Senate Bill 493 Is Not A School Choice Bill
On Thursday, the Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bill 493. Described as the “transfer fix,” the bill contains many provisions. One is the ability of students to use public dollars to attend a nonsectarian private school. If you believe the hype, I should be celebrating. After all, I am a proponent of private school choice. Sadly, I have been wrestling with whether this is even a victory for the school choice crowd.
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad that the legislature moved in a bipartisan manner to get this bill passed. Unlike the education establishment, I am willing to compromise and there are many needed aspects in this bill. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel as if the students who need educational options got the short end of the stick with this deal.
Am I being too cynical? Should I be celebrating? To answer this question, I asked several school choice policy experts this question:
Is this a win for school choice or does it do more harm than good?
Here were their responses:
Mike McShane – Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
The number of hoops parents and schools are required to jump through in order to participate will most likely prevent students from ever accessing a private education. This is Potemkin private school choice.
Patrick Wolf – Professor and 21st Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas
I wouldn’t expect more than a handful of families to navigate all of those huge roadblocks to exercise private school choice, especially since religious schools are excluded from the program. When families have a broad set of private school choices, nearly 80 percent of them choose private schools with a religious ethos. That is their preference. This is essentially a private school choice program without the private school choice part.
Jonathan Butcher – Education Director at the Goldwater Institute
I don’t think it does more harm than good, but I’m not sure it will accomplish anything. At least not right away.
Matt Ladner – Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education
The academic catastrophe going on in Kansas City and Saint Louis have been well understood for decades. On the private side of things, this legislation brings to mind an inspector on the Titanic making conditional offers of an approved life vest three years in the future.
Jason Bedrick, policy analyst at the Cato Institute, and Jay Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, both pointed to the exclusion of religious schools and the testing requirement as very negative aspects of the bill.
“It’s especially painful when a ‘school choice’ program is designed in such a way that its passage is, to say the least, no cause for celebration,” Bedrick wrote.
Greene cautioned that this legislation might stifle future pushes to create school choice programs in Missouri.
A fix to some of the transfer issues was needed and on balance, the bill is mostly positive. But given these comments, I think my initial reaction was correct – this is not a school choice bill. It addresses some issues, but it does not expand options for students.
Summary of the private option:
Students in unaccredited schools within unaccredited districts are free to transfer. They must first apply to an accredited school within their district. If there are no spaces, they are able to transfer to another district or, upon voter approval, a private school. The private school must be located within the unaccredited district, nonsectarian, accredited, administer state tests, and meet a few other criteria. There is no transportation for transfer students.