School advocacy

The State Board of Education in Missouri is constitutionally responsible for the "supervision of instruction in the public schools."

Its duties include setting accreditation standards, establishing academic performance standards, setting education and certification requirements, approving educator-preparation college-level programs, establishing regulations for distributing state and federal funds, monitoring compliance with state and federal laws and regulations and administering schools for the blind, deaf and severely handicapped as well as vocational rehabilitation for adults with disabilities.

Missouri's Official Manual further states that the primary role of the State Board of Education is to "provide leadership and advocacy for the improvement of Missouri's public education system."

The question of how much "advocacy" is expected from the board has become an issue as opponents -- including the Missouri School Boards Association and the Missouri Roundtable, which represents public education groups -- line up against Gov. Matt Blunt's recent appointee to the board, Donayle Whitmore-Smith of St. Louis. The reason for concern? Whitmore-Smith runs School Choice Missouri and has rallied for legislation that would provide tax breaks for contributions to groups that help students attend private schools.

Mainstream public-school educators say her advocacy of school choice is counter to the role of the State Board of Education's advocacy for public schools.

The notion that anyone who supports school choice can't provide wisdom and insight to public schools is, in its own way, offensive. If public schools were providing the quality of education desired by students and their taxpaying parents, there would be no clamor for such options as school choice and vouchers.

Indeed, it could be argued that individuals who care enough about Missouri's youngsters to advocate the best educational opportunities possible are those who have the best interests of students at heart.

Public-school officials are armed with arguments against school choice and vouchers -- all of which ignore the fact that public education today is failing too many students. Without government sanctions that force all public funding to go to public schools, officials of those schools know their failures could drive students and tax dollars to alternatives such as private schools or homeschooling.

The State Board of Education needs as many viewpoints as possible to make the best decisions about public schools. Building barriers to having those views represented on the board would be bad public policy.