Over the past three decades, the St. Louis Public School District has offered families in the City of St. Louis and some eligible St. Louis County families a chance to enroll in one of the SLPS magnet schools. Magnet schools, like Kennard, Stix, Metro, and others, are of such high quality and popularity that there are waiting lists. Parents worry for years if their children will be accepted. Over the years, City parents have told me that they decide to stay or sell their homes based on their child's acceptance into a magnet school.
It happened long enough ago that many people no longer remember how there came to be magnet schools. They were one of the components of the settlement of the de-seg case. Magnets were imagined as themed and focused schools that would be able to enroll students from outside the district's boundaries. The result would be diversity, by choice.
In fact, the district ended up balancing the buildings' racial make-up mechanically. For years, families complained that their child would remain on a waiting list until a child from a different race enrolled. The district ended that practice a few years ago, now enrolls children from waiting lists as long as there is an open seat. That's a good thing for City parents.
Another good thing is a district policy my office helped devise that gives priority to admission to City children whose families live near a magnet school. Today, 35 percent of the seats at any magnet school are given first to kids who live in the community where the school is located. This, too, was the right thing to do.
Both these changes were possible because the 1998 Desegregation Settlement Agreement had expired, freeing the district to be more flexible about its enrollment requirements.
Now, I'd like to see the district make another change ' and make it soon.
Since the inception of magnet schools, eligible St. Louis County children have had access to City schools. Unfortunately, in popular schools this meant that, sometimes, City students were placed on waiting lists while County students were accepted. This year, 130 County students are attending SLPS schools. I would like to see all City children get priority in magnet schools' enrollment.
I'm glad that County families see value in the City schools they selected. I hope that County parents continue to see City schools as an option for a great education. But City parents, the taxpayers, have a claim to those seats first. Then, when City parents are served, we should most definitely invite County parents to apply.