"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Voucher Program Giving Control Back to Parents

Today the Washington Examiner reported on HJR 10, a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Barnes, Dieckhaus and Jones that would repeal Section 8 of Article IX of the Missouri Constitution which currently prohibits the state or any local government from making “an appropriation or payment from any public fund … to help to support or sustain any private or public school… college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever.”

The bill seeks to return the control of education to parents by tethering education funding to the student rather than the school. This is a voucher program with a special emphasis on including religious run private schools in the pool of schools eligible to receive state tuition. The actual language that would be added to Section 8 is as follows:

“The parents or guardians of children in this state shall have the freedom to choose any school for their minor children to attend and, should they choose a school outside that assigned to them by geographical location, then shall be provided with a stipend to pay for education at any accredited school of elementary or secondary education in an amount equal to the amount that would otherwise be paid by local and state government for the child to attend the public school in his or her school district.”

The bill is likely to shake the unions for the usual reasons. They will claim that the entire public education system will suffer if tax dollars go to private schools. Those who have watched Waiting for Superman or The Cartel know this is a weak argument with plenty of evidence against it, but it will be dragged out for another parade around Jefferson City. Students currently attending private schools already save the state millions of dollars per year. Since the average private school tuition is less than the per child state tuition, this bill might actually save the state some money. The specifics have not yet been written, but it is understood that the state funding would only be available to low income students in unaccredited districts.

It would also add fuel to the discussions on the state funding formula currently taking place. Those districts who opted to accept “hold-harmless” funding from the state are currently sitting pretty while districts operating under the Foundation Formula are facing a crisis due to the downturn in the economy and the drop in real estate valuations (more on this later this week.) The state’s goal of fair funding to each of its approximately 525 school districts faces another layer of complexity if funding is tied to the student. The exodus from poor performing districts to better performing ones is inevitable under this plan. What is not yet clear is how those districts will be able to effectively budget to handle the influx of new students. In many cases, it is not even clear how those districts might physically be capable of handling the additional student enrollment.

Voucher bills have been introduced for many years now, but perhaps with the Republican majority in both the House and Senate, this one might actually stand a chance of passing. If this bill gains any traction, watch for its opponents to push for requirements for private schools to adopt the Missouri Curriculum to ensure that your tax payer dollars are being spent wisely. And if Missouri is on track to adopt the consortia developed standards (CCS) the better private education parents are seeking with this bill might disappear.

There is one more facet whose unintended consequences should be pondered. Currently, any school receiving federal educational grant money is required to participate in the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Program. This database contains what some consider intrusive personal data on each student and is expensive to implement. Private schools, therefore, may not wish to participate and may refuse to accept state tuition, thus diminishing the benefit of HJR 10.

If passed, this measure will be on the November 2012 ballot.


  1. The most important issue, in my mind, with vouchers, or any future tax credits are the STRINGS that come with the money. Does this grease the skids for CCS? Will it, or any future related legislation also pull in homeschooling students with STRINGS attached? A huge can of worms! Like everything else associated with this year's sweeping proposed education reform, the bills are filed without thinking through the consequences.

  2. I have to agree with "culture". If I don't receive any money from them, then they have no say in what I do. Smaller government, not larger.


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