Charter Schools Are Keeping Families in Kansas City

Published December 11, 2017

Kansas City realtor Mary Hutchison told public radio station KCUR more first-time homebuyers want to raise kids in the city “because there’s more school choice now.” Hutchison says the number of prospective homebuyers in the past couple of years has been so overwhelming that the inventory cannot keep up with the demand.

“Middle-class families are coming back to [Kansas City Public Schools],” KCUR reported in October 2017, noting, “Most of the growth [during the last three years] was in the charter sector.”

“Our charter sector is growing, and that’s enabled us to capture families that might have otherwise left our school district,” Rebecca Haessig, who blogs about Kansas City education, told KCUR.

“Private schools remain popular with parents that can afford to send their kids to them,” the article reported.

Credit to Charters

Michael McShane, director of national research at EdChoice, says school choice attracts families and maintains the appeal of a locale.

“For years, young families would migrate to the Kansas side of the state line as soon as they had kids, but, at least anecdotally, that is changing,” McShane said. “Families are now entering a few of the charter lotteries, and if they win, are staying. School quality is arguably the single biggest factor in young families leaving the city.”

Artificial Barriers

McShane says there are numerous charter schools in Kansas City and the number “keeps going up.” The boundaries of the Kansas City Public School (KCPS) district are not contiguous with the city’s borders, though, so city residents just outside the school district cannot enroll their children in the charter schools and are blocked from choice, McShane says.

“By limiting charter schools to the KCPS boundaries, the state puts an artificial cap on how many students can take advantage of them,” McShane said. “There are several districts in the Kansas City area whose performance is statistically indistinguishable from the performance of KCPS, and yet they don’t have any opportunities for choice.”

Another option for Kansas City families is private schools, including what McShane calls “a proud tradition of Catholic schooling.”

Making Education Equal

Haessig expressed concern to KCUR charter schools would have an “inequitable” effect on KCPS. James Franko, vice president and policy director at the Kansas Policy Institute, says, on the contrary, school choice levels the playing field for poorer families.

“It surprises no one that families make home-buying decisions because of perceptions about the quality of schools,” Franko said. “The punchline is that wealthier families have choices in moving to areas with ‘better’ public schools or paying for private schools, while lower-income families do not have that same choice. Every child should have access to a quality education, and that shouldn’t be a function of ZIP code.

“Kansas has one tax-credit scholarship program that helps our poorest students in our lowest-performing schools claim an opportunity that their higher-income peers can achieve,” Franko said.

Harry Painter ([email protected]writes from Brooklyn, New York.