A survey of school districts across the state reveals some of the shocking disparities that can exist in the quality of public school education.
It’s a sad state of affairs when all you need to do is look at a zip code to determine the quality of schools in that area. Some of the worst-performing schools in the state are in its biggest cities, yet families are often trapped in those districts.
When the only option offered is the failing school district, families have no choice but to keep their kids in a system that will let them down.
And this bleak situation existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only worsened these conditions. Many families could not afford the digital technology needed for online learning, while students lost out on in-person education.
Rather than being forced to keep their children in failing districts, families should have options. A good education should not be exclusive to wealthy, suburban districts. Every child deserves access to a good school.
That’s why parents, families, and advocates such as myself believe that the solution rests in expanding choice in education. As it stands, many families can only choose to keep their kids in failing public schools; they cannot afford the tuition at a private school or move to a better district. Instead, our public education system is in need of serious school choice reform.
Gov. Mike Parson took the important step of declaring the last week in January “Missouri School Choice Week” to highlight efforts to introduce choice into the education system. I applaud our governor for helping to bring school choice to the forefront. Awareness of the issue is the first step in introducing solutions.
One reform that has proven effective is through charter schools. This may be the single most important change necessary to reinvigorate our education system. Charter schools are funded by the state but exist outside the traditional public school system. This gives them the opportunity to be more flexible and to innovate in education.
Rather than being fixed in a rigid system, charter schools are freer to break the mold and to try new, inventive methods. These schools have proven effective where they are introduced, and many families clamor to get in. The reason the schools are so popular is that they are the best alternative to failing school districts.
Our state is in serious need of charter school expansion. Currently, charter schools are severely limited; they are only allowed to operate in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas. However, more children deserve access to these schools and the opportunity they represent. No students are served by the education status quo. Instead, school choice represents many students’ best hope at achieving a good education.
Cecelia S. Johnson is an activist for education equality. She lives in Kansas City.