Reading Between the Lines (Part 1)
In September the Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD) lost its accreditation after years of probation, lowered enrollment, and lack of improvement on annual state MAP tests. The most recent blow to the school district that has struggled for decades is perhaps the most oppressive yet as this news may send many children to neighboring accredited school districts, or— most likely--nearby charter schools, which many have claimed precipitated KCMSD’s decline since the Missouri Charter Schools act passed in 1998. The approval of charter schools arrived not long after federal court Judge Clark withdrew from the KCMSD desegregation suit after 12 years of poorly executed overspending. When the desegregation plan failed and Kansas City Schools—despite having state of the art facilities—continued to show no academic improvement, parents were left with only expensive private schools that they could not afford to send their children to.
Charter schools were initially conceived as facilities where progressive and innovative teaching could occur, free from the constraints of a large, centralized school district. The idea gained prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s as educational policy began to focus more on excellence than equity, as the reforms of the 1970s and early 1980s did (Stuart Wells 5). Charter schools became one of the ways for the nation to achieve excellent education because they would create competition in nearby school districts. Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter school law in 1992 and a number of states--including both Missouri and Kansas—eventually passed their own charter school laws.
According to the Center for Educational Reform, Missouri’s Charter School Law ranks 10th in the nation, receiving an overall grade of B for its restrictive laws concerning charter schools in the state’s two major urban school districts: Kansas City and St. Louis (Charter School Research). And the average spending per pupil for charter schools and traditional public school districts is about the same--$9,515 for charters, $9,585 for public schools . Missouri Charter School Law mandates that charter schools can only exist within the boundaries of the Kansas City, Missouri Public School District and the St. Louis, Missouri Public School District and charters must sponsored by a university—the three currently sponsoring charters in Kansas City are Penn Valley Community College, University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) and University of Central Missouri (UCM)—or a school district (Section 160-400). Charter Schools are subject to reviews every two years to examine how the schools manage public funds and follow the goals outlined in the schools’ charters, which must contain a description of pupil performance standards with a method to measure pupil progress. Within the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts an unlimited number of charters are allowed to exist.
Current law allows for a maximum of 20% uncertified faculty at a charter school (Section 160-420) so as to encourage community leaders and other professionals who may not necessarily have a teaching certificate but do have abundant experiences and knowledge, to educate children in charter schools. The only admission criteria charter schools are allowed to have are preferences for students who live within the school’s zip code.
Kansas City currently has the third largest percentage of students enrolled in charter schools behind New Orleans and Washington, DC. There are currently over 9,000 children enrolled in 20 local charter schools, which accounts for 32% of the school-aged children in the Kansas City, Missouri Public School District, though that figure will likely increase in coming months due to the district’s accreditation status. However, many district faithfuls have blamed the charter schools for the failures to meet adequate yearly progress on the charter schools, which they have accused of scooping up the good students of KCMSD, but without providing results that indicate the charters to be much better.
Wells, Amy Stuart, “Why Public Policy Fails to Live up to the Potential of Charter School Reform: An Introduction.” Where Charter School Policy Fails. New York: Teachers college Press, 2002.
photo from Wikimedia commons user Marlith