Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Historic Moment for St. Louis: Student Transfers Must Only Be the Beginning

This year, some students from the Normandy School District and Riverview Gardens School District will be attending schools in other districts in the region. Why? Because these two school districts are performing poorly and Missouri law allows children in such districts to transfer.

Reactions in Missouri have been mixed. Some receiving districts are willing to accept transfer students with open arms. Other responses have demonstrated that fear--whether it be racism, or classism, or some other stereotype-based prejudice--still thrives in some St. Louis households. (The Normandy School District is 97% black with an estimated median income of $22,000. The Riverview Gardens School District is also 97% black with an estimated median income of $34,000.)

Some folks are hailing the transfers as an opportunity for kids to escape failing districts. But Normandy and Riverview Gardens have to foot the bill for their former students who are transferring. While some children attend different schools, the districts they leave behind will lose a combined $30 million, representing a huge chunk of their budgets. In 2012, the districts each spent about $50 million in "current expenditures." If the budgets remain the same this year, both districts will have to educate their remaining students with 30% less money. There will be about 25% less kids, but don't forget these districts weren't doing too well to start with. Normandy is not expected to be able to fund the transfer program for the entirety of this school year without help.

So now these two districts will be striving to become accredited once again with less resources. These school districts, which are being asked not only to teach kids, but to deal with the increasing challenges children face at home, are expected to find a way to do more with less.

Maybe the transfer system is the way to go. Hopefully those who transfer will receive better educations. Thankfully, this whole situation has put the state of St. Louis education into the spotlight. But in the meantime, while the region tries to figure out just what to do to give every child a chance, what happens to those thousands of children still going to school in these failed districts?

St. Louis ignored its education crisis for too long, and now, with the crisis finally affecting other school districts, we cannot be timid. We need systemic and lasting change that embraces the truth: When a child in a different district, who lives a completely different life miles away from me, suffers, we all suffer. When a child's hopes to be a scientist or a fireman or a poet are dashed in elementary school because she cannot read, we all are worse off. We cannot hide behind the artificial walls of a school district.

And we cannot afford to wait. Those kids still in Normandy and Riverview Gardens and other struggling areas of St. Louis cannot afford to wait. Together, we can provide kids with better opportunities and mentorship and hope. St. Louis can succeed.

The district system has allowed some to receive opportunities while others were left out. We cannot allow it to do so any longer. And we won't if we finally accept that our children will grow up in the world that our schools create today, and that the world our schools are creating isn't good enough.

Elad Gross is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Education Exchange Corps.

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