Supporters of the proposed bond issue for USD 259, the Wichita, Kansas public school district, say that Wichita schoolchildren deserve the same nice and new facilities that many of the surrounding suburban districts have been building. Typical is an editorial in The Wichita Eagle on February 10, 2008, stating “The [Wichita school] district officials kept returning to a bottom line: Don’t our kids deserve school opportunities comparable to those in Maize or Goddard or Andover?”
Leaving aside the question of what people deserve, but noting that the only way the Wichita school district can give kids what they deserve is by taking from someone else, there is a reason why suburban districts have new facilities: their enrollments, mostly, are growing. The Wichita school district enrollment is not growing, or growing very slowly.
So as the suburban districts experience growth in their enrollments, they build schools. By necessity, these schools are new. They are shiny. They have modern facilities.
One thing Kansas might consider is implementing open enrollment. This is the case in Minneapolis. As reported in The Wall Street Journal in Black Flight: The exodus to charter schools, “In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country’s first charter school opened its doors. (Charter schools are started by parents, teachers or community groups. They operate free from burdensome regulations, but are publicly funded and accountable.) Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south-central Minneapolis.”
This article, well worth reading, explains what has been observed in school choice programs throughout the country: it is poor and minority families that benefit most from school choice programs, whatever their form. “Conventional wisdom holds that middle-class parents take an interest in their children’s education, while low-income and minority parents lack the drive and savvy necessary. The black exodus here demonstrates that, when the walls are torn down, poor, black parents will do what it takes to find the best schools for their kids.”
In Wichita and Kansas, however, politicians, public education bureaucrats, and special interest groups like the teachers union show by their actions that they believe school choice is not a good idea for poor families. Middle-class and wealthy families, however, can exercise a form of school choice by moving to the suburban districts. Poor families generally don’t have that option.
The following table and chart contain figures I gathered that compare the growth rates of Wichita and some surrounding suburban districts. Note that since about 2001, the rate of growth for the Wichita school district is somewhere near zero, while for others the average rate is two to three percent. This is a significant difference. Considering only the Maize, Goddard, and Andover districts — the school districts mentioned by the Wichita district officials — the difference is even greater.