Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) is once again going after school choice. This time the target is the ESA (Education Spending/Savings Account). A recent KASB report and a follow-up podcast attempts to discredit what is one of the most effective ways to empower families with educational opportunities. KASB makes it abundantly clear that in both the report and the podcast when it comes to school choice, they don’t know what they are talking about. Maybe that is deliberate. Maybe that is out of genuine ignorance.
The conversation in the podcast pretty much sums up their misunderstanding of what ESAs are, not to mention their apparent fear of any school choice. KASB’s Assistant Executive Director for Advocacy, Leah Fliter, hosted the podcast. She showed her disdain for any school choice by declaring “I put air quotes around that whenever I use that phrase school choice.” Filter began her misunderstanding of ESAs when she claimed, “we sometimes call them vouchers.” Well, maybe KASB and the rest of the education establishment would like to call them vouchers – an anti-school choice hot-button term – but ESAs are nothing at all like vouchers.
Unlink vouchers, which basically give students a ticket to go to a private school, ESAs put money directly into the hands of parents, who can use them for a variety of purposes. (A full description of what ESAs are can be accessed here). Those allowable expenses are set in state law, not what KASB purports them to be. Currently eight states have adopted ESAs, each state program is unique. There is no generally accepted “formula” for an ESA, which is the beauty of that form of school choice. Each state sets its own rules and parents are in control of how the money is spent, not the educrats.
KASB also makes the false presumption that the only way parents can spend their ESA dollars is to attend a private school. That is simply not true. A great example is this one in which a Mississippi family used their ESA dollars to fund a highly individualized education plan for their autistic son, an approach that simply does not exist in the public school system. Nor would it likely exist in a private school. Hence the beauty of the ESA itself.
Fliter goes to great lengths to claim that an ESA would box out low-income and special needs students claiming those benefiting would be the “more economically affluent households.” If she had done her homework, she might learn that in the eight states that currently have ESAs, almost all of have programs that are exclusive to low-income and/or special needs students.
They also fail to take into account dynamic human behavior, meaning that people behave differently when the rules change. Undoubtedly, things would change in terms of education, including the way public schools do business if there is the possibility that students would go elsewhere. I am confident if Kansas were to adopt its version of an ESA, the public school system would improve how they serve students, especially those targeted for an ESA.
Clearly, KASB feels threatened by any attempt to give parents a say in how their children are educated. KASB claims to have the best interests in all students, but in particular lower income students. But do they really? Just look at the 2022 NAEP scores. Here are Kansas proficiency rates for low-income students:
- 4th grade math – 16%
- 4th grade reading – 18%
- 8th grade math – 10%
- 8th grade reading – 15%
Not only are they unacceptably low, but each of those is below the national average. Is this a top-ten state as KASB likes to brag? They certainly aren’t using those hundreds of millions of at-risk dollars to improve the achievement of low-income students. That is well documented.
No, they aren’t interested in the best interests of students, whether or not they are low income. They are absorbed in what they see as the best interests of the public-school conglomerate – taxpayer money. In fact, Filter’s first direct criticism of ESAs is claiming that KASB “opposes so-called school choice programs because those programs divert public funding to schools.” There you have it, priority one, on the record – it all about the Benjamins. Note well that she didn’t say, “money from students.”
The real question here regards individual choice. In a society that values choice in all aspects of life, how can one justify that when it comes to educating our children, one has no choice and is stuck in government run schools, far too many of which do not serve the needs of those they are tasked to serve?
The late great comedian George Carlin said “those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.” It is clear that the education establishment is tone-deaf when it comes to allowing parents the power to have control over their children’s education.