School choice has been a controversial topic in public education for decades. One side has argued that policies giving parents more choices where to send their children to school will improve education through competition and individualization. The other side argues that these plans will drain public funding from schools serving all students to support schools that can pick their enrollment. New national numbers may shed some light on the subject.

“There were a couple of things that are surprising about this,” said Mark Tallman with the Kansas Association of School Boards. “One is, it compares national test scores of students in public charter schools, which in many states are independent from traditional public schools and compares those with traditional public schools. It found essentially no differences in results.”

Are we talking about the same kids fundamentally?

“Despite efforts over the last several decades to create more non-public school opportunities, the percent of students nationally in non-public schools has really not changed at all in 20 or 25 years,” said Tallman. “The same is true of Kansas. Make of that what you will.”

The problems schools are asked to solve aren’t always solvable by changing schools.

“I think the idea that simply saying, kids are in failing schools, let’s get them out, misstates the problem,” said Tallman. “The kids that are struggling are those that, kind of lack the resources that more advantaged kids have through no fault of their own, often through no fault of their parents. We need to focus on making sure that wherever those children are and those families are, they get the support they need to be successful.”

In Kansas, public schools have typically enrolled about 90 percent of the school-aged population. In 2017-18, that figure was 90.5 percent.