The Kansas City Star | by Todd Graves | January 18, 2023
Missouri schools and students are lagging. For two consecutive years, fewer than half of Missouri students tested as proficient in math, science or reading. Schools can’t retain teachers, and as a result, more than a quarter of Missouri school districts have adopted a four-day school week.
Teachers’ unions will tell you that more school funding is the answer. In fact, unions spent millions in 2022 to push this narrative. But the fact is, we must start funding Missouri students, not schools, if we want better academic outcomes.
Missouri has already started doing this by launching its first family-led school choice program in 2022. The Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, or MoScholars, allows qualifying Missouri students in specific geographic areas to apply for scholarships up to $6,375 each school year. Students can then use these scholarships to leave their locally zoned public school that may not be meeting their needs.
Unions and special interest groups will tell you that school choice programs are crushing local public schools. But the reality is, local public schools are crushing themselves. They refuse to support alternative certification standards to recruit and train new teachers. This is leading to poorer academic outcomes for students.
As a result, students are leaving in droves. Families are starting their own micro-schools in their neighborhoods. Parents are homeschooling. Students are attending private schools that focus more on learning and less on political agendas.
And what’s the alternative? Keep Missouri students trapped in failing schools? That’s exactly what the teachers’ unions want to do at the expense of your children’s academic futures. Education Assistance Organizations, or EAOs, such as the 501(c)(3) Stanley M. Herzog Charitable Foundation, which I chair, are putting a stop to this. We’re issuing special needs students and lower-income Missouri families with scholarships, so they don’t have to stay trapped.
In addition to guiding Missouri families through the scholarship application process, EAOs raise the funds that make the scholarships possible. Each scholarship is funded through tax credit donations by Missouri taxpayers. So, what do EAOs such as the Herzog Foundation stand to gain through this process? Financially, the answer is nothing. The tax credit donations go directly to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts or ESAs, which go directly to Missouri students.
Now, what do teachers’ unions stand to gain by keeping failing schools open and fully staffed? Everything. In fact, unions stand to gain millions of dollars. The National Education Association collected $375 million in annual dues last school year alone.
The public education crisis in our country has never been clearer. Teachers’ unions’ goals are in direct conflict with our students’ goals. The unions make millions regardless of how students perform. It’s a recipe for disaster — a disaster that’s finally being exposed.
It’s time to fund students instead of broken systems. Missouri students and legislators on both sides of the aisle are standing up to corrupt union bosses, and they should be applauded. If public schools want to remain open, they should rise to the challenge and start competing. The days of zero competition for public schools are over. Public schools can either rise from the ashes or continue to flounder. Just like Missouri students now have a choice, public schools have a choice too.
Todd Graves is chairman of the Stanley M. Herzog Charitable Foundation, whose mission is to catalyze and accelerate the development of quality Christ-centered K-12 education. He is a founding partner of Graves Garrett LLC in Kansas City.