For the third week in a row, parents from across Missouri descended on the state capitol with a mission: to fight for better educational options for their children.
Some, like Carmen Ward, have been sharing their stories at the capitol for years, fighting for access to schools where their children could succeed. Others, like Lindi Williford, just joined the movement this year after their school districts let them down during the pandemic.
But their messages were the same. It is time for Missouri to recognize that even the best school district can not serve the needs of every child and parents need to be put into the driver’s seat to ensure their children’s future.
“We are forced to send our kids here,” Williford, a parent in the suburban Wentzville school district, told the House Education Committee on Tuesday. “We are forced to pay taxes into this public school system. We are forced to use a certain school within the zip code. We are forced to accept what they want to teach and we have no say. Now some of these districts are failing and won’t even open their doors at all. This is not an education system this is a prison system for our children. We need options. We need change. We need relief for our children. We cannot go another year in this broken prison system. We need to put our kids’ needs first.”
The Lindsay family, from more rural Mexico, told the committee that getting access to virtual education for their three children had been life-changing, even if they had had to fight to make their district follow the law and pay for their tuition in a MOCAP approved program.
“All I keep hearing is about how bad virtual education is,” said Shanon Lindsay. “But, my kids are thriving in this. They’re actually doing good and they enjoy class.”
His daughter said she wished the MOCAP program had been an option when she was bullied in middle school.
“I’m a sophomore this year,” she said. “I’ll be graduating next year thanks to MOVA [the MOCAP program she is taking]. I didn’t think I was going to make it through sixth grade. I was pushed in the locker rooms, called fat, I was treated like crap by teachers, principals, everyone in that school. I had my principal body shame me almost every single day.
“I had such bad anxiety in high school that I couldn’t even walk through the hallways without completely just going out of my right mind,” she added. “I know there are so many other students that are stuck going through it every day because they don’t have any other option. There needs to be more options.”
“I think it’s important that parents have that choice,” said Shanon. ” I live in a small town. Our school board, it’s pretty much a popularity contest so if you know who you know you’re good. If you don’t you’re pretty much kicked to the curb.”
Johnnie Calloway, a single father from Kansas City, said he had picked his current career so that he could afford to get his daughter into a private school, a plan that was upended when his son was forced to learn remotely due to the pandemic.
“I was not able to give him the proper parental support that he needed so I began looking into options that could accommodate both of my children,” Johnnie said. “I then found Crossroads Academy. They were highly rated, had space for both children, and it also continued the trend of a positive environment for my children.”
Johnnie said he knew his story was a unique one in inner-city Kansas City.
“Most parents in our community don’t have options and are forced to keep their kids in failing schools continuing the cycle of poverty and under-education,” he said, explaining that he was fighting for school choice so that more children could have the opportunities he has worked so hard for to give to his children.
Krystal Barnette, a mother from St. Louis, said her children had also benefited from school choice but she as well wanted to make sure every child had the same opportunities.
“All of us are looking for an out,” she said. “We are not interested in how much it will cost because it is already costing us money to bury our children.
“The children are what really matter and when you take out the semantics and the politics then there would not even be a debate about whether or not to give choice to families,” she said.
Kim Townsend, a parent and educator, told the committee that the need for more choices had led her to found the first charter school outside of St. Louis City or Kansas City.
“Parents in our state need and want choices and options,” she said. “You have heard from parents many, many times. parents have been able to see what is really happening in schools. I know how hard teachers are working. I also know there are many things happening that parents don’t agree with and know is not good for their children.”
“There are a lot of ways that people want to maintain the status quo, they do a lot of speaking in a way that does not give parents or individuals in our state the right information,” she added. “You can’t just put up a school. There are expectations. There is accountability from DESE.”
Carmen Ward, a St. Louis parent of a special needs child, pointed out that parents, including herself, had been asking the state to give parents more educational options for years.
“We’re asking if you guys would just walk alongside of us,” she said. “We have been asking and asking and asking for a very long time for our children to get access to a quality education.”