Open enrollment in Missouri public schools getting closer to reality

Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 11:53 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A major change in Missouri’s approach to public education could be coming.

Last week the Missouri House passed a bill allowing for open enrollment in Missouri public schools. If the bill passed through the Senate and is signed by Gov. Mike Parson, a student could choose to go to any public school that would take them.

Northwest R-1 school board member Mary Thomasson sees a number of issues with the open enrollment bill circulating in Jefferson City.

“Our biggest problem is geographic,” said Thomasson.

The district is on the edge of Jefferson County and it butts up against Rockwood, Fox and Lindbergh school districts.

She can see a portion of the current student body switching districts for logistical reasons alone.

Thomasson sees Northwest schools as an epicenter of numerous communities and doesn’t want to see students go.

“We want to keep that sense of community,” said Thomasson.

The bill that already passed the Missouri House allows parents to choose any school district in Missouri that decides to participate in the open enrollment program.

Schools don’t have to take on new kids but can’t stop a kid from leaving.

Bill sponsor Brad Pollitt (R, Sedalia) says the bill allows parents to choose the best education for their child.

“This bill does put the decision making in districts into the hands of the local taxpayers who have children in that district,” said Pollitt during the House debate last week.

Due to a desegregation agreement, St. Louis Public Schools is exempt from this bill and would not be affected.

Still, Lauren Preston, who has three kids in SLPS, says she’s seen the state try and add charter schools and magnet schools to make her district better with few results.

“What I see as a parent is that we don’t need more choice, we need better options, we need to fund the schools we already have,” said Preston.

As for Thomasson, she’s worried about potential budget issues down the road and has no idea if the district will join the program and worries about what could come next.

“If large school districts decide not to opt-in, what’s to say next year the legislature might just mandate it,” said Thomasson.

The bill would not go into effect until the 2024 school year and districts could only add three percent of their enrollment from the previous year.

The bill is now in the hands of the Missouri Senate and could be taken up when they return from spring break.