The fight for school choice in Kentucky goes on


The Kentucky General Assembly is wrapping up its legislative session, and for two years in a row, lawmakers have utterly failed Kentucky families on the issue of expanding education options. But the lonely champions of parental, student, and teacher empowerment will carry on their struggle against the education establishment until every family has the opportunity to choose a school that best meets their child's needs. And I'll proudly count myself among them.

After passing a charter school law in 2017, lawmakers refused to approve a funding formula that would actually allow charter schools to open in Kentucky. And while we had great support in the state Senate and among House leadership for scholarship tax credits, a handful of House Republicans prevented the bill from coming to a vote, despite solid survey data demonstrating widespread voter support for the policy. 

The education establishment proved itself again to be the most powerful, well-organized lobby in Frankfort. Even though they exercised no meaningful impact in the last statewide election cycle, and even though teachers are a diverse group that do not speak with one voice on any issue, some Republican lawmakers remain fearful of voting against the wishes of superintendents and educator groups. And thus Kentucky remains one of only a handful of states with no meaningful school choice policies. Families may not choose a charter school, districts strictly control access to traditional public schools, and a vast number of families are unable to afford tuition when a private school might best meet the needs of their child.

The education establishment fought ferociously against charters and scholarship tax credits, voicing a number of specious and sometimes blatantly false claims about these policies, but their highest-leverage argument was that education in Kentucky is grossly under-funded, and therefore we cannot "afford" to let parents choose an alternative to the local public schools.

I agree that we need to invest more money in education in Kentucky. But I reject the argument that we can't "afford" policies that help parents choose their child's school, in large part because I reject the idea that education dollars are for institutions. They are for the benefit of students, and within the realm of public schools (which includes charters), those dollars should be able to follow kids to the school of their choice, within parameters of accountability established in well-considered law and regulation. In this way, education should be like other highly-personal public goods such as health care and higher education.

I greatly antagonized many fellow educators this legislative session by publicly pointing out that their core goal here is to maintain their functional monopoly on education delivery. They seek to bar the door from families choosing another education provider because they place a greater value on the education dollars those children represent to their schools. I don't question the sincerity of their motives in doing so. They appear to truly believe such a monopoly is the best method for providing an equitable, high-quality education for all students. I just fundamentally disagree

And I will continue to do so. I will continue to work and speak and write in support of policy and advocacy groups demanding high-quality charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and the right of students to enroll in any public school with an open seat. Even when it brings ridicule and scorn and personal attacks from people who I consider colleagues and allies and with whom I share common overall goals. It's a sad commentary that so many educators regard those who have differing opinions about school choice or pension reform or other issues as enemies of public education. There's an awful lot of room for people of goodwill to believe in different strategies for achieving the same goal.

I never intended for school choice to be my signature professional issue. I spend most of my professional energy training the next generation of public school administrators and conducting research into leadership and school improvement. I have deep passions for curriculumpersonalized learningbetter assessment practices, and helping educators develop reflective tools for improving their craft. These are the topics I'd much prefer to spend my time on.

But the fundamental injustice at work in our educational delivery system keeps me fighting on for school choice, even when it comes at some cost to me professionally. More than two decades in this business has proven to me that no school, no matter how good, can be a perfect fit for every child. Empowering families of modest means to select their child's school is not only good for kids; it's also liberating to teachers and school leaders who can be far more innovative in their approaches to curriculum and instruction instead of relentlessly being pushed into a one-size-fits-all system. But first and foremost it's about giving lower-income children opportunities they otherwise cannot access.

Contrary to anti-school choice rhetoric, there is no well-funded, organized lobby on behalf of the families who are the primary beneficiaries of school choice policies, which is why it's so difficult to complete against the powerful education establishment. Those families need a voice. And on this issue they need a voice from educators willing to stand up to their own colleagues and institutions and challenge their assumptions and arguments.

I'll try my best to always do so with civility, seeking common ground wherever possible, but without compromising the fundamental conviction that every family deserves to decide who educates their children. And I welcome every Kentuckian, educators included, to join me.

See you in Frankfort.

GARY HOUCHENS, Phd., is a professor at Western Kentucky University in
the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research

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It's tax time again, and yet again this year, more of my taxes are being funneled into public education. That doesn't sound so bad until we see that there is no competition in government run schools. That largely explains why there has been no improvement in academic performance in the last 40 years (science achievement scores have actually declined) despite technological advancements that should have made teaching and learning much more efficient. Now the shocking news. Taxpayers are paying three times as much after adjusting for inflation to educate the same number of students, and there are twice as many public school employees.

Why do we have education reform bills passed almost every year without any real reform? Why does public education keep getting worse as we're goaded into spending ever more? Could it have something to do with a large and powerful union that has the largest and most heavily funded lobbyists in Frankfort? You might have seen some of these union members recently, dressed in red, calling in sick so they can not teach students and instead travel to Frankfort to exert union pressure on legislators while telling us they are the professional educators who care about teaching our children.

Until we have more school choice in Kentucky, we'll continue to see increases in home schooling. It's telling that so many Kentucky parents are doing a much better job educating their own children than the professional educators employed by public schools. It's also worth noting that these homeschooling parents are being taxed to support public schools when they're unwilling to entrust them with the education of their children. I can only imagine having a job where government takes money from people to pay for my service that is so inferior that the people forced to pay for it would rather do the job themselves, even after being forced to pay me to do it. What would be my motivation to do a better job when it'd be far easier to go to Frankfort and scream at legislators?

Thank you Gary, for standing up for children and education. It's unconscionable that you need to oppose the educational establishment to do so.

Wednesday, March 20
ray davis

Kentucky must come out of the dark ages in education. Any monopoly becomes bureaucratic, stagnant and uses most of its power to preserve its monopoly position instead of finding ways to innovate and serve its customers with higher quality products or services at lower costs. This is why KY education is so costly and does such an inferior job at helping students learn.

I don't blame the teachers and the administrators; they are caught in a system designed to produce mediocrity. Politicians designed the system and bureaucrats implement it from the top down. Without competition children in KY will continue to lag behind those in other states and students from many other countries in competing for employment. Hurt worst are children in the lower economic strata who must attend public schools. Children of higher income parents can afford to pay for public schools and pay again to send their students to parochial and other private schools.

Thank you Mr. Houchens for standing with all students in KY and the parents who want their children to have a better education. While many public school teachers and administrators don't realize it, you are also working to improve their future as well by providing more employment choices to them. Who knows, perhaps once we have school choice in KY, some of them will actually thank you for your advocacy!

Thursday, March 21

In considering education for young children there are two primary interested parties - the parents and the child. If you have government education you include many more interested parties. If parents are taxpayers, they also have an interest from that perspective. Taxpayers who do not have children or whose children do not attend government schools also have a vital interest in the best use of their tax payments They are usually ignored in any education discussion by Kentucky government teachers and administrators and legislators.

Many of us taxpayers are silent no more. We take off from work and do not call in sick. We show up in Frankfort to voice our displeasure. We talk to legislators often, not just in session, and many other people. And we're fed up.

The education establishment continues to assert that Kentucky government schools are underfunded without evidence, as if there is no limit to what they want. The hard evidence is becoming available through the School Report Cards. Fayette County spends over $15,000 to educate a child. Many private schools here educate children, including those with learning and physical disabilities, for much less cost.

And the Fayette test scores on the School Report Card website are very discouraging. When we look at K-PREP test scores our government schools are failing. And, our children will fail on tests and in life.

It's time to end the monopoly of government schools in Kentucky. Out Children, Parents and Taxpayers deserve better. And teachers deserve better. They need to be freed from the crushing burden of government regulations and the latest innovation like Common Core. Our Teachers also need School Choice in starting or teaching in non-government schools. Then they can soar.

This is a broken system that can not be repaired. Without competition they will never improve. The cure is not more money pored into a failing system. Implement School Choice for parents to make their own decision about the education of their child.

Thursday, March 21

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