The pandemic has exposed deep issues within the United States education system with Memphis as no exception. When Shelby County Schools made the difficult decision to start the 2020-21 school year virtually, many working parents were in a quandary: “Who will supervise my children while I’m at work? What happens if my spotty internet service isn’t adequate for distance learning? What happens after school, when my child is usually in after-school care?”
The worries were and continue to be very real for many families. Meanwhile, most private schools in the Memphis area began the school year in-person, making changes to incorporate pandemic-safe measures. Many also offered a virtual option if that was preferred by a family. Unfortunately, the cost of private school tuition is out of reach for many families who would have preferred (and needed) those in-person educational opportunities for their children—in a pandemic year or otherwise.
In Memphis in particular, the virus has brought to the surface an issue that has long been part of the educational discussion: school choice. The point is not to determine the merits of public versus private education. Why can’t we champion both? I certainly do; in fact, in my own home. Private school is just one “school choice” option. There are also options of public charter schools, public optional schools, home schools, and online schools (yes, those existed before COVID-19).
The bottom line is that parents are best equipped to make educational decisions for their children, and their school choices should not be limited by their ZIP codes or income levels. For lower-income families who want the option of private schools for their children, MOST continues to provide partial scholarships that help bridge the gap between school tuition (minus any school-provided financial aid) and what a family can afford to pay. MOST is not a solution to all educational inequities in Shelby County, but it is one piece of the school choice puzzle.