COVID 19 has thrown the perpetual monkey wrench into everything this year.
Not the least of which is the public education system. Schools were closed in March, and to some degree still are, as educators have scrambled to keep up with health directives and parental concerns.
The pandemic has created a shift from traditional public schools to private, home school, hybrid or virtual alternatives. Enrollment has decreased in traditional classrooms and increased in those districts who provide virtual schools.
Gardner Edgerton saw a decrease of 280 students, and Spring Hill’s virtual school enrollment nearly doubled.
The coronavirus has also created a financial quagmire for parents who struggle with the unexpected – daycare and potential job loss cost, or who juggle educating their children while struggling to work from home while maintaining a cohesive, bright outlook.
Disruption of the state educational system comes at no small expense: Kansas devoted 50.7 percent of the budget to education in 2015, ranking #2 among the states. The national average was 35.2 percent. Base aid for traditional students is about $4,700, and with different “weighting” criteria can range upward to near $10,000, as in USD 231; virtual schools such as Spring Hill are reimbursed a flat $5,000 per student.
Paying for one student twice is a problem that was probably never anticipated. For example, if a Gardner Edgerton student opts out of choices allotted by the local board of education and elects to go instead to a Spring Hill virtual school, both district’s will be reimbursed. In essence costing taxpayers twice.
In addition, there is no mechanism in place to rebate parents/taxpayers for services not received — in other words, taxing continues even though Kansas schools did not supply services as expected. Because funding continues whether or not school is in session, there is no incentive to return to class.
Additional costs for daycare, private school or tutoring are also on the parents.
There is no easy way to get thru this nightmare; it’s been a trial by fire since March. But now that we do know what can happen, parents and legislators need to work to streamline education costs.
Kansas needs to overhaul the finance formula. There should be checks and balances. Taxpayers should not be billed twice for the same student – remove that loophole. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for a service the state did not render — public education.
We know voucher is a “bad” word to many, but the money needs to follow the student. There needs to be accountability.
Rather than looking at the pandemic as a disaster, maybe it’s time to look at the opportunity we have to enhance our educational system while streamlining costs.