When I speak to groups or individuals about the work CEAM is doing to promote and enact education policy change, I usually start out with a singularly important fact:
“We have school choice in Missouri.”
Which, I quickly follow up with this important fact:
“And it is reserved for those who have the means to pay tuition or move to the school district where they want to enroll their children.”
I like to let that sink in. It is an important truth that some would rather ignore because to acknowledge that truth means we recognize that the system is working against the interests of many low-income families, many of whom would avail themselves of an educational option for their children if they could.
The truth about choice is that each year in America millions of students are enrolled in the school district of their choosing because their family could afford to move to a wealthier community with higher performing schools.
Beyond that, millions of American children each year are enrolled in private schools by virtue of their families’ ability to pay tuition.
The link between low-income communities and low-performing public schools is incontrovertible. Yet to those most vulnerable, we say, “hold on while we fix this.” Maybe we can fix all our traditional public schools. It remains to be seen. However, to ask those with the least bandwidth in their lives to slog through a substandard education is a crime.
While one establishment hand is holding poor families at bay from the opportunity to choose a better school, the other wags a status quo finger of disapproval at poor families for not having better parents, not being stronger families, failure to meet middle class expectations and at the children themselves for not learning.
It would be great if we had a public education system that delivered an equitable service to every child and could tailor itself to meet every unique learning need, but we don’t. That’s why choice is critical.
Choice is not a panacea, nor is choice a slippery slope to privatization. Choice can give families an immediate remedy, not a promise to improve for future generations. Choice puts pressure on everyone to improve and removes the complacency of being able to take student enrollment for granted.
We have school choice in Missouri.
Let’s make it available to every family that wants a choice.
Peter Franzen, Associate Executive Director