We could envision an honest debate about public vs. private schools. The Kansas Legislature isn't giving us that.
The Kansas Legislature has decided to wade into the fraught issue of schools and COVID-19 — by looking to undermine public education.
As The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl wrote last week: “The debate over education savings accounts, an option currently used by a half-dozen states as a stand-in for school vouchers, comes as lawmakers increasingly signal they will be more aggressive in expanding the state's choice programs, much to the chagrin of public school advocates.”
The concept is that students in lower socio-economic groups, those considered to be at-risk, or those educated through remote or hybrid methods for a lengthy amount of time could qualify for the accounts and use them for private schooling. As families have made their way through this pandemic, we can certainly understand the appeal of the concept.
But let’s take a step back. Kansas conservatives have advocated on behalf of private schools for decades, and badmouthed public education over the same period. Meanwhile, these same legislators have been more than happy to cut funding for schools.
So it’s a little rich, now that the nation faces a once-in-a-century pandemic, for these same lawmakers to claim that private schools are a miracle cure for at-risk students. These are the same private schools that can pick and choose their students and that students would be forced to re-qualify for each year under the same legislation.
Hydroxychloroquine was touted as a miracle cure, too, and we all saw how that worked out.
Our current educational system doesn’t work for all students all the time. That’s true enough, and it’s worth time and attention. We could imagine an honest argument for school vouchers. We can imagine an honest debate about public vs. private schools. Yet those aren’t the discussions we’re having now.
Everyone could use less bad-faith lecturing and more good-faith conversations across the aisle.
You know what would actually support students and teachers in this state? A Legislature that supported public health guidance and a mask mandate. You know what would actually lead to more in-person schooling? Lawmakers who were more interested in keeping their constituents healthy than in scoring political points against a Democratic governor.
You know what would actually lead to more learning in the state of Kansas? Legislators who actually paid attention in school themselves.