The pandemic has made it clear that parents and families bear the ultimate responsibility for their children’s education, but Missouri’s education system is focused on funding buildings and systems instead of funding students. During the pandemic many Missouri families discovered a reality others have faced for decades — Our current system traps our students in the schools they are assigned to based on zip code regardless of whether or not those schools are meeting our child’s needs.
Missouri needs to break this education monopoly and give families the power, opportunity, and funding needed to ensure that every child is receiving a quality education that meets their specific needs.
Thankfully, this week the Missouri Senate is expected to debate the Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 55 (SB55).
Here are the top three ways SB55 will help Missouri students.
SB55 would create Missouri’s first-ever Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA)program, giving families across the state the ability to design an educational plan that fits the individual specific needs of their children.
Families receiving an ESA scholarship could use the funds for private school tuition, textbooks, tutors, computer equipment, summer- and after-school programs, therapy, and homeschool curriculum. They could even use the funds to pay for their child to attend a public school in another district. This gives those families the funding they need to ensure their children are receiving a quality education.
ESA’s would also result in savings for both the state and local school districts, savings that could be redirected to improve education for students remaining in the public school system.
Charter schools have been a success in St. Louis City and Kansas City. SB55 would give families in five counties and about 50 cities the same chance to attend a charter school that residents of St. Louis City and Kansas City currently have.
SB55 would not require charter schools to open in these communities, it would simply give the communities the opportunity for a charter school to be opened in their district if enough families saw the need for better educational options.
Communities that would get this opportunity under SB55 include St. Louis, St. Charles, Jackson, Clay, and Jefferson counties as well as Cape Girardeau, Columbia, Jefferson City, Joplin, Springfield, and St. Joseph.
Charter schools have a proven track record of out-performing district schools they are located near. Twelve of the top 20 St. Louis schools in math were charter schools, 13 of the top 20 St. Louis schools in ELA were charter schools, 14 of the top 20 Kansas City schools in math were charter schools, and 15 of the top 20 Kansas City schools in ELA were charter schools. More importantly, close to half of all students in both Kansas City and St. Louis have chosen to attend a charter school and much less likely to seek out a different school than their peers in traditional district schools.
During the pandemic, many families have had horrible experiences with virtual education designed by their local district. At the same time, many districts have failed to notify parents of their legal right to access carefully designed and effective virtual education programs through the MOCAP program. Even before the pandemic districts were actively blocking families from enrolling in MOCAP courses, resulting in lawsuits across the state.
SB55 fixes Missouris virtual education program, by allowing parents to directly enroll their children in MOCAP programs without first having to get permission from their school district. This eliminates a clear conflict of interest from districts that are more concerned with finances than what is in the best educational interest of their students. SB55 also creates a clear penalty for district that do not inform parents of their right to access MOCAP programs, ensuring that every family has the option to receive high quality virtual education if that is what works best for their children.
You can learn more about the specifics of SB55 here.
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