Non-Profit Solutions for Equitable Education in the St Louis City Schools—Lauren Tuhro (Rhethawks volume 75, 2022)

Questions to Consider

  • Tuhro shows a connection to the topic of equitable education in St. Louis. How and where is the author’s connection to the topic included in the piece? How does showing connection to the topic strengthen the argument? What are some connections you have to your chosen topic for this assignment that you can incorporate?
  • Tuhro uses well-researched facts and statistics in making the argument that non-profit organizations should be the solution to providing children with quality education. What information from a source makes the most impact in this essay? How does this essay make you think about source use in your own writing? What rhetorical moves do you see this writer using while making her argument?
  • In the text, Tuhro addresses a significant problem facing children coming from low income families of St. Louis, presenting two solutions to this problem. What solutions are presented? How does addressing multiple solutions in this piece utilize rhetorical knowledge to propose reasonable and useful solutions? How can your own proposal effectively present a strong, cohesive argument?

A Note From the Instructor – Erin Goff-Mitchell

I suggested that Lauren submit her Research-Based Proposal Argument to the composition awards because I believe her work exemplifies a deep consideration of a local problem. Her paper is well-researched and cognizant of the historical factors which impact the current state of her chosen local issue. Additionally, she successfully considers her personal experience working with a nonprofit to propose a practical solution without undermining the complexities of her focal issue. Lastly, Lauren does well to weave together her main arguments, research, and personal experience to create a paper which is persuasive and easy to follow.

Non-Profit Solutions for Equitable Education in the St Louis City Schools

In most cases, we can say that the better education you receive, or the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be employed to higher paying jobs. But what if not everyone was given the same chance to achieve this level of education? Children coming from low income families of St. Louis, Missouri are being put at a severe disadvantage in their education. Due to segregation barriers, racial inequities, insufficient funding, lack of quality teachers and resources, and more, students of low income areas in St. Louis are being denied quality education, thus continuing poverty rates in St. Louis. Creating and supporting more local nonprofit organizations is the best current solution to ensure an equitable education system in St. Louis, Missouri.

The issue of mediocre public schools in St. Louis stems from a long history of racism that divided St. Louis City and St. Louis County. During the Civil War, Missouri was a split state, housing industrialists, former slaves, and immigrants in St. Louis while the majority of the state remained rural and not exactly welcoming to African-Americans. Political leaders thus established a home rule in 1876, which encouraged white flight to suburbs and increased segregation between the geographic barriers.

This separate and unequal system had a devastating effect on black students, explains Mary Armstrong, former teacher in St. Louis public education and president of the American Federation of Teachers. As she recalls her experience in education during the district’s historic desegregation effort, she says, “Even after court-enforced desegregation started in the early 1980s, ‘there was never an effort to give schools black children attended the same resources that schools white kids attended got’” (qtd. in Bryant). The lack of resources decreased learning opportunities and made it impossible for Armstrong to provide the students at her school with the same education. While the issue began long ago, the geographic barrier and all of the burdens that come with it still very much exist. For example, in a recent analysis by EdBuild, they found that St. Louis schools have a cost-adjusted revenue per student that is 9% below Missouri’s average. The district, as a result, receives 35% of its revenue from the state, while they are counseled to educate a student population in which 68% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (Bryant). This not only causes worsened educational resources, but also puts students in an unhealthy and unsafe learning environment. The geographic and racial barrier is a continuing threat to public education leading back to the Civil War.

Additionally, past attempts at reformation worsened the educational system and led to a further issue in public education in St. Louis. Neighborhood schools were closed, and charter schools were opened. As a result, “From 2000 to 2020, the student population in St. Louis has again fallen by more than half from 44,264 to 19,222… a large portion of the drop is due to the growth of charter schools. The charter school enrollment for 2020 was at least 11,215 students which represents 37% of the district’s publicly supported students” (Ultican). Privatizing schools chartered by the state may have seemed beneficial to the city in both financial and educational aspects; however, privatization had quite the opposite effect.

Decisions made by government figures in St. Louis ultimately led to a downward spiral. For instance, St. Louis hired Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to run the school district, despite this management firm having no form of experience in the education system. They made William Roberti, former CEO of the Brooks Brothers clothing stores, the superintendent. From there, the system was run by business professionals, which caused an uprising of angry parents and teachers. A&M raised money through various campaigns and donation collections in an attempt to save money for the district and reduce achievement gaps in students. In his attempts to raise money, Roberti minimized the district’s school lunch programs and computer education programs. He cut funds for special education services, teacher development programs, school social workers and counselors, and the school buildings’ oversight (Bryant). These cuts caused an increase in inexperienced teachers in city schools, which only worsened students’ academic achievement levels. The cuts also caused an unfortunate reduction of many resources proven beneficial to student success. For example, school social workers have been shown to effectively enhance academic achievement in urban communities (Teasley).

In the past, school social workers have worked to inform school staff of the certain educational needs of urban black families to bring different perspectives and create an environment that helps each individual succeed (Teasley). School social workers are proven to benefit a student’s experience in education, so removing them from schools only allowed the influence of poverty to further affect student performance. These decisions by Roberti, the addition of charter schools, and closure of over 25 neighborhood schools, led to studies that found “test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in ‘reform’ cities than in other urban districts… School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money” (Ultican). In fact, the district’s previous debt grew by $14.7 million, and students were performing much worse. While Roberti’s reform attempt helped some students achieve, it played a negative role in many more students’ academic achievement.

Even more recently, there are large gaps remaining in academic achievement between students in St. Louis County and St. Louis City. In 2015, all public schools in the city and county took an Annual Performance Report (APR), whose score measures a district’s performance of academic achievement by racial subgroup, college readiness, attendance, and graduation rate. Lindbergh High School, a county school with a higher per-pupil spending, received a 99.3% APR, while Normandy High School, located in the city, received an APR of 30.4% (Armon). The difference is drastic; Normandy also placed well below county schools in their average ACT scores, and had a graduation rate of only 55.9%. While certainly not all public schools in St. Louis’ economically disadvantaged areas struggled as much as Normandy, the results remain similar, and a large factor in this discrepancy is both race and funding. For example, Clayton High School, another school located in St. Louis County, received an APR score of 98.6. While black students made up 17.7% of their population, they received around $17,900 spending per-pupil. Riverview Gardens is made up of 98.1% black students and received over $7,000 less per pupil, leading to an APR of only 79.2 (Armon). Roberti’s decisions only made achievement gaps continue to grow. It is hard to say exactly what causes these disparities, whether it be the racial geographic barrier, difference in teacher skills, lack of resources, influence of poverty, insufficient funding, or a combination of them all; however, it is undeniable that students in low income areas of St. Louis aren’t getting the same quality of education that county schools receive.

There are certainly many aspects that play into the issue of public education in St. Louis. These can be categorized into social, political, economic, and educational problems within the city.  The residents of St. Louis should care about this issue because the low quality education in this community gives the youth no real chance at success or a well-paying job. These children are both the future of St. Louis and the future of America, so their education affects everybody. In addition, the current public education system for these children only encourages the repetition of the cycle of poverty and mediocre education in the St. Louis community. While undoubtedly people want a better and equal education for all students, some alternate perspectives may come from questions regarding where government funding should be placed.

While professionals speak on the worsening system, many of St. Louis citizens are left unaware of the issue. Before COVID-19 initially hit in March of 2020, I got the chance to see and experience the problem first hand, which is why I’ve felt more connected to the issue. I volunteered with a nonprofit organization called the Literacy Initiative that donated books to underprivileged schools and taught students to read and write. It was extremely sad to see the environment they were learning in, as well as the absence of so many materials necessary for these children to succeed. They didn’t have books at their schools provided for them to read, and each student was significantly behind the average academic level for their age. This experience is what brought me to a solution: building and promoting more nonprofit organizations.

Many people believe the best solution would be to increase government funding so that each student and school receives the resources necessary for quality education. In fact, this would be the ideal solution. However, this goal has been hard to accomplish in the past, and there is no way of foretelling when or if a change will be made. We should definitely continue to encourage stakeholders, being the state government, to remove the property tax as a primary funding source and develop more significant strategies for equitable funding. With this system, low-income students, by default, will always receive less, so until a change is made, action must be taken sooner. This is why my solution is the better and more reasonable plan to help out St. Louis schools at this time. By creating and supporting more nonprofit organizations, we can benefit the education of all students in low income areas. For example, the Literacy Initiative was founded and run entirely by high school students in St. Louis. If in two years, a high school program can distribute over 35,000 books, support over 27,000 students, and provide over 6,000 meals to economically disadvantaged families across the district (The Literacy Initiative), imagine the impact adding more developed programs can achieve.

A nonprofit called The New Teacher’s Project in New York City helped the city’s education system grow tremendously out of a similar crisis as St. Louis. New York City noticed its main problem was that only one in six teachers were properly trained. After help from the nonprofit, the New York City schools recruited nearly 19,000 talented teachers, who now make up 12% of the city’s teachers. While there is still work to be done, on-time graduation rates for black and Hispanic students have increased from 40% to 60% since the beginning of the program (“Top Education Nonprofit Organizations Helping SHAPE Schools, Students & Teachers”). This was a great achievement for schools in New York City. There are several local nonprofits in St. Louis that have had a great impact, but there is no limit on how much help we, as a community, can provide.

Ready Readers is a St. Louis based nonprofit organization whose goal is to prepare preschool-aged students living in low-income communities to become more skilled and motivated to read. Much like the Literacy Initiative, Ready Readers does this by reading aloud to students, providing high quality books, and offering other literacy-related experiences. 500 volunteers read to over 10,000 students each week at 194 participating schools, and they have collectively donated 576,500 books since 1997 (“About Us” Ready Readers). People who have strong literacy skills are shown to be far less likely to live in poverty, which is why nonprofits like these are extremely important to help low income students begin a quality education and develop interest in learning at such a young age. According to “Reforming Preschools and Schools,” adults who were poor as children generally complete two fewer years of schooling, work fewer hours per year earning less than half as much, and are nearly three times as likely to report poor overall health relative to adults who grew up in wealthier families (Duncan). Starting to teach low income children at a younger age, much like Ready Readers, gives students the opportunity to break this cycle and create a more hopeful future for themselves.

We can see clearly that nonprofits add many beneficial factors to public education. If we add and combine multiple organizations into St. Louis schools, we can tackle several of the problems at once, such as training teachers, providing resources, tutoring, adding social workers, etc. This solution is a very achievable one when everybody is working towards the same goal. With more exposure to nonprofits, it can be easier to recruit volunteers from local high schools and universities and more donations from large companies and families in wealthier areas. For instance, the Literacy Initiative partnered with several local businesses who gladly offered a helping hand to the cause. Several Office Depot locations donated school supplies, St. Louis Bread Co. offered leftover meals that are typically thrown away each night, and the St. Louis Cardinals and DICK’S Sporting Goods donated money for new books, along with donations from 13 other local partners. Supporting nonprofits is the best solution, because anybody and everybody can contribute to help make the difference in our community, whether it be donating their time, money, used resources, or simply spreading awareness. The influence of poverty on academic performance can’t be removed, but nonprofit organizations can help put students in a comfortable learning environment and provide resources that can change their attitude about education and make them feel more seen and motivated to learn.

There is no simple solution to the long history of low quality education in the public schools of the city of St. Louis. However, many researchers and educators have spoken highly of and believe that nonprofit organizations can make a large impact on students and teachers. We can see that decisions made in the business approach to reformation failed previously, so why not begin a new education reform movement in a way that we know can work and has worked? This is a solution that can be implemented without harm; these nonprofits train teachers, educate students, and support their families and communities, all while maintaining financial stability within the city’s education systems. While nonprofit organizations can’t recover the history of racial segregation, they can definitely increase the overall quality of public education in low income areas of St. Louis.


Works Cited

“About.” Ready Readers,

“About Us.” Edu Collab,

Armon, William J. “The Paradox of Impoverished Missouri Schools: The School Districts in Missouri That Need More Often Get Less.” University of Missouri- St. Louis, 2016.

Bryant, Jeff, and Valerie Strauss. “Analysis | The Sad Story of Public Education in St. Louis.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Sept. 2017,

Duncan, Greg J., et al. “Reforming Preschools and Schools.” Academic Pediatrics, vol. 16, no. 3, 4 June 2016, doi:10.1016/j.acap. 2015.12.003.

Teasley, Martell. “School Social Workers and Urban Education Reform with African American Children and Youth: Realities, Advocacy, and Strategies for Change.” School Community Journal, vol. 14, no. 2, Fall/Winter 2004, pp. 19–38. EBSCOhost,

The Literacy Initiative. “Home.” The Literacy Initiative.

“Top Education Nonprofit Organizations Helping SHAPE Schools, Students & Teachers.” Education Nonprofit Organizations Shape Schools Worldwide | American University, School of Education Online Programs, 20 Dec. 2019,

Ultican, Thomas. “St. Louis Public Education Theft Accelerates.” Tultican, 2 Jan. 2021,

Writer’s Reflection

Dear Reader,

Writing this essay has been a long process of thorough research and analysis of my topic. This assignment has been rather enjoyable compared to my previous writing experiences, because it was a topic I had a connection to and was passionate about. I loved digging further into research and learning more extensively about my topic. There was also much more freedom with this assignment. I am used to condensing my work into a five paragraph essay, but having the freedom to use my own formatting made my writing process much easier.

My process included making a brief outline answering all of the questions in the assignment description. This approach allowed me to write in a more logical and organized manner. After making revisions to my first draft, I felt stuck and that I was unable to hit the word count. As a result, I looked into different sources and found relevant information from three new sources that I was able to include. This put me past the word count, and I was able to reread and remove a lot of unnecessary and repetitive information.

The feedback from my peer review partners was extremely helpful. Their suggestions led me to decisions to remove entire paragraphs and replace them with different information that better and more extensively supports my solution. My teacher’s comments made me realize that I had almost no information about any opposing viewpoints. I did struggle at first to identify the opposing viewpoints: how could anyone be against equal education? This is when I considered other possible solutions and why mine was a better choice. Now that I’ve added this information, I have realized my paper wouldn’t be nearly as effective without it.

Another thing I struggled with was organization. The outline helped me lay out my information in the beginning, but when it came to revising and adding new information and sources, it was difficult to tell where the information would fit best in my essay. I have proofread several times and moved several sentences, but the long essay makes it hard to notice if some points would be more successful in another paragraph.

If I could return to this essay at a later date, I think it would be very interesting to see if educational nonprofit organizations have developed in any way, whether that be in St. Louis or around the country. I would’ve loved to mention every nonprofit and their impact, so I think improving the essay would be likely if I could include all of this information.

I’ve now learned that informational literacy is impossible without credible sources. I used to believe any article I clicked on, but the way to make an effective argument is to include sources that are credible enough to persuade your audience. For instance, I would be way more likely to believe a peer reviewed article with credible authors and cited sources than an uncredible website called I also learned that determining credibility goes beyond the domain extension of a URL, and now know how to effectively perform the CRAAP test.

I learned that writing is also ineffective without the use of rhetoric to persuade your audience. I can now identify rhetorical strategies in sources and practice them in my own work, something that will definitely be a part of my future writing assignments. In my future career, I will need to perform thorough research, persuade customers and business partners, and build my own credibility. Using the tools I’ve learned in this class will help me accomplish those things in my future.


Lauren Tuhro