This year marks 20 years since Missouri enacted the law that allowed charter schools to open in St. Louis and Kansas City. Currently enrolling 22,000 students, charter schools have given much-needed options to families in these districts that have struggled historically. Unfortunately, families in the rest of Missouri are denied the same opportunity to send their children to schools that better fit their needs
As we kick off National School Choice Week, it is worth remembering that charter schools are designed to meet the needs and wants of families through innovation and flexibility. Whether parents and children want an academically stronger school, a safer school environment, or a school with a particular mission or focus, families should be the driving factor for when and where charter schools open.
Simply put, Missouri is letting down its students by functionally limiting charter schools to only two districts in the state. There is proposed legislation that would purportedly expand the ability to open new charter schools, but it places other conditions on where charter schools may open:
1. A district must have at least 2,800 students—which is only 75 out of over 500 districts in Missouri.
2. A district must have at least one school building that scored 68% or less on the Annual Performance Report for two of the last three years.
3. The charter school can only serve the same grades as the school that meets the above criterion.
4. The charter school must give preference to students living in the attendance zone of the struggling school.
5. The charter school must apply to the local school board for sponsorship first.
This bill also creates rules for closing charter schools based on the results of their Annual Performance Review rather than the charter school’s performance contract with its sponsor. Overall, these provisions undermine the charter school model: more freedom in exchange for strong performance. Missouri’s charter school laws currently have our state ranked 30th out of the 44 states by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. We can do better for students by allowing for a strong charter school market that is responsive to the demands of families, not distant government officials.
If parents in a particular area are happy with their neighborhood school, that’s great! Charter school operators will most likely not try to open a school there. On the other hand, if a significant number of families want an alternative to their traditional public school, shouldn’t they have that option available?
This week, there will be over 30,000 events nationwide celebrating the educational opportunities that charter schools and other school choice programs have given students. By allowing charter schools to serve more communities in Missouri, we could see even more families joining the celebrations in the years to come.