A GOP priority in the state legislature this year is changes to Missouri’s education laws. The General Assembly has resumed after one week off for spring break. Legislators are expected to focus the second half of the session on the state budget and more changes to labor, tort and education laws.

Missouri capitol

Sen. Bill Eigel (R-St. Charles) wants to allow charter schools to expand statewide. A Senate committee is considering his proposal.

Eigel says the charter schools issue strikes an emotional chord among people on both sides.

“Regardless of where folks fall on this particular issue, we’re all trying to get to the same place, which is a great education for all of our kids. I want to acknowledge that upfront because sometimes when this discussion becomes emotional, we tend to lose sight of that,” says Eigel.

He says more choices for parents and students are important.

“When you talk about how businesses operate, the more competition and the more choice the consumer has, the better it is. So there’s the belief that I agree with that the outcomes we can have associated with our children’s education are improved by offering that choice to their parents,” says Eigel.

Sen. Gary Romine (R-Farmington) questions creating competition for public schools.

“We don’t find ourselves in competition for providing police protection. We don’t find ourselves providing competition for our fire services,” says Romine. “Public education, unless there is a need of a failing school district, I have a concern about creating that competition for those services.”

Romine also says the accountability of charter schools is one of his primary concerns.

“Currently we have with the charter schools almost a silo,” says Romine. “To get renewed, DESE has a hard time rejecting that or rejecting that renewal process.”

Eigel believes there can be a happy medium.

“No one wants bad schools, whether they’re charter schools or whether they’re traditional public schools. I think that we all want some mechanism for there to be accountability,” says Eigel.

Charter schools are publicly-funded public schools that operate independently of the established public school system. Missouri’s charter schools are currently limited to St. Louis and Kansas City school districts, and any that are unaccredited.

Sen. Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City) says school districts with an annual performance report of 90 or more and smaller districts should be exempt from a charter schools bill.

“Fundamentally, they’re either successful in not requiring the expansion or they’re too small to be able to absorb the duplicative resources,” says Holsman.

Eigel says charter schools can have a positive impact on public schools.

“If we have well-performing school districts but there’s a demand for a charter school, I see this may be an avenue that would make them even better,” says Eigel.

Holsman suggests the free market indicates that the demand can come from interest and profit.

“If there is money to be made in the execution of the services, there will be those out there who see an opportunity and opportunism comes into that,” says Holsman.

The House has passed a different version of a statewide charter schools expansion bill. That chamber approved the measure by one more vote than the necessary minimum required.