School Choice | St. Louis Public Radio

School Choice

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Magnet, charter, neighborhood, choice: The different types of schools in urban public education can be a lot to decipher, even a few decades into the so-called “school choice” era.

A website that helps St. Louis parents pilot it all has relaunched with updated data and a new name. 

Evita Caldwell is a graduate of Vashon High School and St. Louis University. Her story is the first of several in St. Louis Public Radio's collaboration with the initiative "Before Ferguson, Beyond Ferguson."
Brian Heffernan | St. Louis Public Radio

When Evita Caldwell arrived at St. Louis University as a freshman, she quickly understood a couple of things: First, that she lacked the professional mentors and personal networks that play a major role in upward mobility. Second, that her choice of high school may not have been the right one.

Caldwell, 29, grew up in north St. Louis and attended Vashon High School, in the St. Louis Public Schools system and her father’s alma mater. According to the story "Finding Our Way," James Caldwell had insisted that Evita forego an opportunity to participate in the areawide desegregation program that would have landed her in a higher performing school in the region. Instead, she attended Vashon, a city high school with a poor academic track record and few extracurricular opportunities.

Students get ready for a violin class taught by Philip Tinge at Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School in East St. Louis.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School in East St. Louis is one of hundreds of private schools in Illinois that could see a financial boost from the state’s new tax credit scholarship program.

More than 90 percent of the families who send their children to the school fall below the federal poverty line of $24,600 for a family of four. That gives them top priority to receive a scholarship.

Although children from low-income families get priority,  if Illinois follows the pattern of other states with similar programs, most of the tax credit scholarships will go to middle-class families.

Students working in a classroom of Gateway Science Academy in April 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s been nearly 20 years since charter schools took root in Missouri, bringing independently operated but publicly funded education to St. Louis and Kansas City.

Often touted as a means of allowing parents flexibility when it comes to their kids’ education, “school choice” expansion is growing in favor among Republican politicians, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

In the coming months, St. Louis Public Radio will detail the world of charter schools. But, as any teacher would tell you, an introductory lesson is the first place to start.

MoBikeFed | Flickr

Updated 6 p.m. April 28 to correct that Missouri would be among the only states with an abortion notification law — The only thing Missouri lawmakers must do in the final two weeks of 2017 legislative session is pass the state budget for the coming fiscal year.

But there are a whole lot of things they could do — some of which Gov. Eric Greitens wants them to do — such as tightening abortion regulations, raising the standard for workplace discrimination and creating the last-in-the-country prescription drug monitoring program.

KT Klng | Flickr

Of the hundreds of education bills Missouri lawmakers have filed this session, charter school expansion has the best chance of passing.

Not only is Republican Gov. Eric Greitens an enthusiastic backer of school choice, but charter school advocates say the desire for alternatives to traditional public schools is broadening.

Tax credits | Flickr

The Missouri Senate could soon approve legislation that would give tax credits to people who donate money to fund private school scholarships.

Under Senate Bill 32, anyone could make donations to nonprofit groups that would use the funds to set up education savings accounts.

Then, parents could use those accounts to pay tuition at the school of their choice, including religious schools.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chris Koster talks with supporters on Saturday in St. Louis. Koster says he's opposed to school vouchers, but is amenable to charter schools.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Even before he became governor, Jay Nixon drew a hard line in the sand: If the Missouri General Assembly passed any bill that Nixon felt transferred public dollars to private schools, he would veto that legislation. He followed through on that promise in 2014, when the General Assembly approved changes to Missouri’s school transfer law that, among other things, allowed children in unaccredited school districts to go to certain nonsectarian, private schools.

Whether that “line” remains, however, depends on who replaces Nixon in the governor’s office.

comedy nose | Flickr

Eligibility requirements and classes geared for special interests and abilities apparently are not enough of an attraction for some parents with other options at their disposal when faced with St. Louis Public Schools’ overall tarnished reputation.

The district has more than 1,400 open slots for students to enroll in its choice and magnet high schools for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 11, 2013 - Preparing for a legislative session expected to make changes in Missouri’s student transfer law, state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal is drafting a bill designed to rebuild unaccredited districts, preserve gains made by those on the bubble and sustain those that are solidly in the accredited category.

Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, told some of the superintendents from school districts in her 14th senatorial district Thursday that she is trying to prevent a “domino effect” when tougher school evaluations starting in 2015 might push other districts into unaccredited territory.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 4, 2012 - National School Choice Week is ending in Missouri with a flurry of proposals that would sharply increase the number of charters, establish scholarships to private and parochial schools, solve the dilemma over students in unaccredited districts transferring to nearby schools and carve the Kansas City school district into pieces annexed by surrounding districts.

Commentary: Private school choice and the Turner decision

Jan 20, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 20, 2012 - 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 St. 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.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 14, 2011 - It's been half a century, yet black children are still relegated to unequal education.

How can we prove that black parents love their children and are invested in their educational success? What words would better explain that black parents do not wish harm upon their children, they do not pray for poverty, abuse, neglect or incarceration for them. Is there a reason some kids get to have a good education, but others do not?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 28, 2011 - What comes to mind when you hear the word "cartel"?

You may think first of oil barons or drug lords, but if you had been part of the audience at a screening of a documentary at the Tivoli Thursday night, a new image would be added: public school classrooms.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 1, 2011 - Year end is a time to reflect — and to think ahead. In the holiday spirit, the Show-Me Institute has compiled five New Year's resolutions for state officials, to promote better government for 2011 and beyond. Taken together, these policy changes have the potential to propel Missouri's income and job growth into the front ranks.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 13, 2010 - For decades, Mae Duggan has worked to make tax money available for parents to be able to send their children to whatever school -- public, private or parochial -- that they think would be best for their children.

As a founder of the group Citizens for Educational Freedom -- whose aim is summed up in the slogan "Let the tax dollar follow the scholar" -- Duggan has pushed to keep the idea of school vouchers on the public agenda, even as other alternatives, like charter schools, grabbed the educational spotlight. Starting in the St. Louis area, the organization has grown nationwide.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 12, 2010 - Instead of looking up into the sky for a superhero or keeping their fingers crossed that they win a crowded lottery, families who want better schools need to start the process themselves.

That was the conclusion from a panel convened by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce to watch the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman.'" The panel members then discussed the best way to make sure that all students have the best opportunity to learn.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 7, 2010 - When you've got the Oscar-winning director of a controversial new movie about education on the phone, and you know he spent part of his youth in St. Louis, there's no debate about what your first question should be.

So Davis Guggenheim, director of "Waiting for 'Superman'," where did you go to high school? The answer isn't local, but it is interesting for other reasons.

On Movies: Of education, mental illness and clones

Oct 7, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 7, 2010 - Some years ago, an enthusiastic young biology teacher in a suburban school district found he was unable to support his family on a teacher's pay. But he loved teaching. So, even though he had a close family connection at a large, well-paying St. Louis company, he kept on teaching and took a second job - bagging groceries at a supermarket.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 30, 2010 - Lawmakers going to Jefferson City next year will face two big issues in education: Where should students attend class and how will their schools be funded?

The second issue isn't new, of course. As Missouri's financial woes have deepened, state officials say they have tried to spare education as much as possible. But the school foundation formula remains underfunded, and education officials have been warned that they are about to face another tough economics lesson as budget numbers are put together for coming years.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 19, 2010 -  When neighborhood or parochial schools were the only option for parents, figuring out where their children would attend class was simple.

Then, in St. Louis, magnet schools were added to the mix, and students with particular talents and interests could apply to get specialized training in classrooms still run by the city school system.

Does school choice lead to resegregation?

Feb 24, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 24, 2010 - A new report on the racial makeup of enrollment in the nation's charter schools says two goals seem to be colliding: deregulation and desegregation.

The research conducted by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA says that as more students attend classes in charter schools, which are funded by tax dollars but separate from traditional school districts, the ideal of integration too often has been ignored.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 5, 2009 - Remember when Ma Bell lost her monopoly and suddenly everyone was faced with a wide -- and often bewildering -- array of choices about what telephone service would be best?

Educators and lawmakers around Missouri hope that one day soon, parents could face the same competitive choice about where to send their children to school.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 2, 2008 - Don't get Jane Cunningham started. She likes nothing better than a good political fight over failing schools, and she doesn't mind being a lightning rod of criticism for her views on reforming them. To some voters, she's the enemy of public education; to others, she's the savior of good kids who deserve an alternative to bad schools.