By a narrow margin of 83-76, a proposed statewide expansion of charter schools has been passed by the Missouri House. Republicans barely squeezed by the required 82 votes to pass a bill.
Charter schools are publicly-funded tuition-free public schools that operate independently of the established public school system in which it is located, and in some cases are privately owned.
The measure moves on to the state Senate for consideration. Governor Greitens has signaled support for such legislation.
Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City), say charter schools allow students in failing public schools to go to a school that is providing a better education.
“The wealthy people already have a lot of choices in where they send their kids in this state. They already have school choice in this state,” says Barnes. “Poor people don’t. They’re stuck with the school based on district boundaries. They may be stuck in a school that for 40 years has been ignored in a neighborhood that’s been ignored.”
Some contend that the state can’t hold charter schools accountable. Barnes says charter schools have more accountability than any traditional Missouri public school.
“If a parent doesn’t like the education that their child is getting in that school, they can leave,” says Barnes.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) says charter schools have sold parents a bill of goods.
“Parents have made a decision to send their kids to charter schools because they thought their kids were going to get a better education. At the end of the day, their kids are not getting a better education,” says Beatty.
Missouri’s charter schools are currently limited to St. Louis and Kansas City school districts, and any that are unaccredited. Charter school supporters say statewide test scores for public schools have improved in those cities.
St. Louis Democrat Karla May says charter schools helped to disintegrate the St. Louis public school system.
“You enter into a charter school system that depleted the population in the St. Louis public schools. So they had to close the buildings because we no longer had the population and the money to keep the buildings open,” says May. “You included this animal into St. Louis city’s school system. That’s right, this animal you want to call choice. No corporation opens up another store when one is failing. If something is failing, then we improve what’s failing before we add something else that’s failing.”
A Senate committee is considering a similar measure.