Charter Schools | St. Louis Public Radio

Charter Schools

Students at the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls on May 12, 2017, a St. Louis charter school that opened in 2015.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers are making another attempt at expanding independent charter schools outside of the state’s two major cities, this time with a more narrow focus.

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on Monday voted 7-6 to advance a charter school expansion bill. The legislation allows charter schools to go head-to-head with struggling schools but not entire districts.

charter schools tha racially diverse in recent years.
Camille Phillips I St. Louis Public Radio

If you walk into most public schools in the city of St. Louis, you’d never know that five black parents won a federal desegregation lawsuit in 1975, or that years of appeals resulted in the creation of a much lauded voluntary intra-district transfer program in 1983.

According to a St. Louis Public Radio analysis of state data, the percentage of racially segregated public schools in the city of St. Louis rose over the past 26 years, from 54 percent to 78 percent. Today, most of the students in the St. Louis public school district attend schools where all, or nearly all, of their classmates are African-American.

Charter schools used to be even more segregated than the district. But, in recent years, a handful have succeeded in attracting both white and black families. The choices of past and current parents at City Garden Montessori, in the Botanical Heights neighborhood, illustrate how one charter school achieved integration, and the barriers to replicating that model.

Ninth-graders take notes during a social studies class at the recently opened KIPP St. Louis High School on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

KIPP St. Louis is taking its disciplined approach to education to high schoolers.

The charter school network opened a high school this week to go with its two elementary and two middle schools. It’s also one of three new charter schools opening for the 2017-18 academic year in St. Louis.

But overall, charter school growth in St. Louis is slowing from its peak during 2009, 2010 and 2011; there are 33 charter schools in the city.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:45 p.m. August 2 to correct the percentage of KIPP St. Louis' budget that goes toward marketing in 7th paragraph Photos of smiling children in school uniforms grace the sides of buses, large billboards and flyers in mailboxes throughout the St. Louis area. Those images — and the selling points written underneath them — are meant for parents trying to figure out which school to send their kids.

With the dozens of charter schools and St. Louis Public Schools vying for students (and the state tax dollars that follow), the institutions have to act more like businesses, marketing themselves — sometimes heavily.

Gavin Schiffres and Jack Krewson, right, canvass the Dutchtown neighborhood with members of the school choice advocacy group Children Education Alliance of Missouri June 8, 2017. Schiffres and Krewson want to open a charter school in the neighborhood.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Two young teachers who are hoping to start a charter school in the Dutchtown neighborhood in south St. Louis are knocking on residents’ doors this summer asking for their support.

Teach for America alumni Gavin Schiffres, 23, and Jack Krewson, 24, want to open their school, called Kairos, next year. But first, a university or other state-approved organization needs to agree to be their sponsor.

Tisha and Branden Brooks look over their daughter Avery's second-grade writing journal at their home in the Shaw neighborhood as son Alex (partially hidden) looks on. May 2017
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

As President Donald Trump’s administration explores ways to expand charter schools across the country, parents in national surveys and those in St. Louis point to academic quality as their highest priority in selecting a school.

Research suggests that parents often don’t have a way to accurately compare the public education options. And there are several factors that parents take into account — including word-of-mouth and proximity to one’s home — though more often than not, they choose a charter school or district school based on their child’s current and future success instead of the school’s overall performance.

Illustration by Rici Hoffarth / St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers, with full GOP control of the legislature and governor’s office, seemed ready to pass a number of school choice bills when they gathered earlier this year.

Months later, they have nothing to show for it: No expansion of charter schools throughout Missouri, no creation of scholarships that certain students could use for private school and no overhaul of the student transfer rules for failing school districts.

Students at the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls on May 12, 2017, a St. Louis charter school that opened in 2015.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The pace of new charter schools seeking to open in St. Louis has slowed, according to the universities that act as sponsors and receive formal applications.

While the reasons vary, charter sponsors say they’ve learned more about what it takes to successfully open and sustain a school both financially and academically, which is helping them weed out weak applications.

Jared Leppert, a graduate student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, conducts a learning test with a student at St. Louis College Prep on Monday, May 8, 2017. The charter school hired Leppert as an intern.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers assigned higher education institutions primary oversight of charter schools when authorizing them 20 years ago. Universities know a thing or two about schools, after all.

It’s not the norm when it comes to charter schools in the United States, though, as a majority of the 42 states (and Washington, D.C.) put the independent schools’ governance in the hands of a local school board.

An in-depth look at Missouri's charter schools

May 12, 2017

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Trish Nguyen works on a graph in a second-grade class at Confluence Academy South City on April 28, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Gateway Science Academy wants families to be satisfied. City Garden Montessori is aiming for racial equity. Neither are unique goals for charter schools in St. Louis.

 

Most of the city’s 17 public charter school systems have their own definition of success, including academic growth, family involvement and personal development. But they’re also required by Missouri law to take the state’s academic standards into account.

 

And without a definitive way to measure success, parents have to trust that the schools are doing right by their children.

Students working in a classroom of Gateway Science Academy in April 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s been nearly 20 years since charter schools took root in Missouri, bringing independently operated but publicly funded education to St. Louis and Kansas City.

Often touted as a means of allowing parents flexibility when it comes to their kids’ education, “school choice” expansion is growing in favor among Republican politicians, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

In the coming months, St. Louis Public Radio will detail the world of charter schools. But, as any teacher would tell you, an introductory lesson is the first place to start.

MoBikeFed | Flickr

Updated 6 p.m. April 28 to correct that Missouri would be among the only states with an abortion notification law — The only thing Missouri lawmakers must do in the final two weeks of 2017 legislative session is pass the state budget for the coming fiscal year.

But there are a whole lot of things they could do — some of which Gov. Eric Greitens wants them to do — such as tightening abortion regulations, raising the standard for workplace discrimination and creating the last-in-the-country prescription drug monitoring program.

Preclarus Mastery Academy, located inside Third Baptist Church, has 200 students enrolled in the 2016-2017 school year.
File photo | Brit Hanson | St. Louis Public Radio

A small charter school in St. Louis’ Grand Center district will stay open next year after all.  

The University of Missouri-St. Louis has overruled its charter school office and agreed to continue sponsoring Preclarus Mastery Academy.

School Illustration
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

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.

Andy Sminds / Flickr

Updated 9:40 a.m. — This story and the accompanying photo have been correct to reflect the charter sponsors of the Confluence Academy network.

Missouri’s State Board of Education has limited power when it comes to charter schools, mostly making sure they meet the state’s requirements, such as staying open a certain number of days. Academic performance is out of its hands.

KT Klng | Flickr

Of the hundreds of education bills Missouri lawmakers have filed this session, charter school expansion has the best chance of passing.

Not only is Republican Gov. Eric Greitens an enthusiastic backer of school choice, but charter school advocates say the desire for alternatives to traditional public schools is broadening.

Eric Mitchell picks up his daugther Keyannah and son Kobe after school on Jan. 11, 2017. Both children are in fourth grade at Preclarus Mastery Academy.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

As the St. Louis public school district emerges from the long shadow cast by 16 years of failing to measure up to state standards, it joins the ranks of Missouri's accredited school districts with another distinction: a better performance record than about half of the charter schools in the district’s footprint.

Moments after the state board of education voted to reclassify the district as fully accredited last week, the board got word that another St. Louis charter school, Preclarus Mastery Academy, will likely close this year due to poor performance.

Now that St. Louis Public Schools have regained accreditation, could the city’s educational landscape shift in response? Might parents start preferring the district's schools over charters and other alternatives?

It will take years to measure enrollment trends, but parents and educators have decided views on what direction they want to see trends take.

UMSL revokes sponsorship of St. Louis charter school

Jan 10, 2017
Preclarus Mastery Academy is housed within the Third Baptist Church at Washington Avenue.
St Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3:06 p.m. with comment from Preclarus board chair — Students at the charter school Preclarus Mastery Academy will most likely have to enroll somewhere else next year.

After several years of poor showings on state report cards, the University of Missouri-St. Louis is revoking its sponsorship of the school, which is located in the Grand Center Arts District. 

Tax credits | Flickr

St. Louis is backing charter school parents in a legal dispute over how money from a 1999 city sales tax is distributed.

St. Louis officials  argue that the money from the sales tax was designed to help all students attending public schools in the city, not just those in district schools.

The St. Louis Public Schools and the NAACP, which filed the lawsuit, say the money should go only to the school district, not to charters, and they want to recover more than $50 million that has gone to the charters since 2006.

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