|Charter School Regulations Proposed for 2010 Legislative Session|
|By Dan Fitzgerald|
|Monday, November 16, 2009|
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is proposing new regulations for Missouri’s 40 charter schools. The proposal tweaks and makes some additions to the existing state statute that governs charter schools. Specifically, it would allow the State Board of Education (SBE) to intervene if a charter school is failing, would require a school to submit an accountability plan along with the initial charter school proposal it presents to a sponsor, and would also require charter schools to establish baseline student performance during a charter’s first year, using test scores to monitor student academic performance.
The bills outlining these changes will be pre-filed by the Missouri General Assembly on Dec. 1.
Mark Van Zandt, general counsel for DESE, said the proposal will “give charter sponsors the tools they need for effective operations.”
He said that the SBE currently lacks the ability to intervene when a charter school is failing. The proposed legislation, he said, redresses this by granting the SBE authorization to outline charter school standards, and, if necessary, to withhold a portion of a charter school’s funding.
The full legislation, which includes additional proposals for non-charter public schools, can be viewed here.
Cheri Shannon, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA), said she didn't see any problem with the proposed legislation, and that it seemed it would only increase standards for charter schools.
“I’m OK with it,” she said. “I believe the state board should be active and take whatever statutory action that they need to take for failing traditional schools and failing charter schools. The goal is quality.”
The SBE already has the power to override the operations of failing public schools not given independent status. This power would be extended to charter schools should the legislation be approved, with the goal of improving schools that are “failing academically” or becoming “financially insolvent.” Although Van Zandt said he believes intervention by the SBE is not an option of first choice, he said it is necessary to help guarantee efficacy in the improvement of charter school operations.
So far, five charter schools in Missouri have been closed down because of academic, financial, or operation issues, Shannon said. This spring, two more in Saint Louis will close, as well, bringing the total to seven charter school closings during the past decade.
According to Van Zandt, the inspiration for allowing the SBE the ability to close failing charter schools stems from a U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) report released in 2007, titled “Supporting Charter School Excellence Through Quality Authorizing.”
The report is a comprehensive study of what were considered to be the best examples of high-quality charter school authorizers from across the United States, including those in California, Minnesota, New York, and Massachusetts. Van Zandt said that DESE hopes to reproduce the success of those charter school authorizers in Missouri. The USDOE report is available here.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers has given its support to the proposal, as have multiple in-state charter sponsors, Van Zandt said.
As outlined in the proposal, state and local funding may be withheld from charter school sponsors that fail to spend at least 90 percent of their sponsorship funds on sponsorship programs or as a direct investment in schools, that neglect to adhere to best practices in the hiring process, or that are lax in contract oversight, performance evaluations, and the monitoring of compliance.
Such withholding of funds will not take place in the case of sponsorship by a school board or by the SBE itself.
According to the proposal, potential opponents of the legislation's implementation may include charter school operators themselves, because of the way in which the bill seeks to modify deadlines for evidence of school performance.