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Charter Schools

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.

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.

LeDiva Pierce with her daughters Alfreida (left) and Unique. Pierce is one of two charter school parents seeking to intervene as plaintiffs in St. Louis Public School's dispute with the state over funding.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Two parents of children in charter schools in St. Louis are taking their fight to be involved in a school-funding lawsuit to a federal appeals court.

Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge rejected attempts by Ken Ross Jr. and LeDiva Pierce to intervene in a motion brought by the St. Louis Public Schools and the NAACP. The court actions seeks to stop money from a 1999 sales tax from going to charter schools and want the charters to pay back $50 million in tax proceeds they have received over the past 10 years.

KT Klng | Flickr

The Missouri Charter Public School Commission had a good reason to locate its office in the heart of the Cortex entrepreneur mecca in St. Louis.

Robbyn Wahby, who became the commission’s first executive director last year after serving as education adviser to Mayor Francis Slay, said she hopes to work with a wide range of people who are interested in starting charters. Her office in the CIC building on South Sarah is a good place to bring such people together, she said in a recent interview there.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon talks to students at Moline elementary school in Riverview Gardens Monday, Nov. 7, 2016.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Nov. 7 at 3:55 with Nixon comments: No Missouri school districts scored in the unaccredited range on this year’s annual report cards, but that doesn’t mean that the state’s two unaccredited districts – Normandy and Riverview Gardens – are automatically headed for an upgrade.

And among charters in St. Louis, one – Preclarus Mastery Academy – scored in the unaccredited range for the third straight year. Two others that scored in the same territory, with less than half of the possible points – Jamaa Learning Center and Better Learning Communities Academy – closed at the end of the last school year.

LeDiva Pierce with her daughters Alfreida (left) and Unique. Pierce is one of two charter school parents seeking to intervene as plaintiffs in St. Louis Public School's dispute with the state over funding.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Aug. 10 with appeal — Two St. Louis charter school parents are renewing their effort to have a say in a lawsuit that could change the way public schools are funded in the city.

LeDiva Pierce and Ken Ross Jr. filed an appeal Wednesday to join a suit against the state of Missouri by St. Louis Public Schools.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chris Koster talks with supporters on Saturday in St. Louis. Koster says he's opposed to school vouchers, but is amenable to charter schools.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Even before he became governor, Jay Nixon drew a hard line in the sand: If the Missouri General Assembly passed any bill that Nixon felt transferred public dollars to private schools, he would veto that legislation. He followed through on that promise in 2014, when the General Assembly approved changes to Missouri’s school transfer law that, among other things, allowed children in unaccredited school districts to go to certain nonsectarian, private schools.

Whether that “line” remains, however, depends on who replaces Nixon in the governor’s office.

Edmund Lee
provided by family

Updated July 19 with response to judge's ruling— A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against St. Louis’ voluntary desegregation program.

La’Shieka White sued the program because her son, who is black, is barred from attending a city charter school now that her family has moved to Maryland Heights. Her suit called the program’s race-based restrictions unconstitutional.

St. Louis Public Schools

Updated at 12:50 p.m. June 1 with response from St. Louis Public Schools: Two parents who say their children have thrived in charter schools after struggling in St. Louis Public Schools want to have their voices heard in a lawsuit that could force charters in the city to lose tens of millions of dollars.

The parents filed a motion in federal court Tuesday asking to intervene in the lawsuit filed in April by the city public schools against the way proceeds from a 1999 city sales tax for education has been distributed by the state.

Tax credits | Flickr

Two days before St. Louis voters would decide the fate of a small sales tax increase to pay for school desegregation in 1999, the woman who started the effort to get  better schools for black students asked city voters to take a “leap of faith” and back the tax.

“Without a source for funding,” Minnie Liddell wrote in a letter to the Post-Dispatch with her attorney, William Douthit, “the agreement becomes an empty set of promises, unrealized goals and positive educational outcomes that might have been.”

The tax hike, two-thirds of a penny, won big. Now it’s back in the public eye, in a dispute over who should benefit from its proceeds.

La'Shieka White talks about the lawsuit involving her son, Edmund Lee, on May 4, 2016. Attorney Joshua Thompson is at left.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

A black third-grader's effort to continue at his St. Louis charter school even though his family has moved to St. Louis County has gone to federal court.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, based in California, announced Wednesday that it had filed the lawsuit seeking to reverse long-standing provisions of the area-wide school desegregation settlement that bars African-American students living in the county from transferring to city public schools, including charters.

Students work on a classroom assignment at City Garden Montessori. Administrators at the charter public school in south St. Louis are looking for ways to maintain diversity.
Courtesy City Garden Montessori

As with the rest of the country, most white and black children in St. Louis go to separate schools.

It’s a topic our We Live Here team has been digging into while producing a show on the region’s long-running program to chip away at school segregation.

Edmund Lee
provided by family

Headlines screamed the basics: A 9-year-old St. Louis boy will be barred from remaining at the school he loves, just because he is black.

The stories fed outrage across the nation and around the world and fueled an online petition that now has more than 90,000 signatures, imploring Missouri education officials to change the rules and make things right.

Students at Jamaa Learning Center. The charter school, under the sponsorship of the University of Missouri-Columbia, will close at the end of the current school year.
Jamaa Learning Center Facebook with permission

Update 11:45 a.m., Dec. 17 with parent reaction. After five years dedicated to helping “educate and empower students and families” – but losing its charter from its sponsor – Jamaa Learning Center will close its doors at the end of the current school year.

A dance class at Grand Center Arts Academy
Grand Center Arts Academy website

Updated at 11:10 a.m. Nov. 11 with details of the upcoming election: 

Teachers at Grand Center Arts Academy will vote Dec. 4 on whether to become the first faculty members at a charter school to join a union.

The faculty first announced in September that they wanted to join the American Federation of Teachers,. Since then, have dealt with the board of Confluence Academies, which operates the arts academy and four other charters in St. Louis.

John Wright, Robbyn Wahby and Alicia Herald joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh.
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

There are almost 70 charter schools in St. Louis and Kansas City. Until recently, they were all sponsored by universities. Now another alternative is the Missouri Charter Public School Commission.

Although created by the Missouri legislature in 2012, it didn’t have its first meeting until December of last year. Then at the end of March, Robbyn Wahby was named executive director and left her position as St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s top education adviser to assume her new role.

A dance class at Grand Center Arts Academy
Grand Center Arts Academy

Teachers at the Grand Center Arts Academy charter school have begun the unionization process that could end with their being represented by the American Federation of Teachers.

teacher in classroom
U.S. Department of Education

To get an idea about how difficult it can be to interpret test score data when it comes to charter schools, consider Lafayette Preparatory Academy, just west of downtown.

Alex Heuer

According to studies, minorities are the most underrepresented when it comes to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, a STEM college preparatory school set to open in the fall of 2015, hopes to change the course of that statistic by preparing minority students for STEM careers while providing a single gender school setting.

Mary Stillman, the schools’ founder and executive director and a graduate of an all-girls school, decided to open the school after hearing about the success rate of an all-girls public school in New York.

Rhonda Broussard
St. Louis American

(From the St. Louis American, updated 4:30 p.m. Monday)

Shocking many parents and students, the St. Louis Language Immersion School Board of Directors announced Saturday that they have replaced school president Rhonda Broussard, who founded the charter school in 2009.

“This transition has been under consideration for some time,” wrote School Board President David Luckes in a letter to the school community. “The board and SLLIS’s extended community are grateful for the work Rhonda Broussard has done over the years to build SLLIS from the ground up.”

Judy Baxter, via Flickr

The rationale for a new collaboration between public school districts in the St. Louis area and Missouri’s association of charter schools can be summed up in five words:

Charter schools are public schools.

Robbyn Wahby, head of the Missouri Charter School Commission
Courtesy Robbyn Wahby

The Missouri Charter Public School Commission has hired St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s top education adviser as its first-ever executive director. Robbyn Wahby has worked with the mayor’s office on school reform policy since 2001, when charter schools first started taking root in the city. She will start her new job in early May.

Eighth-grade communications arts teacher, Kate Berger, leads students through a classroom exercise at South City Preparatory
Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

 

(Updated Feb. 18 with details on South City Prep's new location and the closing of Construction Careers Center High School.)

A stream of eighth graders flowed into Kate Berger’s classroom at South City Preparatory Academy.  College and university banners line classroom walls and hang from ceilings.           

“Find yourself,” the language arts teacher told students.  “Go to where you need to be.”

Missouri Charter Public School Commission holds its organizational meeting on Dec. 16, 2014.  Alicia Herald (back row, right) was elected commission chair.
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri's recently formed Charter Public School Commission is preparing to begin operations next year.

comedy nose | Flickr

Almost 20,000 students in St. Louis and Kansas City attended a charter school last school year. That’s nearly twice as many compared to the 2003-04 school year.  And the breadth of charter school options  could grow as the Missouri Charter Public School Commission begins to take shape.

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