Since the early 1990s Kentucky has continued to make strides in education reform. The state of education in the Commonwealth in 2017 is completely different from what it was 25 years ago. No longer is Kentucky at the very bottom of academic performance rankings of the states. By most accounts, Kentucky now sits ahead of 15 or more states in academic performance. That is progress to be proud of.
But even with that progress , significant educational challenges remain for Kentucky. Even with the strides we have made, very large percentages of students across the Commonwealth continue to make little or no academic gains . Children who qualify for free or reduced price meals, students of color, and students of disabilities continue to be shortchanged in many of our state’s public school districts. In fact in many instances, the gaps between the performance of low-income students and their middle income peers is increasing. While the performance of middle income students is accelerating in some Kentucky school districts, the performance of low-income students moves very little. While Kentucky’s school districts seem to have figured out what works for improving learning for some students, other students continue to fall through the cracks. What makes that very sad reality even sadder is knowing that it doesn’t have to be that way.
First and foremost, Kentucky’s public schools and school districts must be held accountable for the learning of each and every student they serve. There may be no more important task facing the Kentucky Board of Education in the next ten years than the current work of redesigning our school accountability system. Schools and professionals will do what we hold them accountable for; and it’s time for Kentucky to have an accountability system that holds schools accountable in very clear ways for improving the performance of low-income children and children of color. If a public school takes the public dollars allocated for the education a child, be they rich, poor, disabled, blue, red, or purple, that school must be held accountable for providing that child with the opportunity to realize his or her God given academic potential. If a school is unwilling or unable to meet a child’s academic needs, that school has no right to the public dollars appropriated for the education of that child.
Second, as many of our traditional public schools have shown themselves to be unwilling or unable to meet the needs of our most vulnerable students, we must create public school options alongside district-run schools that are willing and able to meet those students’ needs. Over the last 25 years, public charter schools, with convincing results, have shown themselves to be an effective tool for meeting the academic needs of some of the very children Kentucky’s traditional public schools have struggled with most. With that understanding, it is only logical that state lawmakers would provide a pathway for giving the parents of those children additional public school options. Hopefully that pathway will be in statute by the end of the 2017 legislative session.
Kentucky’s traditional public schools need real help with meeting the learning needs of specific populations of students. The reality of our current system is arguably only a hair short of being criminally negligent. Traditional public schools take the public dollars allocated for the education of low income children, often lacking the intent or ability to truly meet those children’s needs. Too many of our traditional public schools have refused to create school options or use alternative approaches within their districts that would meet the learning needs of low income kids. And along with that refusal, many leaders of those districts fight as hard as they can to prevent the creation of public school options alongside district-run schools because such options, namely public charter schools, jeopardize the tax dollars they now enjoy flowing into their school districts for low income children.
Time is up for traditional public school districts taking low income children and the tax dollars that come with them for granted. Kentucky’s school accountability system must hold all public schools accountable for the learning of each and every student they take tax dollars for; and we must provide additional public school options for parents, especially low income parents. Not only is doing so a moral and ethical imperative, but it’s in economic interest of the Commonwealth.