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Missouri charter schools could expand under proposed bill

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | 3:50 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Traditional public schools would face more competition under a bill presented to the House Education Committee Wednesday.

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, sponsored the bill, which would allow school districts outside Kansas City and St. Louis City to create charter schools.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded, are governed by an independent school board and are currently sponsored by a Missouri public university. They are held to the same performance and attendance standards as other public schools around the state.

Jones said her bill would allow parents to have other options for their children, particularly in struggling school districts besides Kansas City and St. Louis.

"The bill would give superintendents another tool in their toolbox," Jones said.

The proposed legislation would also establish a state-run commission for charter schools, regulating the school's sponsors. The bill would also increase the criteria of sponsorship to include other institutions such as not-for-profit groups and private universities.

Opponents of the bill said many charter schools are currently underachieving.

"The vision is simply not happening at charter schools right now," said Byron Clemens, a spokesman of American Federation of Teachers Missouri.

Jones said her bill would address the poorly performing charter schools by giving the State Board of Education an option to revoke the school's charter.

Cheri Shannon, the executive director for Missouri Charter Schools, supports the bill and said "underachieving charter schools should and will be closed."

Some lawmakers expressed concern about new school sponsors and the potential for some of them to generate revenue on new charter schools.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said the bill could allow business firms and organizations to turn a profit on education.

"We need to follow the money," Lampe said.

Lampe said she supports alternative school choices but not the charter school expansion bill.

Many parents from St. Louis City came for the hearing wearing yellow scarves in support of school choice and the expansion of charter schools.

"This is a choice issue ... families should have a choice for their children," said Pamela McLucas, a parent whose children have attended charter schools.

The committee also heard testimony on Bryce's Law, a bill introduced by Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-St. Louis County, that would provide a scholarship tax credit to children with special needs and autism disorders.

Scharnhorst said his bill would allow designated children to attend a specialized school on the scholarship tax credit. He said his late grandson, Bryce, was someone who would have benefited from his proposed bill.

Opponents cautioned the bill might start a negative trend.

"I have concerns about too many eligible students ... this could open up a can of worms," Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall said.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Committee is expected to vote on these proposals at its next executive session later this week.


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