Archive for Thursday, November 10, 2005

Voucher plan gets poor marks

Critics say move toward private, charter schools not necessary with state’s improved performance

November 10, 2005


— After having roughed up evolution, the 6-4 majority on the State Board of Education on Wednesday considered recommending that taxpayers pay for students to go to private schools.

The push for vouchers and more charter schools prompted heated arguments on the divided board that one day earlier had slugged it out over science standards that criticize evolution.

No action was taken Wednesday on the possible legislative measures, but the battle is expected to resume at the board's December meeting.

Education Commissioner Bob Corkins pushed for vouchers and expansion of charter schools, saying the proposals would improve the state education system through competition and by providing parents more choices on where their children could attend school.

He said a voucher program in Florida had resulted in improvements in the public school system.

"The availability of choice increases the quality in traditional public schools," he said.

But moderate board members disapproved of Corkins' offerings, saying that school vouchers and widespread establishment of charter schools were usually tried in states with severe problems in public schools.

With statewide test results rising, and Kansas ranked high in most education rankings, board member Sue Gamble, a Shawnee Republican, asked, "What is the problem that we are trying to correct?"

For and against

Board member Bill Wagon, a Democrat from Topeka whose district includes Lawrence, said, "We don't in this state have any failed school systems."

He said the Kansas City, Kan., school district probably has the most serious socio-economic challenges, and it is meeting them head-on through the current system.

"We are seeing the most spectacular successes that are a model for the nation," he said.

But board Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said, "I don't see this as trying to destroy public education. I see this as building education."

Board member John Bacon, R-Olathe, said the more choices for parents, the better. He said some of his constituents in the Blue Valley school district were upset with the schools' required reading lists.

"If there was a choice option, maybe some of the parents might go," he said.

But Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, said she wasn't interested in providing public funds to send children to private schools because the private schools can refuse certain students, and are not required to be accredited or provide transportation.

"When we do that, I'll accept vouchers," she said.

Waugh was also critical of information Corkins brought forward on a Texas law that provides financial incentives for students to graduate from high school early to attend college.

She said Texas' public school system ranks near the bottom in most categories while Kansas' ranks in the top 10 among states. "I would prefer looking at programs in the top 10," she said.

Charter schools

Another concept would allow charter schools, which generally operate with more independence than standard public schools, to form without having to get local school board approval.

Board member Connie Morris, R-St. Francis, said she would like to see a charter-like entrepreneurial school that would be available online for certain high school students, who would then receive assistance to start their own businesses.

Vouchers and expansion of charter schools have been bottled up in the Legislature in recent years because of lack of support.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said most lawmakers weren't interested in the proposals.

"The state board has to establish why or how vouchers would help all student achievement in public schools," Schodorf said.

"I have no interest in taxpayers paying tuition at private schools. The commissioner and state board want to pay the education costs for 10 percent of the state's students in private schools, and ignore the 90 percent enrolled in public schools," she said.

What it means

¢ Students with special needs would be able to attend a school in another district or a private school, which would receive the same funding it would have cost to educate that student in the resident school district.

¢ Financial assistance would be provided for at-risk students to attend private schools. The state would pay half the statewide average state aid per pupil, or roughly $2,600 per student.

¢ An early high school graduation scholarship program is modeled after one in Texas, which provides financial assistance for students who graduate high school in less than four years. The funds must be used toward tuition at a higher education institution.

¢ The maximum assistance would be $2,000 for a student who graduates high school in three years or sooner. Another $1,000 is available if the student has already taken 15 hours of college credit while in high school.


Jeff Barclay 12 years, 3 months ago

A quick lesson about the funding of government schools. Who pays for those schools? Taxpayers. Should not taxpayers have options as to how their school tax dollars are spent, particularly when they are fundamentally opposed to the humanistic, Dewey-based government school system?

Richard Heckler 12 years, 3 months ago

Two non partisan organizations which voters can donate campaign dollars:

The alliance, which Hineman said is made up so far of 10 or 12 people from across the state, will kick off a fundraising campaign within the next week. The group's Web site --

-- describes it as "a nonpartisan grassroots organization" to "promote the election of individuals whose beliefs and objectives are more in line with mainstream Kansans."

is another organization to keep in mind for politcal donations this year. Both are very much bipartisan and this group has donated to and endorsed members on both sides of aisle.

There is a myth that private schools do better than public schools. Speculation tells me some corporations and some right wing christian schools are looking for corporate welfare. The Christian Coalition political party has been pushing this option for some time.

There is no over whelming evidence that public school parents want to send their children to private schools or there would be more activity on the matter as well as parents making the switch. This is not the case.

There is a Waldorf curriculum available to USD 497 BOE which could further offer a broadened horizon for our students. We do not need to cut off public education and reinvent the wheel. This makes absolutely no sense. We merely improve on an excellent existing resource.

John Bacon and Jim Ryun need to be replaced as they both are a thorn in the side of public education.

Sigmund 12 years, 3 months ago

You would think with all the uproar over the Kansas sceince standards, parents would want a taxpayer supported voucher system so that they could more easily afford to send their kids to the school of their choice. Go figure.

The wealthy in this society have always had that option and often, for a variety of reasons, they have choosen private schools. Can you imagine the chaos if we give more parents the same choice? Perhaps we can get the Lawrence City Commission to Ban Private Schools.

usaschools 12 years, 3 months ago

Competition does NOT improve performance of public schools. This is particularly true when the playing ground is uneven. In other words, funding inequalities that are exacerbated by diversion of public monies into private schools further hurt public schools. Schools in low income areas face additional educational challenges. There are generally no private schools in these areas. Parents whose children attend schools in low income areas typically cannot afford for their children to attend private schools. Private schools do NOT take all comers. They generally have little experience with special education. In fact, the special education services in most private schools, if they exist, are provided by the local PUBLIC schools in a further drain of resources. Children with behavioral problems are quickly kicked out of private schools and returned to public schools. So, public schools are left with the poorest families, the children with learning disabilities and behavioral problems, and less money, then told competition is good for them? Another flaw in the reasoning of this plan is that PRIVATE schools need to improve. They do NOT outperform public schools as a group, particulalry when one accounts for the FACT that public school test scores include children with severe learning disabilities while private schools generally do not. There is NO evidence that private schools perform better than public schools. It is reasonable to assume that the competitive attractions of one school over another have little to do with EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES and more to do with status, location, religious affiliation and so on. SO, who loses here? The CHILDREN lose out. They are sent to private schools for reasons other than educational achievment. While there, they MAY recieve an inferior education, particularly if they have learning or behavioral problems. Those in public schools are left with less resources. This is a lose-lose proposition.

Jamesaust 12 years, 3 months ago

I don't see this going anywhere. The Legislature (which is more representative of the People) seems unenthusiastic as compared with the Board of Education (as we've all learned, more subject to 'capture' by unrepresentative interests).

I suspect that this is due to two characteristics of education in Kansas: 1. Kansas schools are (surprisingly) good. Not great by any means (after all, the state motto is 'good enough'). Kansas avoids the depths of failure found so often in states with more urbanized school districts. 2. The majority of school DISTRICTS in Kansas are rural and quite isolated - what kind of 'competition' can exist where many locales can barely support even one school? I think Western Kansas will be bored with this idea.

Who funds these schools? Taxpayers. Shouldn't taxpayers control how their monies are spent? Or are we to turn public monies over to, for example, some Bible 'school' (or Koran!) where the kids memorize their religious text on the taxpayers' dime and learn math by calculating how many babies are aborted every year? Or learn U.S. history by excising all references to minorites, or women, or labor?

What are these 'reading lists' that John Bacon is whining about? No doubt, materials that don't go along with radical's erasure of the Invisible Men - blacks, hispanics, women, gays, jews, catholics, or anyone else who doesn't fit some narrow WASP profile. Or, materials that treat high school students as perpetual children, never needing to reflect on mature issues such as death, sex, marriage, suicide, etc.

pz5g1 12 years, 3 months ago

Government money already funds religious and private hospitals, religious aid groups, and private universities. Public money also funds certain aspects of private schools already. How is giving studends a stipend to use at a school of their choice promoting one religion over another?

Rick Davis 12 years, 3 months ago

How can someone with a straight face try to make the arguement that competition does not improve performance. Our entire economic and social system is based the concept of competetion...oh but, most of you would want to throw it all out too. I am not and will not pretend to be familiar with the current success of private schools but, if a voucher system was instituted it would lead to better education for all. As new families are able to afford to choose to send thier kids to private schools there will became more demand for theese types of school. Basic economic concepts stated that then more schools will open to help fill the demand. As school's open they will compete with each other in order to make the most money possible and that will lead to the best education our students can recieve. This is a simple concept to understand but I guess most of you were educated with our public school system.

GiveMeABreak 12 years, 3 months ago

Come on Rick! NOTHING in this country is based on pure capitalist supply-demand-competition. EVERYTHING is subsidized, particularly if you are a giant corporation or a religious institution like the private colleges (Bob Jones University anyone???), religious hospitals, and now, thanks to GWB, social services. It never ceases to amaze me that people who pretend to know so much about competition and free market ignore these basic facts.

usaschools 12 years, 3 months ago

It is SIMPLE to make the case that competition will not improve education. Has competition improved the Hamburger? NO. Hamburgers used to be good. They were thick, juicy, and cooked over a flame one at a time. Through competition, they have become thin, lousy, made from imported cheap beef, and poorly prepared. Competition does not inherently lead to improvement. Such a concept is ridiculous. Furthermore, to apply business models to schools is not a very good idea, particularly when one starts to actually believe that this is not a metaphor, but that schools really are like businesses (which they are not!). Businesses have a bottom line, and that is ALL that matters. The quality of their product does not matter at all IF the profit margin can be improved and more profits made. Again, crummy hamburgers will do just as well as great ones from a business point of view, because more profit is made from the lousy ones. This DOES NOT WORK FOR SCHOOLS. Schools MUST turn out the HIGHEST QUALITY END PRODUCT AT ALL TIMES. Schools cannot cut quality for economic efficiency! We need our children to get the BEST education and have the BEST outcomes/achievement, not the most cost-efficient. Competition does NOT provide for this.

If the DESIRE to improve was all that it took for schools to improve, there would be no problem. It also takes resources, financial and otherwise (such as time and staff development). A business can decide to spend more money to promote a product, advertise, etc.. This is not true of public schools. Competition is not the answer. This is clear. To argue that it is some panacea is ridiculous and not supported by fact, by research, nor by observation of how schools improve and perform. It is a typical case of people who have little or no idea what they are talking about offering a 'common sense' solution to a problem they do not fully understand.

Jamesaust 12 years, 3 months ago

'Government money already funds religious and private hospitals, religious aid groups, and private universities'

Privately governed hospitals, not privately admitting hospitals. Show me a Luthern, or Baptist, or Catholic hospital that refuses to admit a Mormon, or Muslim, or Jewish patient and I'll show you a private hospital that is about to be 'DE-funded'.

Aid to private universities usually is via aid to the ADULT students there. Douglas County has one religious (Methodist) college - Baker University. I don't believe Baker even asks if you're Methodist.

Aid to religious aid groups is controversial to the degree that the group uses the aid on a less-than-come-all basis (is there a 'religious test' to receiving the benefit from the group?).

Regarding competition (generally a good idea): 1. What competition is going to exist in Sharon Springs, Kansas, population 835 (and declining) - a fairly, typical Kansas school district?,_Kansas 2. Many parts of our "economic and social system" have limited or no competition available. If you slice of your hand at 9th & Mass, aren't you going to the emergency room at LMH? Is there virtually any aspect of competition in emergency room medicine? Are you an informed, rational consumer of competing economic services there (a prerequisite to market competition)? Is there competition in judges at trial? In your property taxes? In your natural gas supplier? In the provision of social services? police or fire protection? For competition to 'work' requires a environment favorable to competition.

I applaud the Board for broaching the issue of competition; I question how broadly it can be applied. Frankly, if the Board wants to bring more choice (a variation on competition), they'll focus on technological means of delivering education throughout the state. I'm more worried about whether the students in Wilson, Kansas, can get an education in physics, world history, or calculus than whether John Bacon's right-wing constituents' children have to read Huckleberry Finn or Beloved.

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