An Opportunity Taken or Missed?
I was speaking to a colleague in another state recently and he made an interesting observation about two trends that emerged during the COVID pandemic that are likely to remain in some form going forward. The first is families “DIY’ing” their children’s education through virtual schooling, tutors, education pods, microschools, and other things. The second is knowledge workers leaning into the “work from anywhere” option and leaving expensive urban areas for less stressful small towns. His observation was that the combination of these two factors could present an opportunity for rural states, such as Missouri, to attract families.
I firmly believe that for Missouri to thrive, we need to be a place where parents want to raise their children, and that is fundamentally about the quality of public education available. Contrary to much of the rhetoric in Jefferson City, it’s also about the number and quality of options available to parents. Just 41 percent of parents surveyed in February said they would prefer fully in-person instruction for their children next fall, which is probably particularly true for remote work migrators.
Missouri has a lot of wonderful small towns that could be attractive to these families According to a recent McKinsey study, the remote-work families are likely to be highly educated. They could bring energy and civic engagement to our rural areas.
This is the time to broaden the educational options available in rural areas of Missouri, not block them. This is the time to make education savings accounts (ESAs) available to all parents so that they can continue to create customized learning experiences, regardless of their address. This is the time to put Missouri on the map as a place that families want to move to for both the affordable cost of living and the innovative education programs. Will Missouri take advantage of this unique opportunity? Or will we dig in our heels and insist that rural education never be more than the brick-and-mortar schools of yesteryear and let other states continue to pass us by?