School choice advocates in Missouri have always pushed charter schools as a way for families to escape failing educational systems.
But a bill moving through the General Assembly would permit charter schools to start up in most of Jackson County, potentially harming districts that already achieve impressive results.
This wrongheaded idea should never have gotten as far as it has. House Bill 42 deserves a “no” vote from every legislator in the Jackson County delegation.
The charter school idea is part of the legislature’s annual attempt to correct serious flaws in a state law that enables students in unaccredited districts to transfer to better-performing districts. Lawmakers have failed to make progress because of insistence from conservatives that any significant education bill include a school choice component.
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The charter school provision reportedly made its way into House Bill 42 at the insistence of Sen. Ed Emery, a Republican from Lamar, Mo., who has lamented that most students are educated in “government-supplied buildings” with “government-paid teachers.”
Charter schools are operated by independent boards, with per-pupil funding from the state. Missouri law authorizes them in the Kansas City Public Schools and St. Louis School District.
House Bill 42 would expand that to include districts in Jackson County and St. Louis County, except for the Center, Oak Grove and Lone Jack school districts in Jackson County.
The three exceptions were achieved by Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman of Kansas City, a parent in the Center School District.
Holsman, whose wife teaches at a Center school, said he tried to exempt all of Jackson County from the bill but was unable to budge Emery and other lawmakers.
Interestingly, none of the school districts Emery represents in Cass and four other counties would be affected. Most are too small to compete with charter schools, he said.
Holsman said that left him an opening to exempt the three Jackson County districts with enrollments of less than 3,000 students.
Still, a charter school could prove disruptive to a district like Grandview, which serves about 4,200 mostly low-income students and excels in achievement tests and other benchmarks. A charter school could potentially mean lost funds and a brain drain if families were enticed by a new option.
At the same time, House Bill 42 doesn’t do enough to resolve problems with the state’s transfer law, which currently affects two unaccredited school districts in the St. Louis area.
This bill shows less potential to help failing districts than it does to harm successful ones. It speaks keenly to the ability of certain ideological agendas to stand in the way of the greater good.