JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Educational panelists gathered on Wednesday night to promote school choice as session begins.
Dr. James V. Shuls moderated a conversation between leading advocates of school choice. Rep. Shamed Dogan, Institute for Justice Fellow Rachelle Engen, Show-Me Institute’s Susan Pendergrass, and Summit Christian Academy’s Kimberlee Gill all provided insight on the matter to promote a school choice rally at the Capitol.
The panelists were brought together for the Children’s Alliance of Missouri (CEAM)’s 2019 Education Policy Panel. Here, the speakers distributed information as well as shared their own experiences with Missouri’s own lack of school choice. Introducing his peers, Shuls praised CEAM’s ability to educate parents and students for school choice in Missouri and highlighted why his fellow panelists supported school choice.
Dogan shared his own experience with education during his schooling, stating that he went from the later-unaccredited Normandy School District to private education for the last three years of his education.
“It really does come down to individual students and individual families choosing a school that’s right for them,” Dogan said. “Now being an adult and having kids of my own, I moved from the zip code 63121 to the district 63021 and it’s night and day so we’re in one of the best school districts in the country. Kids, no matter what zip code they grow up in, ought to be able to access an excellent education.”
Gill then spoke of how five grant students couldn’t enroll due to tuition costs. This caused Gill to think more critically about how more students could attend the school they had chosen.
“When I had learned 29 other states in our great nation had already figured this out, it ticked me off,” Gill said. “My state can figure this out. What can we do?”
Since then, Gill has organized a 700-attendee rally to advance school choice in Missouri.
Engen explained that her organization works nationwide to create and defend legislation for programs to advance school choice. Engen later went on to explain her personal philosophy to education.
“My driving factor is that I truly believe there is no one size fits all approach to educating children,” Engen said. “Public school works great for some students and it doesn’t work great for others and I think that parents, not administrators or government officials, know so much better the needs of a child. You can truly create the education that is best for your child and give them the tools they need to succeed well into the future.”
Pendergrass remains open to all forms of choice whether it be home schools, private schools, charter schools, or otherwise. For Pendergrass, it’s the government’s responsibility to pay for the school, but not necessarily provide it.
“I think as we continue to press for this and as parents continue to press for it that our system of education, in general, will continue to improve,” Pendergrass said.
Continuing the conversation, Shuls and Pendergrass discussed the important programs and policies coming out of school choice states. Florida’s choice-rich environment provides a model for many states with beneficial policies. Tax right scholarships, education savings accounts for children with special needs, and tax right scholarships for people who are bullied. The state also offers an ESA for third, fourth and fifth graders where students can receive $500 to spend in the marketplace for tutors or online classes.
After the discussion ended, the floor was open to questions and answers for audience members. Here the speakers were pressed on whether on or not they could be able to successfully pass legislation advancing school choice as well as the history of and why people oppose school choice.
With more vocal support from senators and representatives, Dogan made clear to the audience that it would still be an uphill battle to advance legislation, however, one battle with more visible support.
“I think we’re in a unique position this year because we stayed about even in terms of the number of people who support school choice but it seems like some of the folks who’ve come on board in the Senate are a lot more vocal than their predecessors,” Dogan said. “Although I think the Senate has a couple of really big roadblocks. Just the feeling that I’ve gotten from the first few weeks of session and everything I’ve heard from people in leadership…is that this going to be a really tough environment to pass a lot of big-ticket items.”
The panel concluded with a short educational film called “Zoned” demonstrating how damaging it is to be confined to one district educational or otherwise. It can be found on the Show-Me Institute official website. The panel itself can be found on the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri’s official Facebook page as it was live-streamed throughout its duration.