As more families choose charter schools, Missouri funding gap persists | Opinion

December 22, 2021 5:45 am

More than 90 bills have been filed in the Missouri legislature this year that would impose requirements or restrictions on public schools (Getty Images).

Missouri’s public-school kids deserve to be treated fairly.

Throughout the pandemic, our schools have gone above and beyond to provide critical resources, from laptops to hotspots, meals for families, and so much more. They worked tirelessly to keep us connected to our school community. It is time that they start receiving their fair share of public dollars to continue providing excellent education to our kids.

We as families are fortunate to live in St. Louis, where we have three public school options for our children. Our kids can attend the district school assigned to us by our zip code, apply to a magnet school (and hope to pass the entrance requirements), or we can choose to enroll them in a charter public school.

As a parent looking for the highest quality education for my children, I found a charter school that was the best choice for my child, offering a learning community that has been supportive of their needs all around.

However, choosing the right school for our children has had an unexpected cost. While charter public schools are publicly funded and open to all, their funding falls short compared to what district public schools receive.

In Missouri, public school students are supposed to be funded equitably at a certain number of dollars per student enrolled. This formula is intended to ensure that schools and students receive an equitable share of Missouri’s public dollars, but, unfortunately, it isn’t working. An unintended glitch in the law has caused this imbalance.

The good news is the Missouri Legislature could easily fix the problem by passing funding equity legislation – which is just what happened last year in the House, though the Senate didn’t take up the measure.

While charter public schools are publicly funded and open to all, their funding falls short compared to what district public schools receive.

This year, two such bills were pre-filed on December 1 in both the House and Senate, ahead of lawmakers’ return to Jefferson City next month.

The problem is significant, and the inequity grows with each passing year.

In St. Louis, 41 percent of public-school students now attend public charter schools – compared to just 7.5 percent in 2004-05, when the current charter funding formula was adopted.

In Kansas City, for the first time ever more students now attend charter public schools than district schools, a fivefold increase since the formula was set.

In St. Louis alone, this funding inequity impacts more than 12,219 children in our neighborhoods, yet many of our elected officials refuse to address our concerns; it’s as if our voices as taxpayers and their constituents don’t matter.

This year, St. Louis charter public school students – our kids – will receive $2,500 less than their district counterparts. In Kansas City, the 13,658 students at charter public schools, which are now the majority, receive $1,700 less than district students annually.

That adds up and it isn’t fair. With the missing funds, our charter schools could hire more teachers and counselors, add bus routes, and cover other needs.

As parents of public-school students, we believe our schools and our children should receive equitable funds. We aren’t asking for a tax increase. We’re asking for all Missouri’s public schools to be fairly funded.

We know our kids aren’t receiving a fair share of resources, and we know the legislature can fix it. We urge them to do so.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sara Irlbeck
Sara Irlbeck

Sara Irlbeck is a St. Louis charter school parent whose child attends the Grand Center Arts Academy.