School Choice in Missouri: The Power Rankings
Football season is upon us, and while I’m cautiously optimistic about the Chiefs this year, I’m really looking forward to another year of fantasy football.
Fantasy football is a useful analogy when it comes to public policy. We all have our “dream team” we want to put together—the perfect set of policies that would make a championship polity. But we don’t always get the perfect team, and we need a strategy should we not get our first choices.
With that in mind, I decided to put together an ESPN-like cheat sheet of my rankings of school choice programs for Missouri; stars and sleepers, first choices and backups. Without further ado:
The Top of the Heap
If you get the first pick in your draft, you pick a stud running back. It’s fantasy football 101. They get a lot of carries; they get touchdown opportunities; they’re steady, solid points all season long.
If I had the first pick in the school choice fantasy draft, I’d take an education savings account (ESA) program. ESAs place state funding for a child’s education into a flexible-use spending account (like an HSA) that they can take to a private school or spread out among multiple providers to pay for online courses, tutoring, or services for students with special needs.
Nevada just passed a huge, nearly universal program that has already seen thousands of students apply. Arizona, Mississippi, and Florida have ESAs for students with special needs. A large, substantial ESA program would be a solid anchor for the state’s education system.
OK, so all of the best running backs are taken. It’s now time to dip into the quarterbacks and wide receivers. There is a little more variability, more ups and downs from week to week, but still lots of upside.
The most solid second-tier option is a tuition tax credit program. Tuition tax credit programs (there are currently 16 across the country) allow individuals or corporations to get a credit on their tax bill for money that they donate to nonprofit organizations that give scholarships to K12 students. This would encourage participation in civil society, avoid thorny state constitutional issues, and drastically expand the number of options available to students in the state.
Lots of players are off the board now. The draft is in its later rounds, and maybe you don’t have the team you wanted when you set out. Now it’s time to try and find a sleeper—an undervalued player that will have an outsized influence
My school choice sleeper? A course access program. Course access programs allow students to take a portion of their per-pupil funding to a provider outside of their school for individual classes. A student still attends school normally, but might head to the library to learn Mandarin while the rest of the students go to Spanish class, or might duck out early to head to the local community college for a welding class. Course access is blowing up like Clinton Portis did against the Chiefs in 2003. Thousands of students across 11 states are rerouting some portion of their state funding into different providers and customizing the education that best fits their needs.
You wait until the last rounds. Some buddy of yours picks one way too early. Yes, I’m talking about a kicker.
Just like you have to draft a kicker, the state has to expand charter schools outside of Kansas City and St. Louis. Of the 41 states across the country that offer charter schools, Missouri is one of the few that limits them to a particular geographic area. Given the well-documented struggles in several St. Louis County school districts, denying students better choices is just wrong.
Putting the Team Together
I worry that too often school choice advocates get their hopes up for their top picks and are then disengage during the later rounds of the policy draft. That’s a mistake. People can still win their fantasy league if their top pick goes bust. They just have to be smart with the rest of the draft.