Empty classroom
Susan Pendergrass

Parents in Missouri who want to choose a high-quality school for their children, regardless of where they live, were dealt yet another potential setback last week. The Chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee introduced House bill 2531, which proposes a 17-member Charter School Task Force to study charter schools, with a December 31, 2019 deadline to present their findings. This bill, if passed, will result in over a dozen professionals—all but two of whom have no connection to Missouri charter schools—taking nearly two years and spending time and resources, to write a paper that doesn’t need to be written. Charter schools have been around for nearly 30 years and enroll over 3 million students. They are not exotic new things that must be studied for the next 22 months.

Researching the issues described in the bill isn’t a job for a “task force.” It’s a job for Google:

  1. What is the mission of charter schools? Actually, there was originally more than one.
  2. How are charter schools funded? Here is a detailed state-by-state breakdown of charter school funding compiled by the Education Commission of the States.
  3. What is the “overall functioning” of charter schools? I’m not clear what this means, but charter schools function like all public schools, except they use time, talent, and technology in more innovative ways.
  4. What is the academic performance record and what are the accountability standards for charter schools? Here is some information on charter school academic performance, including charter school students in St. Louis and Kansas City. And charter schools are held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools, except that they are also accountable to their sponsor and to their parents.
  5. What are the demographics of students attending charter schools? Here they are, including the enrollment and retainment of students with disabilities and students who are English language learners.
  6. What are the governance, management responsibility, oversight responsibility, and sponsorship for charter schools? Fortunately, there is an outstanding organization, the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), that can provide volumes of information on each of these topics.
  7. What fiscal responsibility do charter schools have? The National Conference of State Legislatures has already done substantial work on this.  

Twenty years ago, charter schools were new and untested, but since then, they have been studied exhaustively. Now it’s time to give more parents in Missouri a chance to choose them. In fact, in a 2014 survey, one in six Missouri parents indicated that a charter school would be their first choice for their children if they had access to one. Do those families and students really need to wait another two years for this latest delaying tactic to run its course?

A cynical person might think this is no more than an effort to avoid political responsibility. If the Chairman is determined to deny parents the ability to choose a charter school—which this bill is clearly designed to do—time and resources could be saved by simply stating that position. A lengthy study of things we already know won’t provide anything except political cover for those whose hostility toward charter schools wouldn’t yield to evidence anyway. Parents and students in Missouri should at least be respected enough to be told the truth.

About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.