Three Public School Superintendents Walk Into A Free-Market Think Tank . . . No Joke
On Tuesday morning, the Show-Me Institute was pleased to host “Solutions: A Panel Discussion on the School Transfer Law.” Joining me on the panel were the superintendents of three area school districts that the school transfer law has greatly affected: Tyrone McNichols, Ed.D., of Normandy, Thomas Williams, Ph.D., of Kirkwood, and Eric Knost, Ed.D., of Mehlville. We all agreed that the current situation is untenable. In fact, there was quite a bit of agreement on what needs to be done going forward, with one major exception.
Areas of Agreement
All four of us agreed that the tuition payment system must be fixed. Currently, the unaccredited districts must pay tuition rates that sometimes exceed what they spend on their own students. For instance, McNichols stated that his district spends approximately $12,000 per pupil, but tuition in the Clayton School District is more than $19,000. Clayton is an outlier; several districts spend less than Normandy. Still, it is unreasonable to expect Normandy and Riverview Gardens to shell out more in tuition than they receive to educate their students.
Williams noted that his district has participated in a voluntary transfer program for years. In that program, the tuition amount was set at about $7,000. Participating districts could decide how many spaces they had and they could accept students to fill those spaces. The Kirkwood superintendent noted that a class with 19 students could add one more at no additional expense to the district and would actually benefit from the transferring students. He meant that the marginal cost of one additional student is very low. Most superintendents recognize that their districts benefit from tuition-paying students. They are concerned, however, when they have no reasonable control on the number of students that will be admitted to their district. This is a concern I share.
Area of Disagreement
At one point, Knost stated that the Missouri Legislature should address the issue and leave aside unrelated pieces of legislation. Some might think that a private school choice program is unrelated to the issue of school transfers. However, I don’t see a tax credit scholarship program as unrelated. Rather, I think it is a particularly relevant solution to the problem we are facing in Saint Louis.
A tax credit scholarship program would:
- Lessen the financial strain on the unaccredited school districts;
- Ease the burden on accredited districts; and
- Give families more options.
Though we may have had some disagreement about a private school choice program, there was general agreement that students deserve to have quality options. In fact, I wish more school leaders would have the attitude that Williams expressed. He said if students are going to have options, he wants his district to be the best option. That is the type of thinking we need.