Nixon signing expansion of charter schools in Missouri
Charter schools, currently limited to St. Louis and Kansas City, would be able to spread to more areas in Missouri under a bill to be signed Wednesday night by Gov. Jay Nixon.
The bill also increases accountability measures, which Nixon had called for in his State of the State address earlier this year. He told reporters in a conference call Wednesday that he was pleased the General Assembly responded to his call.
"These are tough but necessary measures to require accountability," he said, "both fiscally and academically."
The legislation, one of the few school bills to win passage in this year’s session of the General Assembly, includes several provisions related to charter schools:
- Allows charters to be established in any unaccredited school district in the state and also to operate in districts that have been provisionally accredited for three years or are fully accredited if they are sponsored by the local school board. In districts with more than 1,550 students, only 35 percent of the enrollment could sign up for charters.
- Expands the list of potential charter school sponsors, to include the Special Administrative Board in St. Louis, any two-year private vocational or technical school and a newly created Missouri Charter School Commission.
- Creates the commission, whose nine members would be named by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. They would come from slates recommended by several different people or groups, including the commissioners of education and higher education, the heads of the House and Senate and the Missouri School Boards Association.
- Establishes policies and procedures that govern charter schools, with guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state Board of Education must evaluate sponsors every three years; if they come up short and fail to improve to a satisfactory level, the board could remove their sponsorship authority, with the commission taking over as sponsor.
- Requires annual evaluations of charters to determine which might be under financial stress; those found to be in difficulty must develop a plan to correct the situation.
Asked why lawmakers had been able to pass the charter bill when so many other education measures died, Nixon said he thought the high-profile failure of charters like those run by Imagine in St. Louis had thrown a harsh light on the problem.
"The failure of a charter school impacts a community and our state," he said, "and it is a setback for students and families.
"Ultimately, our best goal is to make sure we are improving the quality of education and the quality of education opportunities and adding a menu of options, while at the same time trying to prevent the problems we have seen with Imagine and others where hundreds of families were forced to deal with short-term decisions about where their children would go."
He said the oversight provisions of the bill should help prevent such failures in the future, with schools required to provide more detailed information and reviews of that data required more frequently.
Nixon noted that for charters established in districts with full accreditation, retaining local control was a big factor in the bill's passage.
Asked to respond to criticism by some that charter schools bleed tax support from traditional public schools, Nixon responded:
"The dollars involved here are following the kids whether they are at a traditional public school or at a public charter school. I don't see it as a tradeoff. I see it as strengthening the options while retaining local control."
Nixon had been urged to sign the bill by several groups in favor of expanding charter schools in the state. When word of his decision was released Wednesday, Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, praised the move, saying in a statement:
“This legislation will provide more families across the state access to quality charter schools held accountable to high standards of academic performance and operational management. We are grateful to Gov. Nixon for signing the bill.”
Thaman said the bill would give more Missouri students access to quality charter schools “in a manner recognizing that families in unaccredited and provisionally accredited districts are seeking alternative public education options, while only vesting sponsorship authority with the locally elected school boards in fully accredited districts.”
A statement from the Missouri School Boards Association said:
"Charter schools in Missouri need to have greater accountability and this bill provides for that. We're pleased only local school boards can be the sponsors of charter schools in the vast majority of school districts in the state."
Besides St. Louis and Kansas City, the only Missouri public school district currently unaccredited is Riverview Gardens, which is being run by a special administrative board.
Nixon plans to sign the bill Wednesday night after addressing delegates participating in the annual Girls State program at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. The legislation takes effect Aug. 28.
The governor vetoed a separate education bill that would have transportation hardships for certain students living in St. Albans, St. Elizabeth or Gravois Mills.
The legislation would have established a process to make reassignment mandatory for any pupil or sibling of a pupil living in those towns, under certain conditions, including a minimum driving distance of at least 17 miles to the current school, when the other school is at least seven miles closer, and if the transfer will not cause the receiving district to exceed its class size restrictions.
Nixon said the bill creates an unfunded mandate that would violate the Hancock Amendment and would wrongly create an alternative set of rules governing pupil transfer and transportation.
“Existing law already establishes a reasoned process by which a pupil can be reassigned to another school district if the commissioner of education determines that the student faces an unreasonable transportation hardship,” his veto message said.
Nixon’s veto was criticized by Bill Randles, a Republican running for governor, who said in a statement:
"This is yet another example of Jay Nixon's subservience to the public education unions and lobby. It comes as no surprise that he prefers the bureaucracy over parents."