Reimagining Education

Charter School Expansion May Be Propelled by Race to the Top

Fresh on the minds of Missouri education reformers is an effort to expand charter public schools in Missouri. The original legislation passed to allow charter schools in Missouri limited them to opening, and accepting students, only in the St. Louis and Kansas City public school districts. There is a new movement to lift the geographic caps on charter public schools, fueled in part by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program. Secretary Duncan has specifically said that caps on charter schools, whether numerical or artificial, will significantly harm a state’s chance at receiving these grants.

Adding additional pressure to give parents more options is the merging of the unaccredited Wellston and provisionally accredited Normandy school districts in St. Louis County. Riverview Gardens is also unaccredited and located in St. Louis County, and there are seven other provisionally accredited districts in the state. To say families in these districts need options besides their failing district schools is an understatement. There are also interesting concepts for charter schools coming from private schools that would like to charter so that parents of all income levels could have a chance to attend. One private French language immersion school in Columbia testified last legislative session for expansion so that they could change to a charter school.

One less discussed reason for allowing charter schools statewide is to reduce the number of consolidations in rural areas of the state. If a rural district is losing enrollment and considering consolidation, they would have the option to charter instead of families in the area losing a school close to home. That would also stem job losses of teachers in the proposed consolidated districts.

Regardless of the motivation, charter school expansion should be a top education priority for reformers in 2010. It will give parents and students more options in more areas of the state for their child to receive a quality education. The presence of charter public schools can also lead to better results from zone district schools as a result of competition or collaboration. The Children’s Education Alliance will continue to monitor charter school expansion in 2010 and continue to educate Missourians on how the expansion of quality charter public schools will give more options to families across Missouri.

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