The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Big shock—now that the Missouri legislature has finally created a program to give school choice to students from low-income families and students with disabilities, the misinformation campaign against the program has begun. Case in point: The Kansas City Star editorial board has fired a first shot at the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, and it has gone wide. Let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of this editorial.
The good: The editorial board acknowledges that parents want the best education for their children and this program may allow them to offset private school tuition, tutoring, or other educational therapies. They also acknowledge that the Kansas City Public Schools and the Hickman Mills district have struggled with low performance for years.
The bad: The editorial is incorrect in so many places. It quotes a claim that this program will drain $75 million from the education budget. In fact, the program is capped at $25 million and it is paid for through tax credits from general revenue, not education funding. It claims that every student who leaves KCPS or Hickman Mills for the program will take approximately $10,000 in state education funding with them. First, the state education funding formula provides $6,400 per student. But here is the real kicker: as a result of legislative negotiations, students who leave their public school to take a scholarship in this program will continue to be counted in the enrollment of their public school district for five years. That’s right, the district will receive state funding for those students for five years after they leave. And then strangely, editorial claims that this program will at once dismantle public education while raising concerns over a lack of available private school seats and the inability of parents to cover costs beyond the scholarships. How can both of these dire predictions be accurate?
The ugly: Here’s the crux of the editorial board’s argument and what really makes my blood boil. The board claims that we can’t let students leave low-performing districts because they take money with them. A quote from the Hickman Mills superintendent: “It is a direct attack on our student enrollment and the funding we receive from the state.” The scholarships that will be “doled out” are really just diverting “dollars away from the system.”
Imagine you’re a single parent, struggling to make ends meet. You have a child with a disability who is making little to no progress catching up to their peers and you worry every day about your child’s future. A scholarship-granting organization now exists that will allow you to apply for a scholarship for your child. You can look for a private school that specializes in your child’s disability. But your own superintendent wants to close the gate and lock it because your child represents thousands of dollars in state funding. You’re supposed to prioritize the finances of the public school district over your child’s well being.
Make no mistake, the drumbeat against allowing low-income parents or parents of children with disabilities to use public money anywhere other than their assigned public school is about to get louder. The threat just got real. The unfairness and hypocrisy of holding them hostage for their state funding astounds me.