Missouri education systems criticized in House hearing to expand charter schools

(The Center Square) – A bill sponsor opened testimony before the Missouri House’s new Special Committee on Education Reform by stating the legislation wasn’t a condemnation of the state’s public schools.

“This is not an indictment,” Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis, and sponsor of House Bill 1485, said before mentioning his father served on a school board, his wife was a teacher, and his mother was a nurse in public schools.

But many who testified after Christ and members of the committee accused public schools of having multiple deficiencies and charged charter schools with a similar number of shortcomings. The two-hour hearing included testimony from more than a dozen people commenting on three bills proposing to allow expansion of charter schools into St. Louis and St. Charles counties and Columbia.

“For the last decade or more, we have a school that is more interested in DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion], CRT [critical race theory], [The] 1619 [Project], white privilege, standardized grading and allows kids to come to school to change their genders without their parents knowing,” said Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Columbia, and sponsor of House Bill 1941 to allow charter schools in her town. “They allow students to act like cats and dogs, even going as far as walking on all fours and being led around by a leash and including litter boxes. This is not fake news. This is not a lie. I have real documentation.”

House Bill 1764, sponsored by Rep. Justin Hicks, R-Lake St. Louis, would allow charters in St. Charles County. However, Hicks and other Republicans were criticized for introducing charter expansion.

“I’m a conservative and I’m speaking to the eight Republicans on this committee: I haven’t met a single parent in St. Charles County who has asked for a charter school,” said Lindi Williford, who testified she resided in the Wentzville School district. “Parents have been trying to reform government schools and you want us to pay for another government school? Except this time your government school doesn’t have an elected school board accountable to parents and taxpayers.”

There are currently 67 charter schools with 25,364 students in Missouri, according to the Missouri Charter Public School Association. Noah Devine, executive director of the association, quoted Stanford University research ranking Missouri charter school students seventh of 31 states in English and language arts and fifth in math.

“Missouri is not, unfortunately, near the top of many lists when it comes to education,” Divine said. “To be clear, charter schools are not perfect and I’m not arguing that. As a sector and across all institutions in Missouri, we have a long way to go where every kid is on grade level and has a path to economic prosperity. But the data is clear: on average charter schools outperform and have strong performance.”

Legislation passed in 1998 created charter schools in St. Louis and Kansas City as desegregation and busing city students to county schools was ended.

“Traditionally, charter schools in Missouri have been considered almost a punishment,” Brenda Talent, chief executive officer of the Show-Me Institute, testified. “If you were an unaccredited school district, then you were able to have a charter school. … But that’s not how they should be viewed. In all other states that have charter schools in rural and suburban areas, they’re not limited to underperforming school districts.”

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