Missouri House votes to expand charter schools

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | 5:24 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House of Representatives passed legislation expanding charter schools while putting provisions in place to make them more accountable to the state.

The sponsor, Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, said her bill would give superintendents the ability to be innovative and try something different. Jones' bill expands charter schools to any unaccredited school district as well as districts that have been provisionally accredited for a minimum of three years. Currently, Missouri has two unaccredited school districts, St. Louis City and Riverview Gardens and nine provisionally accredited districts across the state.

"This would help a district regain accreditation," Jones said.

Right now, charter schools can only be in St. Louis City or Kansas City school districts, and students are held to the same testing standards as traditional public school students around the state. Students must take the Missouri Assessment Program test and end-of-course exams. There are almost 20,000 Missouri students attending charter schools.

Opponents argued that although they support the additional accountability measures in the bill, such as the state's power to close a failing charter school, they do not want to expand the system to include not-for-profit sponsors. Currently, charter schools can only be sponsored by a public university in Missouri and can only be closed by the school's sponsor.

"If you are concerned that this bill is the privatization of our public schools, then I urge you to vote no," said Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield.

Jones said her bill deals with the problem of inadequate sponsors by giving the state the ability to review sponsorships and close schools if necessary.

Opponents also said the current charter schools perform below average for the state.

"There is no true, proven track record to say that charters are doing better than public schools," said Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall.

Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, disagreed and said the state needs to act now to help students.

"I don't think we can wait another two or three years to have these children go through the system," Stream said.

Supporters also said the bill represents a bipartisan effort to change Missouri's education system.

"It takes the politics out of the issue that should be all about children," said Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka.

Despite claims of bipartisanship, the vote was close, 86-70, and most Democrats opposed the measure. The bill now heads to Senate where a similar bill that expands charter schools has been stalled for weeks.

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