As the parent of three children enrolled in St. Louis Public Schools, I am deeply dismayed that so many in the Missouri House — including some Democrats — voted in favor of HB 137, which will shift up to $17 million dollars a year from traditional public schools (specifically SLPS) to charter schools, which will not be required to provide the same services as public schools. We must make sure that HB 137 dies in the Senate.
I am also deeply concerned about the statewide ramifications of SB 55, an omnibus bill with many different privatizing provisions — including the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program (aka vouchers), Charter School Funding modifications, establishing a Charter School Revolving Commission Fund to fund new charters, and changing provisions regarding public school accreditation, gifted education, and attendance standards. SB 55 sponsor, Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin let us know in The Missouri Times on April 1: “School choice will have little to no impact on rural schools.” So, in other words, the privatization Sen. O’Laughlin thinks is best for children and families in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia is so good that she definitely does not want it for her constituents or for other rural districts. This is paternalistic and racist thinking meant to further divide Missourians from one another, influenced by privateers such as the Show-Me Institute and the Opportunity Trust/City Fund. It should be noted that Sen. O’Laughlin was also the sponsor of legislation last year that exempted private and religious schools from Missouri’s minimum wage laws. Other pro-privatization bills to oppose right now (some of which may be rolled into SB 55) include HB 349, HB 439, HB 543, and HB 942.
We must reject privatizing education even further and remember that public schools are public goods. Public schools must be embraced and built up, rather than torn down. As Horace Mann, the educator my children’s school is named after, famously put it, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of [people].” We must continue to fight to make it so.
The Rev. Dr. Teresa Mithen Danieley is an Episcopal priest from St. Louis.