Sen. Ed Emery’s Legislative Report for April 23, 2018

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Education Choices

“…One thing my experience as a mother and teacher has taught me is that education needs fewer experts and more common sense.” Laura Hanby Hudgens

Have you wondered why parents who have had minimal involvement in their child’s K-12 education will pour over college catalogs with their high school senior? The reasons should be clear: first, there are choices to be made about cost, and second, there are choices about value. Choices focus our attention like little else. There are also questions about content (curriculum) and faculty influence (prevailing thought). For example, some parents who value civics education and the Bill of Rights might be very concerned with the growing body of research that among college students “diversity” is more highly valued than constitutionally protected free speech.

In Missouri, a number of bills were filed this year in both the Senate and the House of Representatives designed to address such concerns by bringing parents and students choices in education. Everything from charter school expansion and full-time virtual schools to education savings accounts via tax credit scholarships have been filed in the Senate. These proposals often have companion bills in the Missouri House of Representatives. Other reform measures include the elimination of teacher-tenure and the application of plain letter-grade ratings for how well students are being educated in a building or district. Parents need to know how well their school is doing and that the best teachers are retained regardless of how long they have occupied the classroom.

Only one of these measures, (SB 603) has passed the Senate in a very restricted form. It would provide a small improvement in access to online courses, but most of the bills are still bottled up in the Senate Education Committee. Most to date have not had a public committee hearing. It is beginning to look like another legislative session may come and go without providing students and parents any meaningful education choices. I was interviewed this week by Dr. Ursula Hackett, an author from England, who is writing a book about the politics of education choices. She was inquiring of me and others as to why giving choices to parents have proven to be so difficult in Missouri. That is a good question given that some 30 other states have done it with consistently positive results.

Senate Bill 603 seems to have stalled. After multiple meaningful compromises, the opposition still seems to be winning. Expanding charter schools is another measure that may be stalled. According to Susan Pendergrass, although 14 percent of Missouri parents identified charters as their first choice for their child’s education, only 2 percent of Missouri students attend charters. That may be because of the 500 public school districts in Missouri, only two have charters – St. Louis and Kansas City.

Some Missourians don’t realize that charter schools are public schools and can be sponsored by the local school board of any school district in Missouri. One argument used against charters is that they don’t work in rural districts, but a charter in Walton, Kansas opened with 113 students. Since opening, enrollment has doubled, the school has a waiting list and plans are underway to build a new facility. Wisconsin has authorized charters in 100 local school districts, and Denver Public Schools has 65 charter schools.

There are a multitude of reasons that parents might choose a particular education for their child. We know that every child is different, and traditional public schools do their best to meet each child’s needs. However, that is an impossible task when only one socialized model is available. Parents must be given choices to help address the challenging diversities among students. One of the most revealing indicators of the success of choice program in other states is the level of parental satisfaction. With few exceptions, parents know their children best, and they are the ones to observe and benefit most from student progress. Parents are likely to be more focused on student outcomes than institutional stability.

A frequent argument against education choice programs is that they might fail to educate every child or offer a threat to those who are being well served in the traditional settings. Support for that argument cannot be found in the experiences of the 30 states who offer choices. Neither is it valid if that same standard is leveled against the traditional public school. Not even the most zealous opponent of school choice would contend that the current setting never fails a child. My concern is that too often the opposition is not afraid of program failure but rather of program success and the competition that would foster.

Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. We welcome your prayers for the proper application of state government.