Private School Option – We Can’t Sit This One Out
My college track coach used to say, “We’re going to dance with the girls we came with.” Initially, I did not understand this colloquial expression. As I have aged, however, I have seen many circumstances where this expression captures the sentiment more than any other. It is especially true of the inter-district school transfer fix, Missouri Senate Bill 493. Different versions of the bill passed the Missouri House and Senate, a conference committee met, and now we have the final draft of the bill. This is it. There is no substitute. There is no other fix to the problems with the transfer program. We have to “dance with the girls we came with.” Yet, the education establishment seems perfectly willing to sit this dance out.
For them, the tiny provision that would allow students in unaccredited schools to attend a private school crosses the line. In their view, public dollars simply should not go to private schools. There is just one problem with that view – they already do. In fact, there is tremendous precedent for allowing public dollars to go to private schools and private organizations. Students use public dollars to attend private colleges and universities. K-12 public schools contract with private providers of all kinds of services, from school maintenance to food service; some even contract with private schools to help deliver educational services.
Take ACE Learning Centers, for example. ACE is one of the few private schools that would meet the narrowly defined criteria in SB 493. The school is located in an unaccredited school district and recently received accreditation from the North Central Association on Accreditation and School Improvement.
ACE currently has 12 centers and serves students from at least six school districts. An external review that AdvancEd conducted of ACE Learning Centers noted that the 2012-13 graduation rate was 86 percent. This is markedly higher than the nearby unaccredited public schools, where nearly half of students fail to graduate on time. This fact is especially remarkable when you consider that ACE serves students who are at risk of dropping out.
Speaking of his ACE experience, student Josiah said, “ACE is giving me another shot to finish high school and graduate with a diploma. I would recommend ACE to any student having trouble in their home school. I’m able to get a lot done with my classes here at ACE – I learn much better here.”
ACE Learning Centers and other private schools throughout the state are already using public dollars to serve students in Missouri. These schools are no less valuable to the public simply because they are privately run. The beauty of the private option in SB 493 is that it might allow more students like Josiah (and Adam, Bianca, Georgia, Eddie, etc.) to attend ACE Learning Centers.
The education establishment is wrong to draw a line in the sand on this issue. If they want to fix the problems with the transfer program and save the Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts from impending bankruptcy, they cannot sit this dance out.