No one can argue that all students should have the opportunity to succeed in school. However, it is an unfortunate reality that not all students have that chance. The public school establishment has created a ‘system first’ bureaucracy – and fights mightily to preserve and expand it – that makes student success secondary. The Heritage Foundation studies states’ education systems to determine how well each state allows what they call education freedom and ranks them accordingly. According to the latest Heritage rankings, Kansas is 31st nationwide in education freedom.
These rankings are based on four categories: education freedom, transparency, teacher freedom, and return on investment (ROI). Heritage combines the four categories to establish an overall national ranking among the 50 states and D.C. Heritage states their purpose “is that this annual ranking of states not only inform parents and policymakers of what their states do well and where they need improvement, but to inspire changes that give all students the chance to succeed in school and in life.”
Here are the individual category Kansas rankings:
- Education choice: 23rd
- Transparency: 35th
- Teacher freedom: 41st
- ROI: 27th
Heritage included specifics regarding the rankings and what states can do to improve education freedom for K-12 families. This is what they had to say about Kansas:
Education choice: Kansas could improve its ranking by enacting a K–12 education savings account (ESA) policy, expanding eligibility for and boosting participation in its private education choice policy, making it easier for charter schools to open and operate, and giving families a choice of traditional public schools beyond their assigned school.
Transparency: Lawmakers have not adopted proposals to make K–12 academic content more transparent to taxpayers and families.
Teacher freedom: Kansas can improve its teacher freedom score further by significantly increasing the number of aspiring teachers who have alternative routes into the K–12 classroom, or ending certification requirements altogether, and by allowing full reciprocity of teacher licensure.
Return on investment: Kansas can improve its ROI ranking by lowering per-pupil spending, improving academic outcomes on the NAEP, and limiting its unfunded teacher pension liabilities. (See this article for more on Kansas ROI.)
Kansas ranks lowest in the geographic region. Oklahoma (10th) ranks highest, followed by Missouri (15th), Nebraska (25th) and Colorado (28th).
Kansas’s ranking improved by five slots over 2022, in which Heritage ranked Kansas 36th in their inaugural education freedom ranking. The higher ranking is buoyed mostly by an improvement in education choice. Heritage cites the new, yet untested, open enrollment policy recently passed into law in, one recognized by Reason Foundation research that curiously scored Kansas among the highest in the nation.
I have written in this forum before that any research that ranks states’ education systems be taken with a grain of salt. It is impossible to come up with a single set of factors and weightings that will determine the “correct” order of quality of state education systems.
That notion applies particularly to research done by such organizations as the Kansas Association of School Boards, a publicly funded organization that provides “research” to support their pursuit that Kansas has a top-ten education system ranking. Underlying that belief is KASB’s premise that the only way to improve that status is for the state to provide K-12 education with more taxpayer money. You see, it’s always about the money.
KASB is a key player in that establishment that strives to preserve and expand the status quo and is guilty of cherry-picking data to make their case. Heritage employs metrics concerning educational freedom and transparency. And unlike KASB, Heritage does not ignore student achievement data as part of student success.
Even though there is no definitive method to determine how any state ranks in quality, enough variety of research has been done to give one an idea of where Kansas roughly resides in the country. A quick internet search provides the following Kansas K-12 education rankings in addition to the Heritage ranking:
- U.S. News: 26th
- Scholaroo: 28th
- World Population Review: 28th
- WalletHub: 39th
- ALEC: 33rd
- Quality Counts (Education Week): 33rd
- Kansas Association of School Boards: 10th
Hmmm…which one seems out of place?
The truth is much can be done to improve the quality of education in Kansas. Educational freedom, in terms of school choice, teacher quality, transparency and the better use of allocated funding, as measured by Heritage is certainly a main priority. Student achievement could certainly be improved as witnessed by falling state assessment, NAEP and ACT scores.
It is long-passed time to bring more transparency and choice to Kansas schools. Our kids, families and taxpayers deserve and demand better.