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Missouri state senator proposes expanding charter schools statewide

By: - February 28, 2023 11:48 am

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, engages in debate in the Missouri Senate (photo courtesy of Missouri Senate Communications).

A state Senate committee debated Tuesday whether an expansion of charter schools would benefit Missouri’s students.

Sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, the legislation seeks to allow charter schools to open in municipalities with a population greater than 30,000 people or in a county with a charter form a government. His bill does not require a public school district’s sponsorship of the charter schools.

A charter school is a school that receives government funding but operates independently of the established state school system. Currently, state law allows charter schools to open in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Eigel said introducing charters to new locations would encourage accountability because parents would have more choices.

But Sen. Elaine Gannon, a De Soto Republican and former public school teacher, questioned Eigel’s conclusion.

“Do charter schools have more accountability than public schools?” she asked.“What about the charter schools that have been shut down because of, not just lost money, but because of theft?”

She didn’t pause long enough for him to answer.

“I’ve been up here for 11 years, and it’s just been slam public schools. Slam public schools. Slam public schools,” she said.


Eigel said he wanted to “empower parents with more options.”

“I’m looking at this through the lens of ‘We don’t want any competition for their government-run monopoly.’ That’s not a very efficient system,” he said.

Gannon said Eigel’s proposal would take “more money away from public education.”

“I don’t think you can tie outcomes to dollars,” Eigel said. “I don’t necessarily think that throwing more money at something leads to better outcomes.”

Conservative lobbyists and groups that advocate for public funding of private schools tesified in support of Eigel’s bill.

Cathy Jo Loy, a commissioner for the Missouri Charter Public School Commision, compared schools to providing meal options to her grandchildren and told a story about going to two fast-food restaurants.

“I think when we’re talking about choices, that we’re not necessarily disparaging the choices that are there,” she said.

Those in opposition included Mike Wood, a lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association.

“If there is a charter school, it should be sponsored by the local school board so there’s accountability and an election for tax dollars spent in that school,” he said.

Sen. Doug Beck, D-Afton, estimated that over half of charter schools in the state have closed.

“[Students] go back to the public school after the charter school fails,” he said. “The public school is still there after we bleed them dry.”

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, asked what happens to failing public schools.

“What happens when a charter school fails, and what happens when a public school fails?” he asked.

Wood said the district becomes unaccredited.


“So you tell me what’s more accountable: If a school gets shut down that’s failing kids or school stays open that’s failing kids,” Koenig said.

Lawmakers also asked Tammy Henderson, who works in community relations at the North Kansas City School District, about underperforming school districts.

She testified about watching the emergence of many high schools across the river from her district.

“What is the reasoning why we even went down the road of charter schools?” Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, asked her.

She said Kansas City public schools were unaccredited.

“How many kids have to fail, graduating not being able to read, before we do anything to figure this out?” Brattin said.

“That’s why we leave it in the areas that are struggling,” Henderson said. “Don’t apply it to all of us.”

Gannon said she agreed with Henderson’s statement.

“I don’t think charter schools are going to solve the problem,” Gannon said. “I think it comes down to the family, and how are we going to fix the family?”

The committee did not take action on the bill during its hearing Tuesday.

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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.