A hot topic in schools across our country is always parent and family engagement. How do we get our families to attend school events, help with homework, and return our calls? How can we get more volunteers for class parties, sports boosters, and fundraising efforts? While all of these are necessary and appreciated activities, one public school engagement strategy we do not talk about enough is civic engagement, and that is what we are asking of you right now. Right now, there is an attack on Missouri’s public school at the state legislature through several bills regarding charter school expansion and educational vouchers.
Senate Bill 25 seeks to implement the cleverly-titled, “Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program,” through charter school expansion and voucher tax credits. Currently in Missouri, charter schools are only allowable in St. Louis and Kansas City. The passing of this bill would allow charter schools in major counties like St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, and Jackson County and any city with populations greater than 30,000 (think Springfield, St. Joseph, Liberty, etc.). But why are charter schools undesirable? That is complex, but it boils down to funding. All school inequities start at the funding level, and charter schools take funding from public schools. Consider a school district that has 20,000 students enrolled, and 200 of them move to the newly-opened charter allowed by this bill. The school district has no lower overhead from 200 fewer students. They need the same number of teachers, electricity, buses, and supplies. However, the 200 students equates to millions of dollars for the district’s overall budget. Our Missouri education foundation funding formula has NEVER been fully funded since its establishment in 2006, and now our state government continues to whittle it down even further.
This bill also strives to enact vouchers. Vouchers essentially give anyone eligible for public school the money it costs to educate them in a certificate-form that can be used at almost any school in the state – including private schools, charter schools, and even on computer hardware, therapies, and tutoring. While this sounds great in theory to have school choice, it continues to deplete our already under-funded public schools of necessary funds and even sends these public funds to private and religious institutions. Moreover, the students who are already most vulnerable will be the most negatively impacted by these vouchers, and it will continue to divide the haves and have-nots. What happens to a struggling district where the only students who are left are those who cannot organize transportation to a neighboring district to use their voucher? They continue to widen the gap of educational experiences for students in our communities.
In the name of brevity, I’ll stop this here. There are several other bills with the similar underlying purpose of dismantling public education in Missouri. Call, email, or text your legislators now and urge them to vote no on: Senate Bill 25, Senate Bill 23, Senate Bill 55, House Bill 349, and House Bill 540. Missouri’s students, families, and communities deserve a properly-funded public education model that serves all and not just a few.