Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is staunchly opposed to school choice, except for her own children. Alumni newsletters show Kelly and her husband, Dr. Ted Daughety, could afford the tuition for their children to attend Topeka Collegiate, which is a private college preparatory school. But many other parents have no option but to send their kids to the Topeka public schools, where only about one in five high school students is proficient in reading and math, and more than half are below grade level.
Like other opponents, Gov. Kelly thinks school choice is bad for the public school system, but that’s the wrong focus. First and foremost, we should be looking at what’s best for students.
A large body of research shows that school choice overwhelmingly benefits students and not just those who take advantage of an opportunity to choose a different school.
Research on the effects of educational choice programs compiled by EdChoice shows that 11 of the 17 studies (65%) on program participant test scores find positive effects; four showed no visible effect, and only three (18%) showed any negative effect.
The empirical evidence also shows that choice programs positively impact achievement for students who do not take advantage of a choice opportunity. Of the 28 studies on this issue, 25 (89%) found a positive effect, and only two (7%) found any negative effect.
Strong evidence of choice programs benefitting public school students is the reason we believe school choice is also good for the public school system. The system exists not to create employment opportunities for the adults who work in it but to academically prepare students for college and career.
The Kansas public school system is not adequately preparing students, especially low-income students and minority students, who predominantly take advantage of choice programs.
Most low-income high school students in Kansas (62%) are below grade level in math, and only 9% are proficient. It’s even worse in Topeka, Kansas City, and Wichita – districts in which students are most likely to take advantage of choice programs.
By opposing school choice, Governor Kelly is effectively trapping low-income students in woefully-underperforming schools and condemning them to a life of underachievement. To paraphrase former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, there was a time when politicians stood in school doorways to prevent underprivileged students from entering; now, union-backed politicians are preventing them from getting out.
So here is our question for Governor Kelly and the legislators who are blocking school doorways – how many years will it take to get underprivileged students to grade level if the public system is left to do as it pleases?
Choice opponents make excuses for the public system – it takes more time, they need more money, etc. – but the cold hard facts are that achievement gaps have existed for decades, they are not getting any better, funding has grown much faster than inflation, and the system isn’t about to change until forced to do so. Legislators provided over $5 billion in incremental funding since 2005 to help students who are economically and academically at risk, but a government audit found that most of the districts examined didn’t spend that money for the direct benefit of those students as required by state law.
The state board of education responded to the audit by publishing a column that effectively said, ‘shut up, go away, we know what we’re doing.’ And nothing changed.
It’s great that Governor Kelly and her husband could afford to give their children a chance for a better education. She should do the same for the parents and students who are not as fortunate.