Reimagining Education

Words matter! How we talk about education changes what we see as possible

This week the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote an article about a bill being considered by the Missouri House of Representatives that is intended to ensure equitable funding for students.

The bill addresses a decades old legislative mistake that has resulted in some students in St. Louis getting $1,200 less in education funding each year than their peers who attend other schools.

The mistake centers around how property taxes play into school funding, tying funding for some schools to 2005 property tax values while letting other schools receive revenue based on 2021 property tax values.

Since real estate and property tax values tend to increase over time, this is a mistake that will likely lead to even greater disparity in educational funding in future years if it is not fixed. So the common sense bill being considered this week simply puts all schools on the same footing and ensures they each get funding based on current property tax values.

This should not be a controversial issue. If anything, it is simply fixing a clerical error from years ago.

But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch choose to cover the issue this way:

“The Republican-controlled Missouri House gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a plan to shift millions of dollars from public schools to charter schools. In St. Louis, the plan could siphon as much as $17 million from the public school district as part of a proposal to alter how school funding is calculated in districts where charter schools are allowed.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch April 13, 2021

As the old adage goes, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Why do we have to turn a simple fix of an accounting error into an attack on the public education establishment?

There are so many things wrong in these two sentences that it makes it almost impossible for anyone to have a reasonable conversation on the issue.

First of all, the proposed legislation is not shifting money out of the public education system.

Charter schools are public schools!

They are an integral part of the public education system in St. Louis and Kansas City – a part that close to half of all public school students have chosen to attend in those areas.

If you don’t believe us, just check out the FAQ on DESE’s website:

Secondly, the bill does not siphon money — it simply ensures that all public schools are funded equally.

The bill sponsor could have chosen to include language that retroactively tried to balance the unequal funding from previous years and forced district schools to make reparations to public charter schools.

Instead, the bill simply fixes the problem for the future before it becomes a much bigger problem.

It is not a nefarious plan to destroy public education and privatize schools across the state, it is simply an effort to make sure that ever public school student gets equal funding.

I guess that was not exciting enough for a story so instead the Post-Dispatch chose to frame it as conservative attack on public schools and now we are talking about this instead of debating whether or not more students should have access to public charter schools which seem to be pretty popular in the areas they are allowed.

Words matter.

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