As a retired school superintendent and spending 34 years in public education, I believe in the value of a quality public school education. In fact, I believe in public schools so much that I think that students should have the right to access the public school that works best for them; even if that school is not in their district.
That is the philosophy behind my proposed bill, House Bill 1814, which establishes a public school open enrollment program. The Bill is meant to improve quality instruction and increase parental involvement, provide access to programs and classes, and offer opportunities to align parental curriculum options to personal beliefs. The ultimate goal is to keep the 900,000 public school students in the public school system being taught by teachers that pay into the public school teacher retirement system.
According to HB 1814, students beginning kindergarten or already enrolled in a public school may attend a public school in any nonresident district if that district participates in the open enrollment process. Importantly, local school districts retain control of how they will participate in the program; this Bill does not add any further burdens on school districts. The school districts that participate in the program are not required to add any additional classrooms, teachers, or staff to accommodate transfer students. The local tax dollars stay local and the only money that follows the students is the state money.
HB 1814 empowers Missouri families to send their children to the best school possible. A child’s access to quality education should not be dependent upon a zip code; by allowing students the ability to transfer to a different public school, students are one step closer to accessing an effective education.
The bill limits the number of transfer opportunities thus addressing the excessive mobility issue. Under the Bill, students would be entitled to one transfer to a different school per year, and families would be responsible for paying their own transportation costs. Fortunately, the Bill creates a $60 million fund for low-income families to reimburse them for transportation costs.
The importance of open enrollment has been recognized by Missouri’s own state agency. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education listed, as a legislative priority, the need to examine “best practices for voluntary open enrollment, allowing students to attend the public school of their choice regardless of attendance boundaries.”
Education advocates, parents, teachers, and politicians alike are finally understanding the need to allow for some additional choice in education. This is a pro-public school reform that enables Missouri families to access the public education system we are all so proud of. Every child should be able to have access to a good school, and open-enrollment helps to achieve that goal. HB 1814 has been voted out of the house and now sets on the senate calendar. I hope that the Missouri senate will do the right thing and vote “yes” in giving parents the choice that they deserve.
Brad Pollitt is a retired school superintendent, spending 34 years in public education. He is now representing the 52nd district in the Missouri House of Representatives.