(The Sentinel) – One-third of public school students in Kansas cannot read or do math at grade level, and the McClatchy newspapers and columnist Sharon Hartin Iorio seem determined to keep it that way. Iorio’s recent column in the Kansas City Star and the Wichita Eagle ignores the reason that parental demand for choice is sky-high, and she combines false claims with a healthy dose of hypocrisy to oppose school choice legislation under consideration in Topeka.
Whether McClatchy management is fully aware of Iorio’s deceit or doesn’t care to check her claims is unknown, but the impact is the same. The Star and Eagle repeatedly reject our requests to respond in kind to false claims, so here are a few things that need to be addressed.
McClatchy and Iorio refuse to acknowledge that achievement is declining despite a $1 billion funding increase and that education officials refuse to spend money in accordance with state law to improve outcomes. Neither of those situations will change without legislative intervention. If you find that hard to comprehend, ask any superintendent how many years (or decades) it will take to get students just to grade level if the system is left to its own devices. Based on my experience, you will get blank stares or some of the finest tap dancing you’ve ever seen.
The collective actions of education officials and their media confederates show they would rather accept low proficiency levels than disrupt the status quo of the public education system.
Money for management but not for improving achievement
Reading and math proficiency on state assessments was declining from not-good levels before the pandemic. The table below shows test results for all students tested in all grades. The high school results are considerably worse.
As parents become increasingly aware that achievement is much lower than they’ve been led to believe, they demanded more choices. They know that Florida used a combination of choice, transparency, and accountability to go from one of the worst-performing states to one of the best while spending a lot less per student than Kansas.
Education officials and their media collaborators clamored for more money on the pretense that more money was required to improve outcomes. Funding this year will exceed $17,000 per student. That’s a little over $8 billion in total (compared to $6 billion in 2017), yet McClatchy, Iorio et al want you to believe that allowing a small fraction of that increase to follow students will “destabilize public schools.”
An expansion of the tax credit scholarship for low-income students is one of the editorial targets. HB 2048 – and a similar bill in the Senate as well – has an existing cap of $10 million annually that could grow over many years to $20 million in state income tax credits for contributors to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations (SGOs), which must be bona fide non-profit organizations. The SGOs use donor contributions to grant up to $8,000 in scholarships to students with family income below 185% of the federal poverty level currently, and HB 2048 takes that up to 250% of FPL. More kids could be helped as the value of the tax credit would be enhanced; current law provides for a 70% state tax credit, and HB 2048 would raise that to 75%.
Iorio says, “affluent parents could write off the entire cost of private school” under HB 2048, but that is simply not true. First of all, children from ‘affluent’ families are not eligible to get a tax credit scholarship; only families below 250% of the federal poverty level would be eligible to participate, and for a family of four, that is only $75,000 this year.
But what if a family with income below the qualifying level gave $8,000 to an SGO? They would currently get a $5,600 tax credit for their gift, but state law prohibits donors from directing contributions to their children or anyone else, so they would still have to pay tuition.
The other school choice bill Iorio attacked – HB 2218 – would provide an education savings account (ESA) worth about $5,000 to any student, regardless of income, whose parents could use the money for tuition or other educational purposes specified in the bill. There would be no impact on school districts initially because they are funded based on the highest enrollment level over the previous two years. But even when districts lose a portion of state aid, it will not destabilize school districts. Remember, we’re talking about school districts that started this year with $1.2 billion in operating cash reserves, and most of that money represents funding that wasn’t spent in prior years.
White supremacy, racism, and other boogeymen
No education debate is complete these days without preposterous accusations of white supremacy or racism, and Iorio doesn’t disappoint.
She says ESAs could be used to send kids to schools that promote such abhorrent topics while ignoring that that exists in some Kansas public schools (see here, here, and here for examples). Rather than focus on Dr. Iorio’s fear of the extreme, we should celebrate that educational choice is about flourishing. Indeed, schools of choice exist to serve LGBTQ kids in Alabama and special education kids in Oklahoma.
But even if parents found a private school pushing objectionable material, they can take their tuition dollars to another school. Most parents who object to the conduct of public schools have no alternative but to leave their kids there.
There wouldn’t be much demand for school choice if the public school system was doing its job of academically preparing students for college and career. But the system is leaving tens of thousands of students behind each year, and officials fight every effort to improve outcomes.
So the decision is simple: give those who want it another opportunity or condemn them to a lifetime of underachievement.