As someone who runs long distances, quite often while barefoot, I recognize the accuracy of the old Chinese proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I’m working to put that proverb into good use while continuing my wife’s legacy of expanding school choice. This National School Choice Week, we can take comfort in knowing that we’ve begun our journey but have more work to do to expand access to quality educational options in Missouri.
My support for school choice comes in part from my late wife Rebecca, a former school teacher and state legislator. She believed passionately that every child deserves to attend a top-notch school, and that if school districts cannot provide high-quality options, then parents deserve alternatives.
During her time in the Legislature in Jefferson City, Rebecca worked to expand access to charter schools. These types of schools receive public funding but have more freedom to innovate than traditional neighborhood schools. They also have greater accountability to parents and policymakers through their charter, which specifies how the school will operate and the outcomes students will achieve.
I believe passionately, as did my wife, in expanding school choice in Missouri, in large part because of the benefits choice has brought elsewhere. Many children in other states have more school choice options than Missouri families, like broader access to open enrollment in public schools outside their assigned neighborhood. Dozens of other states also have established opportunity scholarship programs, which allow families of modest means to select the school that works best for their needs, whether public or private.
Critics of these programs suggest that school choice deprives traditional schools of needed resources, leading to poorer outcomes for children who remain in public education. But according to one published report, 33 separate studies have found that, in all but two cases, private school choice helped improve the educational outcomes of students who remained in public schools. The competition sparked by school choice leads to innovation in the classroom — with students the ultimate winners. Taxpayers benefit, too: Two recent studies of opportunity scholarship programs found that they saved at least $4.9 billion in public funds.
At more than 50,000 events from Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, National School Choice Week will celebrate the positive outcomes from millions of school choice recipients nationwide. The events show how access to education unites Americans across racial, ethnic and geographic boundaries. All students want to learn and grow — and all children deserve the right to do so in the best environment possible.
By allowing parents to select the school that best meets their children’s needs, school choice ensures that children receive a quality education. For that reason, we should expand school choice in Missouri, compromising when necessary, but never losing sight of the ultimate goal.
As a marathon runner, I am familiar with tracking down a competitor far in the distance. When it comes to school choice, other states have a greater head start than Missouri, but we can — and must — do better. Let’s finish this race and expand school choice to help the ultimate winners in our marathon: Missouri’s children.
Rick Roeber is a barefoot runner and currently resides in Lee’s Summit, Mo.