Home » Education »Politics/Policy » Currently Reading:

State Senator pushing legislation for open enrollment in Missouri’s public schools

January 17, 2010 Education, Politics/Policy 16 Comments

July 2006, Veronica OBrien talks to the press at the press conference naming Dr.
July 2006, Veronica O'Brien talks to the press after Dr. Bourisaw was made superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools.

A bill before the Missouri legislature could, if passed, change the composition of schools on the Missouri side of the St. Louis region:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri lawmakers are to debate whether parents should be allowed to pick the public school their children attend.

Supporters contend open enrollment gets parents more involved and improves academic performance. But critics argue that open enrollment can create problems with school funding and makes planning harder. Teacher and school district groups also say the benefits of open enrollment are uncertain.  (Fox 2: Mo. lawmakers propose open enrollment system to let parents choose school kids will attend)

Opponents to this idea are fighting back:

“We think that the emphasis ought to be on improving public education in local school districts rather than encouraging students to be attending other school districts,” said Missouri School Board Association spokesman Brent Ghan.

Representative Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) sponsored the bill to allow students the choice in which school they want to go to within 30 miles of their home. She said that there are problems in Missouri’s schools that need fixing.

“Right now, in Missouri, we are looking at some real crisis situations as far as the academics and the accreditation of some of our school districts,” she said. “So, I think from that stand point, those parents are going to be looking at opportunities for their children to attend an accredited school.” (KOMU,  Open Enrollment Stirs Debate)

Jane Cunningham is a State Senator (R-7), not a State Rep. She is the sponsor of SB537:

Current Bill Summary

SB 537 – This act creates procedures for open enrollment across school district boundary lines for children in foster care and for children of parents who are employed as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, or peace officer who must live within a designated school district as part of their employment. School districts must adopt a policy and designate appropriate class sizes for purposes of open enrollment, incorporating the minimum standard of teacher-pupil ratio promulgated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The policy may include spaces that could be filled by open enrollment. A student wishing to participate in open enrollment must declare intent by March first prior to the year in which the student would open enroll. If a receiving school has insufficient space for all students who want to enroll, it may institute an admissions process.

If a parent believes that a receiving district has unreasonably disapproved an application for admittance, he or she may request that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education review it. School districts must keep records and make them publicly available, as described in the act.

A student requiring special education services may only transfer if the receiving district verifies that it has an instructional program that is appropriate for the student and that the enrollment would not negatively affect the class size.

A student who enrolls in another district will be included in the receiving district for purposes of state school foundation aid.

The parent or guardian is responsible for transporting a child who enrolls in another school district. At the discretion of the receiving district, the parent or guardian may transport the child to a point on an existing school bus route.

The act also contains provisions for statewide assessment scores of students, intradistrict transfers, participation in school activities, and school district eligibility for small school grants.

This act is similar to HCS/HBs 807 & 690 (2007).  (Source: SB537)

I have no horse in this race other than wanting inner-city schools to remain competitive with suburban districts and for our region to do a good job of educating all our future adults. We certainly should use caution before doing anything that might undermine fragile districts.  Exploring and discussing ideas is certainly where we must begin.

The idea of open enrollment is the topic of the poll this week.  You can vote in the upper right corner.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    As currently written, applying only to emergency personnel subject to residency requirements and to foster parents, it's a fairly small population. But like any other law, it could open the door to having other groups becoming eligible. The other half of the equation is whether the other district has space and IF they'd be forced to accept students they don't have the resources to educate. If so, it's a big issue; if not, it's not a big change from the present situation.

  2. G-Man says:

    Seems pretty limited, but on a larger scale, wouldn't such a thing help attract suburban families to city living, since their children could attend schools in the county?

  3. Hopefully they can get it through, great article.

  4. Fenian says:

    Having open enrollment will not get the right parents involved in their children's education. My problem with charter schools in the City is the same issue. To enroll your children in a charter school, you must first value education and secondly, have the social/educational wherewithal to fill out forms, ask the right questions, etc.

    The children most at risk have parents that neither value education nor do they have the abilities to enroll their children in a school that is right for them. Those children will still be left behind.

  5. linsey says:

    Its true that something like this on a larger scale would not fix the problem. Neighborhood schools are important. But the city is totally unsustainable without schools that middle class, educated people will send their kids to. As a midwife, I work with the demographic that everyone seems desperate to attract to the city and they almost all leave when their kids hit the grades. I *love* this city, but we are seriously considering leaving the region because there is simply no way we could afford private high school and we have no interest in living in the county.

    Maybe something like this could slow the hemorrhage long enough for families to get re-established in the city and for the population to grow and stabilize a little.

  6. Why would a suburban parent send their student to attend a city school?

    They wouldn't. This would only really further divest the SLPS. Any changes should only include a regionally unified district not the ability to pick and chose districts. Because few middle class parents will chose the districts that actually need their enrollment.

    • M. Harms says:

      “This would only really further divest the SLPS.”

      This comment implies that the SLPS is worth saving or using in its current form. It is not. If this bill would “divest the SLPS”, then so be it. Something drastic needs to happen. Allowing school choice is the first step that *must* be taken when it comes to serious, deep, long-lasting school reform. If there are better schools outside of the SLPS (or elsewhere within it), any and all parents should have the free and simple choice to enroll their school children there.

      Since state funding is tied to the headcount at schools, this finally incentivizes the education system in this city. There suddenly becomes a very real motive to ensure that schools are teaching our children successfully. If not, parents can enroll their children elsewhere and the school directly loses funding.

      Once free movement between schools is allowed, the second reform step needs to be breaking the tenure and universal pay system. Teachers need to be paid based on their success in the classroom, not on their years of service. Breaking the bondage of the teachers union is a key, albeit next-to-impossible step.

      But for now, SLPS must allow free movement between schools. I applaud forward looking lawmakers like Jane Cunningham for having the stones to finally make a serious effort at getting the SLPS back on track. Bravo.

      • If Jane Cunningham cared about the children in the City she would propose a unified school district and tell her constituents to support that.

        “School choice” seems to benefit suburban districts the most as they receive the funding from relocated students. How does the City itself benefit? It does not. Our buildings go vacant, not theirs. West County kids are not flocking to attend Sumner High School. We don't hear an outcry from West to reopen Cleveland either.

        This is divestment from one area of our region to the fiscal benefit of another — or the private interests who support charter schools.

        If you really support the education of our poverty-stricken youth then you shouldn't have a problem with dissolving your provincial suburban district unifying them with every district east and west of I-270. Quality of education should not be burdened by neighborhood localism, while divestment shouldn't be asked of only one or a few districts especially when their problems exist due to our regional fragmentation and suburban entrenchment.

        The SLPS was once among the greatest in the Nation while its physical buildings still the best in the Region. That changed when the middle class left due to racism and took their tax dollars — along with jobs like the former GM Plant — with them. The SLPS didn't reach its state due to unions, bureaucrats, or lazy parents. These Republican arguments need to end. It occurred because those with money and means exited the City limits leaving vacant lots and factory buildings behind.

        The only way to really erase that disparity would be to share enrollment and budgets across our entire Region — and to send white suburban children to school in North St. Louis.

        • JZ71 says:

          Busing is a social experiment that hasn't worked here or elsewhere. “Send[ing] white children to school in North St. Louis” is not the answer; making north St. Louis attractive to their parents IS! The SLPS does not suffer from funding deficiencies (its per-pupil expenditures are among the highest in the state); it suffers from significant perception and results challenges.

          Many parents, black, white or brown, want better options, but not if they're twenty or thirty miles away. Charter schools offer one possibility, but their results, across the country, have been uneven, at best. School vouchers (allowing parents to choose from any school, public or private, in an allegedly open market) have similar issues. That leaves creating a unified system as a mixed option – it could address some of the perception issues, but only if the focus remains on quality neighborhood schools.

          • How would you address low enrollment at Sumner without busing in kids from outside the City? School closure completely undermines your pro-neighborhood position as do vouchers and charter schools.

  7. Joey says:

    I doubt I am long for the city for the schooling reason. I would love to stay in the city, but I am currently in Dogtown and would easily get my son in to Roe magnet school, but I am a renter and have to move as we are having rodent problems and our landlords are slumlords. Once we finally said “Ok, it's all good, fine, and dandy – we are going to get our son in Roe and the school problem is a non-issue.” Now it's time to move yet again and Dogtown just doesn't have the housing stock we need (at least 4 bedrooms as we plan on growing our family very soon). I was so stressed out in choosing to stay in the city because I didn't know what it meant for schooling (PUBLIC schooling, that is), but then when I finally get comfortable, we get rats and a landlord unwilling to help. It's just not worth the stress of it any more.

    • Rats do live in West County despite the bulldozing of cornfields.

    • A Parent says:

      Good for you. Children are not to be used for “social experiments”.
      As a parent you get ONE shot, ONE chance at raising a successful kid. No do-overs, no reset button.
      And it's not this city vs county BS as Doug would have you believe, it's about finding the best possible education for YOUR child not for anyone else.

      • LisaS says:

        I'm a parent too, and I get accused all the time of submitting my children to “social experiments” because I don't send them to either ~90% white suburban public schools or private schools. I view it the other way: we are more racially and economically segregated in this country now than we ever have been. Academically, I've examined the statistics for the school districts people have suggested I move to, and the ones I can afford (Fox, North County, most places in Jeff County) have no better performance than the average SLPS magnet school–and the SLPS magnets, with the exception of Kennard, Stix, and Wilkinson, are woefully underenrolled, especially for non-Black students.

        My children attend a racially & economically balanced school with high academic achievement, and I live in the only neighborhood in the St. Louis area that offers the walkable, urbane lifestyle I want to have. I beleive by virtue of this choice, my children will have a better understanding of the realities of the world than they would if I lived in a typical suburb. Actually, I can see it already in the comparison with their exurban cousins, who expect fashionable clothing and expensive toys (laptops! DSIs!) almost as their birthright before they're even teens. My kids know better. They know by comparison they're very fortunate in having what they do.

        Also, our school has a number of West County families who participate in the deseg agreement, mostly because their religious views are in such a minority in their neighborhood schools that they feel more comfortable in our more diverse environment.

        • markgroth says:

          Bravo! I am a city resident with 2 kids in the SLPS, I completely agree on all your points.

  8. teacher34bv says:

    Be careful what you wish for – it might not be what you expect. Bussing was the answer embraced years ago, the second coming of education fairness and improvement yet it destroyed the city schools. StL may never recover from that government solution.

    With thism we might just ruin education in the entire state, not just StL and KC.

    Think about the consequences to all, not just the benefits to a few.

    “Public Schools: Just one more gubment success story.”


Comment on this Article: