The Faux Moral High Ground


(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog)

Bre Payton of has a great piece today about the Normandy/Francis Howell transfer situation. She tells the story of Paul Davis, a Normandy parent whose autistic 16-year-old son benefited from transferring to the Francis Howell School District last year. Davis says, “The transfer program shouldn’t have ever been taken away. We were thinking our lives were going to get better, and then all of the sudden they pulled the rug out.”

Despite having the rug pulled out, Davis and other parents are pushing to make sure their kids receive a quality education. They are being fought at every step. The Francis Howell School District has told parents that they are only allowed to return if they get a court order that states the district must accept the student.

The Francis Howell School District justifies their actions by taking what I have called the “faux moral high ground.” The Watchdog elaborates:

Francis Howell officials have said they don’t want to drain Normandy’s coffers, since Normandy was required to cover tuition costs for students to attend schools in other districts.

“Sending some students to outside school districts depletes the resources for the larger student population who remain in the unaccredited school districts,” Jennifer Henry, communications manager for Francis Howell, said in an email to

As I explain in the article, “Because districts are allowed to set their own tuition rates, they could easily charge Normandy less if they were truly concerned about depleting Normandy’s funds.”

This situation reminds me a lot of what Howard Fuller, civil rights activist turned school choice supporter, said about Harriet Tubman. He asked, “Did Harriet Tubman want to end the system of slavery? Of course she did. But until that happened, she woke up every day to try to save every single slave that she could.”

Wanting to fix the schools in Normandy is a worthy goal. For now, we should provide students a quality education elsewhere.

I encourage you to check out the entire Watchdog piece here.

Educational Innovation from the Top Down

(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog)

Is placing centralized power in the hands of government bureaucrats always a bad thing, or is it possible that centralized power can help facilitate market reforms? That is the question I explore in my latest case study, “Decentralization Through Centralization: The Story of the Recovery School District.” In the paper, I look at Louisiana’s Recovery School District, the nation’s first all-charter school district.

Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) has been granted significant authority to intervene in local public schools. With this power, BESE has put in place strong centralized accountability measures that rate individual schools. When a school is identified as academically unacceptable, BESE can close the school and utilize the school building. Through the Recovery School District, BESE can operate a school in the building or authorize a charter to use the space.

Unlike most government agencies, however, BESE and the Recovery School District have used their authority to encourage an educational market built on choice. Essentially, they have used centralization to create, quite possibly, the most decentralized school system in the country.

Louisiana’s Recovery School District is an intriguing model to consider for Missouri. I encourage you to check out the paper and explore how this type of system might work in the Show-Me State.

Good Coverage of MO Amendment 3 (Teacher Tenure) in K.C. Star

hands raised

I’m probably biased, but I typically think it is “good coverage” when I’m accurately quoted in a story. With my bias noted up front, Joe Robertson of the K.C. Star does a nice job covering the controversy around Missouri’s constitutional amendment to end tenure and institute a new teacher evaluation system.

Here is where I come in:

The language in Amendment 3 posed some problems even for education advocates on the political right who might otherwise be inclined to support the reforms, said James Shuls, a fellow with the Show-Me Institute think tank and an assistant professor in education policy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“The fact that they (the amendment advocates) were going for a ballot initiative shows the difficulty of getting education reforms enacted or passed,” he said.

Shuls, though he is the former education policy analyst for the Show-Me Institute, which also is funded by Sinquefield, was not involved in the campaign or its planning.

There is support out there for the kind of reforms in the amendment, he said, but it is hard to accumulate a consensus, particularly when it comes to the weighty proposition of changing the constitution.

Several attempts to seek legislative action have run aground amid highly divisive debate.

In an election campaign, education organizations that disagree with the kind of ideas in the amendment can mobilize quickly, Shuls said. And the forecast is for a low turnout in November, giving those groups more advantage.

A survey Shuls conducted of state superintendents in 2013 showed they want some reforms in teacher tenure to give them more flexibility in hiring and firing teachers.

But the amendment was seeming too much like a “one-size-fits-all” mandate, Shuls said, that also grated against some conservative education groups.

Here is a link to the survey mentioned in the article. I encourage you to check out the entire K.C. Star piece here.

How do you argue with these school choice supporters?

It is no secret that I’m a big fan of school choice programs. As such, I often try to think of compelling arguments in favor of charter schools and private school choice programs. What I’ve found, is that there really is no topping the personal stories of individuals who have benefitted from school choice. That is why I’m excited about the new ad campaign launched by Philly School Choice.

The concept is simple – let’s get a bunch of parents who love their charter or private school and let them tell their story.

I mean, how do you argue with this mom?

Pension Reform – It’s Not Ideology; It’s Math



The Washington Post had an excellent piece yesterday on the Democratic candidate for governor in Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, and her fight for public employee pension reform.

This was the best line of the piece:

Although she endured vicious attacks from liberals accusing her of anti-labor apostasy, the real issue, she rightly insisted, is not ideology; it’s math.

Like Rhode Island, Missouri has significant unfunded pension liabilities. Of course, this doesn’t stop defenders of the system from claiming that Missouri’s retirement systems are healthy and do not need reform. Steve Yoakum, executive director of the Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri (PSRS/PEERS), derided my call to reform Missouri’s pension system. He went as far as to say, my “opinions and false premises are straight out of the land of make-believe and clearly not from the world in which we actually live.”

I’m sorry Mr. Yoakum, but this “is not ideology; it’s math.”

In the long run, Missouri cannot support our current defined benefit pension systems for teachers unless we reduce benefits, increase contributions, or alter the systems.

Hopefully, politicians will take heart from Gina Raimondo’s primary victory. As the Washington Post concluded, “Presented with the facts, voters can be persuaded to opt for balance and fiscal sanity.”


Charity Is Not Your Strong Suit, Francis Howell

 Annual Performance Report

(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog)

On Wednesday, Elisa Crouch and Jessica Bock of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Francis Howell will allow transfer students from the Normandy School District to return. That is, if those students take legal action and force the school district to comply with the law.

The Francis Howell School District will continue to require court orders for students from Normandy who want to transfer, said Jennifer Henry, district spokeswoman. The district sent a letter today to parents to inform them that it was possible 350 students could be returning, but that it was unclear how many would take legal action. 

So far, 17 transfer students have returned to Francis Howell through court orders. 

Henry said district leaders continue to believe that the transfer situation depletes the resources for the larger student population who remain in the school district.

The district claims it is not accepting all of the students, as other school districts have done, because they are concerned about draining resources from the unaccredited Normandy School District. This is simply taking a faux moral high ground.

Francis Howell is a great district. They have great teachers, administrators, resources, and students. Because of the large size of the district, roughly 17,000 students, it easily can accommodate an influx of 350 to 400 students in need of better educational opportunities. And, as we just found out, student achievement in the district was not negatively impacted by the influx of Normandy students.

If Francis Howell really wanted to take the high ground, they would open their doors to students desperate for a quality education and they would lower their tuition rate. Even with a lower tuition rate, the district could still see a financial windfall. If they did that, they would be showing true compassion for the students who want to transfer and the students who do not.

Forcing students to sue in order to obtain their spot that they are promised by state law in order to save Normandy money is not charitable, it is poor form and simply bad policy.

Are Charters the Next Step for Private Schools?

Did you miss the Show-Me Institute’s Friedman Legacy Day event, “Are Charters the Next Step for Private Schools?”  Then you missed a great discussion; but have no fear, the videos are now available.

In the first video, Mike McShane, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, presents findings from a paper he co-authored with Andrew Kelly, “Sector Switchers: Why Catholic Schools Convert to Charters and What Happens Next.

After his presentation, Mike was joined by Corey Quinn, president of De La Salle Middle School, and Matt Hoehner, regional executive director of Educational Enterprises, Inc. for a panel discussion. De La Salle is planning to close as a private school and re-open as a charter school. While Educational Enterprises currently operates a charter school that partners with a non-profit to provide optional religious after school care for students. It was truly a great discussion.