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Kansas City Star - Hulshof Calls for Big Changes in KC, St. Louis Schools

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Kansas City Star - Hulshof Calls for Big Changes in KC, St. Louis Schools

Kit Wagar

Calling high-quality education a civil right, Kenny Hulshof challenged state officials Tuesday to revamp Kansas City and St. Louis schools by giving parents more choices and teachers more flexibility.

Hulshof, the Republican candidate for governor, went to the Kansas City Public Library's Central branch to lay out a five-point plan to turn around the state's two largest urban districts.

"Democrats and Republicans have shirked their duties," Hulshof said. "I'm the only candidate in this race with the political courage — guts, if you will — to take this on. I'm not the candidate of any teachers union. I'm the candidate for students and parents living in our inner cities."

Hulshof's plan calls for more parental choice two ways. The first would encourage formation of more charter schools within the two school districts. The second would provide tax credits for donations to a scholarship fund to pay for tutoring or private school tuition.

Democrats criticized the plan, saying a diversion of public money into private schools would simply hurt public schools already struggling to teach profoundly disadvantaged students.

Hulshof called such statements a shopworn defense of a wholly unacceptable status quo. Under his plan, money for public schools would remain the same so that children who remained in the public school system would not be shortchanged, he said.

Dramatic actions are needed, Hulshof said, because of the abysmal performance of the districts.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon responded to Hulshof's plan by announcing his endorsement by the Missouri Association of School Administrators. The group praised Nixon's opposition to vouchers or tuition tax credits, and his support for early-childhood education programs.

John Martin, interim superintendent of the Kansas City schools, gave Hulshof's proposals a mixed review. He called merit pay for good teachers "a heck of an idea." Teachers unions don't like the idea, but bonuses for performance can be a valuable incentive to encourage excellence, he said.

Charter schools, which are public schools that operate independently of the district, have yet to prove their worth, Martin said. Charters usually attract students with parents who are more involved with their children than the typical district parent, he said, yet their scores are often not as good as the district's schools, he said.

"Charters are a solution that everybody is pressing as if they are penicillin, but they have the effect of a placebo," Martin said.

The private-school scholarships also have a mixed record, he said. Private and parochial schools are usually not equipped to deal with low-income children with high levels of needs, Martin said.

Studies have found that students who use such scholarships have not done better than peers who remained in public schools, he said.


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