The public school system works to support the system, not for the students

yourban Preparatory Academy in Wichita is a private K-8 school serving low-income and mixed-income students. Most students benefit from scholarships provided through a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students, which is the only school choice program available in Kansas.

“A lot of students come here thinking no one cares about them at school,” principal Wade Moore said. “They know they’re behind and they’re embarrassed that they can’t read and do math at grade level. And that’s a big part of behavioral issues. But their behavior improves a lot when they see to how hard our staff are working to catch up with them, and it gives students and their parents hope that they didn’t believe it was possible.

There are stories like this all over the country: low-income children and students of color are using multiple school choice options to leave public schools where they have many years of learning behind them.

Public school officials enthusiastically declare their dedication to ending racism and discrimination, but they perpetuate educational discrimination based on race and income in the results they achieve. Black eighth graders are nearly three years behind white students in reading across the country. This has remained relatively unchanged over the past 20 years. Here in Kansas, low-income fourth graders are reading 2.7 years behind other students, and the situation is getting worse.

You would think that the education bureaucracy would focus on eliminating discrimination in education, but you are wrong. Parents cannot rely on the public education system to solve this social justice problem because the system works against the interests of students; it is designed to support itself and the adults who work there.

Giving kids a fighting chance with school choice exposes the many ways the Kansas public education system perpetuates educational discrimination based on race and income. The book tells one story after another of state and local education officials knowingly misleading lawmakers and parents, belittling academics, and ignoring state laws and administrative policy. It also lays out the ugly facts of student success in Kansas to motivate parents and community leaders to engage and support proven solutions, including school choice.

So why should you read a detailed analysis of the Kansas education bureaucracy?

Robert Enlow, CEO and President of EdChoice, writes in the foreword: “The sad reality is that a similar book could be written about every state in the union. Ultimately, the painting we’re looking at in Kansas and America right now is more of a Hieronymus Bosch-esque dystopian nightmare.

It’s not a teacher’s problem; it is a management problem. Local school boards and superintendents have made it clear that accountability measures are not welcome, either in law or state policy. For example, a 2019 state audit examining how Kansas schools spend at-risk funding found that “most at-risk spending was used for teachers and programs for all students and did not appear to be directed at specifically to at-risk students as required by state law. ”

Lawmakers have provided more than $5 billion in additional funding since 2005 to improve outcomes for low-income students and those deemed academically at-risk. But school district management blithely ignored state law and spent the money as they wished. The reaction of the State Board of Education to the audit is even more revealing. After a scathing editorial by Kansas City Star, the chairman of the state Board of Education wrote a response that basically said, “Shut up. Leave. We know what we are doing.

No doubt they don’t. There are more high school students below grade level in Kansas than they are proficient. The bureaucracy refuses to recognize this reality. The official position is that grade level is not measured on the state assessment, but the facts show otherwise.

Time and again, the chairman of the state school board has been caught trying to mislead lawmakers and parents about school performance. Last year, the Department of Education awarded 91 gold and silver medals for graduation rates with a rally-like fanfare of cheering. But he didn’t mention that there was only one award for academic preparation, and that was on a military base.

Academics are sidelined by diversity, equity and inclusion. Skills improvement is absent from the Department of Education’s five outcomes for measuring progress towards accreditation, but social/emotional growth tops the list.

The education bureaucracy in Kansas — and probably every other state — is inflexible. This will protect the system from the detriment of students until there is an incentive to put students first. And that’s another reason states need universal school choice.

The only thing that catches the bureaucracy’s attention is the threat of losing a dollar. The knowledge that parents can send their child’s funding to the school of their choice forces school districts to compete and reallocate resources to benefit students. Robust choice programs and a healthy dose of transparency have propelled Florida from one of the worst states 20 years ago to one of the best today. Arizona has also seen outsized gains since expanding school choice, and Governor Doug Ducey just signed off on a massive expansion of school choice.

Confining students to the zip code where their parents can afford to live effectively condemns many of them to a life of underachievement. Every child deserves an equal chance at a quality education, and that can happen if parents and business leaders demand that lawmakers pass school choice programs to give kids a fighting chance. .

The bureaucracy will not change on its own. If you want change, you have to fight for it.

Dave Trabert is CEO of the Kansas Policy Institute.

Jeremy S. McLain