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Boone County superintendents oppose charter schools as bill heads to House


The Missouri Senate passed a bill Thursday that could bring charter schools to Boone County.

Senate Bill 727 specifically mentions that school districts in Boone County would be added to the list of districts where a charter school could be operated.

A charter school is a free, public school that operates independently of any school district, according to the Missouri Charter Public School Commission. Families can choose to enroll children in charter schools and the schools receive funds per student, similar to that of a regular school district.

Boone County public schools are against bringing charter schools to Boone County. Columbia Public Schools spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said a charter school expansion would result in a loss of more than $15 million for Boone County public schools, but would likely be even higher.

Columbia Board of Education President Suzette Waters said no extra money would be coming from the state to help fund more public schools, but instead the money would just be more spread out. This would cause money to leave school districts when children choose to attend a charter school.

Waters said that loss of revenue could result in job cuts or the removal of certain extracurricular and career center offerings at CPS schools.

"There's two systems that the same amount of money is supporting, and you can't keep doing that for very long," Waters said. "You can't keep providing the same level service and have the same fixed costs with less revenue."

However, Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) said parents need options other than CPS. She said the district has been declining, and cited APR scores that are on the brink of being provisionally unaccredited.

CPS scored a 70.1% in DESE's APR scoring system this year. Due to a new system, this number doesn't decide accreditation this year. However, DESE's assistant commissioner said going forward, districts 70 and over will be considered fully accredited.

"These kids are behind," Toalson Reisch said. "There's fighting, it's just too many problems, so we saw the need to give parents a choice."

Toalson Reisch said she doesn't believe a charter school would hurt school district's bottom line.

"(CPS) has more money in reserves than they know what to do with," Toalson Reisch said. "They need to utilize that money better and focus on student improvement."

In a joint letter of opposition, superintendents asked legislators to keep public money and support for public schools. "Our public schools are the heart of our communities. Strong public schools mean strong, thriving communities," they wrote.

The letter, signed by the superintendents of CPS, Hallsville, Harrisburg, Sturgeon and Southern Boone school districts, said charter school laws need to be addressed before expansion, citing "inefficient" systems in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Those two cities are the only areas where charters now operate.

Baumstark said charter schools are not held to the same accountability, performance or financial standards as public school districts but both would be funded with taxpayer dollars. She said nearly half of charter schools in Missouri have closed because of poor academic performance or financial issues.

Waters said parents already have the option of school choice with private schools in the area. However, Toalson Reisch said many families can't afford private schools and are unable to homeschool.

She said she would like to see a charter school in northern Columbia around Interstate 70, saying northern CPS schools have a lower-income population and "horrific" test scores.

"I think we need to put the parents behind the steering wheel of their child's education," Toalson Reisch said.

But Waters said this choice is going to cost more than just the school districts. She said the only way to make up the loss of revenue to school districts would be to increase taxes for Boone County residents.

"Do people want to raise taxes to educate the same number of kids?" Waters said. "We're not talking about more kids, we're just talking about more cost."

CPS said passing legislation to create charter schools is leaving out the voice of Boone County voters.

"Voters made a choice to elect the school board and have also voted to approve levies and bonds to fund our public schools. By circumventing the authority of a locally elected board, the legislature is negating the choice voters made," Baumstark wrote in an email.

She also said charter schools have no oversight by elected officials, and therefore should not be permitted to handle millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

The Columbia Missouri National Education Association also opposes charter schools.

"We oppose measures that defund public schools by siphoning public funds to charter schools or tax vouchers. Furthermore, charter schools are not accountable to a community elected Board, nor are they required to serve every student, regardless of demographic or disability status. Taxpayer monies should go to our public schools!" Columbia MNEA President Noelle Gilzow said.

The bill, which includes many other statewide education reform policies, passed the Senate on Thursday and now heads to the House of Representatives.

Legislators are on Spring Break next week, but Toalson Reisch said she expects the bill to go to the House Education Committee soon after lawmakers return, and for it to move to the House floor within three-to-four weeks.

"I was in contact with the floor leader, Rep. John Patterson, this morning, and he said we will get this done and we will get it to the floor and get it passed," Toalson Reisch said.

The legislative session ends May 17.

The Senate Bill was supported by State Sen. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia). He told ABC 17 News in December that education reform is very important to him this legislative session, and he would like to see charter schools in Boone County.

"I personally would love to see the expansion of charter schools in Missouri, outside of just St. Louis and Kansas City," Rowden said. "I certainly would love to see one or two in Columbia, I think that would be a huge benefit to Boone County."

Waters said CPS is meeting with legislators and community leaders to try to inform people how this bill would cost Boone County residents.

She said while most of the education policies in the bill are beneficial, it will do more harm than good for Boone County.

"This legislation is like a big cake, and one piece of the cake has a big dead mouse in it," Waters said. "If you're not the school district that has the piece of cake that has the dead mouse in it, you don't care. You're just getting cake. But Boone County gets the piece of cake that has the dead mouse in it, and we don't want that."

Article Topic Follows: Missouri Politics

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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