Reimagining Education

Open enrollment, ESA tweaks best chance to expand school choice in 2023

Missouri students and school choice advocates have been on a winning streak in Jefferson City in recent years.

Last year we successfully guaranteed equal funding for charter school students in St. Louis City and Kansas City and made sure parents had the final say on whether or not to enroll their children in Missouri’s virtual education program.

Those successes came hot on the heels of the creation of Missouri’s first-ever private school choice program – the MOScholars scholarship program – which has helped thousands of students access better education options this year (check out some of the success stories here).

With all of these recent victories and new leadership in the Missouri legislature, it is harder than ever to predict what legislation might pass in the coming year to expand school choice in Missouri even further.

This year our wish list of policy changes includes:

  • Open enrollment
  • Expanding the MOScholars program
  • Improving accountability to ensure quality schools

What is open enrollment?

Open enrollment is an important form of school choice that allows families to send their children to the public school of their choice, regardless of what district they live in. Currently, 46 states have some form of open enrollment policy, and close to 75 percent of parents nationwide support the idea of open enrollment.

Open enrollment can help families escape failing schools, find school programs that fit their children’s specific needs, and help students find refuge from bullying. It can also help school districts struggling with declining student populations fill seats and improve diversity within their classrooms. Open enrollment can also help eliminate the educational disparities created by previous “redlining” policies.

Currently, Missouri only allows open enrollment when a school district loses accreditation, like the transfer program that started when the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts lost accreditation over a decade ago.

Open enrollment, if properly designed, would fill an important hole in Missouri’s school choice landscape, adding public school choice to the already thriving private school choice, public charter, and virtual education options that many families can currently access.

How we can improve and expand the MOScholars scholarship program

While it will likely be an uphill battle to pass any new legislation expanding the MOScholars scholarship program in the first year of the program’s operation, there are a number of key ways the program could be improved to help more students across the state.

The biggest and most effective changes would be in expanding who can qualify for the unique scholarship program.

MO Scholars scholarships are currently only available for students living in Missouri’s most populous regions, and even then qualifying is based on whether or not the student has an IEP or is considered to be low-income.

CEAM has heard from many parents who would like to see these restrictions removed or expanded and we are ready to help those parents share their concerns and success stories with legislators in Jefferson City.

Another change that could help students benefit more from the program is to increase the scholarship amount (currently $6,375) to provide additional funding for students with special needs and low-income students. This would expand the number of private schools that would be viable alternatives for these students and provide additional funding for tutoring, therapy, and transportation.

Improving school accountability

Of course, educational options are most effective when families can make informed decisions about the schools they are choosing to send their children to.

That’s why CEAM is always supportive of legislation designed to truly improve accountability and transparency around school effectiveness.

Missouri is far behind other states in providing families with easy-to-find-and-understand information about how successfully our schools are educating our children, frequently diluting data on academic outcomes with graduation rates and attendance records.

The end result is every public school district in Missouri has at least provisional accreditation and parents frequently think their schools are doing a great job educating our children. The reality is less than half of Missouri students are actually performing at grade level in the basics of reading, writing, and math.

We need a new system that gives parents a quick and clear understanding of how effective every school is in educating their children.

Stick with CEAM to stay informed

Make sure you are signed up to receive CEAM’s monthly newsletter and join our action network to stay informed about important education legislation as it moves through the legislature this year.

We strive to only contact our advocates when it looks like a bill related to our policy priorities has a good chance of advancing through the legislative session or when our advocates can make a real difference in helping legislators understand how school choice legislation can improve education in Missouri.

You can sign up for our newsletter here and you can join our action network here.

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