canada africa partner reservation Stop ignoring charter issues. Fix Them.

Stop ignoring charter issues. Fix Them.

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I read with interest the article in your paper, written by Ms. Pendergrass of the Show-Me Institute in St. Louis, entitled “What’s So Scary About a Charter School in Boone?” Unfortunately, Ms. Pendergrass ignored the problems that have plagued Missouri charters for years.

We need to make it clear that charters are not “charter schools” in Missouri. They are “charter districts” with most of the rights, privileges and responsibilities of the local school district. By law, charters are the same as our local school district. This is an important concept.

Every legislative session, charter lobbyists continue to beat the drum for the expansion of charter districts. Instead of focusing on charter expansion, lawmakers should fix the glaring problems associated with the current charter law. Having worked as a charter liaison while at DESE, I see both good and bad things in charter districts. Boone County residents should be concerned about the following CHARTER ISSUES that Ms. Pendergrass did not include in her article:

  • Responsibility– the charter districts are not accountable to Boone County taxpayers during their operations. The school board of these districts is hand-picked by charter officials without any election. Rarely is this exceeded by the locally elected school board. By the way, a common term within the charter community is “autonomy.” When it comes to education policy, I find autonomy abhorrent and would prefer collaboration.
  • Closures– The fact is that since charter districts were introduced in Kansas City and St. Louis, a third of these charter districts have closed. A 66% pass rate should be unacceptable to all Missourians, but especially to our legislators. This success rate does not bode well for expansion purposes. I have seen firsthand the chaos that ensued when charter districts closed. Students, parents and staff were in total disarray. It’s still happening, a charter in St. Louis closed a few weeks before the start of the current school year. Taxpayers in Kansas City and St. Louis, along with taxpayers in Missouri, have wasted more than $750 million invested in charters that have closed over the years.
  • Local control—We have local school boards that are responsible for the education of our students in Boone County. It’s disheartening that the charter community can think it’s appropriate to just march on Boone County and say, we’re going to create charter districts without public approval. I know their answer is school choice. Interestingly enough, we already have school choice in Columbia. CPS has STEM schools, a visual arts school and an integrated collaborative learning school. I encourage the local school board to invest more in expanding magnet options.
  • Loss of income-Mrs. Pendergrass admitted in her article that school districts could lose revenue. It is astonishing that in some cases local and state tax dollars are used to recruit students outside the local school district. Recently, a charter district used taxpayer money to sue the state of Missouri for attempting to close the charter due to poor performance.

In search of a solution, we look to other states and their charter laws. What you discover is that it depends on how charters are designated in each state. In some states, charters are schools and in some states they are districts. Designating a charter as a school could solve the problems we are experiencing in Missouri. With a school designation, charters would be part of the local school district, with some accountability to the locally elected school board, but they could still have their own boards with the ability to run their independent programs – like the magnet schools in CPS. If charter schools were part of the local school district, you would expect fewer closures. Having access to all educational resources (buses, buildings, special education, CORE data, etc.) would make it so much easier to be successful.

The Missouri Legislature could solve the problems associated with charters by designating charters as schools. The question is “shall” Will the legislature continue to ignore the problems with charters or will they try to fix the problems so that charter expansion in Missouri can continue and flourish?

It comes back to the question of ‘autonomy’ versus ‘collaboration’. I vote for “collaboration” for the betterment of OUR STUDENTS. If charter school designation works in other states, it should also work in Missouri and especially in Boone County. Lawmakers have a duty to fix charter problems. They can’t just continue passing legislation to expand charters and ignore the elephant in the room.

Back to Ms. Pendergrass: Boone County residents remain fearful (concerned, actually) about charter schools in our county. We appreciate your commitment and willingness to help resolve the issues identified regarding charter districts before they are implemented in Boone County.

Curt Fuchs Ph.D. is a retired CPS teacher with 43 years of public school and taxpayer experience in Boone County.