For Charter Schools, SLPS Is Marie Antoinette
In Missouri, charter schools do not get money for facilities or transportation. A recent study by researchers from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas found that, on average, charter schools in Missouri receive $4,682 less per pupil than their district counterparts. Yet, when charter schools seek access to district facilities, they are often told to go eat cake. That is, they are often given unreasonable prices for vacant school buildings.
Recently, Missouri lawmakers have sought to improve charter school access to school buildings by inserting a provision into a bill that would require school districts to convey unused school buildings to charter schools for a fair-market-value price. This suggestion was immediately scoffed at by the districts, who said they already sell buildings to charter schools.
Today, there are 26 different charter schools in Saint Louis (although some may share a building). Yet, only a few have purchased a building from SLPS. Gateway Science Academies, for example, purchased the Gardenville school. Of course, Gateway had to counter three times and ended up paying asking price, but SLPS did sell the building.
According to records obtained by a Show-Me Institute summer intern, SLPS has 35 empty school buildings, 22 of which are listed for sale. (Look for more on empty school buildings in an upcoming Show-Me Institute essay.)
It is true that in recent years St. Louis Public School officials have eased their opposition to selling school buildings to charter schools. Of course, they had an official policy that forbade the sale of properties to charter schools.
It is clear that charter schools are here to stay. The charter sector has been growing since its inception, and now 29 percent of all public school students in Saint Louis attend charter schools. Allowing public school buildings to remain vacant by making it onerous for charter schools to obtain facilities, while not giving them facilities funding, is simply bad for taxpayers.
So why should public school districts be required to sell, at a reasonable price, public school buildings to public charter schools? Because the taxpayers own the buildings.