School Closings Shed Light on an Important Principle
Recently, the La Salle Charter School in North St. Louis announced its decision to close. As a state-funded and privately operated middle school, La Salle set out to “educate and support the whole child” and set them up for success in high school. Unfortunately, La Salle was not able to achieve the standardized test scores required by the sponsor, the Missouri Charter Public School Commission. When asked what went wrong, the school explained that it was hit by the perfect storm: students arrived at La Salle grade levels behind where they should have been, and the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse.
A few months ago, the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced the closing of two high schools in the fall, citing a lack of funds to remain open. Being very fond of the education these schools provide, students, parents, and alumni rallied together to save their schools and were able to secure the funding needed to remain open, independent of the archdiocese.
The closing of a school is almost always heartbreaking news that nobody wants to hear. However, I do believe that school closures shed light on an important principle that is (in some cases) being enforced: students deserve to go to high-quality schools, and only those schools that offer the best value and fulfill their students’ needs will survive.
Through market forces, this happens organically at a private school—parents will not pay to send their kids to a school that isn’t meeting their academic or social needs. If enrollment declines sufficiently, the school will eventually see no other option but to close. Charter schools also face closures, as schools that aren’t performing well will likely experience declining enrollment and will not continue to receive funding from the state. Because of the possibility of closure, private and charter schools have an incentive to improve academically and fulfill the needs of students.
Traditional public schools, on the other hand, have very little incentive to improve academically. Unless the situation becomes truly dire, public schools continue to receive funding despite their failures, and many students are left behind in the process.
Show-Me Institute analysts recently developed a piece of model legislation that would help address the incentive problem for public schools by allowing parents to send their kids to any public school in the state. Creating a true marketplace in education is one of the best ways to ensure our schools improve and kids in Missouri get the best education possible.