Expanding the VIP List for Charter School Eligibility
In Missouri, only a select few are eligible for the VIP status of charter school eligibility. The “bouncer” until recently only had two names on his clipboard: St. Louis City Public School District and Kansas City Public Schools. For a charter school to exist, it must have a sponsor. Sponsors must be one of the following: a public four-year university, a community college, a private university, a technical school, a local school board, or the Missouri Charter Public School Commission.
For accredited districts (districts that meet the academic standards set by the state), only the local school board can sponsor a charter school. This has served as a formidable roadblock to charter school formation, as no accredited district has sponsored a charter school. However, if a school district is unaccredited (districts that fail to meet the standards set by the state) for three consecutive years, or has been provisionally accredited for three consecutive years, any of the other entities mentioned in the above paragraph can sponsor a charter school. Recently, the Missouri Charter Public School Commission created a charter school called the Leadership School in the provisionally accredited Normandy Schools Collaborative.
While the Missouri Legislature is most likely not thinking of charter schools in terms of nightclubs, the prospect of charter school expansion is being discussed to make the list less exclusive. Senate Bill (SB) 304 would allow charter schools to be created in any municipality with a population of more than 30,000 or any school district located within a county with a charter form of government. If SB 304 passed, charter schools could be established in:
- All currently eligible districts
- School districts in the following counties: St. Louis, Jackson, St. Charles, Jefferson, and Clay (a sponsor from a state-approved entity would be required)
- School districts in municipalities with more than 30,000 residents, which currently includes: Cape Girardeau, Jefferson City, Joplin, Springfield, and Columbia (a sponsor from a state-approved entity would be required)
SB 304 would be a solid first step to give parents outside of St. Louis and Kansas City more options. Columbia is a good example of a city whose residents could benefit greatly from this bill. In Columbia , English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics scores are below the state average—students in the district currently have 43.8% and 30.8% proficiency rates, respectively. Low-income students are particularly struggling, with rates of 24% and 13.1% in ELA and mathematics—around 7 points below the state average for low-income students. With these scores in mind, maybe a family in Columbia wants a charter school because it is unsatisfied with the instruction in the local district. Perhaps a low-income family could find a charter school that specializes in instruction for low-income students. Charter schools can provide these needed alternative options for Columbia families, and SB 304 would make it possible.
Charter schools of various types (classical, English as a second language, low-income, etc.) have opened in Kansas City and St. Louis. One school, University Academy, has been named a “Blue Ribbon School” (an honor bestowed by the U.S. Department of Education for schools that exemplify excellence). Families across the state want and need more options. Missouri is a diverse state, and families deserve a diverse array of options to cater to their children’s needs and hold education institutions accountable.