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Last month both the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York Times featured a breathtaking picture of young Indonesian children carefully and cautiously walking on a dangling damaged suspension bridge, hanging high over a river, to make their way to school. It was a riveting photograph. Were these students to fall, their lives would have been at stake. We have heard the statement “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Well, this photo is certainly one of those pictures! And it tells a compelling story.
Here in the St. Louis area, in a symbolic way, our children are also trying to cross that bridge to education but are being put at significant risk.
Here is why. The Missouri Supreme Court last year issued an order that any student in an unaccredited school district, such as St. Louis, could transfer to any other school in the metropolitan area, and the St. Louis School district had to pay for both tuition and transportation. And the St. Louis School District does not have those resources.
But instead of working out the many issues before them, the Missouri legislature and the St. Louis Metropolitan School Districts basically turned their backs. In essence, the school systems were unable to work out a resolution, and the legislature refused to make any definitive decision, so the case, once again, has been sent back to the district court to the same judge for a second time for a final ruling.
No one wants to make this decision. And those in charge are supposed to be “the decision makers.” So who is left hanging on the bridge? Yes, you guessed it - the children in the St. Louis Metropolitan area whose education and future is at stake.
Over and over again I see that the politicians are unable to make the critical hard decisions that affect our schools and thus our children. The legislators propose vouchers (probably unconstitutional in Missouri). They then discredit charter schools (of which there are many in St. Louis). They bicker over school funding, transportation and more. These are all arguments we have heard over and over again.
We know that students with a good education are likely to have more job satisfaction, earn a better living, have better jobs and, thus, a better quality of life than those who are not educated. Yet politics continues to interfere.
I do not know how this case will finally be resolved. But I do know that the real and meaningful challenge for those students who cross that bridge is to provide financial equity to all school systems, to find the very best teachers, pay them very well and put them in our classrooms. A really well trained teacher with empathy, creativity, content knowledge and concern will be the best cure for the troubles and concerns we have today in our schools. When this happens then and only then will all of our students cross that bridge. And the results will have a dramatic, positive effect on their entire lives.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.