JEFFERSON CITY - A St. Louis firefighter told lawmakers he can't get his kids into good public schools in his appeal to the Missouri General Assembly's Joint Committee on School Accreditation on Wednesday.
St. Louis firefighters' families are locked into an unaccredited school district; they are required to live within the city limits of St. Louis as long as they are employed by the fire department. Their options are to enroll their children in the city's unaccredited district or pay tuition for private parochial schools.
Andrew Hesse has been a firefighter in St. Louis for 12-and-a-half years and said he currently pays $20,000 in tuition a year for all three of his children to go to private school.
"What I am asking the committee to do is to please enforce the law as it is written so my kids can have a good school to go to without paying in excess of $10,000 a year to accomplish that," said Hesse. "If that's not doable, at least provide them another solution to access high quality high schools."
Hesse said he's spoken to many potential St. Louis firefighters who won't apply to work in St. Louis because of the problems with the school system.
The law Hesse refers to requires accredited school districts to accept students from unaccredited schools, sending the bill to their old district, according to the Missouri Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Turner v. School District of Clayton. However, the case is now back in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, so districts aren't accepting new students, leaving them in the unaccredited St. Louis and soon-to-be Kansas City districts.
"I'd ask that you think of the plight of these students and parents that are kind of trapped by their zip code into these unaccredited or so-called failing schools," said Joe Knodell from the Missouri Education Reform Council, "and hopefully a solution can be found for that."
The state's charter school association suggested that expanding charter schools could be the solution to the urban education crisis at the first meeting of the Joint Interim Committee on School Accreditation.
Charter schools are public schools that operate independently and are held accountable for academic standards by a sponsor instead of a traditional school district. Typically, charter schools utilize innovative practices to account for the needs of their students.
Charter Public School Association spokesman Earl Simms said allowing charter schools to expand could alleviate the problem. Simms said opening unused, taxpayer-financed buildings to charter schools, permitting them in existing school districts and allowing school boards to become sponsors could help in areas with unaccredited schools.
The St. Louis organizaton Cooperating School Districts said another possible solution is using virtual high school courses, which 61 school districts will begin using next fall. Executive Director Don Senti said his online learning program provides a solution without overwhelming St. Louis County schools. The online classrooms would allow students to stay in the same school building while taking accredited classes, ultimately saving money for the state, Senti said.
The committee will hold meetings in St. Louis and Kansas City, where members of those school districts can provide their own ideas about alternatives to the problem.