Reimagining Education

FTFY: Helping the Post-Dispatch be accurate on school choice

Several recent editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have distressingly revealed how little the paper’s Editorial Board seems to understand about education reform and the positive impacts that expanding school choice initiatives could have for Missouri residents.

In an attempt to help set the record straight; we have rewritten the Post-Dispatch’s most recent editorial (their version is in grey for reference) to provide a more factual and accurate exploration of how Empowerment Scholarship Accounts could transform education for thousands of Missouri families.

Editorial: Softly killing public education by sending taxpayer money to private schools

Editorial: Positively transforming public education by helping families access high-quality schools

The surest way to undermine public schools is to redefine the very meaning of public education.

The surest way to improve public education is to reimagine our outdated education system.

That’s the stated intent behind Missouri Senate Bill 160, which would create an Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. The bill would allow parents to deposit money into such an account and finance their child’s elementary and secondary education at a school of their choice — including private and religious schools — and claim a tax credit for the expenses.

That’s the stated intent behind Missouri Senate Bill 160, which would create an Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. The bill would give parents access to tax-credit funded scholarships which they could use to customize their children’s education, allowing them to pay for tutoring, therapy, private schools, home school curriculum or to send to their children to different district public school. The Post-Dispatch does not seem to even understand how the program would work, thinking seemingly that it would provide tax-credits to parents, which it would not. If parents would like to claim a tax-credit when they use their own personal finances to pay for a privates school they can already do so through the Missouri MOST 529 program.

It’s similar to how other states have implemented school voucher programs without explicitly calling them vouchers.

It is not similar to voucher programs in other states, because Empowerment Scholarship Accounts would provide funding directly to parents, not schools, giving them wide latitude to choose the education model that will work best for their children.

But findings from other states — including Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana and the District of Columbia — suggest that voucher-incentivized transfers could lead to lower student test scores and hurt student achievement. Various studiesoffer a compelling argument for lawmakers to stop this train wreck from hitting Missouri schools.

Studies of school choice initiatives across the country offer a varied view of the success of helping students who have accessed private schools, but the preponderance of data shows that private school choice helps improve student achievement, both for students transferring to private schools and for those remaining in traditional district schools. These studies, even those referenced by the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, offer a compelling argument for lawmakers to bring a successful school choice program to Missouri families.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, justifies using public money to pay for people’s private school choices because he considers mandatory “public education” any manner in which a child is educated. That’s not how public education has been understood in America for more than a century.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, rightly justifies using a public program to help families who find a private school education to be the right path for their children. These families already pay taxes every year to support public education and receive no benefit themselves. Such a program will also open the doors of private schools to socially and economically disadvantaged students, leveling the class barriers that exist in many parts of Missouri and St. Louis. Providing equitable access to quality education is EXACTLY how public education has been understood in America for more than a century.

Funny how Koenig can offer a commonsense answer to fight flood plain development yet turn around and offer a bill like this, which so clearly defies logic. Even setting aside philosophical differences about whether Missouri taxpayers should foot the bill for private school tuition, consider the research on results:

It is no surprise that Koenig can offer a commonsense answer to fight flood plain development and also sponsor a commonsense program like Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which is so clearly needed in Missouri. Even setting aside mistaken perception that this program would require Missouri taxpayers to foot the bill for private school tuition, consider the research on results:

In recent years, studies have shown that voucher programs were associated with moderate to large declines in achievement among participating students. Proponents like Koenig cite older, outdated studies that show neutral or modest gains.

While several recent studies have shown that voucher programs were associated with no improvement or slight declines in achievement among participating students, those same studies have shown school choice programs have a significant impact on improving the achievement in traditional district schools as they have been forced to improve to compete. In a state where only 49.2 percent of students scored proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) and only 42.1 percent scored proficient in math that would be a welcome change. For some reason, the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board referenced a 2016 global study of school choice (in an attempt to prove proponents like Koenig cite older, outdated studies) while ignoring themselves recent studies that show school choice programs help more students enter and graduate from college, help to reduce crime, and improve teen mental health and reduce suicide rates.

The scholarship tax credit program in Florida has been rigorously studied. The findings report either no effect or small positive effects on student test scores. However, since 2010, changes to testing requirements made comparisons to public school outcomes impossible. The ever-changing testing standard in Missouri creates another major problem in evaluating the merits of Koenig’s bill.

The scholarship tax credit program in Florida has been rigorously studied. The findings report small positive effects on student test scores. Although since 2010, changes to testing requirements in Florida made comparisons to public school outcomes impossible, a wide variety of studies have shown that Florida’s private school choice programs have improved college outcomes, made parents and students happier, saved the state money, and been widely approved by Floridians. The ever-changing testing standard in Missouri is a separate issue that is unrelated to the possibilities of giving parents more choices in their children’s education.

It would not mandate that private school students take the Missouri Assessment Program tests, as required for public schools. The bill would permit private schools to use any “nationally referenced” test to evaluate student progress.

Koenig’s bill would not mandate that private school students take the Missouri Assessment Program tests, as required for public schools, giving those private schools the freedom to avoid teaching to the test. Instead, the bill require private schools to use “nationally referenced” tests to evaluate student progress — tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which is frequently referred to as the nation’s report card and which, according to the Post-Dispatch, has higher standards than Missouri’s own homebrew approach to testing.

One consistent measurement standard should apply regardless of the school. Without a straightforward, apples-to-apples comparison, there is no way to determine whether diverting public money to private schools actually improves student outcomes.

NAEP is the only consistent measurement standard used in Missouri and the only standard that provides an apples-to-apples comparison of how our state is doing compared to other states. For example, Florida, which has some of the most extensive school choice programs in the country, is one of the top-performing states on the NAEP in the country, while Missouri, despite our high graduation rate and number of fully accredited school districts, falls in the middle of the pack.

This apparent attempt to skirt accountability suggests other motives are driving the school-choice agenda among state legislatures. Diverting taxpayer money for religious-school instruction raises particularly serious constitutional concerns. Yet Koenig has stated bizarrely, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says anything about the separation of church and state.”

This is not an attempt to skirt accountability. The Editorial Board’s frequent attempts to use false, incomplete or misleading information to form arguments against school choice suggests other motives then the success of our students are driving their editorials. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are funded by private donations and do NOT divert taxpayer money for religious-school instruction and thus do not raise constitutional concerns.

His proposal would ask Missouri taxpayers to finance private schools at the tune of $15 million the first two years and $25 million the third.

Koenig’s proposal would provide families up to $15 million in education scholarships for the first two years and $25 million the third.

« Previous Post:

» Next Post: