House committee approves charter school expansion

February 02, 2024



JEFFERSON CITY — Bills seeking to expand charter schools into three Missouri counties were approved Monday by a House Special Committee on Education Reform.

The proposals were combined into one substitute bill after the committee voted to adopt an amendment by the committee chair, Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic. Committee members voted 7-2 in favor of the bills, with one member voting present.

The bills — sponsored by Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis, Rep. Justin Hicks, R-Lake St. Louis, and Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville — are identical in language except for population provisions to accommodate each of the sponsors’ districts.

The bills aim to expand access to charter schools to St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Boone County.

Reisch said she wasn’t too hopeful about the measure advancing in the upper chamber.

“I have no faith in the (Senate) or hopes that they can get anything done this year,” Reisch said.

But she was supportive of Davidson’s amendment.

“I think by combining three bills into one it will give it a better chance because it affects a broader base of students and parents and constituents,” she said.

Reisch’s bill would allow charter schools to operate within the Columbia Public Schools District without the local district’s sponsorship. The measure states that charter schools may operate in a school district with a population of more than 125,000 but less than 160,000. Columbia’s population is slightly greater than 126,000 people, according to the 2020 census from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bill’s fiscal note shows an estimated impact of $2,807,469 to $13,335,474, depending on the number of charter schools created and the number of students choosing to enroll. Fiscal notes are an estimate of the direct impact of bills required by Missouri law.

The average cost per student for the 2022-2023 school year for CPS was slightly less than $14,000. Because charter schools are public schools and are funded by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, expenditures will follow the student if they transfer out of CPS and into a charter school, resulting in a negative financial impact on CPS.

Reisch said charter schools are not the focal point of these bills but simply to provide parents another avenue.

“Am I a huge fan of charter schools? Not necessarily,” Reisch said. “I think it’s just another choice for the parents to have.”

Voting against the measure, Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, expressed disappointment.

“I’m dismayed that we can expand charter schools or propose to expand charter schools in Missouri … but we didn’t look hard enough to find the problems with the current charter school system,” Windham said.

Charter schools in Missouri were first authorized in 1998 with the passage of Senate Bill 781, sponsored by Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles. The measure limited their operation to metropolitan or urban school districts within a city with populations of more than 350,000 people. Each of the three bills accommodates that cap by including a provision that adjusts population figures to their proposed region.