The House sponsor of charter school legislation says the state Board of Education’s decision to close six St. Louis-area charter schools further highlights the need to pass her bill or one like it.
The decision impacts schools run by Viginia-based company Imagine, and means more than 3,500 students in St. Louis will likely be looking for new schools before the new school year begins.
Assistant Minority Floor Leader Tishaura Jones (D-St. Louis) has three of the six schools in, or adjacent to, her district. She says the situation leading up to the Board’s vote took years to develop. Her proposal for the expansion and accountability of charter schools deals with that type of scenario.
“In the legislation as proposed, the monitoring standards are set very high for the sponsor and for (The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and it gives them additional staff to make sure the monitoring is going on, and then it would give the sponsor authority to step in earlier as well.”
Jones says if her proposal were law already, there one be one notable difference. “Instead of DESE becoming the interim sponsor and closing the schools, the charter school commission as set in the bill would become the interim sponsor and those schools probably wouldn’t have to close.”
Jones hopes this latest development will spur some activity with education bills in the legislature. “Unfortunately that’s left up to the leadership in both houses. I understand the Senate (version) of my bill is moving and could come across the hall to the House as early as next week. If that’s the case then hopefully we can keep it clean and not load it up, and just pass it.”
She plans to bring what happened with the Imagine schools up with House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee Chairman Scott Dieckhaus (R-Washington) to illustrate the need to move education bills this year.
“I’m sure he’s very aware of it.
“This actually needed to happen before this year but I’m glad that the state board took action. Now (passage of a bill) really needs to happen more than anything so that we don’t have another Imagine, or Imagine situation, where a school is able to operate for years and years and years of non-performance, and then the state board feels pressured by the media and pressure from all over to do something to take some action on the schools.”
She says unfortunately, the lingering need for a bill to address placement of students from unaccredited districts is impacting all education bills. “It often feels like anything we do could be totally torn apart by whatever law stands or whatever the judge decides to do in the Turner case or whatever we do in the legislature related to that statute.”
How serious is the Imagine situation?
Jones says the Imagine schools were performing worse than the unaccredited St. Louis Public Schools. “That’s saying something … Imagine was the bottom of the bottom. We had five percent of the kids proficient in math and communication arts in some of those schools. We had thirty percent in St. Louis Public.”
She wants Missourians to know what happened with Imagine schools will not happen all over the state, if charter schools are cleared to develop outside of Kansas City and St. Louis.
“The bill, as proposed, only allows expansion into accredited school districts by, and sponsored only by the school board. So if you are in a suburban district, say Parkway, or even if you’re in Springfield which is now considered an urban district, and you want to create some schools that do some different things, your school board has the authority to do that and only your school board.”