(The Sentinel) — An estimated crowd of over 150 renewed their call for Kansas to join the growing ranks of states offering School Choice at an enthusiastic rally in the Capitol.
Last fall, North Carolina became the ninth state to offer those opportunities to all families regardless of income.
Attendees representing many non-traditional education supporters included home schools, private schools, micro-schools, students, and teachers applauded speakers urging them to continue the effort to secure School Choice in the Sunflower State. Kansas has limited School Choice with tax credit scholarships for low-income students and Open Enrollment.
Governor Laura Kelly and the education establishment oppose the push for universal school choice, although when presented with the same opportunities, the governor chose to send her own children to private school.
Opponents like Governor Kelly say school choice is not fair to public schools. They focus on the system, whereas choice proponents are concerned about students.
Student achievement was declining prior to the COVID pandemic, and the 2023 results show Kansas now has more students below grade level than proficient in reading and math. Less than a quarter of students were below grade level in 2015, but now one in three are below grade level, and only a third are proficient.
Money-follow-the-child programs provide options for a better education, especially for students whose parents cannot afford private tuition.
In her remarks to the audience, House Education Budget Chair Kristey Williams said she counts herself among their number:
“I’m a proud supporter of the people’s money following the student. After all, in America, it’s not the government’s money, nor are you the government’s children; therefore, the money should be used for the best possible education for every unique learner. And we all know that learners, all created in the image of God, are individuals with different interests, abilities, and needs.”
Another speaker, Candace Fish, Director of Freedom Preparatory in Wichita, was asked how she would explain the opportunities of School Choice to an undecided legislator:
“The advantage of school choice is that the focus is on the individual student rather than a system. All students, regardless of social status, race, gender, ability, etc., have the opportunity to choose the school that is right for them. That’s a win for every student whether they choose public or private schools. For many students, the public school system is able to offer opportunities that smaller private schools may not be able to, and so it is the right fit for them. For others, a more individualized approach in a smaller setting is a much better fit.
“The goal should be to find what’s best for every child and give them the opportunities they need to be successful. There is a great deal of misconceptions about the devastating effects of school choice on the public schools, and if both sides could come to the table and really discuss what exactly school choice can offer to students, there could be a resolution that could satisfy all parties.”
Becky Elder, Headmistress of the Northfield School of the Liberal Arts in Wichita, says her school recalls a period in which the one-room schoolhouse was the only form of education — local, collaborative, and parental:
“At one time, prior to the 1939 Consolidation Acts, which brought in “unified school districts” (unity became uniformity), flexibility was imperative in the over 5000 one-room schoolhouses in Kansas. Life was shaped by traditions tied to land, family, and community. These were not inferior pillars on which to rest childhood and adolescence, they were real foundations that had been long recognized as permanent boundaries on which all the rest of life, and its challenges, rested.”
She adds education should not be a “12-year sentence”:
“Schools, like Northfield, that stay small in size, limit overhead, focus on acquiring the tools of learning rather than acquisition of information, use collaborative measures and networks, can start the student on the path of life-long learning and keep costs low, fostering models for sustainable change in education.”