January 16, 2012

Clumsily Lurching Towards Comprehensive School Choice In Missouri?

The Kansas City Star has reported a delay in the lawsuit between five suburban school districts and the Kansas City Public Schools. The five districts allege that Kansas City Public is not following the law in paying the tuition expenses of students that transfer from the unaccredited district, as allowed under a state law and a Missouri Supreme Court decision (Turner v. School District of Clayton). The law, as it currently stands, grants students in unaccredited districts the choice to transfer to accredited districts and public schools in the same or adjoining county. The unaccredited district pays tuition to the receiving district for the transferees.

But let’s not get bogged down in the legal details here. Instead, notice how the law represents one giant step for students, yet one small step for Missouri school choice (my apologies to Neil Armstrong). Why is this so?

First, under the law, the unaccredited status of a school district triggers the right to school choice. While this is fine as far as it goes, what about students who suffer academically in failing schools in accredited districts? If the evil to be remedied is students victimized by failing schools, then the law should target all failing schools, not merely schools in unaccredited districts.

Second, the Missouri law limits transfers to other public schools in close proximity. Why not extend school choice to any public or private school in the state of Missouri? In this way, students will have greater choice, and increased opportunities, to reach their dreams and to receive a first-class education. Ask yourself: Why not?

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