JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In a three-hour-long hearing, the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee heard droves of testimony from nearly every perspective regarding charter schools.
One thing all everyone seemed to agree on: They were not against charter schools — though a few people added some distinct modifiers to the statement.
One thing not agreed on: HB 2247. One person called it a “bad bill,” another said it needed a “rewrite,” while others urged support of the legislation and advocated for its approval.
The bill introduced by Rep. Rebecca Roeber would change the laws regarding charter schools. Under the legislation, a charter school could operate in any school district in which a single school received a score of 60 percent or less for two of the three most recent annual reports. It also develops a performance standard to determine if a charter school is underperforming.
“It includes even more accountability than the bill last year,” Roeber said.
Upon renewal of a charter school’s charter, if the schools reading and math scores are lower than the average of the traditional public schools in the area or the improvement average is less, the charter school will receive a three-year renewal. If the school again fails to meet the standard the charter will not be renewed.
This provision “increases the accountability” of the charter school, according to Roeber.
Since this isn’t the first time Roeber has introduced this legislation, she anticipated some of the pushback on the bill.
“I continue to hear the myth that no charter school outperforms traditional public schools,” Roeber said. “In St. Louis, looking at English language arts proficient and advance scores from last year, of the schools where 50 percent of their students achieved proficiency or advanced, six were charter schools and one was a traditional public school.”
She also cited a study that analyzed 14 years of achievement data on third- through fifth-graders in New York that showed charter schools “have a position effect on students who don’t even attend them, but just in the neighborhood.”
Rep. David Wood brought up the issue that some of the underperforming public schools are in places with lower populations and that it is “really tough to open charter schools in those areas.”
“I don’t know if we have the ability to fill the need based on the way things are structured,” Wood said.
The accountability, structure, and funding of charter schools was a point of contention throughout the hearing.
“Charter schools are not subject to the same accreditation as [traditional public schools],” Susan Goldammer, a representative from the Missouri School Board Association, said. “They have resisted in the past and can only assume that’s because they wouldn’t fair well under the system.”
The lack of annual performance reports (APR) and accreditation for charter schools was pointed out several times. But one witness corrected the misconception.
“In Missouri, charter schools get the same APR,” Susan Pendergrass, who is the director of education policy for the Show Me Insitute.
But charter schools do not receive accreditation, which Pendergrass say is just a label.
Rep. Judy Morgan wondered why charter schools don’t go through the accreditation process as public schools, get a rating and all the consequence that that rating entails.
“I would argue that consequences are tougher for charter schools now whether they have those classifications or not,” Pendergrass said, citing that parents can remove their children, enrollment declines and they won’t get reauthorized.
While charter schools are publically funded, they are not restricted to the same requirements as traditional public schools. One requirement difference is admittance.
“I don’t believe charter schools take all students,” one witness, who is a school board member in Dalton, said. He has a friend whose son is special needs and the charter school didn’t have the resources to take the child. The traditional public school didn’t have the resources either, but they had to.
No one provided statistically evidence that showed that charter schools don’t take all student, but provided anecdotal evidence and pointed out it may be in their favor economically to be selective in admittance.
Charter schools would receive 90 percent of the funding the school district spends per student for every child from that district that enrolls in the charter school. Since districts spend different amounts on the education on a per-student basis, in theory, charter schools could favor student from districts that spend more.
“They have to give deference to students from underperforming schools,” Roeder said.
“Adding more schools to a geographical location further divides resources,” Charles Pearson, superintendent of the Normandy School District.
He objected to the funding model and the impact it has on the students who chose to stay at the school.
Rep. Shamed Dogan pointed out a school will not be the perfect fit for every student and that there should be an availability to options, a point many agreed with.
“This allows parents choice,” Roeber said. “No student will ever be assigned to a charter school.”
“Parents shouldn’t be forced to move for their kids to get a good education,” a representative from the Missouri Charter Public School Association said. “It is the right of every student to access good public education.”
He went on to cite that 400,000 children in Missouri attend a substandard public school and that charter schools don’t open where they aren’t wanted.
“Charter schools are typically homegrown,” Pendergrass said. “They don’t come in from outside.”
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.