State Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin (R-Shelbina) advocated last week for school choice to be allowed statewide. O'Laughlin now finds herself with a standing invitation from Superintendent Susan Johnson to visit the Hannibal School District #60.
"I would welcome Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin to our school district anytime to see firsthand the excellent learning environment our Hannibal students have access to each and every day," Johnson said.
In her weekly column, O'Laughlin praised public school educators. "We're blessed to have some of the best educators in Missouri teaching foundational values to our children," she wrote.
O'Laughlin added that public school "does not work for every student." She said that approximately 38 percent of public school students need remedial classes when they pursue higher education.
O'Laughlin also said that in 2016 more than 10,000 students dropped out of high school. "Those statistics are staggering," she said. "These are our children and grandchildren, and they deserve a quality education, not a one-size-fits-all experience."
O'Laughlin supports allowing school choice in areas with failing schools.
"If traditional public schools are failing our children, then those families should have options," she said.
One educational option endorsed by O'Laughlin is charter schools, which she described as "publicly-funded, independently-governed public schools."
While there is considerable data on how Missouri's 518 public school districts are performing, such is not the case when it comes to charter schools, according to Johnson.
"In the state of Missouri there are currently 36 charter schools, which we do not have data to make a determination on how they are performing," she said.
Currently in Missouri, charter schools are limited to Kansas City and St. Louis. O'Laughlin said "several bills" have been introduced to the Missouri Legislature that would allow charter schools to operate in other areas where there are failing schools.
Johnson said it is critical that legislation permitting charter schools contain accountability measures to ensure that students are receiving a quality education.
"I do not disapprove of the school choice concept. As a parent myself, I would expect every parent to want the absolute best for their children," she said. "My biggest objection is that if this should become our new reality, all schools should be held to the same standards of accountability."
Johnson said allowing more charter schools could have a negative financial impact on public school districts.
"I hope that those who support school choice don't end up causing greater damage to public schools by setting up a system that funnels money away from public schools to schools that do not have to be held accountable to provide data to prove that they are providing a quality education," she said.