KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A group of national education activists visited Kansas City on Monday evening with one message: Parents should be able to choose which schools their children attend.
Speakers from both sides of the political aisle were at Union Station during the start of National School Choice Week.
The controversial grass roots coalition included diverse and nonpartisan speakers ranging from Joe Trippi, a campaign manager in the presidential campaign for former Vermont governor Howard Dean, to representatives from the Show-Me Institute, a conservative Missouri think tank.
The national whistle-stop tour hopes to raise national awareness of the benefits of school choice.
Supporters argue parental choice encourages failing schools to improve or risk losing unsatisfied students.
They say parents have expressed the desire for school choice informally for decades, pointing out that those with means often move across the state line, contribute to the city's thriving private school community or move to a charter school.
"The most rigorous studies typically show the students who use choice programs -- whether it's charter schools or private schools through a voucher or something like that -- typically do better in terms of academic achievement, and these choices typically result in much higher graduation rates as well," said James Shuls, the Show-Me Institute's education policy analyst.
But critics have argued the movement is just a conservative effort to dismantle unions, and will hurt teachers and the nation's public school system.
Andrea Flinders, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers, said in many cases, charter schools have performed no better or worse than the unaccredited KCMO public schools.
"These schools aren't accredited either, and these schools, in many cases, aren't doing as well as our schools are," she said. "Every parent wants the best for their child, but they need to be informed about what these choices mean for their children."
Kansas City public schools have struggled for decades. Flinders said the school choice movement has grown and lured students away from the district.
In the 2013 legislative session, a Blue Springs lawmaker is proposing legislation that ultimately would allow students to leave unaccredited school districts.