A Win for Parents
Change can be hard. After many years of trying, in 2018 Missouri students finally got the legal right to access online public education through the Missouri Course Access Program (MOCAP), provided that they get permission from their district to do so. Pressure from legislators and those of us who believe this type of school choice can be critical for students with limited educational options prevailed over the status quo of school boards and superintendents who didn’t want to relinquish any of their power. Even after the law took effect, however, parents’ requests were denied without sufficient evidence, and lawyers had to be hired.
But those of us who pushed for this didn’t give up. Last summer the State Board of Education met and considered a proposed rule change to the MOCAP law. Instead of giving districts unlimited time to respond to parent requests to enroll their child in MOCAP, a 30-day time limit should be set. The proposed rule change was then posted for public comments that the Board could consider before they voted on it at their next meeting.
In the meantime, the Joint Committee on Education met and suggested that the need to get district permission to enroll in MOCAP should be waived altogether—particularly given the unique educational challenges presented by the pandemic. Again, those of us who support parental choice did our best to inform parents and the public that this obstacle needed to go. Parents across Missouri are figuring out what to do for their children this school year, and accessing the approved virtual education programs in MOCAP needs to be simple.
When the Board of Education convened in September, they had hundreds of comments to consider—including, according to the minutes, “numerous comments regarding the enrollment response time.” Ultimately, the Board voted unanimously to insert a decision time limit into the law and to make it 10 business days from receipt of a request to enroll in MOCAP. Parents not provided a decision within this timeframe get default approval. Further, if a district denies enrollment and a parent appeals, the district now has 72 hours to provide the full documentation used to make the decision.
To be clear: This is a win for Missouri parents. Many districts don’t like the MOCAP program, and some had previously indicated that they wouldn’t implement the law as written. Fortunately, the Board of Education did the right thing and shifted some power from district administration to parents, where it belongs. Did they feel some pressure from the persistent drumbeat of groups like the Show-Me Institute? Maybe. Did the shutdown of every school in the state make them realize that they need to work with parents and not against them? Probably. Is this a harbinger of a move away from the monopoly model of public education firmly established in the last century? I hope so.