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Kansas Gov. Kelly: School choice for my kids but not yours

(The Sentinel) – Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is adamantly against the choice of school, except for her own children. Alumni newsletters show that 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 choice but to send their children to public schools in Topeka, where only one in five high school students are proficient in reading and math, and more than half are below grade.

Like other opponents, Governor Kelly thinks school choice is bad for the public school system, but that’s the wrong goal. First, we should look for what is best for the students.

A large body of research shows that school choice overwhelmingly benefits students and not just those who take advantage of the opportunity to choose a different school.

Research on the Effects of Education Choice Programs compiled by EdChoice shows that 11 of 17 studies (65%) find positive effects on test scores of program participants; four showed no visible effect and only three (18%) showed adverse effects.

Empirical evidence also shows that choice programs have a positive impact on the achievement of students who do not take advantage of a choice opportunity. Of the 28 studies on this topic, 25 (89%) found a positive effect and only two (7%) found a negative effect.

The strong evidence of choice programs benefiting public school students is why we believe school choice is also good for the public school system. The system exists not to create job opportunities for the adults who work there, but to prepare students academically for college and careers.

The Kansas public school system is not adequately preparing students, especially low-income students and minority students, who predominantly use elective 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 where students are more likely to take advantage of choice programs.

By opposing school choice, Governor Kelly is effectively trapping low-income students in terribly underperforming schools and condemning them to a life of underachieving. To paraphrase the former governor of Arizona Doug Ducey, there was a time when politicians stood at the gates of schools to prevent disadvantaged students from entering; now, union-backed politicians are barring them from leaving.

So here’s our question for Governor Kelly and the lawmakers who are locking the doors to schools: How many years will it take to get underprivileged students to the grade level if the public system is left to do as it pleases?

Opponents of choice make excuses for the public system – it takes longer, they need more money, etc. — but the cold, hard facts are that performance gaps have been around for decades, they aren’t getting better, funding has grown much faster than inflation, and the system won’t change until it’s forced to. Lawmakers have provided more than $5 billion in incremental funding since 2005 to help economically and academically at risk students, but a government audit found that most districts surveyed have not spent that money to directly benefit 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, walk away, we know what we’re doing.” And nothing has changed.

It’s great that Governor Kelly and her husband can afford to give their children the chance for a better education. It should do the same for parents and students who aren’t so lucky.

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