I became a public school parent nine years ago, at a title I school in Huntsville, Alabama. I now have four kids enrolled in schools in the St. Louis Public School district, two at a magnet middle school, and two at a neighborhood elementary school. At the time we lived in Alabama, there were no charter schools–when we moved to St. Louis, I was taken aback at all the choices available, and glad to choose (or not choose) our neighborhood school.
As I became involved in supporting our school, I came to realize that many of the decisions made about our school and our school district were made by people who were not true stakeholders in the district, and that much of the community resources and attention was focused on charter schools or on gated magnet district schools.
At times with great reluctance, and sometimes just because I got so mad, I started to use my voice to address these inequities. I wrote letters to the editor, ran a (losing) campaign for school board, talked to other invested parents, and ultimately came to realize that the necessary work to get SLPS what they need to educate and care for all the students in the district, must be done at the state level, since it is state laws that allowed charter schools and the state funding for education is one of the lowest in the nation.
When local funds are the majority of your funding, and when your city’s property values have been affected by white flight, blight, and redlining, the differences between school districts is extreme. And then, this year, a Missouri representative from all the way across the state sponsored a bill to take money from the local funding of our district and give it to charters. And so I found myself writing emails to the budget committee and then going to testify in person my opposition to the bill. I don’t enjoy (to put it lightly!) public speaking or conflict, so speaking directly to people determined to hurt our district was a growth experience. And like most growth experiences, it took me several days to recover.
I am not looking forward to returning to our capitol and testifying again, but I am committed to achieving this work at the state level. Our schools, our teachers, our staff, and our kids are worth the fight.
Below you will find my written testimony to the Missouri House Budget Committee.
(here is my spoken testimony, which was a little different). This bill (and many other bills dedicated to the destruction of public education, particularly in urban areas) has not yet been defeated.
Dear Budget Committee Members,
I am planning to come speak to you in person, so I will keep this email brief.
I am a parent of four children in St. Louis Public Schools. They are amazing kids who have been loved and taught well from our neighborhood elementary school to the magnet middle school my two oldest attend. With my youngest in second grade, I have another decade in SLPS, assuming that the district manages to survive.
Y’all, I am so tired of certain members of the state legislature pitting charter schools against public school districts. I am especially baffled that this bill is sponsored by someone with no charter schools in his district. Who is he representing with this bill? Because of the laws y’all or your predecessors have already made, this statewide law will only affect two cities (and maybe Normandy?), and I know you know these are the cities with the most Black kids (mine included).
My new neighborhood school (we recently moved from Rep. Aldridge’s district to the 81st) is a school that serves students who speak many different languages at home. ESOL services cost money. I don’t know if you have the time to watch this video from the October legislative committee of the Board of Education, but let me remind you that around 20% of SLPS kids do not have stable housing. That’s around 5000 children. This data is 2018-2019 (from this site) , but please look at these numbers:
- all SLPS kids: 21,814
- all Charter kids: 10,109
- homeless population at SLPS: 4,771
- homeless population at charters: 470
- SLPS homeless percentage: 21.87%
- charter homeless percentage: 4.65% (but some have zero, some are high as 13%, some have closed 2019)
SLPS serves a student population with disproportionately higher needs than charter schools, whether it’s through our fantastic ESOL programs; the difficult task of walking through trauma with kids (one of my daughter’s classmate’s mother was murdered over Christmas break); the cost incurred by the desegregation program which doesn’t seem to have done that much to integrate our schools (especially the neighborhood ones) and instead allows white and privileged parents the ability to cluster in the particular magnet schools and hoard their resources for the sake of their already resourced children; or the special education costs which we shoulder alone, not shared like in the county.
And then there’s the whole transportation thing–did you know that some charter schools don’t provide transportation? So you can’t really choose that school if you don’t have a safe way to get your kid to school and home again.
I don’t know anything about the education system in Kansas City, so I can’t speak to that, but please please please consider the effect that passing this bill will have on the children of St. Louis.
I am an evangelical Christian (a pastor’s wife, even), and I have seen our school be the means that does the Lord’s work: they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the orphan, minister to the foreigners within our gates, not to mention, for our family at least, providing an education that has enabled my children to grow in their faith as we take what they’ve learned at school and use it to glorify God together.
Please don’t take away from funds that enable SLPS to do the work it does, however imperfectly.
And could we just as a state, fund education at a higher rate all together? I know the rural schools are struggling too.
Also if we could alleviate homelessness, do what it takes to end gun violence, prioritize the health of all Missourians, raise the minimum wage, deal with our opioid addiction crisis…there are a ton of non-education things that if addressed, would significantly and positively affect not just our district, but all the districts. Just think about it, okay?
Thanks so much for your time–see you on Tuesday! I’m sorry that this wasn’t brief at all, I just care a whole lot.
With appreciation for the difficult work you do,
Do you live in Missouri?
If so, stand with Emily
Here is a message you can send:
I am an advocate of well-financed and equitable public schools. I strongly oppose my tax dollars going to charter schools that don’t serve the same population of students as our neighborhood public schools, and drain funds from those that do. I am asking that you opposed HB 1552. Thank you.