According to the nonprofit Center for Educational Reform, Kansas ranks 34th in the nation in their “Parent Power Index,” which examines the extent to which each state and the District of Columbia have policies in place that put students ahead of systems. The Parent Power Index also “values the diversity of need and condition of every family, provides vital accessible information, and by doing so affords parents the power to exercise fundamental decisions regarding how their kids are educated.”
Kansas was one of 25 states garnering a “D” grade in the PPI, with just six states, Washington, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, and Nebraska — which ranked fifty-first — being given “F” grades.
Florida was the only state to be given an “A” grade.
Among the things examined in the Parent Power Index is access to charter schools. There are only 10 in Kansas because state law requires charters to be authorized, and effectively controlled, by public school districts.
Kansas also received a “D” grade in school choice, giving parents of low- and middle-income students an opportunity for a tax credit scholarship that can be used to offset tuition at a private school, rather than education savings accounts that allow parents to send their children to the school of their choice.
According to CER, Kansas’ tax-credit scholarship program is currently serving 632 low-income students but in May 2021 HB 2134 was passed, expanding geographic and income eligibility for K-8 students. The new legislation eliminates restrictions based on zip code and allows for any student on free and reduced lunch to enroll; previously only students assigned to one of the 100 lowest-performing schools in the state were eligible to participate. It also increases the income limit from 100 percent of the federal poverty level to 185 percent, further expanding access to educational opportunities. The budget cap remains unchanged at $10 million, and there is still no enrollment cap so not much movement will happen until it does. The program was enacted in 2014 and gives individuals and businesses that donate to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) 70% tax credit value.
Kansas also scored poorly in teacher quality metrics, ranking 40th in the nation. The state does not have any specific policies in place that offer teachers additional compensation based on evidence of effectiveness and has eliminated mandatory tenure, allowing each district to make its own tenure decisions.
Kansas was also marked down heavily in the realms of leadership and pandemic response, with the CER noting that “Governor Laura Kelly has made it clear she is not a supporter of parental choice. However, she reluctantly signed a bipartisan education funding bill.”
CER also noted that Kansas was one of the first states to shut down schools for the remainder of the year in 2020.
“The intention for all students to continue to learn in the wake of the crisis is clear, but the state was unprepared on how districts should provide that and, as a result, education was delivered unevenly,’ CER writes. “Kansas failed to provide any technological resources to students who needed them from the state level. Districts were instructed to reach out to providers to see if accommodations could be made, but resources were not committed to getting devices or internet access to those who need them most for successful continuous learning.”
Student achievement is below the national average
Moreover, Kansas students’ proficiency scores are troubling, with CER reporting based on results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress in their Parent Power Index:
- 4th Grade Math Proficiency: 40% (below the national average)
- 8th Grade Math Proficiency: 33% (below the national average)
- 4th Grade Reading Proficiency: 34% (below the national average)
- 8th Grade Reading Proficiency: 32% (below the national average)
Kansas did receive high marks for digital and personalized learning opportunities, as well as transparency. CER notes that school report cards are highlighted on the main page of the Kansas State Department of Education, with easy-to-understand data that is presented in a visually appealing way.
A recent poll conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of Kansas Policy Institute, which owns The Sentinel, shows 75% support for making taxpayer-funded accounts available to parents if they believe their school district is not meeting the academic needs of their children. This overwhelming demand crosses all geographic and ideological boundaries.
Kansas Policy Institute CEO Dave Trabert says the fate of students is in legislators’ hands.
“The State Board of Education and many local school boards repeatedly demonstrate that academically preparing students for college and career is not their #1 priority. When forced to make a choice, board members and district officials place priority on the adults in the system. A state audit found that schools aren’t spending money in accordance with state law, and most districts openly ignore a legal requirement to conduct building needs assessments. If legislators want students to have a fighting chance in life, they must pass universal school choice.”