Group seeks support for school choice

A group that favors vouchers, tax credits and other forms of school choice launched a campaign Thursday aimed at garnering public support for those reforms in Kansas.

"More money clearly isn't the answer (to improving schools), and thank goodness it isn't," said Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute.

"Because we've been throwing money at this problem for years and... it's not working."

Trabert's group and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice are running a series of 30-second radio commercials that direct listeners to a new website, whynotkansas.com.

The site features definitions of programs such as vouchers, charter schools and tax-credit scholarship programs and examples of how they are being used in other states.

It also urges visitors to sign a pledge "to show state leaders that you care about options in education."

Officials with the Kansas Policy Institute wouldn't say how much is being spent on the campaign, which also will include billboards in Wichita and the Kansas City area.

"We are at the beginning of a long-term effort and plan on continuing as long as we feel we're making a difference," said James Franko, communications director for the institute.

At a news conference in the downtown public library, Trabert pointed to statistics showing that only 35 percent of Kansas fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or above on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Meanwhile, he said, total aid to Kansas public schools increased by $1.3 billion in the past five years.

Trabert said letting families choose the schools their children attend — and giving them vouchers or tax credits to pay for them — would create competition among schools and increase student achievement. He said voucher programs should first target children from poor families, allowing them to opt out of underperforming schools.

"We have an awful lot of kids in this country whose education all depends on how much money their parents make," he said.