Reimagining Education

Private school leaders advocate for ESAs

Private school leaders and parents from across the state were at the capitol this week to talk with legislators. Their message was clear.

Access to private schools can transform and save lives.

The advocates met with a wide range of state senators and representatives to encourage them to support legislation that would create the state’s first-ever Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

An ESA program would set up donation funded scholarships for families to access a wide range of school choice options.

Scott Williams, Head of School for Christian Fellowship School in Columbia told state leaders that private schools actually save traditional school districts millions of dollars each year. He explained that in Columbia about 2,000 students get their education through private schools.

If those students attended traditional public schools it would require the Columbia school system to build at least one new school building at a cost of at least $35 million. Additionally, Williams said that the Columbia school system spends at least $6,000 per student in local funding each year. If the 2,000 private school students entered the public system it would require an additional $12 million in operating costs each year.

Mark Gifford, from Johnson County Christian Academy, said that private schools frequently provide life-saving options for rural students. He explained that in his county bullying and suicide were persistent problems in the public school.

“When parents, especially low-income parents, are faced with trauma or a crisis at a school relating to their children they have no choice,” he said, noting that many times the only way they can help their children escape dangerous situations is to move them to a private school. “It is more important in a rural community. When parents are faced with bullying or suicide there is no place of escape for those kids. You have a small pool of friends and that is it. If parents are looking for other options to save the lives of their children sometimes that one Christian school is the only option.”

Stephanie Turner, a parent at Summit Christian Academy, said that taking her children out of a district school had been transformative for them.

“I do believe in the private school system,” she said. “I think it helps a minority of people who need something completely different than what the public school can offer.”

She said that her family had had to make many sacrifices in order to get her children in a private school, but that those sacrifices were worth it.

“From day one it was totally different,” she said. “Today my daughter is thriving because she has a foundation that she never had before. The reason I am here is so that more families can have hope. So that when they need more options then there is hope for that.”

Jessica Bullard, the principal at Outreach Christian Academy, said she had experienced first hand the difference private schools could make. When she was growing up she struggled in public schools before her mother sacrificed to help her go to Outreach Christian Academy.

“I was able to graduate a year early with honors, was the valedictorian, got a full ride scholarship and am now working on my Ph.D.,” she said, adding that her school works closely with students to provide very individualized learning to make sure they fill in the gaps.

April Venable, from Northland Christian Schools, told legislators that an ESA could really start the process of choice in education for Missouri families and help them attend a school like hers that offers smaller classes than the traditional district schools.

“You are gaining family, community,” she said. “You know your student is being cared for by their teacher.”

Don Coons, from Crossroads Christian School near St. Louis, said he frequently gets calls from parents who cannot afford to attend his high performing school.

“Right now many of them have to make that decision based on economics and this (ESAs) would help with that,” he said.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts can open the doors to high-quality education for students across Missouri, but it is a going to be a tough battle to make them a reality.

If you would like to help more families access these options please let your elected officials know you support with just one click by filling out this form.

The more voices asking for school choice in Missouri the more likely that we will see positive movement in Jefferson City this year!

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