Church and state

Column: Kansas, a bright spot in a gloomy education landscape

Michael Shuttloffel is the

Michael Schuttloffel is the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference. You can reach the Kansas Catholic Conference at (785) 227-9247.

by Michael Schuttloffel

It is an enduring mystery how a society that has charted new heights in consumerism is nonetheless willing to tolerate an utter lack of choices when it comes to the education of their children.

Americans are ceaselessly plugged into an unprecedented panoply of consumer-choice — facilitating technologies, from iPhones to Amazon Prime. They have organic sections at the grocery store, Travelocity for booking vacations, eHarmony for finding love and hundreds of channels of satellite TV for their on-demand viewing pleasure.

Yet, when it comes to education — the very issue for which every candidate for every office, from city council to president of the United States promises “innovation and reform” — the old guard insists that the future lies with children dutifully going to the government-run school dictated by their zip code, just as it’s always been.

Nonetheless, some states have begun to experiment with educational choice, under the madcap theory that parents who pay taxes earmarked for education might want some say in where their children are educated. What a concept.

The state of Kansas has now dipped its toe in the water, approving a small-school choice program that is helping students from disadvantaged families attend private schools, including Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

Under the program, corporations can donate scholarships for low-income kids attending underperforming public schools. The corporation receives a tax credit for its donation. No taxpayer dollars flow to the scholarship recipients or the private schools; the scholarships are entirely private funds.

What if every minority kid in a failing inner-city school could take the money earmarked for his education and use those funds for tuition at a private school of his parents’ choice? Does any sentient being doubt that this opportunity could radically change young lives for the better?

Instead, the forces of the status quo spend millions each election cycle to ensure that public education is the only sector in American life free of the forces of competition, and that private education is only attainable for those with the means to afford it.

The people opposing school choice for mostly minority children trapped in sometimes disastrous schools often send their own kids to private school and are very often the same people who claim to be tribunes of low-income and minority populations. In a political culture currently obsessed with race, privilege and inequality of opportunity, it is shocking that this incredible hypocrisy does not receive more attention.

Undoubtedly, some busy beavers are already at work with plans to roll back Kansas’ nascent school-choice program. It would be nice if some intrepid reporter broke ranks with the mainstream media establishment and asked, “Why do you oppose a woman’s right to choose the best education for her child?”

Don’t hold your breath.

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Michael Schuttloffel

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  • With all of the discussion in Kansas over school financing, initiatives like the tax credits for scholarships that can have a big impact on individual students are often overlooked, Glad to see this in The Leaven.