To expand or not to expand charter schools in Missouri? That is the question the State Senate’s General Laws committee is considering. During a hearing this week at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Lisa Smith says north St. Louis County parents want other options than “being forced into failing school systems.”

Missouri Senate committee’s turn to wrestle over proposed charter school expansion

She cites her Riverview Gardens School District being without full accreditation for 10 years and its students having the lowest reading and math scores in the state.

“We are the taxpayers. We are tired of paying taxes for our children not to receive a quality education. Our children are not zip codes or dollar signs,” she says.

North St. Louis mother Carmen Ward, who has an autistic teenager named Paul, credits the charter school her son attends for drastically improving his learning skills.

“Charter schools, for me, are a beacon of hope in a very, very dark place,” Ward says. “It is showing my people and hear me – my people – that anything is possible. Why not put the money back in St. Louis Public Schools? I understand. We can’t. You’ve been watching this for 30 years if not more – them on the fast decline. If they wanted to do better, they would. They’re tenured. They don’t have anything and any reason to give our children any more.”

Ward, who lives in the 21st ward of St. Louis, says the senators on the committee will never visit or live in her ward.

“The charter schools have changed and is changing the trajectory of our children. It has to. It’s all we have,” Ward says. “We have no options. The businesses are gone and the houses are abandoned.”

In 2004, a St. Louis native launched an Indianapolis charter school in a former grocery store located in one of the worst school districts in America. Marcus Robinson with a St. Louis education nonprofit called The Opportunity Trust says student achievement scores took a drastic turn because he did not have to deal with three levels of bureaucracy.

“About 30% of our kids were proficient on ELA (English Language Arts) and Mathematics,” he says. “Because we had the flexibility to make the right changes for the kids we were serving, we were able to turn that around.”

By 2008, he says the school had surpassed the state average on state tests – going above 80% proficiency with its kids. By 2010, he says the school won the federal Blue Ribbon Schools Award for closing the achievement gap.

“Our SAT scores for our juniors and seniors consistently surpassed the national average with a 99% black population and 100% college admission at four-year colleges and universities at places like Notre Dame, Wellesley Smith, Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon,” Robinson says.

How? That’s what Kansas City Democrat Lauren Arthur wanted to know.

“We were able to run a longer school day for our kids. We were able to extend the school week and work on some Saturdays,” says Robinson. “We were able to open our building 12 months to be able to do summer remediation for kids struggling with the state tests. We were able to change how teachers work to do professional development. We had really young teachers in our building. We needed to create the infrastructure to be able to make them look like seasoned teachers and we were able to do that.”

Arthur questioned if additional competition could ultimately harm traditional public schools and charter schools when resources are diluted.

Columbia Public School Board President Jan Mees says charter schools should be controlled by local school boards and held accountable like traditional public schools.

“Charter schools are not accredited by the State Board of Education,” says Mees. “Data shows that if they were, many of them would have performance scores within provisionally accredited or unaccredited range.”

She goes on to say that all public school teachers must be accredited by the state.

“At least 20% of charter school teachers do not have to be accredited by the state,” Mees says.

She says local school board members have skin in the game.

“School districts are governed and operated by elected school board members that live in the district and pay taxes in the district,” she says. “When parents are upset, they know they can go to the district and to the elected school board for answers. Charter schools are governed by a sponsor that can be a university or college located somewhere else or a charter school commission that no one in the community has ever met. Charter school board members do not have to be residents of the district or even residents of Missouri, although they are happy to spend state dollars and the tax levy dollars that are raised by the local school districts. Many charter schools are actually operated by for-profit management companies that are accountable to their shareholders but not to the community.”

Mees cites a new state audit finding that expenditures in charter school classrooms have declined while administrative funding has increased by 14%. She goes on to say that every charter school reviewed by the State Auditor’s Office has received a poor rating.

The committee, chaired by bill sponsor, Republican Bill Eigel of Weldon Spring, could vote next week on the measure.

Copyright © 2019 · Missourinet