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Missouri General Assembly approves bill funding public charter schools with state money

This Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
This Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City, Missouri.

A previous version of the legislation would have taken money away from public school districts to make up for a disparity in funding for public charter schools. Now, the state would handle that responsibility.

Missouri’s public charter schools would be paid the same amount of money per student as their surrounding public schools after the state legislature passed a bill Thursday that addresses that disparity.

The House voted 116-29 to pass the legislation, which went through significant changes on the Senate side before the House voted to adopt and pass that version. The bill now goes to Gov. Mike Parson.

Under the original House version that members voted to advance in March, the Kansas City and St. Louis public school districts would have seen a decrease of millions in funding in order to make up for a formula disparity where charter schools are currently paid less per student.

That was met with strong criticism in part because charter schools don’t have other expenses that public schools must cover, such as transportation.

According to the fiscal note attached to the original House bill, the Kansas City district would have lost more than $8 million to public charter schools, while the St. Louis district would have seen around $18 million transferred away.

Currently, public charter schools only exist in Kansas City and St. Louis.

However, once the bill got to the Senate, it received a makeover. Instead of schools making up that difference, the state would fund it.

“So the way that our local public district schools are funded will be similarly seen for those public charters operating in Kansas and St. Louis,” Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, said.

Senators from both parties praised the compromise, saying instead of pitting schools against each other, they made the funding source larger. Under the new bill, the fix in the formula is expected to cost the state $62.2 million to $74.9 million in general revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, according to its fiscal summary.

The Senate substitute also received much more support from House Democrats on Thursday, with a majority of them voting for it.

“As a teacher in charter schools, as a teacher in traditional public schools, as a mom to three kiddos in our public school, I think this is a good piece of legislation for all kids in our state,” Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said.

However, Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said while she appreciated the further work on this bill, there was not enough input from lawmakers. She challenged the idea she would simply vote for a bill because it has greater support among Democrats.

“Coming to me the day before a bill is supposed to be heard and telling me that some Democrat somewhere had something to do with this and that they support it means absolutely nothing to me,” Proudie said.

In addition to addressing the funding discrepancy, the bill establishes multiple criteria for public charter schools. Some of those are: making any management company that operates such schools be a nonprofit, requiring school board members to reside in Missouri and ordering charter public schools to publish their annual performance report on its website.

Virtual schooling

Another section added to the bill by the Senate addresses virtual schooling.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, said the language includes creating an attendance center for virtual schools in the state, where accountability data will be reported.

It also requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a policy directing schools to have a timely process on participating in the virtual school system if parents decide to enroll their children.

Christofanelli said that part of the bill was a “long series of compromises.”

“This is not the bill that I wrote when I started. We've come a really long way from there. But ultimately, I think it's going to provide more educational choice and opportunity for Missouri school students,” Christofanelli said.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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