In two recent surveys conducted by Public Agenda (a New York
City-based nonprofit research group), Missouri parents gave their
opinions about public education. According to the survey,
two-thirds of public school parents in St. Louis would put their
kids in private school if money were not an issue, and 46 percent
of Missouri's parents would opt out of the public school system if
they could. But only a tiny minority - 13 percent - of respondents
favored vouchers. Why?
According to Public Agenda, "Missourians are more critical of
their public schools than citizens nationwide, but this criticism
does not translate into rejection of the public education system
itself." And, "compared to the nation as a whole, Missourians are
less enticed by private school alternatives."
So what is the recourse for parents who do not support vouchers
yet want a public school system that meets their needs?
Fortunately, there is a solution within the public school
framework: charter schools. Charter schools are independent,
site-based managed, public schools of choice. They are established
by state statute and freed by law from most of the state rules and
regulations that govern district schools. Charter schools give
parents more control, more choice and more accountability - all
things Missourians favored in the two Public Agenda surveys.
In the St. Louis survey, respondents clearly expressed support
for the site-based management concept. According to Public Agenda,
"People . . . believe that the closer educational decision-making
is to the local school, the better."
The numbers bear that out. Only 11 percent of the public feel
that school policies should be made by the "central school
administration." By contrast, 48 percent feel that a "governance
council at each school made up of the principal, teachers, parents
and other community members" should make school policy.
Charter schools shift most decision-making responsibility from
a central office bureaucracy to educators at the school who are
closest to the needs of the children.
Along with more site-based management, public school choice is
becoming an attractive option for cities across the country.
National surveys show that school choice is strongly favored both
in other Midwestern states and in cities similar to those in
In one such survey, conducted by the Center for Education
Reform, parents overwhelmingly (86 percent) indicated support for
school choice and further, 70 percent supported publicly funded
Fully 51 percent of Missouri's parents (as opposed to 28
nationwide) prefer overhauling the public schools to other
alternatives such as vouchers (13 percent). …