Kid walking to school
Susan Pendergrass

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board wrote a fearmongering editorial about charter schools becoming a potential option for suburban parents. Much of the information was misleading and some of it was just plain wrong. So I decided to write an alternate version, with all the facts.

Charter schools could be coming soon to a suburb near you, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Before the Missouri Legislature expands the charter school experiment beyond urban districts in St. Louis and Kansas City, lawmakers must consider the risk it would pose to some of the strongest public school districts in the state.

Charter schools could be coming soon to a suburb near you, and that’s a great thing. As the Missouri Legislature considers making it easier to expand the charter school experiment beyond urban districts in St. Louis and Kansas City, lawmakers should think about the risk that sticking with the status quo poses to parents in public school districts across the state.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Roeber, R-Lee’s Summit, would allow charter schools to expand into St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County and cities like Columbia, Jefferson City, Springfield and Joplin.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Roeber, R-Lee’s Summit, would make it easier for charter schools to expand into St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County and cities like Columbia, Jefferson City, Springfield and Joplin by allowing groups other than the local school board to sponsor them.

Proponents have long insisted that the greater choice offered by publicly funded but privately run charter schools improves students’ education options. But charter school performance data over the past 20 years hasn’t yielded consistently positive results.

Proponents point out that the greater choice offered by publicly funded but independently run charter schools improves students’ education options. And charter school performance over the past 20 years has yielded consistently positive results both for the students who attend them and for the school districts in which they operate.

Like it or not, the flight of middle-class families to the suburbs has contributed to higher performance rates for suburban public schools. It’s far from clear whether the demand exists for new education alternatives outside urban areas.

Like it or not, the flight of middle-class families to the suburbs has contributed to higher performance rates for some students in some suburban public schools and lower performance rates for others. Regardless, it’s clear that the demand exists for new education alternatives in all types of school districts.

Roeber’s bill wouldn’t add additional funding to public education nor adequately address the lack of accountability that has been among the biggest complaints about urban charter schools. Charter schools that fail to meet the same educational standards as the local public school district can still be renewed for three years under her proposal.

Roeber’s bill wouldn’t add additional funding to public education. It would simply shift control over a student’s education funding to a public charter school, if their parent so chooses. If there is no demand for charter school in a district, there won’t be one. Charter schools that fail to meet the same educational standards as the local public school district can still be renewed for three years under her proposal, if the school has the support of the local community.

Some high-profile disasters have resulted from lack of oversight and accountability for charter schools. In 2012, Missouri shut down six Imagine charter schools in St. Louis. Students consistently performed worse on state tests than those attending St. Louis Public Schools while Virginia-based Imagine reaped huge profits from a real estate business

Some high-profile disasters have resulted from charter schools opening that shouldn’t have. In 2012, Missouri shut down six Imagine charter schools in St. Louis. And they should have been shut down because students consistently performed worse on state tests than those attending St. Louis Public Schools, while Virginia-based Imagine reaped huge profits from a real estate business. Unlike some local school districts with dismally low test scores, these schools are no longer serving students.

Last month, an investigation by Kansas City’s WDAF-TV found that then-Attorney General Josh Hawley secretly settled a lawsuit with a charter school the state accused of stealing nearly $4 million in taxpayer money.

Last month, an investigation by Kansas City’s WDAF-TV found that then-Attorney General Josh Hawley secretly settled a lawsuit with a charter school the state accused of stealing nearly $4 million in taxpayer money. Of course charter schools don’t have a lock on financial fraud, but when it’s discovered they’re closed.

About half of the 30-plus charter schools that have opened in St. Louis since 2000 have been shut down for academic or financial failure. That’s hardly a success model worth emulating.

About half of the 72 existing charter schools in Missouri performed higher than their district’s average on standardized tests in both reading and math. While some have been shut down for academic or financial failure, others have achieved a success that’s worth emulating.

Nationally, the picture looks even worse. The federal government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never opened or opened and then closed because of mismanagement or other reasons, according to the Network for Public Education advocacy group.

Nationally, the picture looks even better. Over 7,000 charter schools are now serving nearly 3.2 million public school students in all types of districts. The federal government has helped most of these schools open through a grant program that charter school founders can tap for planning and implementation. While some of these schools did not ultimately open, and others have since been closed, research has shown that the time and money spent on planning is well worth it. We now know that charter schools that start strong, stay strong, and those that start weak don’t make it.

Parents in the districts targeted by Roeber’s proposal owe it to their children to scrutinize charter schools’ performance record and the ways they can weaken their traditional public school systems.

Parents in the districts identified in Roeber’s proposal owe it to their children to demand access to charter schools so that they can find a school that fits the unique needs of their child.

For decades, lawmakers touted charter schools as a way to help students trapped in chronically low-performing districts. But a conservative political movement is afoot to weaken public school education and divert resources to alternative institutions, including private ones.

For decades, lawmakers touted charter schools as a way to help students trapped in chronically low-performing districts because they work. But a political movement is afoot to return to the public education monopoly of the last century (or protect it where it still exists). The charter school sector has created thousands of unique and innovative alternatives and parents want them for their own communities.

The performance record of charter schools is far too spotty to merit expansion beyond urban settings. Roeber’s bill proposes a potentially bad fix for something that might not even be broken.

The demand for charter schools and the long-term impact they make possible merit expansion beyond urban settings. Roeber’s bill proposes letting parents, teachers and communities across the state decide if charter schools are right for them.

 

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.