Teacher in front of chalkboard
James V. Shuls

About two years ago, I wrote a piece titled “Privatization in Education—Not as Scary as Some Think,” in which I explained how public schools regularly outsource services to private entities. This use of privatization helps improve services for students and reduces costs for taxpayers. For example,

Nixa Public Schools outsourced maintenance to Sodexo, based out of Paris, France. St. Louis Public Schools contract with First Student, “the largest bus company in North America,” for transportation services. More than 100 public school districts contract with Chesterfield, Mo.-based Opaa! to provide food service for public school students.

I was reminded of this piece last week when I read an interesting story by Dale Singer of St. Louis Public Radio, Outsourcing substitute teachers deemed a success.” Singer shares how several Saint Louis area school districts, including Parkway, Normandy, and Maplewood Richmond Heights, now use Kelly Educational Staffing to find substitutes. 

This arrangement of privatized substitute services has been beneficial for everyone. In Normandy, for example, a district that has had its fair share of trouble over the past few years, the district has struggled to fill classrooms when the teacher is absent. According to Singer, “the rate of filling classrooms with substitutes had been in the 55-60 percent range; that figure rose to around 90 percent” with Kelly Educational Staffing.  The arrangement also means school districts can cut down on administrative costs in the central office.

The system is even great for retired public school teachers who wish to teach. In Missouri, a retired teacher can only work 550 hours for a school district while collecting their pension benefits. When substitute teachers are outsourced to Kelly, they no longer work for the school district. They work for Kelly Educational Staffing. This means they can work more and still draw their pension.

This is just another example of how privatization can be a good thing. As I wrote in my piece two years ago,

Opponents of school choice like to throw out the word privatization as if it was a bad thing. Yet, public schools contract with private providers in nearly every aspect of our K-12 education system.

If the goal is to provide a world-class education to students, policymakers need to avoid the knee-jerk reaction against school choice and recognize that the private sector can help deliver on the promise that every child should have access to great schools.

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.