In a recent commentary, we learned that 2021 may be the year when Missouri parents will finally be able to make sure their students receive a quality education. The sales pitch from conservative think tanks, lobbyists, and politicians? That parents won’t have to send their children to antiquated, low performing public schools. Those groups are already hard at work promoting something called school choice.
The Catalyst for School Choice
The author touted a survey that said fewer than half of Missouri’s parents trust the public school system to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children’s education. The primary culprit? COVID-19. She cited high positivity rates, the switch to remote learning, and technological challenges in rural areas as reasons why school choice is needed. Nothing was said about underperforming schools, unsafe environments, or overcrowded classrooms. Just a worldwide pandemic. How would school choice eliminate the issues that “wreaked havoc” on our 900,000 Missouri public school students?
What Exactly is School Choice?
School choice allows parents to decide whether they want their children to attend a private school or a public school. It’s a voucher-based system that routes public funds that were designated for public schools to private, parochial, virtual, or charter schools.
With School Choice, Public Schools Suffer
Missouri funds local school districts under a foundation formula based on average daily attendance. When enrollment goes down, so does a district’s funding. In some parts of our state, districts can absorb small funding fluctuations. But in many areas, the loss of funding can have devastating consequences.
To make matters worse, public report cards on each district’s performance on high stakes assessments can make it appear that public schools are not doing a good job teaching students. One important distinction to remember is that public school districts are required to accept all students regardless of disability, native language, or family socioeconomic status, whereas charter schools and private schools can be much more selective.
There simply is no good argument in favor of the need for school choice because we’ve had it here in Missouri for a really long time. The truth is, parents have always been able to choose to either send their children to the local public school, or they can choose to send them to private school if they’re willing to pay the tuition. Or, they can choose to homeschool their children. Missouri has had school choice all along.
What’s the End Goal?
But this isn’t really about choice, per se. It’s about money. Proponents want to divert money earmarked for public school funding to private, parochial, charter, and virtual schools. The effect? This will “starve down” our public school districts over time, forcing many to further cut programs, reduce teaching staff, and the like. Eventually, more and more districts will be forced to consolidate just to stay afloat. How can this help our most precious Missourians? It can’t. And school choice proponents know it.
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