Kids in class
James V. Shuls

No one enters the legislature saying, “I’m going to be the champion of corporate welfare.” Many, however, do say they want to be a champion for children.

Yet in the 2019 Missouri legislative session, neither the House nor the Senate passed a single school choice bill. Reform for Bryce’s law, which would provide assistance for special needs students to attend private institutions in order to receive specialized instruction, never made it out of committee. A bill to create Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which would allow school children to pay for tutoring, tuition, or other education services, was filibustered on the Senate floor. And charter school expansion, which would have extended educational opportunities outside of St. Louis and Kansas City, never received a vote on the Senate floor.

Critics said these programs lack accountability, fail to improve outcomes, and take money away from public schools.

At the same time, the legislature pushed through a gigantic corporate welfare bill for General Motors—a bill that would take money away from public schools, has little accountability, and is based on an idea (placating companies with massive subsidies) that has a track record of questionable results.

Why is it that school choice bills have such a tough time passing, while subsidies for big business see such little opposition (except from some of those same school choice supporters)?

The answer is quite simple—organization and power. The education establishment is organized and on message. Through the halls of the capitol, lobbyists for the teacher’s unions, the school administrator’s associations, and the school boards’ association walk in lockstep. They have a clear constituency with concentrated interests. Ask any politician and they will tell you the education lobby is one of the strongest in the state.

And what of the reformers? They seem to be a ragtag bunch, dispersed throughout the state. There is no single group bringing them all together. There is no widespread coalition, just a bunch of individuals who think kids deserve to have educational options.

School choice proponents may never have the kind of power that the education establishment and big business have. That doesn’t mean that legislators shouldn’t do the right thing. If they say they are champions of children, then they should champion children and the policies that give them educational options.

 

About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.