As Missouri appears poised to spend an unprecedented amount of money on K-12 education, it must spend it wisely – meaning school choice and an “education renaissance” in the state, says Kellyanne Conway, former senior counselor to President Trump.
Conway, now chair of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for the American Child, touted school choice bills before the Legislature this week on Missouri radio stations, giving state legislators a friendly word of advice along the way.
“I would look north, Missouri,” she told the Marc Cox Morning Show on 97.1 FM Talk in St. Louis. “I would look right at Iowa.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last month signed the “seismic” universal school choice Students First Act into law, providing all the state’s families with up to $7,598 to take to the school of their choosing.
“ESAs – Educational Savings Accounts – are sweeping the nation,” Conway said. “See if you can get it in Missouri.
“I have never heard a persuasive, compelling, memorable reason why Democrats are against school choice in most places. They’re standing in the schoolhouse door, refusing to let kids of all backgrounds out of their failing schools. Let the money that we all pay for these kids anyway to follow them into better opportunities and better schools.”
Falling far short of universal choice, HB 253 and its companion SB 5 would nonetheless allow Missouri students to apply to attend a public school district other than their own – though only 4% of students or less would be allowed to transfer out of a district for the first three years.
Conway said she loves that HB 253 is sponsored by Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia – an educator and administrator of 34 years,
“We have to stop pretending that kids are getting a quality education everywhere,” Conway said on the The Gary Nolan Show on 93.9 The Eagle in Columbia. “Twenty-two percent of Missouri graduates met all four ACT college readiness benchmarks, and among the African American students across Missouri it’s 4%. That’s a crying shame. It’s avoidable. These kids have to be front and center when we think about education.”
Conway said she understands why rural lawmakers might be hesitant to approve school choice for fear of hurting local schools, but notes the experience in other states allays those concerns.
What she doesn’t understand is the opposition by schools themselves.
“What are these schools afraid of?” she asked on the Marc Cox show. “Why are they afraid of a little competition? If they feel good about the way that they have been educating Missouri’s children, they don’t have a thing to worry about – because they will be the place that people want to come, not to leave.”
It’s not enough to spend large amounts of money, she said. “The way we’re spending the money has to benefit the child.”
In the end, Conway said, schools need to provide students with a 21st-century education for whatever path they take in life, be it college or career. With education freedom, she said, students can see themselves as “not a victim of their circumstances; they are products of their choices.
“This legislation on the table in Missouri is a great place to start, as it enables Missouri’s K–12 students to attend a school that fits their needs outside their district or in a charter school. Without delay, this bill needs to head to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.”