Dorothy Rohde Collins: Saving St. Louis Public Schools must be the top priority

For too long, the city of St. Louis has ignored St. Louis Public Schools. Following the school closures in 2009, investing in our school system should have been the city’s No. 1 priority. Instead, the rampant proliferation of charter schools exacerbated the slow demise of schools in the district, and toxic anti-district sentiment continues to permeate every discussion about education in this city.

It is shameful that, 11 years later, we’re faced with another round of school closures when we could have prevented it by saying: Enough is enough. Enough charters. Enough tax abatements and tax-increment financing. Enough white flight to the county. Enough racism. But we didn’t. The disinvestment continued. Charters expanded. The Central West End prospered at the expense of long-ignored north city residents and neighborhoods. And interest in local public schools continued to dwindle.

In the 2007-08 school year, there were a total of 103 district and charter schools serving 60,642 children. By 2019-2020, however, the school age population declined to 45,919 children, yet the number of schools increased to 110. The system expanded when it should have contracted. Currently, 43% of public school seats are empty. In buildings designed for 1,000 students, classrooms sit empty and entire building floors or wings are closed off. Every year, St. Louis Public Schools spends $200,000 dollars on the upkeep and maintenance of vacant, deteriorating buildings. Money that should be directed to academics, support services and enrichment opportunities.