The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website says the state has had 28 charter schools close since 2005. Robbyn Wahby, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, says most of the closures are due to poor academic performance.
“If families don’t choose to go to a charter school because it is not performing, they (schools) won’t survive. And we have seen schools close for financial reasons. Financial reasons have a lot to do with enrollment,” she says.
Charter schools are independently-operated public schools funded through a combination of state and private dollars. Opponents of charter schools contend that the schools compete with traditional public schools for state funding.
Many Republicans in the Missouri Legislature have made attempts over the years to expand charter schools statewide. Current Missouri law limits charter schools to St. Louis, Kansas City and any unaccredited school districts.
During a Missouri Board of Education meeting, member Carol Hallquist of Kansas City says a group of urban leaders tell her the decline of traditional public school funding effects crime. Kansas City and St. Louis have some of the worst violent crime rates in the country.
“They were lamenting that we no longer have after school activities. There’s not enough students to fill a football team or dance squad or the chess club,” says Hallquist. “And that what happens is youth have to get rid of that stress and that’s a pathway to crime. You talked about having a high-parent involvement – a sense of community. I think all of our schools want that but when they continue to see an erosion of money and students, they can’t achieve that.”
Hallquist made the comments before the board voted in favor of allowing a new St. Louis elementary charter school to open in the fall of 2021 – Atlas Public School. The school will operate year-round with five weeks on and two weeks off. The opening will mean the school will get $1.2 million annually in state aid currently being provided to the St. Louis Public School District.
Wahby’s commission will serve as the sponsor of Atlas to oversee the health and performance of the school. She says there is no greater waste of taxpayer dollars than poor-performing schools.
“We don’t need any more poor-performing schools,” she says. “Nothing that Atlas is doing is preventing St. Louis Public Schools from putting out a high-performing school. And so, choices have to be made by districts too about how they spend their money.”
Member Peter Herschend of Branson says the board has a responsibility to Missouri taxpayers.
“We collectively, you, this board, needs to be very, very conscious that we aren’t draining one pot only to fill another pot,” he says. “At the end, it isn’t how many charters there are. It’s how well we are educating the general population – not just the kids who are in charters, not just the kids who are in public school.”
“The accountability to sponsors is part of it. Are we renewing poor-quality schools? And if that’s part of the competition, shame on us,” says Wahby.
Member Mary Schrag of southern Missouri’s West Plains says education is going in several different directions.
“It’s like we are not fixing the problems maybe as well as we need to be,” says Schrag. “We have several of the charter schools and private schools and virtual schools and all these other options coming into play. I’m concerned it’s tearing at the fiber of our educational system.”
“Where I think we have to really face though is that our alternatives of not trying to provide more quality schools are not simply going to make districts better. Us not doing charter schools is not going to have a benefit to the districts,” says Wahby.
Missouri currently has 36 charter schools.
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