It is serendipitous that the Missouri Legislature has gone back to work this month, just in time for the kick-off of national School Choice Week (Jan. 22). One of the many challenges our lawmakers face is what to do regarding the Saint Louis and Kansas City public school districts. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the Turner
decision that students in unaccredited school districts have a right to enroll in a nearby accredited district. Unfortunately, the suburban districts have made it clear that they will not accept these students in any significant numbers. Thus, thousands of city students and their parents are in limbo while lawsuits are litigated.
The good news is that two high-performing school districts have offered to take these students in large numbers. These districts do a great job of educating high poverty and minority children, and do so at much less than the $15,000 and $16,000 per attending student spent in Kansas City and Saint Louis, respectively. Moreover,
decades of social science research has demonstrated that the types of schools that these districts run are exceptionally good at educating poor urban youth. So why isn’t our legislature rushing to take advantage of this remedy? The districts in question are the Saint Louis and Kansas City dioceses. This high-quality yet affordable option is off the table.
Why? Opponents argue that it is inappropriate to provide public funds for private religious schools. Indeed, strong language to that effect — Blaine Amendments, named in honor of the Maine senator who led the movement — was placed in Missouri’s and some other state constitutions in the late-19th century precisely to prevent public monies from flowing to Catholic schools.
This is an excerpt from an article written for the Show-Me Institute by Michael Podgursky, an MU economics professor.