By: John Downs, Superintendent of Hallsville R-IV School District

As the superintendent of a rural district, I’ve been told repeatedly the schools in Hallsville would not be impacted by charter school expansion. After all, proponents say, the charter school option only exists to offer choice in urban districts with “failing schools.” Such statements are incorrect. Charter school expansion negatively impacts all Missouri districts by diverting essential resources from our already critically underfunded public schools.

Missouri Senate Bill 727 (SB 727) was passed out of the Senate on March 14th and is expected to be voted on by the House of Representatives in the coming days. At more than 160 pages, the massive omnibus bill would enact many changes to our public education system. As is common in the capitol, compromises were made to get the bill across the Senate finish line, including the addition of some provisions that seem quite positive for public schools. However, the legislature has no concrete plan to fund the many programs in the bill, leaving our communities to wonder exactly how such olive-branch provisions can be sustained as Missouri’s fiscal cliff rapidly approaches.

One especially concerning provision of SB 727 targets only Boone County for charter school expansion. Charter schools are offered as a strategy to ostensibly improve school quality by increasing competition for student enrollments and encouraging innovation within those schools. However, the track record in our state does not support this as a reality. Our state has funded ineffective charter schools in Kansas City and St. Louis for more than two decades, and the legislature has made no measurable effort to fix this broken system.

Many of Missouri’s charter schools have closed due to poor academic performance. Some of these schools were operated by for-profit entities located outside Missouri. Such for-profit entities are primarily interested in minimizing costs in order to maximize profit. Missouri taxpayer dollars have enriched those elsewhere, while our children became collateral damage.
Although funded with taxpayer dollars, charter schools are not held to the same standards as traditional public schools.

Charter schools are legally required to accept all students, but historical demographic data shows that students with special needs and English learners are underrepresented in a number of charter schools. While our traditional public schools are committed to educating all children, charter schools appear to erect barriers that prevent the inclusion of students they might deem a challenge to educate.

Unlike our county schools, charter schools are not governed by a locally elected Board of Education. Community and state funds are diverted to these schools, outside the control of voters. Once established, the local community has no option to close a charter school, as that decision is left to the charter school’s sponsor. This represents the exact opposite of the local control our state holds dear.

We are all fortunate to live in a county that so strongly supports public education. Our communities repeatedly turn out to vote in favor of levy and bond issues that provide greatly needed resources to our school children. What our county has never done, however, is vote to fund charter schools that will have no accountability or transparency to its citizens. SB 727 seeks to establish charter schools in Boone County by circumventing the will of our communities.

Our children will not benefit by wedging the experiment known as charter schools into Boone County. Diverting public funds to charter schools will force our county schools to either cut programs for students or increase taxes to provide the services students already receive. Therefore, this unnecessary duplication of services will have the effect of actually reducing opportunities for our children. Rather than expanding a broken parallel system that drains vital resources, Missouri’s existing public school districts need to be fully supported as they strive to meet the needs of every student.

All citizens of Boone County should be concerned about the possibility of charter school expansion and the likely negative impacts on our children. Missouri’s state representatives must understand that such expansion, if allowed at all, should only be authorized through a vote of our communities. It is critical that all of us work together to ensure they receive that message.