Governor Laura Kelly thinks parents should butt out of curriculum issues, but a new poll shows parents overwhelmingly believe they should have the primary say in their child’s education.  The poll conducted in December by SurveyUSA and commissioned by Sentinel parent company Kansas Policy Institute finds that 88% of respondents think parents should have the primary say in their child’s education. 

SurveyUSA contacted parents and grandparents of kids in school who are also registered voters, and their views on this issue crossed all geographic and ideological lines.  The lowest level geographically is 85% in the Kansas City area; even 73% of self-identified liberals believe parents should have the final say.

The poll also shows widespread concern over what students are being taught, with 57% very or somewhat concerned versus 39% who are not at all or not very concerned.  In western Kansas, 82% of parents and grandparents are concerned.

“Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. If parents are unhappy about what their child is being taught, or not being taught, they deserve the right to take the money they’re already paying in taxes and find the right fit for their child,” Kansas Policy Institute President James Franko said in a release.

The survey also found that half of Kansas believe public schools should be held accountable for the academic outcomes of their students, by allowing students in schools that are performing below grade level to take their funding with them to a school of their choice.  Only 18% disagree, for a net favorable of +32.

The results on the question of accountability are dramatically different than the last time voters were polled.  In September 2018, the net overall favorable/unfavorable was +13.  Movement among self-identified moderates is particularly noteworthy, moving from +16 to +40.

Some states have created Education Savings Accounts for parents to use to pay for tutors, curriculum, private school tuition, and other educational expenses. In the new poll, 75% of respondents wanted the ESAs offered if academic needs weren’t being met and only 18% were opposed.

Last year, the Kansas Legislature saw a need to expand educational opportunity – via Kansas’ only educational choice program for kids in families below 185% of the federal poverty level. In Kansas, there are more high school students below grade level than are on track for college and career. The 2021 legislative session also saw changes implemented to drive certification of funding in education being tied to academic outcomes.

More accountability favored by parents

The survey also shows voters want school officials held accountable for spending money to improve student achievement

Longstanding state law requires local school boards to conduct annual needs assessments in each school and use the findings to properly allocate resources in the budget process.  But a Sentinel investigation last year found that only two of the 25 districts examined may have at least attempted to conduct the building needs assessments.

73% of voters believe that school districts should face consequences if their needs assessment process is not completed as required by state law, and only 6% disagree.

“Parents, caregivers, and many teachers clearly just want increased accountability and transparency in K-12 education in Kansas,” Franko said.

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