School Choice by Mortgage
I recently accepted an offer to join the Show-Me Institute. This means my family and I will be relocating from northwest Arkansas. Among the highest priorities for my wife and me is to find our new home. With two school-age children and another on the way, the quality of local schools is of the utmost importance when making this decision. Saint Louis City has school choice available via public charter schools; the surrounding areas do not. Though we will not be living in the city, we will be expressing school choice, choice by mortgage.
We are not alone. The quality of local schools is often one of the highest considerations for home buyers. Parents want what is best for their children. My wife and I are both traditionally certified teachers, with bachelor’s degrees in education. I taught elementary school for four years in southwest Missouri. My wife has taught high school Spanish for eight years, five in Missouri and three in Arkansas. As teachers, we know the importance of a quality education. When looking for houses, our first step was to identify the best school districts, then the best schools within those districts. Unfortunately, in many of the areas with high-performing schools, we were unable to find a home that fit our search criteria within the school boundaries. Though we are a middle class family, even we have been priced out of some great schools. Our plight is really not all that bad; luckily, there are plenty of great options which we can afford.
School choice by mortgage is the current system of choice in most of Missouri and has been around for decades. Parents with the financial means can move their families to neighborhoods with good schools or they can afford private school tuition. The problem with our current system of school choice is that it leaves many parents with no options. The wealthier a family is the more choices they have, while the most disadvantaged are left with little or no choice.
When we finally buy a house, we will pay the tuition embedded in the cost of our home for the high-performing local public school, and our kids will attend the school to which they are residentially assigned. Hopefully, we will make a good decision and our children will be well served; but if they are not, what then? It seems a sad state when a decision as important as how our children are educated comes down to where we buy our home. School choice by mortgage should not be the default system of Missouri. Instead, all parents should have access to a variety of options regardless of their ZIP code; whether they are traditional public, public charter, private, or digital.
James V. Shuls is an education policy consultant for the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy, and a Doctoral Academy Fellow at the University of Arkansas.