Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opinion: School choice will have little to no impact on rural schools

  

There are many school choice proposals floating around the legislature this year. There’s also more momentum to make small changes to the way we do K-12 education in the state in response to COVID-19. Many public school leaders are worried about how this will impact their bottom line. For many of the proposals, there’s little to no financial impact on rural schools.

However, I always welcome conversations about the costs involved in changes in state government.

State Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin

Last year, when Missourians were considering Medicaid expansion, the estimated cost was $200 million. Most legislators realized this would most likely impact K-12 education, as it is a big part of the state’s budget and one of the few budget items lawmakers can tinker with to have a significant impact on our state’s budget.

The Medicaid expansion campaign was funded by hospitals and oddly, the NEA (a progressive teacher’s union with relatively little membership in rural areas, but big influence on state politics). Do you know who was silent on the possible $200 million impact on public education? Organizations representing school boards, school administrators, etc. were all mum. I believe that is because these organizations are beholden to teacher unions and their policies, whether they realize it or not.

Now, these same groups are losing their marbles over a proposal to give tax credits to donors who would fund a scholarship program for kids to flee school districts that are not meeting their needs to go to a different district, charter, private, or home school. One of these proposals costs $25 million, and it would NOT come out of the foundation formula for schools. This is almost 1/10 of the cost of Medicaid expansion.

I have heard from many school administrators and school board members who oppose legislation to create this scholarship program and other tweaks to education policy that give parents more options. I want them to know that they have been heard and that there are also ways to continue to improve the legislation prior to a vote. For example, lawmakers could carve out rural areas in this scholarship program, since most of these bills are meant to address mostly urban problems. However, simply opposing every single piece of legislation that impacts K-12 education is no longer an option. Parents throughout the state are mad as hell and will no longer be ignored.

However, I think it is important to note the reason behind legislation creating these scholarships and providing more options for families:

  • As of writing this report, we still have 60,000 students in Missouri that are not being educated in classrooms. Columbia Public Schools recently returned to classrooms; the NEA there successfully opposed reopening for almost one year.
  • Some schools, mostly in urban areas, are struggling to graduate students that can read or write, creating mostly one career path – criminal activity.
  • A few bad actors — superintendents that should have known better — intentionally denied or delayed allowing kids to use virtual education vendors during the pandemic. I don’t think this happened in our area, but there are legislative proposals floating around to address this problem as well.

One-size-fits-all education works for most, particularly in our rural areas, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It seems inhumane to ignore the plight of families living in urban areas that live in districts that are failing them and cannot afford other options. 

As always, I appreciate hearing your perspective on this and other issues presented in my weekly column. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-7985. You may also email me at cindy.olaughlin@senate.mo.gov.