Ben Barnes
In 2010, the Missouri Supreme Court held in Turner v. School District of Clayton that state law requires unaccredited school districts to pay the tuition of its students who choose to attend an accredited school in an adjoining district. The Turner mandate clarifies the rights of Missouri students stuck in failing schools, but as we reported here and here, implementing Turner has been no easy task. Suburban districts simply do not have the resources to accommodate all of the urban students from Saint Louis and Kansas City who want to transfer.

Herein lies the problem: students want to transfer, and have the right to transfer; but accredited schools cannot accommodate all of them. The “Passport Scholarship Program,” which Missouri Rep. Scott Dieckhaus (R-109) and Missouri Sen. Jane Cunningham (R-7) introduced in their respective houses, addresses at least part of this conflict. The program promotes school choice in the purest form, and could ease the burden that Turner created for suburban schools in the Saint Louis and Kansas City areas.

Under the Scholarship Program, private Missouri taxpayers would receive a tax credit for donating money to any “educational assistance organization,” which must be private, non-profit, charitable organizations. The educational assistance organizations would administer the donations, and distribute money to eligible students in the form of tuition scholarships. Any student residing in an unaccredited district could then apply for a scholarship to attend any qualifying private school in Missouri.

The Passport Scholarship Program has great potential for success in Missouri because it is a market-orientated solution that limits state involvement. Individual taxpayers personally decide whether to donate,  and the educational assistance organizations administer the funds privately. The government has only a minor oversight role in the process. And students could apply the funds to any private school, religious or not, because the Blaine amendment does not affect private scholarships. Any student receiving a scholarship could actually go to the school of his or her choice. So if our goal is school choice — and it should be — the Passport Scholarship Program is a step in the right direction for students stuck in failing schools.

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