Riding the bus to the county, and a stronger MO
Amidst the state takeover of the St. Louis Public Schools, education reformers are tossing around a number of ideas for improving the beleaugered district. Longer school days, stronger teacher accountability measures, and mandatory preschool education are just a few of the worthy proposals receiving attention. However, there is one program currently being phased out that has already been quite successful, though perhaps not to the degree one might realize at first glance: the Voluntary Interdistrict Transfer program.
Currently, as a remnant of court-mandated desegregation efforts originating in the early 1980s, the state of Missouri has a program enabling students in SLPS to transfer out of their neighborhood school and into a participating county school. The state pays the transportation costs and the receiving district’s average per pupil cost for the student, and the city school gets to keep the funding it would have otherwise spent on the transferring student. The program was originally intended to racially integrate previously homogenous districts, but has had a far more profound ecomomic effect on the city and state.
An excellent paper on the cost of highschool dropouts to the state demonstrates the fact that every student that doesn’t graduate represents significant economic costs to the state, costs much higher than the actual cost of education. The students who participate in the transfer program are roughly twice as likely to graduate from highschool as those who remain in the program. The long term economic costs to the state resulting from the lost tax revenue, lost economic activity, higher safety net costs, and higher incarceration rates associated with those dropouts far outweigh the short term costs of financing the program.
Citizens and politicians outside of St. Louis will surely balk at the idea of spending more state money on the failing SLPS, but the economic effects associated with the district’s failure to educate it’s students will be shared by the whole state. With that in mind, it is in the best interest of all Missourians to insure the continuation of this valuable and effective choice program, and let as many kids as so desire escape from their failing school.