There are few things as important to the future of a child as where and how they are educated. For some parents it is a decision to home school – a single income family, complete with the trials and financial sacrifices that come with it. For other families, it is a private education at a school with similar values, but this is not without considerable expense and not an option available to all families.
And, for some, it is a public school education. Setting aside whatever views one may hold about real or perceived indoctrination by public schools of our children, most would agree that some public schools are just better funded, better managed and provide better opportunities than others as a result of the tax base, resources and educational level of the parents residing within it’s boundaries. In impoverished, high crime districts the results of discrepancy of outcome is marked.
It was no surprise then when parents took up the cause of ensuring that students living within the boundaries of the unaccredited St. Louis city school district would have full access to an accredited public education, they did it for their children. They filed a lawsuit, on behalf of their kids, arguing that students living within the confines of unaccredited school districts had the right to enroll in, and attend, accredited school districts. While the case dragged on in the Missouri Courts, their children attended accredited public schools where hopes were brighter and test scores better; schools with means and methods to ensure the success of its students.
In June, the Missouri Supreme Court handed down its verdict – children living within the bounds of a school district that has lost its accreditation do, in fact, have the right to seek out and enroll in schools that are accredited. The court went further to state that the unaccredited district must pay busing and tuition for all students who wished to avail themselves of their ruling. The caveat is the unaccredited school district will choose a single school district to bus to. Students wishing to attend other school districts must assume transportation costs on their own dime. Open now Pandora’s box.
With the new Supreme Court ruling, parents within three unaccredited Missouri school districts are now free to send their children to better school districts that are accredited, with the unaccredited districts ordered to pick up the tuition. While there are many issues argued against this mandate, to date they have not found their way into a legislature for clarification, or a courtroom for hearing.
At present, the problem lies in the fact that one school district, Normandy, of north St. Louis County, choose another district over 20 miles away and in another county – ignoring school districts that were closer. Some parents of Normandy cannot understand the decision when there are resources closer to home and more familiar. As a parent with children riding a bus on rural routes, 20 miles tacked on seems excessive, add in rush hour traffic and I’d argue it unconscionable. I cannot begin to imagine the toll on an elementary school child.
Parents on the receiving end of the proposed influx, the Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County, are outraged. Many of them have made great sacrifices to move away from areas like north St. Louis County to escape the crime, the poverty, and the drugs. They are not welcoming the possible influence these things may have into their lives, their culture and into the lives of their children.
They are worried that the additional students will mean larger class sizes and fewer resources for the children who are there because their parents are part of the tax base. They have cause for concern that the failures of the school district will mean that disproportionate resources will be spent on catching new students up rather than in preparing existing pupils for the path that lies ahead.
With great personal sacrifice we made the decision to move out of the city of St. Louis 10 years ago for a safer, academically stronger school district and I will tell you there are no easy answers – for educators or for parents. It stands for reason that the right to a good education is fundamental and necessary.
While the Missouri Supreme Court has now clearly defined the penalties of a district’s failure, legislators and educators have failed to fashion a map on how to get an unaccredited district back on track and keep children educated and safe in the process. Ultimately, unless the Missouri legislature steps up to the plate and partners with school districts to overcome the problems common to lower performing schools, in the state of Missouri, the manifestation of No Child Left Behind laws will become the big yellow school bus.