Eric D. Dixon

An editorial in today's Post-Dispatch says:

Almost half of the 23 school districts in St. Louis County have slammed their doors in the faces of kids who want to transfer out of the beleaguered St. Louis Public Schools after the district loses its accreditation. The rest are undecided.

Sadly, not a single district so far has agreed to take more kids from the city schools. That's bad news for parents desperately searching for educational options, bad news for kids and bad news for the future of our work force.

We already know that Missouri parents support school choice by huge margins. The Show-Me Institute has been staying on top of this issue with recent op-eds from Steve Bernstetter and Sarah Brodsky.

Steve points out in his article that "The recent loss of accreditation in the public school system in Saint Louis, because of chronic underperformance, presents the opportunity to expand these choice programs for the benefit of all students." Steve suggests contracting out education services to county school districts. It's better to give these districts an incentive to serve new kids than to just assume they'll be happy to have an influx of new students without accompanying resources. He goes on to say:

County schools, and even some private schools, generally spend less per pupil than the city district. According to Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Saint Louis public schools spent an average of $11,402 per pupil in 2006. As a comparison, my district, Mehlville R-IX, spent an average of $7,144 per pupil in 2006, while the statewide average for district spending in Missouri was about $8,221 per pupil in 2006. As a rough estimate, if the city is required to pay tuition and transportation costs?say $1,000 per year, per student?it would still save money by essentially contracting out to the county district. Whatever money is left over after this transaction would presumably be sunk back into the city, thereby increasing the per-pupil funds available to students remaining in the district. This program, a kind of voucher program completely contained within the public school system, would couple well with the current busing program.

Sarah's article takes issue with Missouri's current Virtual Instruction Program, pointing out that there's no need to reinvent the wheel by building a new, limited online educational system from scratch. She says we should use current schools and districts, and give students the option of taking a wide variety of online courses from schools throughout the state. Sarah says:

A state doesn't need dozens of virtual schools to create competition. When even a few virtual schools compete, they're responsive to parents' requests. Missouri parents were upset when they found out Missouri's new virtual school doesn't yet include courses at the middle school level. (Meanwhile, it offers some courses, like technology for kindergarteners, for which there is relatively little demand.) In Florida, middle school students can enroll in the Florida Virtual School, the Florida Connections Academy, or the Florida Virtual Academy. Besides the standard middle school courses, they can study electives like Spanish, French, home economics, the arts, and world cultures. If a virtual school in Florida didn't offer enough middle school courses, students would switch to one of the other two.

Missouri's Virtual Instruction Program didn't have enough resources to build middle school courses from scratch in time for its first year of operations. Had it faced competition, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education might have realized it couldn't reinvent the wheel. Some states partner with private organizations that have already produced courses at all grade levels. For example, many states allow virtual school students to take courses from William Bennett's k12, which sells courses to home schooling families. Students in twenty states can choose this option.

The options are limitless if we really want to get kids the educations they need. Abandoning top-down institutional thinking in favor of a flexible, market-driven system would be a great first step.

About the Author

Eric Dixon

Eric D. Dixon