I very much respect Senator Libla, his contribution to his community and our state. But, I respectfully disagree with his views on charter schools and their impact on public education. Charter schools are a different kind of public education model that puts students at the center of everything: finance, buildings, public policy and above all learning. So, we believe as we make important decisions, we should consider primarily how they are going to impact students and their parents, and secondarily how they are going to impact school districts and their employees.
The senator and I agree that a “stir is going on at the State Capitol.” We might disagree on the cause. The stir is legislators responding to the needs, wishes and desires of a growing number of parents who want to make their own decisions about what is best for their children, rather than having those decisions foisted on them by the government; parents who care more about the quality of the education of their children than bureaucratic efficiency. What does it matter if we lower the per pupil costs, if our kids get a bad education that leaves them ill-prepared to enter the workforce and become good citizens?
Charter schools are delivering improving results in Kansas City. Consider these 2018 state assessment results for the charter schools in Kansas City:
- 75% of the charter school students are in schools with a higher Annual Performance Report rating than the local district;
- 70% of the charter school students are in schools outperforming the local district in English Language Arts;
- 70% of the charter school students are in schools outperforming the local district in Mathematics.
- 75% of the top twenty performing public schools in English Language Arts and Mathematics are charter schools.
What’s even more impressive is that the charter schools are showing these results while their students each receive $2,500 LESS in local tax support than the students in the school district. Imagine the results if the charter school students were equitably funded, which is only right given that ALL public school students have a right to be treated the same.
The senator also expressed concern about poor performing charter schools closing. While there have been some charter closings, the schools that did close should have closed— as should some of the poor performing district schools. If a public school is failing, its leadership should change. If it continues to fail, it should be closed. Why would anyone want their son or daughter to go to a school that has no chance of meeting minimal standards, nonetheless the high standards we should expect from all schools. It’s
even worse when the government forces parents to send their kids to a failing school by eliminating alternatives, like charter schools. As a father, I would much rather my daughter’s school close, rather
than her leaving high school unable to go to college, learn a trade, or get an hourly job that required basic math and reading skills.
Let’s forget for a moment the impact on students and their parents. A mediocre or terrible education is a waste of money. About 400,000 Missouri public school students cannot even pass the most basic tests. I did the math. That means that every year, we are spending around $4 billion on schools whose students are not proficient in English, math or both. Now, that is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Keeping open bad public schools of any kind for any reason is bad public policy.
The Senator expressed concern about efficiency, intimating that the per pupil costs in Kansas City would decrease if the charter schools were to go away. There are several economic flaws to the argument. First, just because we take away charter schools as a choice doesn’t mean parents won’t still try to find the best education for their kids. That happened in Kansas City. Even before charter schools, Kansas City was losing enrollment as parents moved their families to better districts in the suburbs. Second, the number of students is only one factor in efficiency. The senator suggests that bigger is more efficient than smaller. Does he believe that when it comes to state government? Given the senator’s legendary common sense, he probably knows that bigger sometimes means more bureaucratic waste.
I know members of the Missouri General Assembly, in almost every aspect of life, trust their constituents— rather than the government— to decide what is best for them. For some reason, that doesn’t always hold true with public education. Let’s not fear choice. Let’s trust parents.
Most importantly, let’s decide education public policy with the students at the center, not institutions. Kids who cannot read and count at grade level IN AREAS WITHOUT CHARTERS pay the cost of losing the ‘American Dream’. They cost our communities the loss of their civic engagement because they are less likely to vote, work and contribute. They cannot serve their country in the Armed Forces. In real dollars they cost our communities the loss of tax dollars, extra expenses for prisons, health care, the impact of drugs, and the cost of government assistance. We owe our children and families better than allowing the next generation to be forced into a never-ending cycle of poverty.
We welcome all members of the General Assembly to visit any of Missouri’s current charter schools and see the great things that are possible!
Thaman is the Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association.