Catholic school students in the Archdiocese of St. Louis are blessed to be supported by parents, parishioners and benefactors. These individuals support our schools not only because they recognize the individual benefit each student receives, but they recognize that Catholic schools benefit our entire community.
National and state leaders are increasingly acknowledging this benefit and the injustice of asking parents to pay twice (taxes to the local school district and tuition to the chosen school) to send their child to a school that will best meet his/her needs, reinforce the values they teach at home and is directly accountable to them as parents. Thirty states, including most of the states surrounding Missouri, currently have some form of private school choice. The time has come for the Missouri to also pass school choice legislation that includes faith-based and independent schools.
If you are not familiar with the different types of school choice, www.edchoice.org is a great resource. One of their resources is a 2016 study by Greg Forster, which analyzes 100 empirical studies on school choice. He found that 87 percent of the studies show school choice has a positive effect, 10 percent did not demonstrate any visible effect and only 3 percent found any negative effect. These studies investigated many different types of outcomes and Forster concluded, "The empirical evidence shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy."
Andy Smarick, president of the Maryland State Board of Education, author, and a former White House and statehouse employee working with public and charter schools, argues that "public education" is really a set of guiding principles that are worthy of taxpayer funding, not a school district. He points out that we need the full portfolio of district, charter and private schools to ensure that all children have equal access to free and quality educational opportunities.
Federal, state and local governments regularly provide grants and other funding to private universities, preschools, hospitals and charities because we recognize their role in advancing the common good, often in ways that are more effective and efficient than government can provide on its own. Even though government provides some funding, in the end these private institutions save taxpayers much more than they cost. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings once called Catholic schools, "national treasures" because she realized they did what public schools alone could not do.
Education in Missouri would be strengthened by a school choice program. Imagine a state where children can be in a quality school that best meets their individual needs, no matter their parents' zip code or financial means. Equal opportunity is a core American value and it should be one in our state's education system.
Nelson is superintendent of Catholic education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.