Reimagining Education

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Imagine Academies Have Overstayed Their Welcome

Kate Casas, State Director, Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri

About a month ago the failure of Imagine Academies, a network of public charter schools in Saint Louis, was revealed in a very public way. It began with Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay telling KMOV that Imagine Academies had failed thousands of St. Louis children, and that it was time for Imagine to close and send the children elsewhere.   That was followed by a series of articles and stories in other St. Louis media and an opinion piece by Doug Thamen of the Missouri Public Charter School Association. All of these stories had the same message—stopped failing our children. Close Imagine Academies and send the students to higher performing schools.

The calls for Imagine’s closure reached a fever pitch last week when Elisa Crouch of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch ran a series of scathing articles about the network of schools. The articles revealed Imagine’s involvement in shady real estate deals, kickbacks, and other financial mismanagement that has resulted in a lack of basic resources like text books and toilet paper for students at Imagines’ Schools. (To read the Post-Dispatch series of articles, see the links below)

Perhaps even worse than the financial situation the adults running Imagine have created, is the fact that Imagine knowingly and purposely misleads parents about the type and quality of education their children will receive when enrolled at their schools. The Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri believes that a parent’s right to choose a school for their child is critical to the child’s academic success. At the same time, we know for parent choice to be successful there needs to be a high level of accountability and transparency coupled with proper oversight. This will help ensure parents are getting all the information they need to make the best decision for the children—this is not happening in Imagines’ schools.

It seems nearly impossible to find the silver lining in a story that begins with thousands of children being denied a quality education. However, I think education reformers should feel heartened that ardent charter school supporters like Mayor Slay, and Mr. Thamen are demanding that (for lack of a better term) one of their own be held accountable. They are putting children, not politics or ideology, first.

The Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri agrees with Mayor Slay, Thamen, and all the others who are calling for the closing of all the Imagine schools in Saint Louis. When, they do close, there will be more than 3000 St. Louis children who find themselves with no school and, according to recent test scores, very far behind academically. There are several great options for children in Imagine. There are some high performing charter schools, a vast network of outstanding parochial schools, and a small handful traditional public schools that would be capable of taking more children and catching them up academically.

Even with all the options mentioned above, I’m fearful this will not be enough high quality seats to meet the need of all Imagine’s 3000+ students. For that reason CEAM is once again calling on traditional school superintendents, schools boards, and district officials to abide by the Revised Missouri Statute 161.137 that says children living in a failing district have the right to transfer to an accredited district in the same or adjoining county. If this were to happen immediately, children at Imagine would have a menu of options that would meet each child’s individual needs, which, after-all, is what we all want, right?

Related Articles:
Imagine Schools’ Real Estate Deals Fuel Company’s Growth
Charter Schools’ Rent
Imagine School’s Real Estate Deals
Imagine Opens School in Just 21 Days
Imagine Schools Executive Named in Contractor’s Bank Statements
Imagine Schools Places Top Executive on Leave
Children Deserve Better than Real Estate Scams Disguised as Education
A Pattern of Inattention
Parents Slow to Give Up on Struggling Imagine Schools

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