Parents, not bureaucrats, should have the right to choose where their children attend school. The only consideration should be if the gaining school district is willing to accept the child. There should be no way that a losing school district can stand in the way of a child’s better education just for selfish, ‘adult’ reasons.
Sadly – too often – this does not happen in Kentucky.
One on-going case in point is heating up again; a three-year long battle over parental school choice continues between the Knox County Public School District and the adjoining Corbin Independent School District.
Without question, the Corbin Independent Schools perform MUCH better than the Knox system, as this comparison of the latest ACT Composite Scores for the two high schools in Knox and the lone high school in Corbin shows.
Among the 230 high schools in Kentucky that reported 11th grade ACT scores in 2011, Corbin ranks way up there in 34th place. Knox County’s Lynn Camp ranked way down in a tie for 178th place, and Knox Central High approaches the bottom of the list in a tie for 206th place.
Thus, it is no surprise that some parents who actually live in Knox County want to send their children to Corbin. And it is obvious that Corbin is willing to accept kids from the Knox area so long as the state SEEK student support money goes to the independent district.
So, why is there a hang-up about allowing Knox kids to attend Corbin, instead?
Why are selfish ‘adult interests’ in Knox County allowed to trump the best interests of children?
Years ago, parent freedom to choose between the districts was normal practice. No more! Since 2009, Knox has refused to freely allow transfers. This has generated lawsuits and what have now become annual appeals from Corbin to the Kentucky Commissioner of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education to allow parental choice in this matter.
As the appeal starts up again, here are some issues I hope the Kentucky Board of Education considers:
• Quality of education – This really should be the massively over-riding consideration. Corbin trumps Knox handily, making it much better for students to attend Corbin if that district is willing to accept them. Forcing students into Knox forces them into a MUCH lower performing school system. How can that be in the best interests of the child?
• Neutral costs to taxpayers – The Corbin board and taxpayers are willing to accept the transfer of SEEK money without any extra locally generated tax dollars from Knox. This actually might stress Corbin a bit locally, but there should be no change in the total amount of the SEEK expenditures. The taxpayers in Knox might actually get a benefit, as their locally generated money stays local even though the transfer students are not there to be housed and educated.
• Rewarding poor performance – If Knox wants to keep these kids, they need to make MAJOR improvements in scholastic performance that will entice parents to keep their kids in the home school system. As things stand, forcing kids to go to Knox instead of Corbin actually rewards rather dismal performance. Why would state board members want to go on record doing that?
• Interfering with parental choice removes motivation for very low performing systems like Knox’s to improve – This is closely related to the previous point, but it is a separate issue. In other states much more extensive parent choice options like charter schools create competitive forces for traditional public schools that lead to improvements there, as well. Kentucky needs to start taking advantage of that competitive mechanism, too. Freeing up district transfer options is one way to do that.
Our state education leaders have dragged their heels on this important issue for three years. Children have been denied an opportunity to better educational options as a consequence. It’s way past time for that sort of indecision to stop. We need parent choices in Kentucky, and free district to district transfers dependent only upon the gaining district’s willingness to accept a child needs to become standard policy.
Anything else just puts selfish adult interests ahead of the best interests of our kids.