Zip Code Shouldn't Matter - Delivering An Effective Education For Every Child
By: Dave Trabert
January 24, 2011
Word Count: 495

At some point in most school funding debates, someone will justify their position by saying ‘it’s all about doing what’s best for the kids.’  It’s not a partisan thing; I’ve heard it from people with opposite opinions on whether schools need more money.  And that’s what should drive every education discussion - doing what’s best for kids, not the adults in the system. This week is National School Choice Week and there’s no better way to show that it really is about the kids than to support school choice.  That’s not an attack on public schools.  Public schools work very well for many students, but not all.  Granted, that may be a subjective position, but who should decide whether a particular school or district is best for a child – the   government or a parent?

There is also strong evidence that students perform better with expanded school choice.  For example, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth-grade reading exam improved 3 points in Kansas (from 221 to 224) between 1999 and 2009.  At the same time, Florida’s fourth-grade scores jumped from 206 to 226.  Even more significant, Florida’s Hispanic students improved from 198 to 223 and are within one point of catching all Kansas students.

How did Florida do it? Strong leadership and aggressive education reforms like strengthening its charter school law, holding schools and teachers more accountable and introducing private school choice opportunities for students in need—one for students with special needs, the other for low-income children.  Kansas has done none of these.

In fact, Kansas is ranked 36th among the states in the annual Quality Counts study just published by Education Week, including a grade of C for K-12 achievement.

The point isn’t that Kansas public schools are bad; far from it.  But we can do better.  And we don’t have to look all the way to Florida to find similar successes.  Last year, Oklahoma improved its charter school law and passed a scholarship program to allow students with special needs the opportunity to attend the private school of their parents’ choice. This scholarship program will come at no additional cost to the state and has a strong likelihood of even saving Oklahoma taxpayers money. And if Florida’s special-needs scholarship program—after which Oklahoma’s is modeled—is any indication, parents and students will be overwhelmingly satisfied and better off.

These ideas are also in line with the thoughts of most Kansans.  In a recent poll, 56 percent of registered voters in Kansas support tax-credit scholarships and only 29% are opposed; 57 percent support vouchers and only 36% are opposed.  And 58 percent would actually choose something besides a regular public school if they had the chance (i.e., private, public charter, virtual/online, or home schooling).

If Kansans are really serious about putting kids first, we should follow the proven examples of forward-thinking states like Oklahoma and Florida and ensure that every parent is empowered to decide what’s best for their children.