Opinion Columns & Blogs

During School Choice Week, compare private and public schools successes

David Dorsey

It is National School Choice Week, an opportune time to show how the results differ between Kansas private schools and public schools in the area of college/career readiness of low-income students. Results from the 2018 state assessments for each of five urban areas – Wichita, Kansas City, Dodge City, Salina, and Topeka – reveal a much higher percentage of private-school low-income students (those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches) are considered college and career ready in both testing categories. In those same areas, private schools have a much lower rate of students considered below grade level. Furthermore, those same results hold when comparing to public schools statewide.

What is happening in Wichita is a good example. For low-income students, the Wichita Diocese outperforms USD 259 37 percent to 13 percent in math and 48 percent to 17 percent in English language arts for being on track for college and career readiness.

Compared to all Kansas public school districts, for math, four of the five private school groups rank higher than 87 percent of all public school districts. For example, Topeka Lutheran Schools would rank 32nd among the 284 reporting public districts. In English language arts, only two districts perform better than Topeka Lutheran Schools; only three do better than the Wichita Diocese. The Kansas City Diocese is the only group in the bottom half, and that is just in math.

The truth is, it is not really news that private school students outperform public school students, even when controlling for income level. These results are very similar to achievement on the 2017 assessment as well, but it is vitally important the difference continues to be highlighted. Public school spending increased in the 2017-18 school year by 6.7 percent, yet low-income students fared even worse than the previous year.

Less than one in five low-income Kansas public school students are on track to be college or career ready in math and slightly more than that in ELA. The KSDE estimates complying with court rulings will push funding to $16,520 per pupil in four years, even with no increase in federal aid and minimal gain in local funding; that’s more than $6,000 per pupil above long-term inflation.

The Kansas Legislature must recognize that continuing to increase the money does not dictate achievement levels, contrary to what the Supreme Court falsely believes. They must finally address the problem of students trapped in underperforming schools by providing more choices – both private and public – to families who want to have greater control in their children’s education.

School choice options should finally get the attention it deserves. The existing charter school law needs improvement to allow for real public charters. The Tax Credit Scholarship program should be expanded to create opportunities for more students. An Education Spending Account (ESA) program that gives money directly to parents so they can make educational decisions that fit their children’s needs merits serious attention.

It is high time the state begins to look at education from the point of view of the student, not the institution. National School Choice Week is a great time to start.

David Dorsey is a senior education policy fellow with the Kansas Policy Institute

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