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School-choice advocates steam through Sunflower State

By   /   January 28, 2013  /   No Comments

ALL ABOARD: Topeka’s Great Overland Station served as the venue for school choice advocates to sound off on the need for greater education reform in Kansas and across the nation. Topeka was the third of 14 locations on a whistle-stop tour across the U.S. as part of National School Choice Week, Jan. 27 through Feb. 2

 

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

TOPEKA — Andrew Campanella, his voice drowned in the rumble of a passing freight train, paused as he addressed a crowd of parents, educators and concerned Kansans at the Great Overland Station on Monday.

It was fitting, in a way. Much like the locomotive, says Campanella, the drive to reform education in the United States is building steam and making noise.

The luncheon was the third of 14 stops on a cross-country whistle-stop tour celebrating National School Choice Week, Jan. 27 through Feb. 2. Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, said the observance is about more than advocating greater educational flexibility; it’s about the future of the country.

“Parents, not bureaucrats, know their children best,” Campanella said to a supportive crowd. “We can go to so many dealerships and buy whatever car we want, but in Kansas we can’t choose what school our kids go to.”

BELLWETHER: Melinda Bingham (center), surrounded by Kansas educators who are members of K12, rings a bell signifying the kickoff of the Topeka leg of the National School Choice Week whistle-stop tour on Monday.

Advocates for education reform, including parents, teachers and school administrators, spoke at the event, calling for change — not only in the Sunflower state but also across the country. Whether it’s a traditional public school, public charter school, private school or online learning — to name a few options — supporters say more needs to be done to help tailor educational opportunities to every child, rather than simply maintaining the status quo.

“It is clear that education is not a one-size-fits-all for parents, students or teachers,” said Gary Sigle, executive director of the Kansas Association of American Educators, which bills itself as the “non-union choice for Kansas teachers.”

Choice breeds competition, said Sigle, which will lead to the best educational options for Kansas students. Melinda Bingham said she has seen this firsthand.

Bingham works as a part-time social worker in a traditional public school, and her husband teaches language arts at a Lawrence middle school. As such, she said, the pair has first-hand knowledge of the “brick-and-mortar” educational options around them.

“In my household we understand the challenges going on in the ‘normal’ school settings, and we realized when our oldest was in kindergarten that we needed to look at other options,” Bingham said. Her oldest son was diagnosed with ADHD, her second son with autism.

While she didn’t disparage public school offerings, Bingham said, that wasn’t the best fit for her four children. Three of them are  enrolled in Lawrence Virtual School and, she said, flourishing.

“It’s just a really neat match for my family,” Bingham said. “I get more individual support than I ever could have had in a regular brick-and-mortar building.”

Among the methods for allowing greater choice is the concept of school vouchers, which would tie educational funding to the student, not the school district. As such, parents could use the voucher to fund their child’s enrollment in whatever school they choose, rather than the one in their zip code. While advocates say it’s necessary for real progress, the idea has drawn fire because the vouchers could be used to fund private, religious schools, as well.

Campanella said the movement isn’t going away.

“Without empowering parents, this country cannot achieve the prosperity that we’re destined for.”

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62.

— Edited by John Trump at jtrump@watchdog.org

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Travis Perry is an investigative reporter covering news and politics for Watchdog.org's Kansas bureau. Before joining the organization, Travis graduated cum laude from Washburn University and cut his teeth as news editor for the Osawatomie Graphic, where he received numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association.

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