Guest Commentary

Charter schools deliver results to Kansas City students

In this 2015 photo, Tony Kline, superintendent at University Academy in Kansas City, talked to parents about his school.
In this 2015 photo, Tony Kline, superintendent at University Academy in Kansas City, talked to parents about his school. The Kansas City Star

In her recent guest commentary in The Star, Kansas City Public School Board of Directors member at-large Jennifer Wolfsie made some assertions that I find misleading, and even outright wrong in some instances.

Our city’s “fragmented” public school system, as she termed it, is not only sustainable — it is critical to increasing the number of high-quality education seats available within the boundaries of the Kansas City Public School District. What is unsustainable and unacceptable is that there are so many students living in the district who are not receiving a high-quality education.

Fragmentation in the district is a result of Missouri legislators passing a charter school law 20 years ago as a means of addressing the consistently poor performance of the district over many decades. The district’s failure has hurt hundreds of thousands of students who were deprived of the education needed to have meaningful employment.

The costs to city residents and taxpayers of that failure are crime and incarceration. And how about the lost potential of all of these people, and the social injustice of these students not having access to a good education?

Thousands of high-quality education seats have been created by letting groups of Kansas Citians oversee public schools within the district’s boundaries. This is what is happening at our charter public schools. Today in Kansas City, a competitive education landscape exists where 22 nonprofit charter public schools are competing with each other and the district based on quality. The fact that 40 percent of the students living in the district are attending one of these charter public schools is ample evidence that parents are doing just fine negotiating the current landscape.

Several of these charter public schools are consistently achieving very high academic results on state standardized tests. The schools have demonstrated that students living within the boundaries of the public school district can achieve at the highest levels when they have access to a high quality education, even when they are selected by random lottery and come from low-income backgrounds.

Those students’ achievement notwithstanding, some charter public schools are not performing well. But the good news here is that, unlike the public schools operated by the district, charter public schools must periodically go through a renewal process with the Missouri Board of Education so there is a mechanism to prune weak performers.

Over time in this landscape, the better-performing schools will grow, and the weak ones will wither. The result will be that an increasing number of students in the district will have access to a high-quality school.

Instead of writing misleading and illogical columns, Wolfsie should focus on improving the performance of the Kansas City Public Schools District where she serves as a board member.

Bush Helzberg is chairman of University Academy in Kansas City and author of the book “Charter Schools Work.”

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