Susan Pendergrass

In Missouri, the public education powers that be insist that Missouri parents don’t need or want options other than the public school to which their address assigns them. Parents should simply defer to the “experts,” and go along to get along. In many cases, if not most, parents make whatever financial sacrifice is necessary to move their families to a school district they’ve heard is “good,” even though there is little information on what that means. But, if you can move to a “good” school district, the “experts” should be better, and your child should be okay.

School choice in Missouri, therefore, has come to mean forcing schools to relinquish some of their assumed power over families. And it doesn’t come easily. A law that allows parents to choose a full or partial virtual education for their children has been implemented very begrudgingly in multiple school systems across the state. According to an approved virtual education provider, the excuses being given to parents who request their courses include: programs that were already approved don’t meet the school’s standards, signatures were missing on the application, and the district has its own virtual program (even though the law ensures that parents get to choose a provider). And this is just a sample of the excuses given; there are many others. In some cases, the denial of access to the virtual education program conflicted with medical advice from the child’s doctors.

It’s time to flip the script. The public education establishment does not, and should not, grant power to parents. Parents grant power to their child’s school.  Yet, when one alternative becomes available, parents have grabbed hold of it only to have their hands slapped. A system that spends more than $11 billion each year to achieve mediocre results does not know better than parents. The demand for more options is only going to grow and the design of the system needs to change as a result.


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.