Special Report: Charter School Checkup

How are charter schools performing in Missouri?

Special Report Charter School Checkup

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri lawmakers continue to push for charter school expansion across the state, but ABC 17's Deborah Kendrick took a closer look to find out how existing charter schools are performing in the show me state. 

Right now, charter schools are mainly in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. A charter school is an independent, public school. Charter schools are sponsored by an educational institution, and have a contract with that institution that outlines what performance goals the school will meet, or they face closure. Charter schools are public schools, so they receive state, federal and local tax dollars. Unlike local traditional public schools where school boards are elected; charter schools don't have to hold an election for board members, who also help oversee operations at the school. 

Just recently, the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education committee voted to advance charter school expansion. 

House Bill 2247 would allow charter schools in any school district that has at least one building with an annual performance score below 60 percent or less, for less than two of the three most recent reports available. 

For the last several years, expanding charter schools in Missouri has been at the center of Missouri legislation.

The Show Me Institute is a think tank in favor of seeing charter school expansion across the state. 

Susan Pendergrass, Director of Education Policy at the Show Me Institute, said "I think it's past due (referring to charter school expansion) for the whole state of Missouri," Pendergrass said. "Charter schools in Missouri are punitive. If you have low test scores you get a charter school and that's not really the way charter schools are designed to operate." 

Mike Lodewegen, Associate Executive Director for Government Affairs for the Missouri Association of School Administrators, said most understand the benefits charter schools could provide but the state needs to reexamine at the current charter school system first. 

"I think we need to look at performance and what is going on with charter schools we have had," he said. "To be honest, I think there is a lot of concern about the process and the requirements of charter schools and the laws that govern charter schools. We need to get some things correct before we ever talk about expanding to any other part of the state." 


ABC 17's Deborah Kendrick gathered data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary education website that showed mixed reviews for charter schools. 

Here is what the data shows for St. Louis: 

  • Nearly 42 percent, or six out of 14 charter schools that had enough data on the state's website, fell below St. Louis Public Schools' overall performance score of 68.2 percent. 
  • Nearly 57 percent, or eight out of the 14 charter schools that had enough data on the state's website outperformed St. Louis Public Schools overall performance score. 

Here is what the data shows for Kansas City:

  • 35 percent, or seven out of the 20 charter schools that had enough data on the state's website, fell below Kansas City Public Schools' overall performance score of 63.9 percent.
  • 65 percent, or 13 out of 20 charter schools that had enough data on the state's website, outperformed Kansas City Public Schools' overall performance score. 

Under proposed legislation, HB 2247, the data shows that five out of 34 schools could be at risk of shutting down, based on the past several years' data. 

Lodewegen said, "Since 1999, 21 schools have closed and we've wasted $620 million in state, local, and federal tax dollars." 

Kansas City Charter Schools:

Those in favor of charter schools say it will give parents more choices and small class sizes, among other benefits.

In Kansas City, charter schools are becoming popular. For the 2017-2018 school year, nearly 12,000 students are enrolled in charter schools, nearly 16,000 for Kansas City Public Schools. 

ABC 17's Deborah Kendrick visited two charter schools in Kansas City.

University Academy, a nationally recognized charter school and one of the state's top performing schools, says they attribute their success to staying focused on their mission of college prep. 

"I think we have really stable leadership," Tony Kline, superintendent of University Academy said. "A lot of our administration have been here five-plus years, and most of our students start with us in kindergarten and stay all the way through."

University Academy can hold a little more than 1,000 students, with a wait list nearly the same. However, across town it's a different story for DeLaSalle Charter School. The school struggled to reach above 200 students, causing the school to be on the financially stressed list. 

Dr. Elizabeth Sanders was recently hired to take over the charter school to help "fix" the school. Sanders said when she arrived the school was more than negative 7 percent into their reserves when they should by law be above 3 percent in reserves. The reasoning? Sanders said past administration said it was due to "ambitious goals" of having higher numbers. DeLaSalle is a alternative charter school that helps students that come from challenging backgrounds, or are falling behind. 

"When the students come to us, they come to us four to five years behind in regards to reading and math," Sanders said. "We cannot do magic, but what we can do is take that student and make them better than when they entered this school."

Essentially, what was happening over five years was the school was getting more money from the state because they were overprojecting their enrollment numbers. Now, the school is paying the state back for the difference, which resulted in school layoffs.

Since being placed on the financial stressed list, Sanders said they are on track for goals they set with the sponsor, UMKC. 

UMKC Charter Schools Director, Dr. Phyllis Chase sat down with ABC 17 News. Dr. Chase said since she's  been working with charter schools for the past five years, she has seen a greater focus on accountability with sponsors and schools, something opponents say isn't happening. 

"I think accountability does exist for charter schools at a much higher level than other public schools," Chase said. "Keep in mind there are state statue that say exactly what accountability will be and state statue indicates that if a school does not outperform the district in which it resides that school will close. The stakes are high."


Lodewegen told ABC 17 News there are several key laws that need to change within the current structure before lawmakers try to expand charter schools. 

"You really have to look at the process by which they are allowed to open, their governance structure and also some of their enrollment practices," he said. 

Lodewegen said some charter schools enrollment practices "inoculate themselves from a lot of poverty issues, and student mobility," because charter schools, he says, by law don't have to provide certain services, like transportation. 

One of the strongest arguments opponents have for not wanting charter schools to expand is that funding would be diverted from public schools and would therefore hinder other children. 

For example, Columbia Public Schools says if the district lost 100 kids to charter schools that could mean more than $800,000 gone, which could be equivalent to losing 14 teachers. 

Since charter schools opened in 1999, 71 charter schools have opened and 21 have closed. 

Comparing mid-Missouri schools:

Here is a comparison of how some mid-Missouri schools compare to Kansas City and St. Louis charter schools when it comes to overall performance scores in 2017.

Columbia: 84.3 percent

Jefferson City: 80 percent

Sturgeon: 94.6 percent

Fulton: 88.9 percent

Hallsville: 88.6 percent

Springfield: 83.9 percent

Independence: 95 percent

Blue Springs: 99.6 percent

St. Charles: 91.1 percent

For more on school overall performance scores, click here. 

For more on charter schools, click here.

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