Charter School Legislation for 2012 Session Filed

MO State Capitol

The Missouri Charter Public School Association’s main piece of legislation has been filed for the 2012 session that began on January 4.  SB 576 increases the accountability of charter schools, and their sponsors, in the state and expand the locations where they may open.  SB 576 is sponsored by Senator Bill Stouffer and a similar House bill sponsored by Representative Tishaura Jones will be filed soon.

“These two bills have the potential to support and increase the quality of charter schools in St. Louis and Kansas City while opening access to charter schools for families in some other areas of the state,” said MCPSA Executive Director Douglas Thaman.

Measures increasing accountability include requiring a performance contract between the school and their sponsor.  This performance contract will be used as the basis for determining the performance of the charter school, including guiding decisions on renewal or non- renewal of the charter and closure of a school.

This legislation would also change the appeal process of the decision to close a school by a sponsor from a judicial appeal to an appeal to the State Board of Education.  This removes a potentially costly barrier to a sponsor deciding to close a poor performing charter school.  The legislation also requires additional planning in the areas of special education, parent grievance processes and procedures should the school close during the school’s initial chartering period.

Increased sponsor accountability is also a cornerstone of this legislation.  Under the proposed bills, sponsors would be evaluated every three years by the State Board of Education using standards of sponsorship.  New charter school sponsors would also have to be pre- approved by the State Board of Education under the proposed legislation.

These bills would also remove a disincentive for the State Board to exercise their authority under current law to revoke a sponsor’s right to sponsor schools.  Under current law, if the State Board takes this action under they assume sponsorship of the schools, something they have stated they do not have the capacity to manage.  The proposed pieces of legislation would move responsibility for schools whose sponsor has had their sponsorship rights revoked to the newly created Missouri Charter Public School Commission.

The Missouri Charter Public School Commission, created by this proposed legislation, would be a Gubernatorial appointed commission to sponsor charter schools in the state.  The Commission would be funded by the 1.5% piece of the funds received by their sponsored schools.  The Commission would have the same level of authority as any other current sponsor of charter schools.  Similar commissions are being implemented in states across the country to provide an intense focus on charter school authorizing and to streamline the authorizing process.

In addition to adding the Commission as a sponsor, the proposed legislation also would allow for private universities in Kansas City to be sponsors.  Private universities in St. Louis may sponsor charter schools under current law.  Certain two- year vocational or technical schools, and certain non- profits, would also be added as potential charter school sponsors under these two bills.

Another cornerstone of the proposed legislation is the expansion of the areas where charter schools could open.  Both bills would allow charter schools to open in any district that has been declared unaccredited or provisionally accredited by the State Board of Education.  Also, any accredited school district in the state would be allowed to sponsor a charter school within their district boundaries.  Nationally, school boards are some of the top authorizers of charter schools.  Currently, charter schools may operate only in the St. Louis and Kansas City Public School Districts.

The final cornerstone of MCPSA’s main pieces of legislation for the 2012 session is to increase the access of closed district buildings to those seeking to open, or expand a current, charter schools.  Language in this bill calls for charter schools to receive the right to lease or purchase a closed district building, at fair market value, prior to opening the building to other potential offers.  These buildings were built with public money for the purpose of public education.  Many residents in the neighborhoods where these closed buildings are located are seeking an educational use for the buildings.  This legislation seeks a middle ground to increase the access to the closed buildings, but realizes that the districts should be fairly compensated for those buildings.

“We believe that the parents who have entrusted Missouri’s charter public schools with the future of their children deserve nothing short of the quality education promised to them when they enrolled their child in a charter school.”  We look forward to working with our schools, parents and sponsors, as well as a coalition of stakeholder groups, to move this legislation forward,” added Thaman.

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