With two weeks left in the Missouri legislative session, the deadline for passing bills is drawing near. House Bill 581, which would expand charter schools, is one bill that looks like it won’t make the cut, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come up again next year.
Representative Bill. E. Kidd, R-Independence, confirmed he thinks the bill will come up again in the future, but isn’t a proponent of it.
“I’m always asking the question of what’s broken. Let’s fix what’s broken before we go off and try to create another institution,” he said.
The bill’s language, according to Kidd, needs to be perfected before it can move forward. With the session deadline moving closer and other bills further along, he said it’s unlikely the bill would see much action this session.
However local educators still have their eye on the topic, as charter schools have received a lot of attention in recent years. With only so much money devoted to public schools, allocating even some of it to charter schools, as the bill No. 581 proposes, would have an impact on local school districts.
Dale Herl, superintendent of the Independence School District, said taking away resources from public schools and forcing the remaining funds to be spread out can ultimately result in buildings being closed and class sizes going up.
“I think it would have a negative impact, and the impact would not be felt immediately. Over time the result would be very harmful to the Independence School District,” he said. “If you have to look historically at what has occurred in Kansas City and St. Louis … funding ends up being diminished for public schools.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Kansas City area currently has 20 charter schools. These charters operate in multiple buildings, much like how a school district has multiple school buildings. For example, an elementary school and high school operating under the same charter. There are currently 40 charter school buildings operating in the Kansas City. St. Louis has 36 buildings operating under 16 charters.
John Robertson, charter schools coordinator for DESE, said that over time, close to one-third of charter schools that have opened have closed, but the state has steadily raised the standards for opening a school.
“Over the past 20 years every state has learned a lot,” he said. ‘Now they tend to be very rigorous about the criteria they use to accept a new charter application.”
In 2018, according to Robertson, only two charter schools closed in Missouri, largely due to the standards imposed by the state to increase the quality of charter schools.
“There’s two sides to every story; oftentimes when you see statistics there’s more behind them than others,” Robertson said.
Jason Snodgrass, superintendent of the Fort Osage school district, said he doesn’t have a problem with the charter schools currently operating in the state, but doesn’t want to see an expansion.
“I don’t think more is better. I think it creates inefficiencies,” he said.
Robertson expressed his worries over the state spreading its funds over several buildings, leaving fewer resources per student than they would have without additional schools in each district. By having more buildings with fewer students in each, it actually becomes more expensive to educate students, he said.
Currently, charter schools are only allowed in the Kansas City School District, the St. Louis School District and unaccredited school districts, according to DESE. If legislation expanding these schools passes, charter sponsors could create schools elsewhere.
Additionally, the bill would create the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, whose purpose would be to sponsor charter schools throughout the state. The end of the bill states the commission would receive “start-up funding” from DESE to begin operations, but would reimburse the department from funds it receives from sponsoring a school. Currently, a charter’s sponsor receives 1.5 percent its state and local funding, not exceeding $125,000, according to DESE.
While the bill is likely to die before it is discussed and approved, legislators such as Kidd agree similar legislation will appear next year, with similar terms and language. The current legislative session ends on May 17.