White students are more than twice as likely to be on track as Black students in Wyandotte County according to state assessment results, but most of the legislators representing these students don’t want to talk about solutions. Only 10% of Black students in Kansas City, Kansas are on track for college and career in English language arts. Just 10% in the Turner KC district and 24% in the Piper KC district are on track.
To be clear, this is not to say that Black students (or anyone else) cannot learn or have some kind of intellectual deficiency. They simply suffer from a school system that hasn’t served their needs or provided opportunities for too long.
Reading proficiency for minority students across Kansas has declined over the years, but states like Florida and Arizona that have robust school choice options have experienced significant gains.
This sad situation prompted The Sentinel to ask Wyandotte County legislators, “how long must students of color (or any student, for that matter) remain trapped in horribly underperforming schools before the legislature lets them take their funding to a school that gives them a better opportunity?”
We also asked how long they think it will take Wyandotte County public schools to get kids to grade level. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – only one legislator responded.
Senator Mike Thompson said, “It’s clear that we are failing these children. We cannot afford to continue to pursue the same educational structure that is producing these outcomes and expect the results to drastically improve. Kansas spends over half of the State General Fund – representing billions of dollars – on K-12 education. So, throwing more money at the problem is not the answer.
“The key is to create competition and choice in the system. If parents have options to ensure their children can have the best opportunities to achieve, no matter their socio-economic status, then we all benefit! And if schools compete on the basis of turning out proficient students, then our long-term future will be much brighter!”
Representatives Burroughs, Coleman, Curtis, Henderson, Ruiz, Winn, and Wolfe Moore, and Senators Pettey, Haley, and Pittman would not comment about closing achievement gaps in their districts. They didn’t even offer the standard ‘we just need to spend more’ mantra of the education lobby.
By the way, USD 500 Kansas City is budgeted to spend $21,000 per student this year. USD 202 Turner KC is spending over $23,000 per student, and the Piper KC district is close to $14,000.
Choice allows students of color to flourish
While achievement has been declining in Kansas, some states have recorded remarkable gains.
Jason Bedrick, Policy Director at EdChoice explains why choice is so beneficial to all students.
“States with robust educational choice environments like Arizona and Florida have experienced tremendous growth in academic performance. When families are empowered with the ability to choose, schools have a powerful incentive to improve.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows 4th-Grade Reading proficiency nearly tripled for Black students between 1998 and 2019, going from 8% to 23%. Arizona jumped from 11% to 21%, but Black proficiency remained flat at 15% in Kansas.
Proficiency for Hispanic students in Kansas dropped a point, but those kids scored tremendous gains in Florida and Arizona. Florida’s Hispanic students jumped from 19% to 34%, and they almost tripled in Arizona.
White students improved in all three states, but the gains were much greater in Florida and Arizona, and both states surged past Kansas.
Education officials in Kansas are well aware of the deplorable achievement levels, but they’ve made it clear that nothing of substance will change. They say they need more money to improve achievement and most recently, they blame parents for lack of involvement. But neither excuse stands up to scrutiny. A legislative audit even determined that most of the money targeted to help close achievement gaps for at-risk students wasn’t being spent in accordance with state law. No research has ever shown that simply spending more money causes achievement to improve, and most states get much more ‘bang for the educational buck‘ than Kansas.
A Wall Street Journal column about Virginia Lt. Governor-elect Winsome Sears says education is the key to success for Black students, and that is absolutely true. But Black students and many others in Kansas are doomed to failure until the Legislature passes universal choice.
The pressure to do nothing is intense, especially in an elections year. Unions and education officials are big players in elections and they want legislators who do their bidding at the expense of parents and students. But unless legislators pass universal choice this session and convince Gov. Kelly to sign it, it will be déjà vu all over again next year, with even more kids left behind.