WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Governor Laura Kelly recently signed Senate Bill 113. It includes changes to the Low-Income Students Scholarship program.
Now, schools that aren’t yet accredited can utilize the program. The bill states the school must be making a good faith effort toward accreditation.
“An accredited school means that the students are taught by teachers who are subject to some licensing provisions, and the students have to be receiving lessons that comply with standards,” said Leah Fliter, Kansas Association of School Boards assistant executive director for advocacy said. “There’s just much more accountability.”
Including non-accredited schools is one of the biggest concerns for the KASB.
“You’ve got an $8,000 voucher now available to anyone who wants to start up their own school,” Fliter said. “That’s an unregulated school, and that’s dangerous not only for kids’ educational progress but also really for their health and safety. There’s no requirement that those schools be inspected or anything like that.”
Becky Elder, emeritus board member for the Wichita Innovative Schools and Educators, says she does not see non-accreditation as a disadvantage.
“Accreditation can be a safe place. Accreditation can also be a hiding place,” Elder said. “Not being accredited means that the burden of responsibility for work completed and progress made is on the parents and the teacher. So I see it not as a disadvantage. I see it as a condition. Accreditation, non-accreditation are conditions that we live in, and how we choose to negotiate the success of students is something that needs to be as close as the decision where to do school.”
Although the scholarships aren’t coming directly from the education budget, KASB says it is taxpayer dollars that would have contributed to public education.
“We oppose public money going to private schools, and especially a private unaccredited school, for sure,” Fliter said. “It could be anybody. You or I could set up a school in our living room, and I’m going to take $8,000 for every kid in my neighborhood who wants to come to my new little school.”
“That scholarship granting organization receiving that corporate or individual donation would get an exemption on their taxes that would never be a direct withdrawal from the funds of the state of Kansas Board of Education,” Elder said.
Elder says it allows people to find an option for their definition of school.
“It is something that signals the adaptation of education to the will of the parents,” Elder said. “Parents are exerting their will in a new way. So I like to think of it as an increment of adaptation because the best place for students to be is with a teacher immediately, as close to a teacher as possible. That teacher needs to be the decision of the parents.”
Elder says this is about philanthropy and recognizing people who need help.
“If there was ever a bridge too far or a schism we feel like we can’t get over right now, it’s between those who have and those who have not,” Elder said. “And right now, I think this is one great way that state of Kansas, and thank you, Governor Kelly, is giving us to say we can come together.”