Views From Kansas: Kobach wrong on education

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Kris Kobach thinks fewer dollars should be spent on public education in Kansas. What’s more, he thinks some of that smaller amount should sometimes be spent at private schools.

That’s not the way it should work. But if he’s elected governor, it may be.

Kobach, secretary of state and a gubernatorial candidate, spoke about a school-grading plan last week to the Pachyderm Club, a Wichita Republican group. If elected, he said he’d implement a plan where public schools would be graded based on standardized test scores. Employees at a school that raises its grade by a letter year-to-year would receive raises or bonuses.

Students at schools receiving an F would get a voucher and funding to go “wherever they want to go,” Kobach said, including private schools, religious schools or home schooling.

It’s giving up on public education and the children it serves.

On the surface, the argument seems stacked against public education. “School choice” is a pleasant term, implying any child should be able to attend any school. Meanwhile, the argument against school choice is better funding for public education — which many regard as “more, more, more” money for schools.

There are other problems with school vouchers besides public money to private schools. Special-needs students don’t have as many options. There’s little school choice in many parts of rural Kansas. Private schools won’t accept all children, instead picking and choosing.

Essentially, a grading system where the lowest-performing schools are left to suffer begins the death of public education. That may be fine for Kobach, but shouldn’t be for those with a stake in Kansas kids.

Kobach also said a “competitive fire” would motivate schools, knowing a poor grade would cause them to lose students. Again, that’s the wrong emphasis to place on public education.

Absolutely, public schools should be accountable to students, parents and taxpayers. But not through standardized testing and a too-broad grading system that punishes, among many, the standout teacher in a struggling school.

Public schools deserve consistency from lawmakers and the public. We put our trust in school leaders, then elect school boards to oversee their work. After that, what schools need from us are community support and proper, equitable funding — not a dismantling of K-12 public education in Kansas.

— Originally published in the Wichita Eagle

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