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Choice offers people the power, right and liberty to choose. From governmental representatives to the food they eat, people embrace choice. It only follows that parents should have a choice in something as important as public education.

Sen. Peter Kinder, Cape Girardeau, is sponsoring legislation that would empower parents to choose the particular school their children attend. It is legislation whose time has come.

Public schools have traditionally fought against choice. They fear a voucher system would undermine public schools, because it might encourage more students to choose private schools. The challenge to public educators is to view choice as an opportunity. Competition could result in better public schools that people would choose first.

Choice already exists for parents with the money to fund a private education. Those without these resources deserve the same measure of choice.

Kinder is sponsoring two separate school choice bills. SJR-17 is a longer version that includes specific details about scholarships available to parents to use at private schools. It spells out a fixed scholarship, or voucher, of one half the per-pupil public education costs for parents choosing a private school. The other half of the state money would remain with the appropriate public school. The SJR-16 version is much shorter. It affirms the right of parents to choose, but leaves specifics to enabling legislation.

If legislators don't buy the entire concept of choice, Kinder hopes they will test pilot projects in urban areas. It may be a good way to demonstrate the merits of choice.

Missouri could lead the way on the issue of choice. A pilot program has successfully operated in Milwaukee since 1990, and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson wants to expand it. In New Jersey, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman is attempting to institute a pilot program in Jersey City. Puerto Rico has a choice program under way, although it has been challenged in a lower court.

Ultimately the issue rests with the voters. School choice would require a constitutional amendment. Choice could be the state's answer to the state's desegregation woes in St. Louis and Kansas City, and how could it be more expensive?

Parents and taxpayers who favor school choice need to make their feelings known to legislators.