Kansas educators’ recent call for equity in education may be well-intentioned, but the sad truth is that most high-ranking education officials oppose the clearest measure of education equity.


Achievement gaps — the difference in outcomes for low-income students and their more affluent peers, black students, and white students or other demographic comparisons — are persistent and in many cases, widening over the years. But every proposal to let low-income kids’ state funding follow them to a school of their choice is vehemently opposed by the school board association, unions and the superintendents’ association.


We don’t fund students in Kansas, we fund institutions, and the institutions would rather force kids to stay in the worst-performing schools than lose one dollar of revenue.


These students absolutely can learn, but they’re denied an equal opportunity because Kansas only has school choice for those who can afford it. Too many are left behind because the high costs of leafy suburbs prevent educational equity for families that cannot afford to move.


The Kansas Department of Education says only 16% of low-income students in the 10th grade are on track for college and career in reading, and just 11% are on track in math. Their more affluent peers are at 37% and 34%, respectively; that’s not good by any standard, but still two to three times better than their low-income classmates.


All across Kansas, kids are given diplomas even though they’re below grade level, and superintendents don’t publicly refute this sad reality given the opportunity.


State assessments can only be compared back to 2015, but results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show long-term stagnation.


In 1998, 37% of white fourth-graders were reading proficiently, and in 2019, results improved a bit to 40%. But proficiency for Black fourth-graders is still stuck at just 15%. The achievement gap for low-income kids is even worse, declining from 22% to 20%, while their more affluent peers improved from 39% to 48%.


Achievement gains for low-income kids have been minimal in most states, but Florida stands out with remarkable improvement. Their low-income fourth-graders went from 12% proficient in 1998 to the best in the nation in 2019, at 28%. In fact, the average raw score for Florida’s low-income fourth-graders is the same or better than the scores for all students in 11 states.


Kansas Policy Institute sent a film crew to Florida to ask education officials how they transformed public education. In our documentary, "Giving Kids a Fighting Chance," they attribute most of their success to a combination of choice, accountability and transparency.


Florida has multiple scholarship opportunities for low-income kids and students with disabilities, allowing money to follow the child to the school that best meets their needs. And they just dramatically expanded those opportunities to meet growing parental demand.


Gov. Jeb Bush talks about the importance of having the courage to deal with the serious achievement gaps for these kids: "This is the civil rights justice issue of our time. It’s the economic issue of our time, and it’s the social justice issue of our time. Political leaders who have the obligation to reform the systems that are so important for their constituencies need to get off the mat and start advocating for more meaningful reforms so that there’s rising student achievement and dreams can come true."


Equity in education is about providing real opportunity, not feel-good platitudes.


Dave Trabert is the CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, a research and educational organization.