Charter Schools | St. Louis Public Radio

Charter Schools

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.
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.

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.

Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Day at the Missouri Capitol, 2013
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.

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.

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