Despite my best attempts at remaining apolitical, too often the office of superintendent causes me join the fray. My own internal dialogue forces me to address whether my efforts, actions, and words aim at my sole purpose of protecting and/or defending students and the teaching profession. If yes, then I feel comfortable participating in the discussion. If not, I take a partisan approach and focus on the job instead of the argument. Unfortunately, the last few months have caused me to engage in ways that I never thought would be necessary, but the truth is that public education is in the crosshairs of damaging policy at the state and national level.
One piece of legislation currently under consideration at the state level is tax-credit scholarships. Concisely, this means that corporations can pay the tuition for students to go to private schools and then receive tax credits on the back end. The students targeted are typically from lower income families who attend public schools thereby eliminating the funding for those public schools one head at a time. Proponents of these scholarships espouse the freedom of school choice and parental control over their children’s education. Sounds appealing, does it not? What they fail to mention is the shifting of public money to private entities. In my opinion, that is not okay. Tax-credit scholarships dilute funding for the most vulnerable among us, and those students who have significant academic needs are most often turned away at the private school door.
Our governor proclaimed the last week in January to be School Choice Week. This is a yearly, premeditated week of advocacy from a national organization hoping to make inroads for private schools to access public tax money. Of course, many people in our state who align with this agenda work diligently to push legislation that will allow tax-credit scholarships, vouchers, charter schools, and yes, even pension “reform.” I’ve seen statistics that say 75% of school choice advocates have students who already attend private schools or charters. Is it really a matter of choice, or is this one more piece of the attack on public education? The evidence points to an attack. For independent urban districts like Bellevue, it is more than an attack on our schools; it is an attack on our community.
School choice advocates love to label urban districts as failing. What they base this opinion upon baffles me. When faced with this criticism, however, I believe we have two choices. We can assume the role of victim, or we can respond with the truth. I choose the latter, so buckle up for the truth. When I look around our district, I see the following:
- Pre-K efforts such as Head Start, bornlearning, cradle school, and free book program.
- A 5-Star preschool (the highest designation).
- An instructional model, observed regularly by other districts, that emphasizes critical thinking.
- A dedicated middle school to address developmental characteristics (a rarity in small districts).
- Dual-credit partnerships with Gateway, Northern Kentucky University, and the University of Louisville.
- 1/3 of upperclassmen taking college courses.
- 595 college credits earned in 2016-17.
- 18 seniors in the class of 2017 left BHS with at least 24 college hours.
- One senior in the class of 2018 will leave with the equivalent of an associate’s degree.
- Three National Board certified teachers and three more in process.
- Three teachers enrolled in the NKU “Great 8” cohort – a master’s program designed for urban school districts.
- A “Distinguished” high school rating according to the previous accountability system.
This is only a fraction of the positive in Bellevue Independent. With the current legislative session underway, only time will reveal what constraints are placed upon us in the future. Regardless, we will thrive. Charter school laws are already a reality, and if tax-credit (voucher) legislation is passed, the buzzards will begin circling. No worries. There isn’t a strip mall academy in the future that can compete with the trajectory of Bellevue Independent Schools, or any of our other public schools friends in Northern Kentucky. In my opinion, we are the obvious choice.
For more information on why you should CHOOSE BELLEVUE, go to www.choosebellevue.com
If you have an opinion on the tax-credit scholarship bill, or any other legislation affecting our school district, contact your representative or senator at 1-800-372-7181.