Gov. Jay Nixon has signed Missouri’s first major piece of charter school legislation since its first in 1998: Senate Bill 576 will allow charter schools to open statewide and make it easier to close poor-performing ones.
“[The law] will make sure there is transparency and openness and will give students a better chance at succeeding,” said Rep. Tishaura Jones (D-St. Louis City).
Missouri previously allowed charter schools only in academically struggling St. Louis and Kansas City. They enroll 20,000. Starting August 28, the law will allow freestanding charter schools to open in unaccredited school districts or those that have been provisionally accredited for up to three years. It would also allow district-sponsored charter schools statewide.
“It is important that all of Missouri’s families have an opportunity to choose the public educational option best for their children,” said Missouri Public Charter Schools Association Executive Director Douglas Thaman.
In his January state of the state address, the Democratic governor called on the legislature to pass a charter school accountability bill.
“S.B. 576 is a step in the right direction,” said Audrey Spalding, Show-Me Institute policy analyst. She said the state should consider allowing charters to open in every school district without local school board approval to create a more innovative education climate.
High Bar for Performance
Now more Missouri universities and colleges and a new Missouri Charter Public School Commission can sponsor charter schools under the same quality requirements. Similar commissions exist in other states to help meet the high demand for charter schools and ensure high-quality charters can open.
“The purpose of charter schools [is] to identify and reward schools that help students, while closing down schools that consistently fail students,” Spalding said. “If only we held our traditional public schools as accountable.”
Charter schools must sign performance contracts with their sponsors and will be evaluated every three years by the State Board of Education or any time for cause. The board must approve new sponsors individually.
“Missouri’s charter schools work tirelessly every day toward a high-quality public education for students from very diverse backgrounds,” Thaman said. “Missouri’s charter school community welcomes the increased autonomy for increased accountability bargain that is at the heart of the charter school model.”
Limits to Growth
Missouri’s charter school legislation is likely to expand the number of charter schools in the state, Spalding said, but not dramatically. Charters can now open in only 10 more of Missouri’s 522 districts.
“The large majority of Missouri students will not have the option of attending a charter school,” Spalding said.
The legislation aims to stop financial mismanagement found in some St. Louis charters, but the increased paperwork required to open and operate new schools “may end up overburdening charter schools, making them less effective,” said Spalding.