Local Educators Weigh In On School Choice Debate

Published 01/30 2012 01:16PM

Updated 01/30 2012 09:21PM

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- School choice is not an option for Missouri parents and the St. Joseph School District says that's a good thing.

"I don't really see the need for it; the public schools do a fantastic job of meeting the needs for this community's children," said SJSD associate superintendent Cheri Patterson.

School choice is a term for a series of programs that use tax money to help parents pay for tuition for private schools.

According to a new report from the Alliance for School Choice, 2011 was a big year for the growth of school choice in the United States.

Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia offer school choice in some form, whether it be vouchers for tuition or tax credits. Approximately, $806 million was allocated last year toward school choice programs.

"If you're a parent that wants a faith-based private education and can't afford it and the school can't provide scholarship money for that, you're stuck in a hard place," said Lydia Zuidema, superintendent and elementary principal at St. Joseph Christian School.

Zuidema sees the merit in helping people out if they want a more specialized education for their kids, but the issue isn't that simple.

"It's a real debate, even in my own mind about it, because part of me says every parent should put their child where they believe they'll get the best education," she said.  "The other side of me says that's not necessarily the reality.  What do we do with that?  I think our public school people are incredible.  I know lots of them.  I admire them greatly."

The St. Joseph School District says school choice wouldn't be a good fit for this community.

"This country was founded on public education: that that was what made us great.  When we start passing out vouchers, my fear is that we lose a bit of the diversity that makes public education so great," Patterson said.

Missouri parents do have some options that are considered school choice.

Missouri has charter schools, which have more relaxed regulations than normal public schools.

Another popular choice for some parents is home-schooling.

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