During a legislative hearing this month, St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt said geographic restrictions where Missouri charter schools can exist are the same as the 1916 residential zones created to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods in St. Louis. He went on to say that charter schools allow the state to “keep its foot on the necks of educating black children in urban districts.”

Are charter schools into the business of segregating students?

“It’s an issue of what I would call reverse discrimination or it’s an issue of the state going back to its historic past of coming up with harebrain ideas that have run amuck,” said Pruitt.

Missouri Charter Public School Association Communications Director Edie Barnard tells Missourinet charter schools are pulling from the same pool as traditional public schools.

“It’s the same group of kids. Most of them are free and reduced lunch and a high level of minority students,” says Barnard.

The association says about 68% of Missouri’s charter school students are African-American, roughly 14% are Hispanic and nearly 19% are white. Missouri’s charter schools also serve about 15% of English language learning students and nearly 11% are special education kids.

Traditional public schools in St. Louis and Kansas City have comparable racial percentages, except the percentage of white students in St. Louis charter schools is twice as high as they are in traditional public schools.

“I’ve seen that in some national press too, that charter schools are into segregating kids or something like that and there’s no evidence to support that,” says Barnard.

According to Barnard, St. Louis has about 11,000 charter school students and Kansas City’s charter school population is about 11,600.

Charter schools are state funded schools that operate independently of traditional public schools. Under current Missouri law, they are restricted to Kansas City, St. Louis and any unaccredited school districts. A proposed statewide expansion of charter schools is expected to be a passionate topic during the upcoming legislative session.

The regular session begins January 3 at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.