Reimagining Education

Other states racing to secure school choice

Missouri lawmakers are not alone in their efforts to enact school choice legislation this year after parents recognized the need to have more control over their children’s education during the pandemic.

A total of 28 other states are considering private school choice programs this year, including some of Missouri’s neighboring states.

In fact, just this week Kentucky legislators voted to override a teacher’s union-backed veto of an ESA program that will provide low- and middle-income families with funding to customize their children’s education.

Two other states, West Virginia and South Dakota, have also fully passed and had signed into law new programs that will give families access to private school choice.

And other states surrounding Missouri are advancing school choice legislation this spring as well.

A tax-credit scholarship bill has been passed out of a revenue committee in Nebraska, an education savings account program has been passed by the Iowa Senate, a voucher bill has been passed out of the Oklahoma House education committee, an education savings account and tax-credit scholarship plan has been passed by the Kansas Senate and has passed out of the Kansas House education committee, and new private school choice bills have been proposed in Illinois and Tennessee.

A full list of the programs proposed across the country and their progress can be found here.

Why it matters

As Susan Pendergrass wrote in a recent blog, the pandemic has dramatically changed the landscape of jobs and economic development with many companies switching to permanent work from home plans.

This means that jobs are no longer as tied to location as they used to be and predominantly rural states like Missouri could be attractive locations for high-level earners seeking to escape urban cores and settle in small towns.

The pandemic has already resulted in a mass exodus from major cities to smaller cities and towns, but to be truly effective in attracting these families Missouri needs to offer them access to high-educational options.

Of course, access to those educational options is key for families already living in Missouri as well.

A recent study comparing educational freedom to performance and gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation’s report card, showed that providing a dynamic system of school choice is one of the top two methods of improving student performance.

Several studies have also shown that expanding school choice can have major positive economic impacts for states:

  • A 2020 study on expanding school choice in Pennsylvania predicted that the expansion could result in $6 billion in economic benefits from higher lifetime earnings associated with increases in academic achievement, $2.1 billion from additional high school graduates, and $228 million from reductions in the social costs associated with crimes.
  • A 2018 study of Missouri’s economy revealed that creating expansive school choice could result in $1 trillion in additional economic activity in the state over a 10 year time period.

Missouri already behind in race for educational freedom

Even before the nationwide push for school choice that has developed in 2021, Missouri was lagging behind its neighboring states in providing families high-quality options for education.

Kansas and Iowa already have a tax-credit scholarship program. Arkansas has a voucher program. Tennessee has an ESA program and Illinois recently started a very popular $100 million private school tax-credit scholarship program.

Missouri families can only access two forms of school choice, charter schools (in only two school districts) and homeschooling (although there is no funding to support homeschooling, like what would be provided through an ESA program).

This makes it hard for Missouri to compete in workforce development. It also makes it harder for Missouri to attract new residents who want the best education possible.

What you can do

Thankfully, Missouri legislators are working to fix the problem this year with several bills that would create a private school choice option in the state and create a new open enrollment structure.

But they need to hear from you, their constituents, about the need to pass these bills to ensure that Missouri remains competitive with our neighboring states.

You can let your elected leaders know you support school choice by filling out the form below.

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