Staff Editorial (VST)

According to Clayton360, one of the main values of the Clayton School District is “inclusiveness by honoring individual differences and the contributions of a diverse staff and student body.” If we value diversity, then when the board comes to vote on whether or not to continue enrolling students in the Voluntary Student Transfer program, they will be voting on whether to continue enrolling students in a program that has done exactly what it was created to do, and then some.

The VST program was established in 1983 as a way of desegregating schools in St. Louis County. In 1999, an agreement was reached that made the program voluntary, and assured that the participating schools would continue accepting new transfer students until 2008. In 2008, a five-year extension of the program was approved. And now, in 2012, the program is up for a vote once again.

If the Clayton School District wants to uphold its core values, then there shouldn’t be a question as to whether or not another extension of the program should be approved. The program is a fundamental part of the diversity within the district, as well as a fundamental part in the success of each one of the transfer students.

Every student, across the country, has an equal right to a quality education, and where they live shouldn’t be a boundary. If the Clayton community can provide it, we should give it.

And it’s not that we’re losing a substantial amount of money by providing the program, because we’re not. In fact, we’re not losing any money at all.

A common metaphor for the program is the airplane – a school, like an airplane, costs the same amount of money to run, regardless of how many seats are filled. All the program does is fill the unoccupied Clayton seats with VST students. Also, for every transfer student, the district receives $7,000 from the state in reimbursement.

If the program were to be cycled out, there is no way to make up in full for the six percent of the budget lost, the equivalent of $2.7 million. The district would immediately feel the effect, and even tuition-paying students couldn’t make up the difference.

There are things that can be improved, though, if the program were to be extended once again. The district currently only accepts students at kindergarten and sixth grade. Both grades are too late to allow transfer students to be at the same point academically as their peers.

Pre-kindergarten is widely believed to be an influential piece in the success of students, and third grade is a critical time for reading, when it changes from learning to read to reading to learn, and if a student isn’t reading proficiently by then, they will likely fall behind.

Also, another crucial improvement that can be made by the district is an increase in parental involvement of struggling students. Students generally do better in school when they receive encouragement from home, and not just from school. It would be a relatively simple improvement to make, and could simply require a meeting between parents and teachers every so often, going over where the student is in the curriculum, and what parents can do to help.

Opponents to the renewal of the program might argue that the transfer program brings down district test scores, and they might be right. But, do we value diversity more than we value test scores? Test scores don’t define us, but the people we meet and befriend do, as well as the experiences that we encounter throughout our time at the district’s schools.

The Board of Education’s vote in October on whether or not to continue the program won’t necessarily be based on the finances of the district, but on its values.