Bill would equalize Missouri charter school funding

(The Center Square) – A bill moving through the Missouri Senate would provide equal funding for public and charter schools and not take away money from school districts with charter schools.

House Bill 1552 was substituted in the Senate last week and would require Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to give charter schools an amount equal to school districts.

“In the past, the big issue was they wanted to take a slice of funding from Kansas City and St. Louis,” Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, told reporters last week. “For now, instead of making their slice smaller, we made the whole pie bigger in the new bill.”

Charter schools will receive funding based on the school district’s average daily attendance, but school district attendance won’t include the daily attendance of the charter school.

A public school district is currently required by Missouri law to share state funding with charter schools within its geographic boundary. Lawmakers and education officials didn’t expect more than half of Kansas City students to attend charter schools.

“This bill would give charter school students access to the same funding streams as their non-charter school peers,” Susan Pendergrass, director of research and education policy at the Show-Me Institute, recently wrote on the organization’s blog. “In addition, it would send state aid to charter schools directly from the state, rather than routing the state money through the district in which a charter school is located. This funding change becomes critical when a district’s state aid amount is insufficient to cover the number of students in charter schools, as is currently the case in Kansas City. Charter schools can’t open or expand if the pot of money is limited. St. Louis is getting close to that point but isn’t quite there.”

The original bill delayed the law’s implementation until 2025, but the substitute is effective July 1, 2023.

“The big push from us, especially labor groups and everyone else, is the physical money that’s taken out of Kansas City and St. Louis schools to fund charters and that’s not going to happen,” Rizzo said. “I can’t tell you how big of a win that is. And so people are in a much better place than they were when we started.”

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said the state now has a greater responsibility for education funding but called the legislation a catalyst for change.

“We decided to take, basically, the calculation difference between funding in Kansas City and St. Louis, between traditional public schools and charters, and roll that into the foundation formula,” Rowden told reporters last week. “I think some of the concerns St. Louis Public (Schools) had that money was going away from them, well, now the state is taking on that burden. As somebody who believes in education reform who would love to see public and charter school treated as similarly as possible, we’re putting dollars in the formula to fully fund it and make sure these charters get the dollars they’re entitled to.”

The bill would require any management company operating a charter school in the state to be a nonprofit corporation. The bill would require charter schools to publish an annual performance report on the school’s website in a downloadable format.

The bill also would require members of the governing boards of a charter school to be Missouri residents. Any current member of a charter school’s governing board who doesn’t meet the residency requirement would be allowed to complete their term but couldn’t be renominated to the board.

“It’s a good compromise that delivers tangible results for the state of Missouri and education in the state,” Rizzo said. “I can’t say enough positive things about how hard everyone worked on this around the clock to try to get something done that was beneficial to both sides. I believe we did that.”

The bill was referred to the Senate’s Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee for a hearing on Monday, but it was canceled.

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