Generally, I think in-person education is best. For the majority of students, learning is most successful when they directly engage their teachers, enjoy immediate feedback, are able to personally interact with each other face-to-face (unencumbered by mask mandates), and learn the valuable social skills that come from peer and teacher interaction. That is why I advocate for a return to normalcy in education and in-person learning. This is, however, my general perspective.
It is important to recognize that children have unique learning needs and interests, and for some students, virtual education may be a better option. Online schools provide options to families that may not be available at their local public school.
Knowing this, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law establishing the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP) prior to the pandemic. MOCAP allows parents to send their child to a public virtual school full-time or for particular semester classes, the cost for which is covered by their school district. This is an example of funds following the student.
The benefits of MOCAP are observable. For example, few Missouri public schools offer courses in Mandarin Chinese, but a family could send their child to a MOCAP Mandarin Chinese class. In addition to a vast array of course options, MOCAP virtual schools specialize in teaching virtually. Our traditional public schools were overwhelmed and unprepared when the pandemic forced them into making the transition to virtual education. When local districts were trying to keep their heads above water via virtual education, MOCAP schools had for some time already utilized virtual education successfully.
It is not for politicians or bureaucrats to make value judgments on what type of school works best for an individual child; parents should make those decisions. My Republican colleagues and I believe parents know what is best for their children, not the government. Missouri families are eligible to take advantage of MOCAP, and they should be able to access it. MOCAP is a part of our state’s public school system, and parents should be free to access this educational option without hindrance.
Unfortunately, it appears many Missouri families interested in MOCAP are getting stonewalled. When parents submit an application, their district’s superintendent is supposed to make a timely decision by reviewing and approving eligible families. It is not up to the superintendent to make a value judgment on whether a virtual public school will work best for that child, but simply to determine whether the particular child is eligible and, if so, to quickly approve that child. Yet, I am hearing reports across our state of superintendents intentionally delaying approvals and even refusing to approve eligible families for this program, often due to their effort to protect district revenue. Unfortunately, this has happened in the Northland as well.
Not only is it disrespectful when a superintendent knowingly blocks a child from the educational option that parents believe will work best for that child, it is also against the law. I was made aware of an instance, in my area, where a superintendent knowingly ignored the law by delaying a family’s application to use virtual education. When the superintendent finally approved the application, the family no longer had the option of enrolling in the MOCAP school of their choice because of an expired deadline. This deadline was known by the administrator but he chose to ‘sit’ on the application for two months. This sort of gatekeeper arrogance is exactly the problem lawmakers are trying to fix; eligible families should be approved based on what the law says. They should not be held hostage by the financial whims of educrats.
First and foremost, public education directly serves parents and their children. When they are served successfully, Missouri benefits. MOCAP is public education, plain and simple, and the public is entitled to access it. Rest assured that my colleagues in the Missouri House and I are working to erase this gatekeeper issue and ensure access to educational options that parents are legally entitled to choose.
Rep. Doug Richey is a Republican who represents HD 38 in Clay County. He is the chairman of the Joint Committee on Education.