Missouri Teachers Voice Support for School Choice
When the Missouri General Assembly reconvenes in January, true education reform should be at the top of its agenda. Missourians, parents, and teachers alike have suffered from continual public school decline as the Legislature has pumped more and more money into districts. Yet increased educational spending has not improved the state’s most ineffective schools, and many of the state’s worst-performing districts are those in which per-student spending has greatly outstripped the state average.
For example, the Wellston school district spends nearly $11,000 per student each year, yet only 2.9 percent of that district’s students scored “proficient” on their Missouri Assessment Program Math exit tests. By comparison, the statewide average expenditure per student is $7,500, and the statewide proficiency rate for that exam is 42.4 percent. Additional dollars simply don’t add up to better test results.
Recognizing this, many Missourians — particularly those with children in failing schools — are calling for legislation that would grant them the opportunity to send their children to the best schools in their communities. Last fall, the Show-Me Institute published the results of a poll which asked more than 600 Missouri voters about their views on K-12 education. The collected data showed overwhelming support (especially among minority and low-income parents) for granting parents the opportunity to use their children’s public educational funding at schools of their own choosing.
But it’s not just parents who see the value of parental choice for educational reform — teachers support school choice, too. Of those surveyed who either specified that they were teachers or had a teacher in their immediate families, roughly two-thirds agreed that public schools had “a serious problem” or were “in a state of crisis.” Only 28 percent expressed favorable or neutral feelings about the quality of Missouri public schools in general, while 83 percent had favorable views of private school performance.
It’s not surprising, then, that a significant majority of this group agreed that public schools would improve if parents were allowed to choose where their children would be educated. Sixty-four percent of teachers said they would favor a program that allowed parents to use money that would have been spent at a public school, to send their children to private schools instead. A full 88 percent of teachers responded that parents, not governments, should decide which schools their children attend. Eighty-nine percent of teachers responding to the Show-Me Institute survey agreed that every child should have the same opportunity for a quality education, regardless of their parents’ financial situations.
These survey results highlight an important point: Missouri teachers, like Missouri parents in general, recognize that increased parental choice will improve education in this state, recognizing that increases in educational spending have proven to be utterly ineffective. These results are important, because the conventional wisdom (fostered by anti-choice groups such as teachers’ unions) says that teachers are against school choice.
This survey suggests widespread teacher support for the idea of school choice, however, along with a consensus that increased spending has failed to fix our faltering public schools. Missouri’s parents and teachers are demanding more educational opportunity for their children. Isn’t it time that the Legislature listened?
Justin P. Hauke is a research assistant at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri-based think tank, and a graduate student at Washington University’s Olin Business School. Dave Roland is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute.