Why are the citizens of the Show Me State required to live in Kansas City or St. Louis in order to have access to charter schools? According to the Missouri Education Reform Plan (created by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) by the year 2020, the state’s public education system will rank in the top 10 nationally and internationally. That is the goal. The Show Me State cannot reach that lofty height if children in underperforming districts are left to languish without other options.
Contrary to prevailing thought, low performing districts aren’t limited to the inner city cores of Kansas City and St. Louis. School districts with one or more failing schools exist across the state: in Columbia, Independence, Jefferson City, Cape Girardeau, Ferguson Florissant, Springfield and Sikeston to name a few. Students in these districts who attend feeder elementary schools with only one high school are without choice when that high school underperforms. It’s the only high school in town.
The GOP-controlled state Legislature has an opportunity this session to widen school choice for Missouri’s children through the passage of House Bill 634, which would allow charter schools to operate: “in any school district in which at least one school building has received a score of sixty percent or less on its annual performance report for two of the three most recent annual performance reports available as of the date on which a charter school applies to open.”
This opens up the possibility of charter school options in an additional 26 school districts in the state by changing lifting restrictions that currently block them from opening outside the two big metropolitan areas. Presently, state accreditation standards do not require every school building within a district to meet the minimum standard of scoring about 70 percent on the Annual Performance Review. As a whole, a district must meet that benchmark, leaving students in buildings that are scoring well below that stuck.
Enter HB 634, which doesn’t go as far as many would like in offering choice to students and families. However, it is a good start. Instead of fighting over the addition of more robust choice measures, we should take this move, easing reluctant rural legislators into an appreciation of the benefits of choice. Rural superintendents rabidly oppose any educational options within their districts, yet they continue to offer a substandard education to their students in some buildings. This cannot be permitted to continue.
Dropout and post-graduation statistics paint a grim picture: Last year almost 10,000 students dropped out of high school in our state. About 38 percent of the kids who graduate and go on to college require remedial non-credit bearing courses, which add a lot more expense to an already costly endeavor. Four out of five of our graduates do not finish college by their early twenties, and in the demographic group of Missouri’s adults aged 18-24, only 35 percent are enrolled in college.
Robbyn Wahby, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, testified before the Missouri House of Representatives’ Elementary and Secondary Education Committee: “Missouri is ready to expand choice and innovation outside of the two urbans. First, we have good people in education, in our communities and in the charter school sector wanting to create, innovate and replicate great work. Second, this body established the Missouri Charter Public School Commission in anticipation of this charter school expansion.” I agree. We have fantastic, dedicated educators in Missouri.
Another bright spot is news out of Jefferson City that the education funding formula is fully funded in the budget passed by the House. There is some worry that fully funding education by passing House Bills 1 through 13 will incentivize a spending boom on early childhood education. I have mixed feelings on that score. If our K-12 education system is in dire need of interventional measures, early childhood education should remain in the private sector. Let’s get these bills passed into law and expand options for Missouri’s children.