School choice and charter school expansion are hot button issues across the United States, and Missouri is no exception. This has already been proven to be an active 2021 Missouri Legislative session, and there are several controversial bills that have been filed. Some are working their way through the halls of our Capitol quickly. Here are three education-focused bills that relate directly to school choice and charter schools in the Show-Me State:
SB 55 – O’Laughlin – Moves enrollment and public funds away from local public school districts and to virtual schools. Full-time equivalent students shall not be included in the student enrollment of the school district in which such student resides. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shall pay any Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program an amount equal to the average daily attendance for the student’s district of residence.
Editor’s Note: SB 55 appears to be moving full steam ahead. It’s slated for the Informal Calendar for Perfection 1/27/2021.
SB 315 – Hough – Modifies several provisions relating to charter schools. Defines a charter school as a semi-autonomous public school that may be operated in any school district, sponsored only by the school board of the district or by a special administrative board for the district. Repeals the current law that permits the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to withhold a sponsor’s funding if such sponsor is found to be in material noncompliance with its sponsorship duties.
Waters Down Accountability Even Further
This act repeals the provisions requiring the Department to calculate an annual performance report for each charter school, and requiring the Joint Committee on Education to create a committee to investigate facility access and affordability of charter schools. (Section 160.405).
Repeals provisions setting forth exceptions to the admissions process set forth in current law, as well as provisions requiring charter school students who have been enrolled for a full academic year to be counted in the performance of the charter school on statewide assessments.
Takes Away Financial Transparency
Further repeals the provision requiring a charter school to make available a copy of the written copy of any contract between a charter school and an educational management company. (Section 160.410). Provisions allowing the Department to obtain information regarding the financial condition of a charter school, and outlining the determination for whether a charter school shall be identified as experiencing financial stress are repealed under this act.
Editor’s Note: No action since 1/6/2021, when it was first read.
HB137 – Richey – Charter School Funding Bill HB137 – Requires school districts to pay for each pupil attending a charter school in that district based on the formula established in the bill which includes all state aid and local aid received by the school district divided by the total weighted average daily attendance of the school district and all charter schools within the school district.
Editor’s Note: Public Hearing completed on 1/26/2021. Appears to be moving forward quickly.
The Argument for School Choice and Charter School Expansion
Proponents of school choice, vouchers, and charter school expansion argue that parents need options for where to send their children to school. They say parents should have the right to choose a school that they feel will best support their students’ learning. The problem with that argument, as OneMissouri has written about previously, is that parents have had those options available to them for many years.
What’s Really Behind These Legislative Efforts
The argument about giving parents choices is simply smoke and mirrors. These legislative efforts are about money. If passed, each of these bills and those related to them will take money from our local public school districts. Instead, this money will go to private, parochial, charter, and virtual schools. Those schools don’t have to meet the same level of accountability as public schools. They have more freedom to operate. They can even hire teachers who may not be certified in the grade level or subject they’ve been assigned to teach.
Continuing to reduce public schools’ funding while maintaining the same regulations and accountability is not sustainable. Proponents of efforts such as school choice, vouchers, and charter schools know it. We think the ultimate goal is privatization.
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