INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – Education advocates held a rally to “celebrate our independence in Independence” Thursday after Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill last week to improve Missouri’s virtual schooling and secure charter school funding.
The event was hosted by the Missouri chapter of the National Coalition for Public School Options (PSO) at Clinton’s Soda Fountain in Independence, Missouri.
House Bill 1552, sponsored by state Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, was signed by Parson on June 29 and was the centerpiece of the celebration. The bill expands opportunities for students in virtual schooling and increases charter school funding, while maintaining current funding for public schools.
Prior to the bill’s signing, the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP) required virtual students to be approved for the program by the resident school district’s superintendent. That allowed many superintendents to drag their feet when approving applicants, often ignoring or rejecting them because having fewer students doesn’t benefit the district.
HB 1552 now requires virtual schooling providers to have a contract with a Missouri school district. That district then becomes the “host district” for students enrolled through that virtual provider. This allows parents to apply for MOCAP directly through the virtual schooling provider, instead of going through a resident school district that has nothing to gain by approving students.
“There were families that wanted to enroll their children in a virtual platform full-time, and there were countless instances where (administrators) in those districts were intentionally holding up those application requests,” Richey, chairman of the Joint Committee on Education, said to the packed room. “So we knew we had to get that taken care of.
“We’ve had, in the last couple of years, a number of hearings where families would come in and explain just how frustrating it was on the virtual education side because of the gatekeeper component. When parents want a child enrolled full-time in virtual education, they’ve already decided not to relate themselves with the district school. So, to give that district the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t think you know what’s best for your child,’ is a problem.”
PSO Parent Leader Samoy Mainda and her daughter, Hannah, know about MOCAP’s prior issues with virtual schooling all too well. Hannah, who is entering the 7th grade this fall, has a learning disability that makes it difficult for her to learn in traditional classroom environments. She needs other resources that conventional schools don’t offer – resources that weren’t available until HB 1552’s signing.
Prior to living in Missouri, the Maindas lived in Michigan and Kansas – both of which offered resources and virtual schooling that accommodated Hannah. But when they arrived in the Show-Me State, the faulty application process caused Samoy to resort to homeschooling Hannah herself.
“One of the major drawbacks was that I couldn’t have those options for my daughter that we needed for her,” Mainda told The Heartlander about the inaccessible application process. “I could not believe that I couldn’t have a say in my daughter’s education. That was just something that I was not going to allow to happen.”
So, the mother of three took it upon herself to make sure someone was speaking to legislators about the issues at hand. In 2018, while six months pregnant with her second child, Mainda made a trip to the Capitol to speak at a hearing on access to virtual education – and continued coming to speak each chance she got.
It may have taken a few years to get done, but Mainda has been along for the fight the entire time.
“The passing of this bill will allow my daughter to be able to express herself and to not hold back on so many dreams and aspects of life that she really wants to pursue,” she said. “This bill also allows my family to have the opportunity to be completely involved in my daughter’s education.
“I can now say I’m officially a former homeschooling parent!” she said with glee.
HB 1552 also fixed a key element of the funding formula for Missouri schools, and makes sure that charter schools are funded in an “identical capacity” as public districts, Richey said.
Kansas City’s charter schools account for roughly 50% of the public school population in the city, while charter schools in St. Louis account for roughly 40%. Legislators argue that’s even more reason for Missouri to equally support charter schools and district schools.
“I think people sometimes have the mistaken notion that if you support a charter school or some other choice, that you are then not supportive of your public schools, but that’s just not true,” state Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, said at the rally. “What we’re saying is, for some people, some things work and some things don’t.
“I believe that we’ll always have public schools, and I think that we should always work to have good public schools. I also believe that charter schools are a great alternative for a lot of kids. But, above all of that, I believe parents should have the option to decide what is best for their children.”
Those at the event included multiple state legislators, local school board members and families participating in charter schools, virtual education and traditional school district settings. Representatives of virtual education providers, the Missouri Public Charter School Association, the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri, and the Missouri Federation for Children also showed up in support.
“We did it. We finally did it,” Mainda said – with a few joyful tears and a long-awaited sigh of relief.