James Shuls of the Show-Me Institute has spotlighted a story that has been otherwise overlooked in the education media. This month the Missouri State Auditor delivered a riveting presentation in which he reported the conclusions of a recent audit of the St. Louis Public School District. The state action was necessary in light of the fact, as Auditor Tom Schweich explained, that the district lacked any kind of internal control system that would have identified mismanagement earlier.
And the audit found plenty of mismanagement. Among the things uncovered in the audit were a number of contracts awarded without an open bid process, actions that could put the district in conflict with the Missouri Sunshine Law, and a lack of oversight of the process by which the city maintains integrity of its standardized testing regime.
As Shuls points out, children are once again left to pay the price. The report noted that despite the fact that a large portion of St. Louis students are not reading at grade level, they're still being pushed along to the next grade in an act typically dubbed "social promotion" – yet another place where St. Louis has potentially run afoul of the state law.
District officials recognized they may not be in "full" compliance with state statutes, but lamented that they just "don't have the resources to follow this law." Complying would simply "put undue financial hardship on the district." In the eyes of the auditor, however, "students who can't read should be the highest financial priority."
In essence, the auditor was saying that schools should be about educating students. That is their goal. That is their mission. The St. Louis Public School District spends more than $15,000 per pupil and they should figure out how to use those resources to make sure that students can read at grade level.
Prior to presenting the results during a press conference, Schweich reminded those in the audience that auditing the four largest public school districts in the state has been a priority for him ever since he took over the post. Since that time, he has completed audits of the Kansas City Public School District, Springfield Public School District and Rockwood Public Schools.
Shuls also suggests what many who review the situation likely feel — that if St. Louis is unable to figure out a way to use the money provided to them to help their students succeed, it is probably long past the time when someone else got a chance to do the job right.
If educating students creates an "undue financial hardship" for St. Louis, or any other school district for that matter, then it's time to let students take their education dollars to a school that can meet that demand. What is the cost of not educating students? What is the cost of passing students on year after year who cannot read? Think about the undue hardship that puts on students.