Kids in classroom
Michael Q. McShane

The data are in. The families of Kansas City have made their intentions clear by voting with their feet. They want school choice.

Local education gadfly Rebecca Haessig recently broke down the 2018-19 enrollment figures for public schools in Kansas City on her blog Set The Schools Free. According to her number crunching, 12,475 Kansas City students attend charter schools, 3,705 students attend Kansas City Public Schools Signature schools, and 10,582 attend traditional neighborhood schools. That means that 16,180 students out of 26,762 total students attend a school that requires an active choice. That is 60% of all Kansas City students in public schools.

What’s more, this does not even count the thousands of children who attend private schools or the families that move to other school districts in the Kansas City area for better schools. It simply states that within the boundaries of the Kansas City Public Schools, the majority of families actively choose their schools.

This is important for three reasons.

First, school choice is not some fringe movement. Marginalization is a classic political tactic, and one that is frequently used to try and slow down the expansion of school choice. But the numbers don’t lie. School choice is the norm, not the exception.

Second, we need to be all-inclusive when we talk about school choice. Many of the loudest anti-charter school or private school choice voices in Kansas City send their children to schools of choice. These schools often have screening mechanisms that weed out lower performing students, students with discipline problems, or students with uninvolved parents. If these critics are going to complain about various types of school choice, they should be transparent about the fact that they’re using some form of school choice for their own kids.

Third, we have to square these figures with the continued argument that the Kansas City Public Schools are improving. Now, I totally agree with my friend Susan Pendergrass that Missouri is grading schools on a pretty generous curve,  but simply taking the district’s own rhetoric at face value, school choice is obviously not hurting  KCPS given its much touted improvement in APR (Annual Progress Report) scores. They can’t have it both ways. If the school district is improving, like they are arguing, school choice can’t be that big of a problem, because 60% of kids are taking advantage of it!

It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said, “everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” The facts on school choice in Kansas City are clear and deserve to be acknowledged.


About the Author

Michael McShane
Senior Fellow of Education Policy

Mike McShane is Senior Fellow of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.