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Frequently Asked Questions: Charter School Expansion (HB 634)

The Missouri House of Representative is currently considering a HB 634 which would expand unaccountable, privately run charter schools to open in any school district in the state, regardless of whether or not another school is needed in your local community. 

Below we have provided a number of answers to questions that are being asked about charter schools. Those interested in stopping HB 634 should their local state representative and urge him/her to oppose the bill. You can look up your local legislators by entering your address here.

What are charter schools? Aren’t charter schools considered public schools?
Charter schools are classified as public schools and funded by Missouri tax payers. However, they operate more like private schools. They are governed by an unelected, non-profit board so local communities and school districts have no power to oversee them.

How are charter schools funded?
Charter schools receive the equivalent of all federal, state, and local dollars that a school district would receive for every student that is enrolled. This is accomplished by withholding the total amount per student from the local school district in which the charter school is operating.

How do charter schools “take” money from local public schools?
Even if a number of students leave from different classrooms across a school district to attend a charter school, the cost of operating a community’s entire school district is essentially unchanged. School districts are left with less money to cover the same operating expenses, such as maintenance, utilities and transportation costs. To put it another way, if one student leaves a classroom to attend a charter school, the district doesn’t save money because it can’t lay off 1/25th of a teacher.

Aren’t more options a good thing?
Local communities do not have a say in whether a charter school can open in their school district, therefore, taxpayers are not allowed to determine if the school is even needed in the community. As more charter schools open, costs increase across the community in the form of staff, utility bills, insurance premiums, and other operating costs. This is money that is best spent in classrooms and services for students.

Who oversees charter schools?
Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are not regulated by the State Board of Education. In fact, the State Board of Education is not allowed to accredit or close failing charter schools. Instead, charter schools are regulated by their sponsoring entity. In Missouri, the entities that sponsor charter schools are typically colleges, universities and the Missouri Charter School Commission.

How have charter schools performed?
While charter schools are not accredited by the state, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does calculate an annual performance report for every charter school in the state. According to 2016 data, of the 39 charter school operating in the state of Missouri, 11 would be deemed provisionally accredited and six would be deemed unaccredited. Four did not receive a score because they are considered too new. In total, less than half (46%) of charter schools are meeting the minimum requirements to be accredited.

What accountability standards apply to charter schools?
Neither local taxpayers, nor the state of Missouri are allowed to institute accountability standards for charter schools. Instead, accountability is determined by the charter school’s sponsor. In some cases, charter schools remain open despite poor academic performance or financial mismanagement. Sponsors can receive up to $125,000 per year for every charter school they govern.

Don’t some charter schools outperform traditional schools?
A select few charter schools do better than traditional public schools, however there are a number of things to consider in those limited instances. Many high performing charter schools accept a large number of students in the early grades, as students leave a charter school for one reason or another, charter schools are allowed to leave those seats open. In many communities where charter schools institute this practice, student mobility is high and this acts as a way for the charter school to avoid the challenges that come along with student mobility.

What happens when a charter school closes?
When a sponsor does decide that a charter school needs to close for academic performance, students will be forced to find other educational opportunities, most likely with the local traditional public school. The local school district is then responsible for bringing students that were enrolled in the charter school back up to grade level which usually requires the district to provide additional support services for the students.

 When charter schools fail, they close. Isn’t that a good thing?
While it is absolutely a good thing for a charter school that is not meeting the academic needs of its students to be closed, the state of Missouri and taxpayers have spent over $620 million on failed charter schools since 1999. When the charter school fails, it ultimately requires additional resources be spent to bring the students that had attended the school back up to grade-level.

What is going on around the country on charter schools?
Many states are attempting to institute reasonable accountability measures on charter schools. Recently, the NAACP adopted a policy to oppose expansion of charter schools until charters were held accountable. Also, the state of Massachusetts is widely hailed as one of the best education systems in the country. In November of 2016, voters of the state were asked if charter schools should be expanded. Voters of that state overwhelmingly rejected the idea with more than 60% of voters opposing the expansion of charter schools.

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