Advocating for School Choice with Peter Franzen

“I just know that this is urgent, and I know that we’ve got to figure out a way to get kids into the right environment where they can learn, where they do feel affirmed, where they do feel valued.”

Peter Franzen

Welcome to Navigate STL Schools, a podcast.  

Today’s guest is Peter Franzen, the Associate Executive Director at CEAM (Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri). In his work at CEAM, Peter works for policy change to support effective schools of ALL kinds so that Missouri families have access to quality education. In this episode, Peter sits down with Staci to discuss the new Empowerment Scholarship Account Program, the importance of school choice for parents, and the future of education in St. Louis. 

  • Peter Franzen’s K-12 story
    • Peter’s a product of public school education in Oregon. 
    • Overall he had a positive experience, although he has noticed some holes or gaps in his education as he’s gotten older. 
  • Franzen’s work and inspiration 
    • Peter came to St. Louis in 1991 for a year of volunteer work which turned into a 30-year career.
    • He began working with CEAM ten years ago to help with fundamental policy change. Peter recognized the playing field wasn’t equal, and he wanted to change that. 
    • School choice exists in Missouri, but it’s reserved for people who can afford to pay tuition or live in a particular area for the schools. 
    • Peter and his work at CEAM support policies and innovations that ensure parents can choose the best education for their children.
  • Biggest challenges facing education in St. Louis
    • There is something wrong with education today. It seems like we want to blame families, but Peter just doesn’t see it that way.
    • We have to look at education across the board and not get caught up in the idea that there’s only one right way to do it.
  • Does CEAM support homeschool families?
    • Broadly, they support parents choosing the educational environment that works for their kids.
    • Peter believes homeschooling can work if parents have the means and time to do it.
  • ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account Program) 
    • The empowerment scholarship account program will help low-income kids and kids with IEP. Families can receive $6,570 to help with their child’s education.
    • The fund is designed to be flexible so families can use it at a public school district, tuition at a private school, and homeschooling families can use it to access curriculums or tutors.
    • It’s going to take time for the rule-making process and to raise the funds.
    • It’s a tax credit funded program meaning a person or a company can donate and get a tax credit from the state.
    • Families may receive scholarship support as early as fall 2022. 
  • Benefits of the ESA program 
    • Since the program is intended to serve low income and special needs, it’ll give them a whole new menu of options they couldn’t previously access.
    • It has the potential to put the kid in an environment that works for them to learn.
    • The program will serve about 4,000 kids.
    • Parents won’t feel forced to send their kids to underperforming schools. 
  • What are some of the pushbacks you face in your work, particularly in advocacy work at the state level? 
    • People believe things that are false. 
    • There are misconceptions that the work of CEAM is part of a right-wing plan to privatize education which is not accurate. 
    • Parents are waking up to the fact that there is an inequity around them, and they want the opportunity to make a choice for their kids. 
  • What could education reform look like in St. Louis? 
    • Education reform means putting kids first and building a structure around that.
    • Peter wants quality choices, whether it’s a public school, a charter school, or a private school.
    • We need to stop feeling so threatened by other choices and look towards the future with fresh eyes. 
  • What are the top three things parents should look for when they’re choosing a school for their kids? 
    • Parents know their kids better than anyone. If you’re choosing a school building, you need to visit the school. Look around at the school environment. 
    • There is a lot of public information available which should be utilized to understand how a school is performing.
    • Meet the classroom teachers and the school leadership. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions.
  • What gives you hope about the future of education in St. Louis?
    • There are so many success stories. 
    • Kids are learning, and there are great schools in St. Louis.
    • For the first time, we’re seeing more and more different kinds of schools and legislatures and community leaders are taking the time to learn about them.
  • What is the one thing that you really want parents to know or understand?
    • Parents have choices for their kids. CEAM and other organizations are working hard to give them access to more options.