Thomas Jefferson’s warning – “The government you elect is the government you deserve” – is certainly ringing true these days, especially for parents whose children are being denied in-person learning by the school boards they elected. It’s easy to say ‘it’s all about the kids’ when running for office but parents can’t simply accept platitudes as gospel. Most parents probably couldn’t fathom that school boards would bend to employee and union pressure to keep kids out of school, but that’s exactly what they are doing. (And frankly, it’s not surprising to those of us who have fought school boards and unions for years to give kids better educational opportunities.)
They are hiding behind arbitrary gating criteria that are more designed to keep kids out of school than in. Two elements of the criteria, the number of new cases and positivity rate threshold, are meaningless, given that the state and private labs are using criteria known to produce many false positives.
School boards (appropriately) say they’re concerned about the health of the staff, but both science and empirical evidence support keeping schools open, safely, for kids and staff alike. Employees of private businesses are working among large groups of customers with little impact from COVID. Even employees in daycare centers, which have been operating throughout the pandemic, have been relatively unscathed; statewide, there are only 58 cases reported as of October 19, and only one case required hospitalization.
Students are being denied an education and forced to suffer emotional trauma – to the point of suicide – over a virus with a 100% survival rate for Kansas kids and 99.7% for adults 18-64. More data like this is in the COVID Information Center published by Kansas Policy Institute, which owns the Sentinel.
Some school districts, including Blue Valley, Derby, and Olathe, have been caught attempting to make parents think their children are under a quarantine order even though school districts have no legal authority to do so.
Getting kids in school full time is the first priority, but that’s hardly the end of the education crisis. The school board members you elected know that student achievement is much lower than Kansans have been led to believe. School officials like to claim that Kansas is among the top ten states in the nation, but they know that that has never been true. Kansas is consistently in the middle on ACT college-preparedness and proficiency levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and that’s in a nation that doesn’t perform well.
Johnson County prides itself on having good schools, but even there, only about a third of 10th-graders are on track for college and career; 30% are below grade level and a third are at grade level but still need remedial training according to the Kansas Department of Education. And as shown in the chart below, results are even worse in other parts of the state.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but it will unless parents push legislators and school boards for change – or elect leaders who will put students first.
Florida had such a leader in Governor Jeb Bush, who launched a transformation of public education against strong opposition from school boards and unions. Florida achievement was nearly the worst in the nation, but now, their low-income 4th-graders lead the nation in reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and all students have recorded remarkable improvement. Meanwhile, proficiency for Kansas students declined and fell behind Florida even though Kansas spends about $4,000 per-pupil more than Florida.
We sent a film crew to document how Florida officials did it and we’re showing the 35-minute documentary in Olathe at the AMC 28 on October 22 at 7 pm and there are still some seats available by registering here. Our litigation director, Sam MacRoberts, will also give a ‘Know Your Rights’ presentation on COVID-related education issues. More showings will be scheduled around the state in the near future.
Parents and students deserve much better from school board members than they’re getting now, but it won’t happen organically. School boards, administrators, and legislators need to feel more pressure from parents than from special interests and working together, we can do it.