Elementary school classroom
Michael Q. McShane

On November 8, Missourians sent a clear message: We want change. Republicans won every major statewide office—all of which but one had been held by Democrats. The Missouri House and Senate retained Republican supermajorities. President-elect Trump won the state by 19 points.

Now it’s time to get to work. At the top of the to-do list should be education reform. Education reform has a proud tradition among conservatives, and reflects the core conservative values of free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and accountability for public dollars.

The need is great. Among the class of 2015, only 22 percent of Missouri students who took the ACT scored “college ready” in all four tested subjects. On the 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress, only 31 percent of Missouri 8th-graders were deemed “proficient” in math and only 36% were found proficient in reading. The most recent AP Report to the Nation found that only 9.5% of Missouri’s students graduated high school having scored 3 or higher on an AP test, putting us in the bottom five states in the nation for AP performance.

There is no time to waste. Luckily, there are at least three steps policymakers can take to improve Missouri’s education system:

Expand charter schools statewide. Right now, charter schools are functionally limited to operating within the boundaries of the Kansas City and Saint Louis school districts. Within those constraints, they have created some incredible opportunities for students. Independent evaluators found that Kansas City’s Ewing Marion Kaufmann School produced a whopping 1.35 additional years of learning in Math and 1.29 years of learning in reading for students who attended the school for at least three years—all while serving a student population that is 86% free and reduced lunch eligible. Many students in Hickman Mills (whose performance data looks nearly indistinguishable from that of the Kansas City Public Schools) and other struggling districts across the state would jump at the chance to attend such a school.

Create a course access program. In the 2014–15 school year, 285 school districts in Missouri had zero students take an AP class. 255 districts didn’t have a single student take Calculus. 213 districts didn’t have a single student take Physics. In most cases, these are smaller rural districts that simply don’t have enough demand to justify hiring a full-time AP or advanced Math or Science teacher. Course access programs were created to address this very problem; they allow students to direct a portion of their annual per-pupil funding to approved course providers outside of their traditional public schools and to receive credit for classes they successfully pass. If, for example, a student’s school doesn’t offer calculus, or only offers Spanish and she wants to take Mandarin, she could head to the library and log into an online class. The cost for the class would be paid with the fraction of her state funding that would normally cover that class period.

Establish an education savings account program. Rather than sending a child’s yearly education funding to their local public or charter school, the state could put that money into a flexible-use spending account that parents could control. Parents could use the money in this account for private school tuition, tutoring, special education services, or any number of other approved expenses. This maximally flexible funding system would do the most to move our education system into the 21st century, allowing families to fully customize their child’s education.

Our children deserve a world-class education system. Gridlock, vetoes, or divided government can’t be an excuse. Let’s work together to give it to them.

About the Author

Michael McShane

Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.