Mandatory Racial Ratios Block Black Missouri Student from Attending Charter School

Published March 21, 2016

State education regulations enacted more than 30 years ago to set racial demographic ratios in Missouri public schools are responsible for preventing St. Louis-area parents from enrolling their child in a charter school.

La’Shieka White and her son Edmund White, a 3rd grade student currently enrolled in a St. Louis charter school, are planning to move this fall from St. Louis to the city’s suburbs. La’Shieka wants to enroll Edmund in a charter school, but a government school ratio program excludes Edmund from taking advantage of charter school policies that would ordinarily allow him to transfer to the school in his new neighborhood.

In 1983, St. Louis Public Schools officials entered into a voluntary settlement agreement that encouraged African-American students in the city to transfer to suburban county government school districts and asked students of other races to attend the city’s government schools.

There is no one specific policy preventing White from transferring, but the settlement agreement restricts the flow of students between suburban and city schools.

‘Old School’ School Rules

Michael McShane, director of education policy for the Show-Me Institute, says the policies restricting Missouri parents’ ability to improve their children’s education by exercising school choice are outdated.

“It has nothing to do with the charter school,” McShane said. “It’s kind of like an ‘old-school’ minorities-to-majorities school transfer program that districts all around the country had. It has this antiquated idea of where the need is and where the solutions are.”

McShane says lawmakers should view Edmund’s case illustrates how using geographic boundaries to limit school choice options affects children.  

“It also should make us think about charter school policy in Missouri, because right now, charter schools are only allowed to operate in Kansas City and St. Louis, within the boundaries of those traditional public school systems, but there are students who are just outside of those boundaries that would like to attend those schools,” McShane said.

‘Very Different’ Time

Douglas Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, says all parents should have more freedom to pick their children’s school.

“The conditions, the environment, the options available to families in the City of St. Louis are very different than they were 20 years ago,” Thaman said. “There’s much greater opportunity of choice and quality education. The conditions, the environment, … all of that has changed, yet the rules from a long time ago are impacting the ability for students to have access to the school that their family wants them go to.”

Andrea Dillon ([email protected]) writes from Holly Springs, North Carolina.