A proposed bill by state Rep. Rebecca Roeber, R-Lee’s Summit, could potentially change enrollment at all school districts throughout Missouri and the funding they receive.
House Bill 634 seeks to expand charter schools across a broader region of Missouri. The bill passed the House by a vote of 83-74 Wednesday and received a final vote of 83-76 Thursday. The bill will now move to the Senate for debate. A vote is not on the Senate calendar.
The legislation, as passed by the House, would permit:
• Charter schools to open in any school district if the district contains a single building that has scores of 60 percent or less for two of the previous three years.
• Once a charter school opens, the school would be able to accept students from any district in the state. The charter school could not deny a student the right to enroll.
• Allows for the possible creation of a a virtual charter school that would be open to any student across Missouri.
• A charter school would be permitted to remain open for eight years before it could be closed for a lack of average performance on the APR (Annual Progress Report). The only exception would be unless the charter school has a mission designed for at-risk students.
• Prior to a charter school’s renewal, the school would have to receive a financial audit by the state auditor’s office.
• Board members to the charter school district must be Missouri residents. Residents do not have to live in the district of the charter school.
• Charter schools must meet all federal and state requirements and be required to meet the same academic performance standards.
• Charter schools will only be permitted to open if the Legislature fully funds the state school formula.
Missouri has 38 charter schools. According to information from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are more than 6,600 charter schools in the United States. Enrollment in those schools is more than 2.6 million children.
By definition, a charter school is a public school that is not allowed to charge tuition for enrollment, nor can they deny a child to enroll in their school. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia allow charter schools to exist.
Advocates of the bill, including Roeber, a retired English teacher, have said the creation of charter schools would cause districts to “up their game.”
“If you have to compete for those students you have to up your game,” Roeber told the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry in an interview March 1. “That’s what I’ve told districts that are concerned about charter schools coming in.”
Other proponents agree, including the Missouri Charter School Association, stating that charter schools allow students a greater choice in deciding which school to attend.
One reason given by many opposed to the proposed legislation is the potential revenue loss to a district if a student chooses to withdraw from their current public elementary or secondary school to attend a charter school.
Based on the current Missouri School Foundation Formula, the average per pupil funding is $8,000 per student.
If a district were to have 50 students transfer to attend a charter school the cost would be $40,000 annually to the school.
Two area superintendents from Pettis Country spoke to the Democrat concerning the proposed expansion of charter school throughout the state.
“I am strongly against charter schools being allowed throughout the entire state,” said Smithton R-VI Schools Superintendent Matt Teeter. “Local schools are governed by local people, charter schools are governed by the nonprofit sponsoring agency, which means the local board members would not have to be community members.”
Teeter added that charter schools do not have the same accountability levels as public schools have. To illustrate this point, Teeter pointed to the “significant” failure rate that occurs in charter schools.
“Only 46 percent of charter schools for the 2015-16 school year would meet minimum requirements to be accredited,” Teeter said. “Additionally, the concern is when they close, students have to move to another school and reach supports stability in education, not transiency (movement).”
Sedalia School District 200 Superintendent Brad Pollitt, who like Teeter has experience in both large and small school districts, agreed with Teeter on several points although he is not completely opposed to the idea of school choice.
“I’m not completely against school choice, but I want a level playing field,” Pollitt said. “All school districts should have to be under the same umbrella standards; a school shouldn’t have the choice on how they are held accountable.
“Charter schools do get an APR but it has been meaningless, so how is that a level playing field?” Pollitt asked. “One of the problems, as with so many things, is that the Devil is in the details.”
Pollitt explained that, in his opinion, the true question in educational reform is one of funding and accountability.
“The APR has more meaning now for a charter school but it can take up to eight years before it could be forced to close due to a lack of adequate performance,” Pollitt commented. “For me, that’s too long.
“Any type of school choice is all about the details of accountability measures and funding,” Pollitt said. “You must have adequate finances to run anything at the appropriate level.”
Pollitt commented that just because a district loses students, it depends on what level they leave from as to what cuts can be made to make up for the loss of funding.
Schools would have one of two choices to make up for the loss of revenue, he added.
“Any charter school that starts could effect all other districts,” Pollitt said. “Either a district would have to cut funding to programs or they may have to turn to the local taxpayers for additional revenue if additional charter schools are created.”
The likelihood of a charter school starting in Sedalia under the bill as passed by the House is relatively low, in Pollitt’s opinion.
The Missouri School Board Association has stated it will not attempt to block the expansion of charter schools but like Teeter and Pollitt, the Association does have concerns about the accountability of charter schools.
If approved by both the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Eric Greitens, who has stated he is a proponent of school choice, the bill would become law July 1, 2018.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484