Government & Politics

Missouri and Kansas charter school laws rank low compared with other states

The Ewing Marion Kauffman School is one of Kansas City’s top- performing charter schools.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman School is one of Kansas City’s top- performing charter schools. .

As Missouri lawmakers debate legislation that could expand the existence of charter schools across the state, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released rankings on the strength of charter school laws.

Missouri ranked 32nd among 44 states with charter schools, and garnered 130 points out of a possible 240. The alliance measured each state against the national model for charter school law. It considered 21 criteria including funding, transparency, provisions for special education and whether the state law allows for full-time virtual charter public school provisions.

Kansas charter school law ranked 43rd. In its analysis of the Kansas law, enacted in 1994, the alliance said, “Kansas’ law needs improvement across the board.” Kansas has only 10 charters and 3,800 students enrolled. Kansas lets only local school districts sponsor charters.

In Missouri, the state charter school commission, higher education providers, education foundations and districts have authority to sponsor a charter. Missouri, which allowed its first charters in 1998, now has 23,000 students enrolled in 61 charter schools.

In the eight years the alliance has ranked state charter school laws, Kansas has landed near the bottom. Missouri has consistently landed in the bottom third, said Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Public Charter School Association.

Where Missouri lands in the ranking, Thaman said, is “largely because of the geographic cap,” which limits where in the state charters can open. Current law limits charters to the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts and in any district that is unaccredited, provisionally accredited or where a school district is sponsoring the charter.

Proposed law would allow charters to exist in any large county in the state including St. Louis and Jackson counties.

“That would take away language that implies charter schools are just punishment for poor performing districts,” Thaman said.

The proposed new charter school law has passed the Missouri House and is awaiting Senate consideration.

Thaman said that while the alliance ranking deals purely with charter school law and in no way considers performance by students, teachers or administrators, it provides a good guide “for us to know how our state compares to other state law.”

He said he believes that the proposed law if passed “can be instrumental in helping to increase our ranking.”

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc