Turner v. Clayton and School Choice in Missouri

Although this story appears to be a Missouri specific example of just what school choice should be about, it is one of many stories nationwide of parents attempting to escape failing schools by any means necessary.  In 2007, Jane Turner and three other St. Louis parents requested that the Clayton schools bill the St. Louis City School District for tuition under the Missouri Constitution.  Specifically the Missouri State Constitution states that all children are entitled to a free public education, and that if a district becomes unaccredited, the failing district must pay tuition to any nieghboring district that the student chooses.  The receiving district cannot turn them away for any reason, according to a recent court ruling on this issue by the Missouri Supreme Court. 

After the 2011 Legislative Session failed to yield a “Turner Fix”, the judges sent the case back to the lower courts for trial, which is scheduled for Sept. 26.  Meanwhile, three residents of the Clayton School District have joined the lawsuit, arguing that their district should not have to accept students from St. Louis because the state does not provide funding to pay for the transfer.”

This solution from the Supreme Court of Missouri makes absolutely no sense. Neighborhood schools with high parental involvement and engaged teachers create good schools. To burden already cash strapped county districts with providing classroom space and adequate teaching staff for students that may or may not return year after year is lunacy. There are so many variables involved. Will the funding follow? Will the students be successful in a new environment where they begin the day after an hour long commute? What about the community aspect? Children bond over the after school activities and playdates. How can a child participate in his new community if he is shuttled off by bus for an hour long ride home to his neighborhood as soon as the bell rings?  How will the county districts fund the new buildings that will be required in order to maintain DESE mandated class size requirements? These are just a few of the problems that this “solution” presents the districts involved.

Just what have they been doing anyway???

‘They’ being the Republican controlled legislature in Jefferson City.  While I was busy attending every town hall, and calling every legislator this side of the Rockies, what was going on with this ruling?  Nothing.  The Turner Fix never made it out of the Education Committee in the Missouri state senate.   This was due in no small part to the lobbyists that were out in full force, strong-arming legislators into cowtowing to the demands of those that had the money to hire them.  The ‘reformers’ want to abolish school districts and have everyone riding the bus for hours across town to achieve complete diversity and school choice.  The teachers union wants the status quo.  “Keep those kids in the city!  The teacher’s in the city have a right to their jobs!  Who cares if they are educating kids!”  And some of the hold up was due to simple greed.  “We will vote for your Turner Fix if you vote for our tax credit boondoggle called Aerotropolis, the China Hub!” 

There is a better way…

Of course the best solution is the one that no one wants to discuss. Choice. Any unaccredited district should immediately be dissolved and vouchers issued for each student. Private schools educate children for far less than the $16,000 per pupil expenditure currently wasted in the city schools. Of course everyone will scream about the Blaine Amendment to the Missouri Constitution. This is an excellent time to place the repeal of that amendment on the November ballot and allow the voters to decide in favor of school children. That is what is so appalling about this entire debate. Catholic schools in the city are closing for a lack of enrollment. Catholic schools do an excellent job of educating children. Who cares if they are parochial if the parents choose them, and the children are educated well? And let’s not ignore the obvious budgetary implication of using schools that cost less. Education spending in the state of Missouri is already in a shambles. The funding formula is a complete joke that punishes wealthy districts by sending some of their money to unaccredited and rural districts.  And one of the reasons that Catholic schools are so great is they require a certain level of parental participation.  When parents are partnered with schools, and actively participating, then children win and schools flourish.  Of course some of the kids would end up in independent private schools.  Just look at Ohio and Indiana for examples of how vouchers change lives for the better!  Via Instapundit:


“Weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were only recently on the brink of closing for lack of pupils.

It’s a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools. Opponents say the practice violates the separation of church and state. In at least one district, public school principals have been pleading with parents not to move their children.”

So get out of my face with that vouchers don’t work stuff!  And let’s keep it real, the constitution does not say freedom FROM religion, it explicitly guarantees freedom OF religion.  The “public tax dollars” that the atheists and separation of church and state folks refer to comes from the people!  If you have children and pay taxes you have every right to direct those funds to a parochial school if that is your desire.  We wouldn’t be discussing this if the public schools were functioning as intended.  Let those who prefer independent private schools, opt for those and keep their pretty little pie holes shut.  Ed Morrissey of Hot Air agrees: 

Let’s not forget that the voucher program returns money to parents whose children aren’t costing the state anything for their education. If it’s like most voucher programs, it doesn’t even return the full tax bite for each family, which means those families are funding both systems. By putting their children into private schools, these parents are almost certainly spending more money on education than those in the public system.

Note, though, that it’s not an atheist activist group threatening to file suit, or some non-profit alleging incompetence in the delivery of education. It’s the teachers union that wants to file suit. Why? Because as students leave, public-school teacher positions will get eliminated. Of course, an influx of students into private schools will mean more jobs for teachers in the private market, but the union doesn’t control the employers in that sector like they do in the public-school system. Teachers have to demonstrate competence and effectiveness longer than just achieving tenure.

The children in the city deserve a quality education.  It’s a little known fact that nationwide prisons set their yearly budgets on the number of children that can’t read by the fourth grade.  So if a child can’t read, the prison complex has a bed waiting for them, once they drop out of school and turn to a life of crime.   Accordingly, I want to be clear in my opinion that only unaccredited districts should have vouchers. Those are the districts that can’t provide a quality education for students. Accredited districts provide a good education and should not be subjected to the funding loss that vouchers would inflict. It’s been over 30 years of failing schools in the city. The time for talk is over. Give these kids and their families a choice.
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