Greitens to support school choice options


Rochita Ghosh

School choice advocates in Missouri have begun helping Gov. Eric Greitens and his new administration support legislation that uses state money accounts to help children with disabilities. The bill would give these families a broader choice in their education, an effort that his predecessor, Gov. Jay Nixon, had blocked.
The accounts, which transfer state dollars to parents through a bank account, is for educational costs, including private school tuition, online class tuition or fees, textbooks, tutoring, therapy and standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT.
Senator Ed Emery of Lamar, who filed the new legislation late last year, stated in his press release that, “It is meant to help support students with disabilities such as autism, developmental delays, learning disabilities and hearing or speech impairments.”  
Though the bill only focuses on a small number of students, the Greitens’ administration says supporting students with disabilities is just the beginning of a push for control over one’s school choice in Missouri. Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden says if all goes well with the law, more school choice legislation is to come in the future.
“If the [savings account] program is successful, as it has been in other states, we should learn from that success,” Briden said. “We’re really excited to see where it goes from here.”  
Greiten’s reasoning for pushing the bill at this time surrounds the success that similar legislation has found in other states. Though the success could change in Missouri, Briden says it is unlikely.
“Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Idaho, Arizona, North and South Carolina have all enacted similar legislation that has proven quite succesful for them,” Briden said. “In each state, the data shows the same conclusion that allowing these families to choose school’s helps the kids.”
Not all are receptive, as Ally Smith, a special needs educator at RBHS, said more must be done to help special needs students in public schools to not take away from public education.
“I cannot speak for parents, but as specialists we feel it’s important to continue helping public education,” Smith said. “Our programs are already underfunded as it is, so a bill like this could help, but it will also take away a lot from other students and their families.”   
District personnel feel similar to Grupe, as the potential for lost funding takes away from bettering the public school system. CPS Director of Special Education Tori Ballew says the district will do all it can to continue serving students.
“Whatever may happen with the bill, I believe I speak for all CPS employees when I say that we will do all we can to support special needs students,” Ballew said. “No matter what their families choose to do with their education, we will support them and their families.”
Going forward, Smith wants to better the level of care RBHS specialists give for special needs students no matter what may be on the horizon.
“This is a sensitive issue, but it’s important that we talk about it,” Smith said. “We want what is best for these kids.”