Was Missouri’s Interdistrict Transfer Program Poorly Designed?

Originally posted on Jay P. Greene's Blog:

(Guest Post by James Shuls)

In the early 1970s the Ford Motor Company designed the Pinto. In addition to being extremely ugly, the Pinto was extremely dangerous. A rear-end collision could cause the gas tank to rupture and ignite. For obvious reasons, the Pinto is regarded as one of the worst cars ever.

At the very least, it was poorly designed.

Many look at Missouri’s interdistrict transfer program, which has allowed more than 2,000 students from the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts to transfer to higher performing suburban districts, as if it were a Pinto. It has forced the two unaccredited districts to hemorrhage and rest on the verge of bankruptcy.

Is it ugly? Yes. Is it poorly designed? It depends.

In 2013, the year before students transferred, fewer than 20 percent of students in the two unaccredited school districts were proficient in reading or math. Dropout rates…

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Why do Missouri Lawmakers Continue to Under Fund K-12 Schools?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an op-ed I penned about Missouri’s K-12 funding formula. Here’s the intro:

How much does it cost to educate a student? Ask a dozen people to put a dollar figure on it and you will get a dozen different answers. Yet, when Missouri lawmakers redesigned our K-12 funding system in 2005, they had to come up with an answer. They had to use this figure to determine how much money each district would get from the state. On top of this arbitrary decision, previous lawmakers had to promise the farm in order to get buy-in from local school leaders. Current lawmakers are now “underfunding” our K-12 education system because they inherited a system built around an arbitrary target that is continually increasing.

If you want to find out more about how Missouri’s schools are funded, read the entire piece.

How the Wentzville School District Can Reduce Overcrowding Without Raising Taxes

I live in the Wentzville School District, the fastest growing district in the state of Missouri. As is often the case in growing districts, overcrowding is an issue. This is particularly true at Discovery Ridge Elementary, where my two oldest children attend. The school seems to have houses sprouting up around it like dandelions in spring. To fight against overcrowding, the district has proposed Proposition E, a 25 cent per $100 of assessed valuation property tax increase. Voters previously failed to approve a 35 cent increase in November 2014.

Wentzville’s current tax rate of $4.9891 per $100 of assessed valuation is the 66th highest out of 520 districts. A 25 cent increase would move Wentzville into the top 50 highest taxed districts in the state.

Unfortunately, local taxpayers and parents are only presented with lose-lose scenarios – raise taxes or suffer the consequences. There are other options. I highlight one in a Mid Rivers Newsmagazine letter to the editor. Reprinted here:

It’s no secret that the Wentzville School District is growing. Take a drive around the area and chances are you will pass a new subdivision or a house under construction. All this growth is good for our local economy, but it puts a strain on our local school district. New houses bring new students, which means overcrowding in our local schools. Our district leaders have proposed several ideas for how we might deal with this problem. These ideas force taxpayers to decide between busing, redrawing school boundaries, increased class sizes, or raising property taxes. There is, however, an idea that the district has not considered. It is an idea that would alleviate overcrowding and save the district money. Moreover, it’s the only idea that accomplishes those goals while giving parents greater control over their child’s education – private school scholarships.

This idea is not unprecedented. When former United States Secretary of Education Rod Paige was superintendent in Houston, he faced a similar problem with overcrowding. His solution was to provide students in the overcrowded school with support to attend a private school. More recently, the Douglas County, Colorado, school board offered 500 private school scholarships to students. If the Wentzville School District offered 500 students a $4,000 scholarship to attend a private school, it would reduce overcrowding and save the district nearly three-quarters of a million dollars. More importantly, it would expand educational options for Wentzville families. This is an option that should be on the table.