UPDATE: Missouri Senate supports charter school expansion bill

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | 5:40 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate endorsed legislation Wednesday that could allow charter schools to be formed outside of Kansas City and St. Louis.

In a voice vote Wednesday, the Senate backed a measure that would allow charter schools to be set up in districts that have been declared unaccredited. It would also allow charter schools in some districts that would have been provisionally accredited for three straight years, starting with the next school year.

The legislation must still be approved once more before it goes to the House.

Kansas City and St. Louis are the only districts allowed to have charter schools under current Missouri law.

Sponsoring Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said charter schools are needed in other parts of the state where students are not receiving an adequate education.

"We've got companies that are starving to death because students are not coming out of school knowing how to contribute to society," said Stouffer, who is running for secretary of state in November. "We have to change the status quo or we're not going to move forward."

The measure would allow charter schools to exist in districts that are accredited without provisions as long as the charter school is sponsored by the local school board.

In those situations, a district with more than 1,550 students would not be allowed to enroll more than 35 percent of its students in its charter schools.

Charter schools could also operate in provisionally accredited school districts that have had that status — and consistently poor test scores — for three straight years, starting with the next school year.

The measure would also allow a student to finish a school year at a charter school even if the student moves out of the charter school's district or is moved outside of the district when boundary lines are redrawn.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who spoke at length against the legislation, said those provisions amounted to "educational larceny."

"That's local dollars going to a student that does not live in the district," said Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County. "If they're not part of the local tax base, they shouldn't be there."

Stouffer said he wanted to avoid disrupting a student's learning by moving a student to another school immediately after he or she moved outside district lines.

Chappelle-Nadal said that instead of allowing more charter schools in the state, the legislature should increase funding for public schools.

But Stouffer said the funding has been increased significantly over the past 30 years, with little improvement in some parts of the state.

"Money is not the problem. The way we're spending the money is the problem," he said. "This isn't a full solution. It's a step forward. It's just one little tool in the toolbox."

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