James V. Shuls, Ph.D.
School Choice Double Standard

Missouri Senate Bill 493 includes a provision that would allow students in unaccredited school districts to attend non-religious private schools. This provision, the only one in the bill intended to expand opportunities for students rather than restrict them, has opponents of private school choice up in arms.

During committee hearings, Missouri Sen. Jason Holsman (D–Dist. 7) voiced the lone “no” vote against the bill. In doing so, he expressed one of the most erroneous arguments against private school choice: “Private schools have admission standards, they don’t take all kids.”

I have news for you. Public schools don’t take all kids — they only take the kids who live within a geographic boundary. In this sense, my private neighborhood swimming pool is a lot like public schools — you can get in if you can afford a house in the neighborhood.

More to the point, there are examples of public schools in Missouri that do not accept all students within the district boundaries. Here is a snippet that I wrote on Education News about one of those schools:
One prime example of a public school that does not serve all students is Metro Academic and Classical High School, a magnet school in the Saint Louis Missouri Public School District. U.S. News & World Report ranks Metro as the No. 1 public school in the state, for good reason. Metro grads regularly go on to top-tier universities and perform exceptionally well on achievement tests.

There may be great things going on at Metro, but it cannot be denied that part of the school’s success is derived from its admissions process. To be admitted, a student must score proficient or advanced on the state MAP test. In 2013, nearly 14 percent of black eighth graders in Saint Louis scored proficient or advanced. That means more than 86 percent of black students in the Saint Louis Public School District do not meet the admissions criteria for Metro.

Lincoln College Prep in Kansas City is another public magnet school with selective admissions. The school also de-selects, or kicks out, students who aren’t cutting it. If a student’s grade point average drops below a 2.5, he or she has one semester to improve or be shipped out to another district public school.

It is wrong to hold private schools up to a standard that the public schools do not meet. More importantly, it is bad policy to oppose expanding opportunities for the students who need options the most.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.