Corkins’ transition team touts vouchers, charter schools

? It’s official: The transition team picked by Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, who supports vouchers and charter schools, has recommended vouchers and more charter schools.

The team said it made its recommendations after interviewing approximately 100 staff professionals at the Kansas Department of Education, according to a memo to the State Board of Education.

But the proposals are essentially the same recommendations Corkins made to the board last month. On Dec. 13, the board will likely approve sending all or part of the recommendation to the Legislature for consideration when the session starts Jan. 9. Leading education legislators have expressed little interest in the package.

Corkins has said vouchers, or using tax dollars to send students to private schools, will improve public schools by providing more competition.

Corkins’ transition team uses a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance, long criticized by Corkins and others who support vouchers, to guide its recommendations. The transition team said it wanted to focus on students who the court “ruled do not receive a constitutionally adequate education.”

The proposals include:

¢ Giving “scholarships” to attend private schools to students who receive free or reduced-cost lunches, or score below proficient on statewide tests for two consecutive years. Another proposal would provide scholarships to students who are gifted or have learning disabilities. The funds to pay for these students to go to private schools would come from tax dollars and equal the amount the state pays to educate the student in a public school. The private schools would not have to be accredited by the state.

¢ Allowing expansion of charter schools through an appeal to the State Board of Education if a local school district disapproves of opening a charter school. Charter schools generally are established for a specific purpose, and are not limited by some of the regulations governing traditional public schools. Public tax money also would be used to send students to charter schools.

Dan Harden, an education professor who heads Corkins’ transition team, said increased use of charter schools would benefit parents by offering more choices for their children’s education.

Randy Wagoner, superintendent of the Cherryvale school district and a member of the transition team, said while the proposals might be “scary” to some educators, “I feel that if we are going to provide the best education to our students, all options need consideration.”

Proposals panned

Other public school advocates were disappointed.

“No surprises,” Mark Tallman, a spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said of the transition team’s proposals.

Though the recommendations appear aimed at helping students who need the most help, he said, “there is nothing that would require a private school to accept a child who is actually at risk.”

Many children who are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches could qualify for the program even though they are learning at a proficient level, he said.

In addition, many of the school dollars that would follow the student are associated with extra funding given to schools for transportation needs or to improve facilities. Those funds shouldn’t go to the private schools, he said.

“It is so obviously geared at promoting a nonpublic education with no connection at all to students who have special needs,” Tallman said. He said he also didn’t like the fact that under the proposal, private schools receiving public funds need not meet state accreditation requirements that public schools must meet.

Minority report

Dodge City school Supt. Gloria Davis was a late pick by Corkins to the transition team after complaints arose that his team included only people from northeast Kansas.

Davis wrote a minority report on the recommendations that opposes vouchers and charter schools, saying they take funds, energy and ideas from the public school system.

“I’m a strong supporter of public education,” Davis said. “If there is a problem that needs to be addressed, the best way to address that is to look at what is happening in the public school system and work to correct that.”

She also found it unsatisfactory that the proposal to use state taxes for private schools comes just as the Kansas Supreme Court has ordered increased funding to take care of the public school students the transition team says it wants to help.

“We finally get additional funds generated to schools, and to now say that money will flow to other nonpublic or charter schools sort of flies in the face of what we fought for in the last 10 years,” she said.