Sunday, March 1, 2009

St. Louis City NEEDS Education Options

A sad reality for the St. Louis city from the Suburban Journals:
An unseen line separates here from there. Yet this simple, intangible barrier causes strain on the lives of Kelly Polson and her family.

They live in Clifton Heights on the western edge of the city. It's their home and they love it, but with a second son entering Catholic high school and the first of two young daughters readying for pre-school, they have a decision to make. Do they stay and pay tuition or move to St. Louis County to take advantage of the public school options offered there?

With the high cost of Catholic education, Polson would choose public schools in the city, if she thought they were working. She doesn't.

"I realistically cannot send my boys to St. Louis city public schools," she said. "We want to stay in the city. We love our home. It's just the schools are the problem. It's a constant conversation in our house of what we're going to do."

Families have been having similar conversations for years. A large number of them leave the city.

Charter schools have taken some of the enrollment, but not all, said Dan Schmidt, a demographer who worked on the report.

"Children are being born that are leaving the district before they enter a school there," Schmidt said.

The migration to the county started in the 1970s, said Robbyn Wahby, education liaison for Mayor Francis Slay. Even looking at the decline since 2000, Wahby said 9,000 of the students lost went to charter school, but the rest went to the county.

"The greatest competitor to the St. Louis Public Schools are the 25 school districts in the county," she said.

Tracy Garrett, head of school at St. Louis Charter School, said while some parents have chosen charter schools, she is concerned that people are still leaving. A lot of the students who leave the charter schools go to the county, she said, but some never enroll.

"You have young people moving into the city, starting their families and just when they're starting to be a little more economically stable, they move," Garrett said. "They feel they have to move."

Much of the concern comes from parents who are aware of the district's turnover of superintendents and the former feuding of the elected school board, said Kathleen Sullivan Brown, an associate professor in the college of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"Parents would look at that and say, 'I don't want to necessarily start my child in a system like that and have to deal with that for all the years my child has to be in school,'" she said.

People have a negative perception about the district, Sullivan Brown said. If people have the financial resources to pick another option, they do.

"If people have no options, the local school is where they have to send their children," she said.

The bottomline: Families need school choice options. Charter school expansion needs greater support. The SLPS district needs reform. And the St. Louis community desperately needs better education options!

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