It would be enough to drive Charles Scopes bananas. Nearly a century after the famed Scopes Monkey Trial led to the teaching of evolution in public schools and decades of in-fighting over increasingly liberal curriculums in public schools, a King Kong competitor may be emerging in increasingly conservative Missouri. After gaining passage by the Senate Education Committee, Jan. 21, a major education reform measure (Senate Bill 55) that includes school choice is headed to the full Senate for debate. A similar bill will soon start powering its way through the Missouri House of Representatives where Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, has made education reform a priority and a Republican super majority awaits.
As usual it will meet opposition led by teachers’ unions, but with super majorities in both chambers and with it being made a legislative priority, the possibility of Missouri becoming the 19th state to approve school choice is real. At the center of this looming battle is the feisty state senator from Shelbina, Cindy O’Laughlin, with her legislation, Senate Bill 55. A parent, grandmother and businesswoman, she has impressed observers with her knowledge. She is known for literally “hanging-out” at the schools in her district to observe and listen, thus enhancing her credibility.
“I have always believed in school choice for Missouri students,” O’Laughlin wrote in a recent column on the subject. “Missouri families should be empowered to seek out the education options that work best for the student. In that same vein, public funding for education should follow the student, not the schoolhouse. I think school choice represents the best chance we have of modernizing education and introducing innovation into that field. There has been so much stagnation and lack of accountability over the years for the simple fact that public schools have a monopoly on public education. School choice introduces competition into education, which in turn spurs efficiency.”
Proponents say school choice allows public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs—whether that’s to a public school, private school, charter school, home school or any other learning environment parents choose for their child. The goal of school choice programs is to give parents more control over their child’s education and to allow parents to pursue the most appropriate learning environments for children.
If O’Laughlin’s bill becomes law it will let parents use tax credits on private school tuition, tutoring and school supplies (homeschoolers are big winners under this bill). The bill will also allow charter schools in any school district located within a charter county as well as in any Missouri city with a population greater than 30,000. In total, more than 500,000 students in the United States participate in private school choice programs, with low-income students and students with special needs as the main beneficiaries.
School choice does not mean public teachers are not appreciated (my sister is a public schoolteacher in another state that has school choice). We need our public schoolteachers who are Christians to continue positively impacting the lives of children in their classrooms. We need to pray for public schoolteachers.
There is evidence that school choice can have a positive impact on teachers. Economic theory and scientific evidence suggest that school choice actually leads to higher salaries for public school teachers. Educators currently have limited diversity of options for teaching jobs. While teachers’ unions typically couch their opposition to school choice in terms of funding and accountability, the facts say otherwise. Wealthy parents have always had options when it comes to education—and no one ever frets that the schools they choose are unaccountable or aren’t doing a good job.
“I have come to understand that what drives innovation is when people have choices,” said one mother and businesswoman who testified before the Senate Education Committee. “Government should support school choice reform that respects parents’ decisions while ensuring our children get a quality education. The current system has shown they are not serving the best interest of its students.”
Interestingly, Gov. Mike Parson declared the week of Jan. 24, “Missouri School Choice Week.” Clearly the governor believes that every Missouri student should have access to an effective education and that it is important for parents to explore the learning options available to their children.
School choice is a freedom issue. It is a freedom of conscience issue. Parents – not the government – should be free to decide what is best for their children.