Our political leaders here is Missouri will tell you that creating good jobs for the people of Missouri is a top priority. That is because good jobs solve many of the issues in our society. A good job that raises the income for our families is the foundation for support for our community. Unfortunately, here in Missouri our actions take us in a different direction.
My learning comes after working many years to support Ranken Technical College in St. Louis. There we were consistently trying to grow the enrollment so that all our young people in the region can learn the skills needed to get good paying jobs. What I learned after digging deeper and deeper into the road blocks we ran into were often institutional racism. Laws, rules, and regulations that, intentionally or unintentionally, favor the privileged in our state and held down the underprivileged – or, more bluntly, a system that works for the white citizens of Missouri while working against the Black citizens of our state.
One example comes from a very difficult situation here where many of our school districts were unaccredited by the State of Missouri. This was a chronic issue that lasted many years. Many people worked hard on it, but the school districts in our largest cities and in many small communities across the state remained unaccredited.
After years of frustration, this took an interesting turn when a clever state legislator put into an unrelated bill a section that gave every student from an unaccredited school district the right to attend an accredited school. That meant if you were going to an unaccredited city school, you could go an accredited suburban school and demand your right to enroll. Over the course of a few years, this turned into a bigger and bigger issue for both the accredited schools and the unaccredited school districts.
If you were a student in a city district that was provided $6,000 per student, that is the amount of money that would go with the student while attending the unaccredited city school and then go to the accredited school after they transfer. After transferring, the unaccredited schools lost the funding. The accredited school would receive the $6,000 funding for that student. Unfortunately, what the accredited school needed to support the student was more like the $17,000 per student it was used to receiving in the suburban school district.
As people across the state became more uncomfortable with the transfer system, more and more pressure was put on the state. So, again, clever legislators and administrators came up with a solution: lower the state standard for accreditation so that all schools could be accredited, and then students would no longer have the right to transfer from their formally unaccredited school, because they are now accredited!
Many things were changed to do this, but the thing most hurtful from my view, with the goal of preparing students to get a good job, was the dropping of Algebra 2 from the requirements.
Why is Algebra 2 important? You need Algebra 2 skills to pass the entrance exam for trade unions and trade schools. By dropping Algebra 2 as a requirement, you are guaranteeing that students graduating from many of our schools no longer will have a chance to have the skills to pass the entrance exam for a good-paying job. School districts in our most-challenged areas are severely short of money required for even the most basic of learning, so if Algebra 2 is not required it is not going to get any funding.
By lowering the standard for accreditation, the State of Missouri has guaranteed that many of our schools – unfortunately, many attended by Black and other minority students – will be locked out of the economic success provided by good jobs. The only jobs available to that student will be the lowest-paying jobs in our state.
As a region, we need more and more skilled workers as well as the strength that comes from a diverse workforce. The current system guarantees Missouri will get neither. We need to raise the standard for accreditation and address the real problem: the property tax basis of funding for public education.
This vicious cycle continues – and it guarantees, by race, an ever-widening economic divide here in Missouri.
Edward L. Monser is the retired COO and president of Emerson.