Open Enrollment Stirs Debate
House Bill 807 asks for open enrollment in schools throughout Missouri, and it's already facing a fight.
"We think that the emphasis ought to be on improving public education in local school districts rather than encouraging students to be attending other school districts," said Missouri School Board Association spokesman Brent Ghan.
Representative Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) sponsored the bill to allow students the choice in which school they want to go to within 30 miles of their home. She said that there are problems in Missouri's schools that need fixing.
"Right now, in Missouri, we are looking at some real crisis situations as far as the academics and the accreditation of some of our school districts," she said. "So, I think from that stand point, those parents are going to be looking at opportunities for their children to attend an accredited school."
Critics worry the open enrollment plan will open the floodgates to athletic recruiting instead of providing academic opportunity.
"They take advantage of a plan like this for reasons other than academic reasons," said Ghan. "And that raises another problem with this bill, which is it may end up encouraging the recruitment of athletes for school districts."
"My personal feeling is number one, there is huge recruiting going on right now and I have heard even recently about complaints about students attending one school that actually live in another school, so guess what? It's already happening," said Cunningham
Opponents say taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for schools outside their neighborhoods.
"From a financial standpoint, there are lots of problems with this bill," said Ghan. "One of the main ones is that local tax payers in a school district who ended up paying for the cost at least partially for a student attending a different school district."
Supporters say it's about a larger issue.
"This is about education," said Cunningham, "not about athletics."
Opponents of open enrollment also say class size, financial problems for smaller schools and policing the 30-mile limit are all important issues to consider. Supporters of the bill say more than 20 states already use the open enrollment system. The bill is on the calendar for the house, which means it could be discussed at any time.