December 11, 2023

Jess Piper: The Looming Danger to Rural Schools

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Jess Piper sees an imminent threat to rural schools in the state of Missouri. 

Missouri is 50th in the nation for starting teacher pay. We are 49th in the nation for educational funding. The state only supplies 32% of the funding schools need to open their doors, turn on the lights, and pay teachers.

The rest of the funding comes from property taxes which sets up an incredibly inequitable system in which children access better-funded schools according to their zip code. But, there is even worse news. 30% of Missouri schools are on a 4-day week due to the lack of funding. 30% of schools in our state lose an average of 85 academic hours per year even with an extended day.

This short week can also be a nightmare for folks trying to find daycare one day per week, especially hitting women hard. Several Missouri mothers are forced to work around the day off as childcare is not easy to find in our small communities.

This 4-day schedule has now turned into a recruiting tool for keeping teachers in rural schools. Missouri ranks 45th in teacher pay and we are losing our best teachers to border states with higher salaries. My own son, a Special Education teacher, finished his teaching degree at Northwest Missouri State University and then crossed the state line into Iowa where teachers start anywhere from 8K-12K higher than in Missouri. He is Missouri proud but couldn’t afford to pay his rent on a Missouri teacher’s salary.

We are at a tipping point.

Missouri Republican legislators have promised to defund public education even further. They passed a voucher scheme in 2021 that will basically allow Missourians to pay their taxes directly to private schools. It seems that a full voucher program, taxpayer money directly to private religious schools through the budget, will be a goal of MO GOP lawmakers in the 2024 session.

There are also several Missouri legislators talking about “school choice”. That is a misnomer–there is no choice in rural Missouri or anywhere except the cities and some suburbs. School choice implies that a school will open in my town of 480 people. That is not likely, and we are just left with defunded public schools in rural Missouri.

The public tax money previously allocated for public schools is now available to private and religious schools who are not accountable to the same standards that public schools must achieve. These schools do not have to employ certified teachers, they are not responsible for following individualized education programs, and do not have to accept disabled children. They do not have to teach state standards and often do not have to take end-of-year benchmarks to show student proficiency. These schools often do not have elected boards, but instead, answer to investors. These schools often profit from our children.

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