Remember This: The Charter School Destruction Playbook
Imagine you wanted to open a new restaurant, but in order to do so, every restaurant in a five-mile radius had to vote to allow you to do so. Not only that; imagine if you had to pre-emptively prove that your opening would not harm the bottom line of any of those other restaurants. Now imagine if you were already open and the law changed to require you to now answer to all the other restaurants in the area, even though you have been successfully operating for more than a decade.
That is what was proposed in Senate Bill 315 this year. Luckily, it did not make much progress, but it exists as an important historical artifact that school choice supporters should remember, as its various planks are sure to emerge in the future.
Under the bill, charter schools, which can now be authorized by universities and the Missouri Public Charter School Commission, would only be authorized by local public school districts. In order to operate, charter schools would have to prove not only that they would meet the needs of their students (which they must do now) but that they “meet those needs in a manner that improves the local public school system.” What’s more, all existing charter school contracts would transfer to local school boards once they expire, so not only new charter schools but all existing charter schools would come under local district control.
The whole point of charter schools is to offer students a public education separated from the local school district’s oversight. If folks wanted to send their kids to a district school, they would send their kids to a district school. This bill would be the death knell for alternative forms of public education and a slap in the face to the more than 25,000 children and their families who have chosen charter schools.
Public school districts struggle enough to manage their own schools. Why on earth do we think they could take over the management of Missouri’s 66 charter schools? If the Kansas City and St. Louis districts were knocking it out of the park, you could understand the argument for giving them more influence over charter schools. They are not knocking it out of the park. How about we encourage them to get their houses in order before taking over any other schools?
The key to understanding this bill is following the money. Let’s look at the bill description text: “Charter schools may be authorized or expanded only after a district has assessed the impact of the proposed charter school on local public school resources, programs and services, and other elements set forth in the act.” As Hamlet said, there’s the rub. This bill is not about what is best for kids; it is about preventing per-pupil funding from following them to the schools that actually educate them. It is about protecting school district coffers.
Rather than work to provide a better education for students, districts are trying to snuff out their competition. It is shameful and wrong.
They didn’t succeed this year, but supporters of charter schools must remain vigilant because their opponents have shown their intent.