Last year when Gov. Mike Parson signed Missouri’s new MoScholar’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program into law the CEAM team and thousands of volunteer parents across the state celebrated the successful win of this long, very challenging effort.
We immediately all got to work making sure every family who could possibly benefit from the new program knew about it and had a chance to apply.
We celebrated again last week as the first students to receive the new scholarships were announced.
Just as important, as we celebrate this year’s victory we cannot lose sight of the fact that the new MOScholars program is just a starting point, not a final destination in the movement to provide more parental choice in Missouri K-12 education.
In an ideal world, the program would be open to every Missouri student, regardless of where they live, their family income, or whether or not they have special learning needs.
In an ideal world, the program would provide funding for homeschool students without adding draconian requirements aimed at those families who simply want to teach their children from the safety of their homes.
In an ideal world, the program would be designed so that every child had access to their full education funding (both local and state) and had the choice to use that funding however they would like to achieve a quality, student-focused education.
But we will never get to those points if we do not understand and hold true to the critical need for parental choice supporters to stand together as we continue to work for improving a wide variety of state education policies.
Is the new ESA law perfect? No.
But, its very existence is a major victory and an amazing starting point for future improvements.
Passing Missouri’s ESA program was the result of thousands of parents and advocates from across the state standing up and saying that we need more and better educational options for our children.
Expanding and improving the program will require an even larger coalition and greater collaborative effort to see the big picture and understand that we are all working towards the same goal.
School choice advocates from other states with many more options for their students, states like Florida, Arizona, Indiana, and Wisconsin, will tell you that passing the best parental choice school choice laws requires a strong and cooperative effort that focuses less on the perfect and more on improving and expanding existing laws.
The history of school choice in those states shows us that not only do we have to make sure that our fledgling program succeeds, but we also have to defend it from all sides while at the same time working to expand it to impact even more families.
Delivering a quality educational opportunity to every student has been a function of government for centuries and unwinding it from that bureaucracy will not happen overnight. Creating a new vision for K-12 education that includes proven 21st-century innovations and freedom for families to choose will take time and cooperation.
It is time, now more than ever, to focus on how to improve the MOScholars program and pass new governing legislation language that improves and expands the program.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and continue to work on our shared vision…ensuring that families have the ultimate control over their children’s futures.