Legislature takes first step in re-imagining the educational future

March 25
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The following OpEd by Brittany Jones and Elizabeth Patton
was published by the Wichita Eagle on March 11, 2021.

The past year has highlighted how important it is to bridge the opportunity gaps in our educational system. As these gaps were exacerbated by pandemic-related school closures, working parent, single parents, students, teachers, and thousands of other Kansans worked through various levels of frustration attempting to navigate unchartered waters.

The island of commonality was that we all want our children to succeed. And we know the key to their success is a quality education. We also know some students thrived in virtual and hybrid learning while others struggled.

The lesson is that, in extraordinary times or ordinary times, flexibility and options are the keys to success.

As has been made painfully clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, not all Kansas families have the same options or access, and our one-size-fits-all system is not well-equipped to provide innovative educational solutions as diverse and unique as our kids are.

The legislature is considering a measure that would, in a limited way, address these challenges. Lawmakers should move quickly to send it to the governor, and she should sign it into law.

The bill would expand our current tax credit scholarship program to more families and also establish education savings accounts for certain students, allowing them to use their share of state per pupil funding in multiple ways, including private schools, virtual schools, tutoring, textbooks, services, programs, activities, classes or any other resources or programs provided or contracted by a school district, and other education-related expenses.

Our long term goal is to extend the opportunity to participate in ESAs to all families, but starting with at risk kids is still an important step. Expanding educational opportunity represents a rising tide that lifts all ships by allowing more families to customize the educational path of their children. A personalized education should be a standard feature of our educational system, not the exception to the rule. That is why we believe that to unleash the extraordinary potential of every child, all kids should have the option to customize their education  and find the educational environment that best works for them.

That would transform the status quo in a way that provides each Kansas student with the unique opportunity they deserve.

This bill has a broader vision than open or closed, and it adds another critical piece to the puzzle of lifting all Kansas kids.  It’s a good bill and the legislature should pass it.

We urge all parties to consider the world beyond the pandemic, and the opportunities for innovation we could make available to our children if we open our eyes to the possibilities.

We believe every kid counts. Every kid should have access to an education that fits their unique learning style, that prepares them for the kind of future they want to have.

Who our kids want to become should not be limited by where they live, where their parents work, or by anyone’s idea of who they are.

There is no silver bullet here, but significant and intentional policy changes can make all the difference in the lives of so many kids. Families want flexibility, options and opportunity. Our question to the legislature: If not now, when?

Elizabeth Patton is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas Brittany Jones is Director of Advocacy at Family Policy Alliance of Kansas.