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Expanding Charter Schools Across Missouri

Stephanie Ebbs, KMOX Capitol Bureau
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JEFFERSON CITY, MO. (KMOX) – The option to expand charter schools across the state is moving forward in the last few weeks of the session. The House Education Committee adopted a bill Wednesday to change the law regulating charter schools by allowing them to expand across the state and impose stricter accountability requirements.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts. The schools are held to performance standards by their sponsor or a governing board. Students at charter schools still take the statewide Missouri Assessment Program test but are not subject to MO School Improvement Program accountability procedures.

Legislators have been attempting to hold charter schools to the same standards as traditional public schools. Charter school performance by state testing standards is as varied as performance of traditional public schools, but the laws regulating charter schools are more relaxed. Charter schools are not required to report their financial status, an issue that recently played a role in the state voting to close six charter schools in St. Louis.

The charter schools would be required to report their financial and performance data to the sponsor of the school, which would be responsible for intervention. Sponsors have the option to intervene immediately or close a school if standards are not met.

The bill makes several other changes in the current law regarding charter schools, such as:

  • Allowing a charter school to be sponsored anywhere in the state. Charter schools are currently only allowed in St. Louis and Kansas City.
  • Allowing charters to be sponsored by any four or two-year university, vocational or technical school or the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, an entity created by the bill.
  • Removing the restriction that four-year colleges or universities can only sponsor charters in the county where they are located.
  • Mandating that only 35 percent of students in an accredited district containing more than 1500 students can be enrolled in a charter school. There is no restriction on districts under 1500 students.
  • Increasing the performance standards required in the school’s charter to include completion of an annual report card, defining a measure for student progress and publication of an annual performance report.

Before the vote, representatives discussed their concerns about the bill. Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said he was concerned that the bill would eliminate due process for people being denied a charter. The bill removes the judicial review process for denying sponsorship for a charter and allows the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to decide whether a charter will be denied.

“Every other avenue I can think of where the state licenses people, those people have the option of judicial review,” Barnes said.

This concern was combated by Earl Simms, director of communications for the Missouri Charter Public School Association, who said the judicial review process was removed because of the concern about potential lawsuits down the road.

While this bill would not create charter schools, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said it provides another option for rural school districts that are trying to avoid consolidation or districts where there is demand for an alternative form of public education. According to a poll presented by Students First, a student advocacy organization, 69 percent of Missourians supported expanding charter schools outside of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Charter school accountability was mentioned in Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State address as one of the major education issues of the current session. Other education policy issues include public school funding and dealing with the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. The bill will now go to the House floor for debate and, if no changes are made, it will go to the governor.

Link to bill:  SB576

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