Drawing enthusiastic applause from a Republican audience, Kansas governor candidate Kris Kobach on Friday proposed rewarding schools that score well on standardized tests and punishing schools that do poorly.
Kobach said if he's elected, he'll push for a school-grading plan advocated by the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative free-market think-tank that supports school choice.
"Every school building would be given a letter grade, A through F," Kobach said. "If they improve based on statewide uniform testing scores — if they improve in the next year a full letter grade, go from a C to a B, everybody in the building, from the principal to the teachers to the janitors, gets a raise, gets a bonus."
"And if any school gets an F, every student in that building gets a voucher, gets a credit, gets money to go wherever they want to go," he continued. "So they can go to a private parochial school if they want, they can go to a private secular school, they can use that money for home-schooling expenses, they can use that money to drive to a neighboring public school if they just want to go to a better public school than the one they're in."
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That, Kobach said, would force schools to compete to improve.
"You put that competitive fire under the schools and suddenly they realize that we're going to lose students if we fail and we're going to gain money if we succeed, those are exactly the kind of motivations we see in the private sector," Kobach said.
Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, said the group has been talking about doing that for more than two years and, within a week, plans to release A-through-F report cards on Kansas schools.
He said about 20 states apply some form of letter grades to their schools, although consequences for poor showings vary. He said the concept was pioneered about 20 years ago in Florida under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, made his remarks during a luncheon speech at the Wichita Pachyderm Club. He's the second of three governor candidates to address the group in successive weeks.
Last week, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer made his pitch for the Pachyderm's support. Gov. Jeff Colyer is the scheduled speaker next week.
On related education topics, Kobach pushed for arming teachers to protect students from school shootings and criticized the Legislature for not passing a bill to lower the age to carry a concealed weapon on college campuses from 21 to 18.
"I'm the father of five girls and when they're old enough to go to college, I want to make sure that they're carrying," he said. "I don't want them walking through parking lots at night defenseless just ready to be a victim.
"It's all about the equalizer. That is the thing that makes a thin, young lady every bit as powerful as a brawny criminal that's trying to do something."
He said at the end of its first full school year, campus carry has been a success.
"If I'm giving grades, I'd say campus carry gets an A," he said. "There were no incidents that in any way had any negative consequences. It did have some negative consequences for some snowflake professors."