Public vs Private: the debate on education

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Public schools operate and obtain funds through two main ways: alumni donations and taxpayer dollars. Despite this, public schools still do not have all of the funds for everything that they need or want, such as updates to technology or building structure, or innovative new programs for students. In accordance with Missouri law, private schools may not benefit from taxes. However, this may change, and the government would take money out of the budget for public schools.

“We don’t have unlimited funds so we have to be responsible with how we spend [money],” Parkway superintendent Keith Marty said. “I am a big supporter of public education, but I also believe families and students need to make choices. As I stated, I do not want to see taxpayer dollars support non-public schools.”

According to the Southern Education Foundation, vouchers are becoming more and more common. A voucher is when a family is given taxpayer dollars to use at any school, including to attend private schools. There are a few ways that families can obtain a voucher from the state, but opposition argues that this violates the separation of church and state as implied in the Establishment clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, due to many private schools having religious ties. Private schools, such as John Burroughs, can cost about $28,000 a year.

“Public education has been criticized for not being successful with all students or the gap between students, so it has forced us to think about marketing to really tell our story,” Marty said. “So, people see our success and hear about our teachers and our students and choices and opportunities.”

With the election of former governor Eric Greitens in 2016, the school choice movement began to take action with vouchers in Missouri. Since 2017, however, there has been no major developments and the voucher program continues to stay relatively quiet and out of St. Louis County.

“Politicians have run on platforms of public education, and we aren’t really getting the best shake of the deal,” Marty said. “If we don’t tell our own story, somebody else may tell it, and we have unfortunately become a target. Can we be criticized? Sure, but we take all students and have students of all ability levels.”


The debate over public and private schools has been going on since the creation of the two divisions. Each school has programs and activities that add to its resume, and St. Louis features some of the top schools, private and public, in the nation.

“We have several student groups around professional interests,” director of admissions for Priory schools Alice Dickherber said. “For example, one group is for students interested in Careers in Medicine and the Health Sciences; another group is interested in 3D Printing and Design.”

Like the Parkway Spark! Program, many schools offer programs that are for students who want to learn something that is not taught in a traditional class. John Burroughs high school offers a Makerspace for entrepreneurial students, as well as a club that builds high efficiency cars, and other learning opportunities. Last year, this club made a car that ran off of cooking oil, got 519 miles per gallon, and was able to fit a person inside of it.

“We don’t have a formal program like [Spark!],”  John Burroughs Academic Director Christopher Front said. “But we have a space for kids to brainstorm and make things out of metal or wood.”

One feature of public schools is that both Rockwood school district and Parkway offer Dual Credit and Dual Enrollment programs with St. Louis Community College, allowing students to earn college credit while still in high school. While private schools have AP tests, it is unclear if a number of them have these programs as well.

Trademarks that many of the schools have include strong alumni support private schools typically have strong alumni networks that donate funds towards the school.

“Very few public school districts have the alumni association that we do,” Marty said. “We have an executive director that we pay for who does a lot of things to promote the district. That’s rare among public schools. We have a very active alumni program. They work hand in hand with us to promote things, the Granting Dreams programs, and to welcome new teachers.”

One feature that many of the schools share is programs that cater towards underprivileged students. While Parkway has a program that busses students in from the city, the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, it is not the only district that does it. Ladue school district has a similar program as well. While private schools don’t participate in similar programs, they do reach out to help underprivileged youth.

“We have a program for underserved schools known as the Aim High Summer Program, and we are the first school in St. Louis to do this,” Fronts said. “It is a summer camp for inner city kids to go to school over the summer so that they don’t fall behind in curriculum.”

All of the schools that were interviewed have programs in place for students with learning differences as well, such as special classrooms, extra resources, and other accommodations.

“Because we are a small school with an average of 66 students per grade and a 7:1 student to teacher ratio, our faculty are able to provide a high level of care, concern, and support for each student,” Dickherber said. “We offer learning accommodations and we have counselors on campus.”

While many schools have similar programs, the school environments can vary. Priory is an all-boys, Benedictine Catholic school that is also home to a community of monks who have taken a vow to stay on the Priory campus forever. On the other hand, public school environments are non-religious and coeducational.

“The opportunity to be around only boys, and be taught by 75% male faculty, is something that our students truly appreciate,” Dickherber said. “At Priory, we create a  formative educational experience in which each boy can be challenged, try new things, grow in his faith, and be known and cared for. Our students hold themselves to a high standard, and our outcomes reflect this pursuit of excellence.”

Priory is not alone in their pursuit of excellence. John Burroughs is a grades 7-12, non-denominational private school who shares similar views and legacies of excellence.

“We really want students to be able to be their full selves when they come here because we believe everyone benefits,” Front said. “You aren’t that here, you aren’t pigeon-holed. Kind of the opposite happens.”

Front cites that in some public schools, many of the social stereotypes such as jocks and nerds hold true, which “pigeon-holes” students and can affect their experience. Front mentioned Jake Bain, the senior football player at John Burroughs who last year who came out as gay.

“The whole school united behind him and it was just inspiring and awesome,” Front said. “But it was classic Burroughs: that we support each other when things are hard.”