Steven Bernstetter

There's an interesting op-ed regarding vouchers over at the Columbia Daily Tribune this morning. The author argues that one possible solution for improving education for those stuck in the unaccredited SLPS would be to let those students exit the district through some sort of voucher program. According to the Tribune:

Vouchers provide more choice for K-12 parents and students. Privately funded schools at all levels educate many of our citizens who otherwise would have to be taught at public expense. To provide partial public subsidies for students otherwise trapped in poor public schools is a cost-effective way to enhance options for many who otherwise could not choose.

There are two key notions in this qoute that should be addresses, the first being cost-effectiveness.  County schools, and even some private schools, generally spend less per pupil than the city district. According to DESE, Saint Louis Public Schools have a current average expenditure of $11, 402 per pupil. As a comparison, my district, Mehlville R-IX, spent an average of $7,144 per pupil in 2006, while the state of Missouri, on average, spent about $8,221 per pupil in 2006 (DESE-MO, 2007). As a rough estimate, if the city is required to pay tuition, plus transportation costs?say an extra $1000 per pupil, per year? they 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 the district.

The second issue for consideration is one of equity; more affluent families already have school choice in the form of private schools, or simply moving to a better public district. In either case, an option exists for one class of citizens that does not exist for another, that other class having the most to gain from such choices, and the least to lose from whatever damage such choice might cause to their already failing local district. As the Tribune asserts:

Vouchers won't be a panacea, but having that option in failing school districts represents progress, and it won't destroy public education. How could anyone be against providing alternatives in a district like St. Louis?

Indeed. The time for change is now. Saint Louis has the opportunity to try something new and relatively groundbreaking, rather than constantly being a half-hearted follower of national trends. Hopefully the entrenched political interests will see it the same way, and do whats best for the students rather than themselves. But I won't be holding my breath.

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Steven Bernstetter