by James V. Shuls
Randy Georges Sr. knows something about school choice. He moved from the Tortola, British Virgin Islands to Missouri to obtain a quality education; now, he may have to move across town so Randy Jr. can have the same opportunity.
Like most concerned parents, Randy and his wife, Monique, have high hopes for their children and believe education is the path to success. Unfortunately, their house is zoned for one of the lower performing schools in the Springfield School District. They tried to use the district's intra-district choice program, to no avail. Lacking other options, the family was forced to send their son to Bingham Elementary, where only one-third of all students are reading on grade level.
They could apply for the transfer program again next year, but success is not guaranteed. The Georges family is analyzing all other options, including moving again. This situation is not unique; families across the state and across the country grapple with this very issue every year. They can either accept a sub-standard education for their children, struggle to pay tuition, or move. This is a shame, especially when it does not have to be this way.
In conversations with individuals from 10 private schools in Springfield, I discovered that there are more than 500 available spaces. The Georges family lives just a block from one of these schools.
When former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was superintendent of the Houston, Texas, school district, he offered some of the students the ability to attend a private school at the district's expense.
At the time, Secretary Paige's actions were a novel idea, but today, many states are following suit. According to the Center for Education Reform, there are now 25 programs in 14 states that enable students to attend private schools with a voucher or a tax-credit scholarship. Additionally, Arizona has instituted a first-of-its-kind program, education savings accounts, which can be used to pay for private school tuition or a host of other educational services or products.
These programs provide families with options, typically at a cost savings for the state. Take Springfield, for example: tuition at the private schools I spoke with was $3,300 less than the amount the Springfield School District spent per-pupil last year. Mind you, that figure does not even include the district's expenses for facilities. A program that enables students to fill those 500 open spaces in the private schools could save the district more than $1.6 million. Moreover, it could ease some of the overcrowding problems in the district.
The idea of public dollars going to private schools is not popular to some, but the idea that the only way to get a good education is to live in the correct ZIP code or be able to afford private school tuition should be even more reprehensible. Providing families with options is not a private versus public issue; it is an issue of doing what is right.
James V. Shuls holds a bachelor's degree from Missouri Southern State University and a master's degree from Missouri State University, both in elementary education. He is a PhD candidate in education policy at the University of Arkansas, where he has worked as a graduate assistant for Jay P. Greene, PhD, Gary Ritter, PhD, and Robert Maranto, PhD. James joined the Show-Me Institute as its education policy analyst in July 2012. James is a former teacher, having taught four years in southwest Missouri.