JEFFERSON CITY - Lawmakers in Jefferson City are exploring options for student in poorly performing districts, especially unaccredited ones in St. Louis and Kansas City. An alternative form of public school, called a charter school, has become a buzzword in potential legislation for the current session.
Charter schools are public schools that operate outside a traditional school district, allowing them to set their own curriculum under the supervision of their sponsor while still abiding by state testing standards. These schools have been hailed as a solution to urban public schools with low test scores, however, charter school performance varies just as much as public schools.
The General Assembly is considering a bill that would make the standards regulating these schools more strict and allow them to be established statewide, instead of only in St. Louis and Kansas City.
"It's time that we'd tried some different methods," the bill's sponsor Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said. "What I bring is just a tool, it's just a tool in the toolbox. It's not gonna be for everybody, it's not gonna be a cure-all but I do think it will move us a little bit forward."
The Senate Education Committee did not vote on the bill to expand charter schools, but they didn't attempt to hide their support for it. Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, thanked Father Francis Doyle, a pastor at St. Peter's Church in Jefferson City, for his testimony in support of the bill.
"It's nice to see that real people come and speak in favor," Nieves said. "Because what you're about to see is nothing but lobbyists."
The legislation would change several of the regulations applying to charter schools including tighter accountability standards and allowing charter schools to expand statewide.
Testimony in favor of the bill included teachers and parents who support charter schools in St. Louis and Kansas City. Lobbyists for several education organizations spoke against the bill including the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association, Missouri State Teacher's Association and the Missouri Coalition of School Administrators.
Those testifying in opposition said they were in favor of increased accountability for charter schools but still wanted the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to have the power to close a school. Several witnesses against said they did not believe the accountability protocol was good enough and wanted more focus on quality instead of expansion.