Charter school legislation progressing in Jefferson City | St. Louis Public Radio

Charter school legislation progressing in Jefferson City

Mar 14, 2017

Updated March 16, 2017 -- The Missouri House has passed legislation to expand charter schools beyond St. Louis and Kansas City.

The House proposal (HB 634) would allow charter schools to operate in Class 1 counties only. That includes more heavily populated areas such as Springfield and Columbia, in addition to St. Charles and St. Louis counties and Clay and Platte counties.

"Our public education system is not preparing students for that excellent higher education system and our public education system is a disgrace," said Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin.

The sponsor, Rep. Rebecca Roeber, R-Lee's Summit, said it will give parents and kids another option if they're stuck in a failing school district.

"I really believe that this choice will increase innovation and excellence in all of our schools; we've already seen it in Kansas City and St. Louis, (which) have become re-accredited," she said.

Opponents argued that charter schools lack accountability and drain funding from public schools.

"Charter schools are not run by a board of locally elected officials, yet they are allowed to spend millions and millions of taxpayer dollars without the same accountability of traditional public schools," said Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City. "The potential to dilute financial resources available to public schools continues to be a concern, and of course as a teacher I'm concerned (that) 20 percent of the teachers in charter schools can still be uncertified teachers."

House Bill 634 narrowly passed on Thursday 83 to 76 and now awaits Senate approval, which is considering a broader proposal to allow charter schools to operate anywhere in Missouri.

Original story from March 14, 2017 -- Two different versions of a proposal to expand charter schools in Missouri are getting more attention at the Capitol this week.

The House version (HB 634) is further along and more limited in scope. It would allow charter schools to expand beyond St. Louis and Kansas City to any “charter county or county of the first classification,” in other words, more heavily populated areas, such as Springfield or Columbia. Two committees have passed it; the bill awaits first-round approval by the full House, which could happen later this week.

The Senate version (SB 428) is wide-ranging, providing for charter schools to expand anywhere in Missouri, including rural counties. It received a public hearing Tuesday afternoon, but no vote was taken.

Lawmakers tried two years ago to include charter schools as a way to help fix Missouri’s student transfer law, which allows students from failing school districts to transfer to nearby districts. In 2015, they passed a proposed transfer law fix that sought to expand charter schools statewide, along with expanding virtual classrooms, but the measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

GOP Gov. Eric Greitens has said he backs expanding charter schools, though he didn’t mention it in his State of the State address. Missouri Charter Public School Association’s executive director, Doug Thaman, has said that the House bill is the “preferred bill,” especially after the changes that he said came from “good, good conversation and the sharing of ideas.” And even the Missouri School Boards’ Association has said it won’t try to block an expansion.

Bill sponsor Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, said passing his measure would introduce competition as a means of improving public education.

“Competition, which can sometimes be viewed as a bad thing, is actually a very good thing,” he said. “The idea of competition, where different choices offer different brands and different services to a consumer, has been a very positive thing, and I think that’s what charter schools offer parents and children.”

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, who sits on the Senate’s education committee, spoke about how there are several charter schools in his district. Like most public schools, he said, some are good and some aren’t.

But he said they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere and everywhere, especially if established schools are doing well on annual performance reports.

“If a school is successful – its APR is 90 or better – there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to introduce that competition or those options into that district if they’re being successful,” he said.

Holsman also said charter schools don’t belong in lower-populated areas or smaller school districts that would be threatened financially by a charter school.

Holsman hasn’t seen the House bill and wouldn’t say whether he supports it.

“We’re just trying to make sure that we put the kids first, and that these charter schools are going to be a positive addition to the districts and not a negative one,” he said.

Ryan Delaney contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport