Today I was thrilled to join over 500 other Kentuckians on the steps of the state capitol to celebrate National School Choice Week. I was honored to join a large slate of speakers and enthusiastic supporters calling for more education options for Kentucky families.
The Kentucky legislature will consider at least two important school choice proposals in the remainder of its session next month - charter schools and scholarship tax credits. I've already written about SB 80, a watered-down charter bill that isn't worthy of support. House Bill 103 is a sweeping charter law that has many strong elements, but I expect at least one more charter bill to be filed before the session ends.
I'm especially hopeful about HB 162/SB 102, which creates a tax credit plan that encourages private donations to scholarship funds that support low-income families who want to send their children to tuition-based schools. This proposal has garnered bipartisan support from lawmakers in the past and has a good chance to succeed this session. Please contact your House and Senate representatives and encourage them to support this proposal. Go here for more information and see my previous and related posts here.
In my own comments at today's rally I tried to emphasize that school choice proposals pose no threat to high-quality public schools, but they do ask us to think more creatively about what "public schooling" really is. Here's the full text of my speech:
Good morning, everyone and thank you so much for being here today to celebrate school choice in Kentucky. I am so proud to speak to you as a long-time educator and advocate of public schools who also believes that every family, regardless of their income level or ZIP code, deserves their choice of great schools.
We have many outstanding district schools in Kentucky, filled with hard-working teachers and high-achieving students. My work as an education professor and my service on the Kentucky Board of Education regularly take me into terrific public schools where I see progress and success taking place. But one thing I’ve learned in my 20 years in education is that no school, no matter how good, can meet the needs of every single family. The needs of our students are just simply too diverse. We put an unfair burden on our great public school teachers by asking them to be all things to all students.
It’s time to recognize that all families should be able to choose from a wide variety of educational options, including district schools, charter schools, independent and parochial schools, and home schooling. By letting families choose the school setting that can best fit their child’s needs, we allow all schools to be more innovative, creative, and specialized in the kinds of learning experiences they offer students.
School choice is never a threat to great public schools, contrary to what you might hear. Research shows choice policies actually save taxpayers money and lead to better education outcomes for all students, regardless of the kinds of schools they attend.
But school choice does ask us to think bigger about what public schooling really is. Does supporting public education mean that only government run schools can educate our children? I don’t think so. Here’s what education scholar Rick Hess says about what makes a school “public:”
“Public schools should teach children the essential skills and knowledge that make for productive citizens, [should] teach them to respect the constitutional order, and [should] instruct them in a framework of rights and obligations that secure our democracy and protect our liberty. any school that does so should be regarded as serving public purposes.”
I agree with Rick Hess. We can have a rich array of schooling options in Kentucky and doing so does not compromise the goal and purpose of public education. We need charter schools, scholarship tax credits, education savings accounts, and supports for homeschooling families to make sure that school choice is not just for the rich, but is the right of every Kentucky family. And we can provide those options while supporting and encouraging the excellent work of great district-run schools as well.
Let’s stand up for all Kentucky kids, in all our schools, and finally bring education choice to the Commonwealth! Thank you!
Update: Here's video of my remarks, courtesy of our friends at Bluegrass Institute, where I serve on the Board of Scholars:
Usual disclaimer: All views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of Western Kentucky University (my employer) or the Kentucky Board of Education (where I serve as a member).
- Expand educational options for Kentucky families with scholarship tax credits
- Poll: Kentuckians strongly support school choice
- Breaking the government monopoly on education
- What makes a school "public?"