And Then There Was One
Of the 45 states with charter schools, Missouri is now the only one that doesn’t have suburban, small town, or rural charters. Nationally, over one million students attend suburban charter schools and over 500,000 attend charter schools in small towns and rural areas. In most states, charter schools have become part of the public school fabric, rather than a punishment or intervention for poor performance, as it is for the three urban districts in Missouri that have them. For example, Wisconsin has 90 urban charter schools, 41 suburban charters, and 105 in small towns or rural areas. Similarly, Arkansas has 47 urban, 11 suburban, and 35 small town and rural charters.
Missouri continues to be a holdout on bringing school choice to its 850,000 students. Families have a very limited ability to choose a public school in another district—it usually means having to pay tuition, and suburban and rural charter schools continue to be blocked. Missouri law allows charter schools in any district, but if the district is fully accredited then it must be sponsored by the district school board. This should not be a big deal. Over half of all charter schools nationally are sponsored by district school boards.
It’s surprising that there isn’t a suburban district in Missouri (I’m looking at you, Columbia) with a visionary school board that sees the benefit of bringing in a high-performing charter school to make the district more attractive. No school board has taken advantage of the national Charter School Program that provides planning and implementation seed money to those who want to open a charter school. Most districts in Missouri are experiencing declining enrollment. And yet no district has converted an existing shrinking school to a charter school in order to bring in enrollment from neighboring districts.
Missouri is the Show Me state, and dozens of other states have shown us what works. Why aren’t we doing anything about it?