JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Some lawmakers want to approve school choice in Missouri, allowing students to go to a school district outside the current one they live in.
State Sen. Andrew Koenig (R-St. Louis County) sponsors SB 5, which would allow students between kindergarten through senior year of high school to attend school in another district or a charter.
School choice is a priority for some GOP lawmakers this legislative session.
“None of those decisions should be determined by what their zip code,” said Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, (R-Columbia). “None of those decisions should be determined by how much money is in their parents’ bank account.”
For many, discussions come down to financial concerns.
“People that are disadvantaged, that are working two, three jobs just to pay rent, they don’t have the money to go to the neighboring district to spend eight-thousand bucks or whatever it is to pay the tuition rate,” said Sen. Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville).
“There are many more students that are left behind in those school districts than the ones that have opted to transfer, and those kids now will be potentially left with less funding to fix those schools,” said Sean Kirsey, superintendent of the Camdenton School District.
The legislation would not require school districts to opt in public school open enrollment act, but if they do, students could transfer to a new district if approved and the funding would follow them. It raises concern for some that more schools could close doors.
“It’s going to happen if you do open enrollment,” said Mike Wood with the Missouri State Teachers Association. “You can’t stop it from happening. It’s going to take place, and it’s going to kill some of our communities.”
Hours after a Senate hearing earlier this week, advocates for school choice rallied inside the rotunda.
“Instead of going to actual school, kids distract you, and you have to fit in with everybody instead of actually focusing on your career and what you need,” said Ranyilla Nathaniel, a ninth-grade student in her first year of online public school MOVA.
Noel Tarver, Nathaniel’s mother, says she gets better grades because of the school choice option.
“In public school she wasn’t doing so well. Now, she gets straight A and Bs,” said Tarver.
If the school choice legislation is passed, it would require students who are athletes to sit out a year before being able to participate. The bill needs a final vote from a senate committee before moving forward.
Neighboring state Iowa recently approved a school choice bill with similar intentions to the Missouri bill.