Kids walking to school
Susan Pendergrass

What is school choice? Many believe it’s a way to get disadvantaged children out of terrible schools. But in 2020, it’s pretty easy to see that it’s much more universal than that.

Parents who work outside the home and just found out their schools will be all virtual this fall know what it feels like to need another option for their own children. Parents who bought expensive homes in top-notch school districts who just found out their district is staying virtual for the fall are quickly getting up to speed on not getting the education they thought they had locked in. Parents who are scraping together funds with their neighbors to hire a teacher for in-person teaching are finding out the meaning of having to pay for school choice. Parents of children who can’t participate in their district’s in-person or hybrid plan are discovering the obstacles of enrolling their children in a virtual program of their choice. Parents of special needs children who haven’t received services for their disability in six months are desperate for school choice.

The term “school choice” has been around for decades. But parents who were able to move to the school district of their choice have tended to struggle with the concept. Letting children from other districts enroll in their district could water down the value of the house they bought. Letting children use public money to attend private schools hurts public education. Charter schools are fine for inner city children, but we don’t need them in our “good” suburban school districts.

School choice isn’t just for other children in the 2020–21 school year. It’s palpable need for scores of Missouri children across the spectrum of community type and socio-economic status. Any parent who wants “A” for their child but lives in a  district only willing or able to offer “B” this fall needs school choice. It doesn’t matter how good your school is or how expensive your home is.

Parents in our lowest-performing districts have always known this. The “B” that their districts offer is a low-quality and sometimes even dangerous education experience. The “A” that they want and need is a safe space for their children to thrive. I would urge all parents to remember this shared experience. To remember the feeling of finally learning how your district’s hybrid plan was to work, only to have it thrown out the window for all virtual. Remember the frustration of receiving long emails from your district about their plan, only to read “this is all subject to change” at the end. Remember finding a micro-school option for one of your children, but not the other. Remember hoping your boss will understand.

School choice is simple. It means making sure that no parent is stuck with only one option when that option is unacceptable.


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.