Challenges Faced by the Education System in St. Louis, MO

This article examines school-level responsibilities for providing equitable and quality learning environments for children in St. Louis MO and how it has been affected by population changes due to pandemic.

The topic of “Quality of Education” is a complex one that examines school-level responsibilities for providing equitable and quality learning environments for children. In St. Louis, Missouri, the student population in public schools has been declining for years, and this year is no exception. According to preliminary data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are now nearly 9,000 fewer students in public schools in the three most populous counties in eastern Missouri than there were at the start of the pandemic.

Most school districts are seeing this decline; only a handful of traditional public schools have grown in that period, including Wentzville and Orchard Farm in St. Charles, and Bayless, Lindbergh and Kirkwood in St. Louis. Additionally, many charter schools are also growing rapidly, including some that opened in recent years.

It's believed that families leaving the region are contributing to this trend, with black families in particular not being satisfied with the schools available to them. The position of Louis Public Schools relative to other local school districts has also changed; after years as the largest school district in the region, SLPS has now fallen to the fifth-largest place. Ashley Donaldson Burle, interim executive director of the PRIme Center which studies education in Missouri, believes that most of these students have not gone to charter schools or county schools, but rather have left the area entirely. The pandemic is also a factor in school enrollment trends, although probably not as much as general population changes.

Burle said that the amount of time a district spent on distance learning seemed to lead some parents to make other decisions. The Hancock Place school district was one of the first in the St. Louis area to return to in-person learning, but has still seen several years of declining enrollment. Superintendent Kevin Carl believes that demographics play a bigger role than other factors such as virtual learning or voluntary desegregation programs; he notes that his district keeps track of birth rates in its community and knows that its population is aging.

All of these numbers are important because district funding is largely based on enrollment. The decline in the number of students eventually hurts the district's finances; for now, Hancock Place has taken advantage of the decline by having smaller classes due to federal funding to combat COVID-19. However, Carl said that as the decline continues, schools will have to think about how best to serve their students with smaller budgets. The situation in St. Louis is not unique; similar trends have been seen in other regional metropolises such as Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Memphis where unrest increased, the middle class fled and public services such as elementary and secondary education collapsed dramatically.

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