can’t find the right fit in their zip-code-directed school. It places the focus on each student’s individual need rather than creating a system that forces each child in a specified slot…a slot determined by where that child happens to live.

The Senate property tax credit gives property owners (e.g. homeowners) a $1,000 credit on their property taxes if they document to the county that their child(ren) attend a private school or are homeschooled. It is capped at $2,500 per family (2.5 kids worth of credits) and only applies if ALL children in the home don’t attend a public school. This is a step in the right direction of providing relief to families whose kids need a different educational opportunity.

Back to the House, a public charter school program that was based on best practices from around the country failed to win enough support to be considered by the full chamber. A corporate tax credit scholarship program faced a similarly gruesome end shortly thereafter. Both of these programs would have been targeted to students in the lowest performing schools in the state (Title 1 Focus and/or Priority), as defined by KSDE, and low income kids. By way of reminder, just the sorts of kids who are being left behind their counterparts as mentioned above.

In the event anyone needed it, the past month has been a stark reminder that Kansas runs our school system as just that — a system. A system that demands for the individualized needs of each child to be subordinated to the needs of adults and their institutions.