By Aaron North
The geographic restriction regarding charter public schools in Missouri may seriously limit the state's chance to access a portion of the $4 billion Race to the Top Fund set for initial distribution this year. Currently, charter schools are only allowed to operate and enroll students in the Kansas City School District and the city of St. Louis.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters, "States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund."
While Missouri does not impose a numerical cap on charter schools, relegating the charter model to only two urban districts serves as a geographic cap, limiting access to the charter model for students, families and communities outside the statutory boundaries.
Families and parent groups in Columbia, Springfield, Grain Valley, Riverview Gardens, Hickman Mills and Center school districts have all indicated support for exploring the charter option in their communities. The geographic cap imposed in Missouri not only limits the scope of public education options for thousands of children, it is now poised as an obstacle to significant K-12 funding benefiting all public schools in the state.
In that same interview last week, Duncan added, "To be clear, this administration is not looking to open unregulated and unaccountable schools."
The Missouri Charter Public School Association agrees with Duncan and supports student access to quality public school options. MCPSA worked to pass legislation this year articulating more clearly how charter schools can best be held accountable for performance outcomes and requiring charter oversight funding be used specifically for accountability programs.
Missouri has the statutory foundation in place to drive quality in the charter public school sector. In order to be part of the broader education reform initiative taking place across the country, and access significant funding to improve K-12 education for all students, the governor and General Assembly should work to lift the geographic cap restricting charter school access.
All students and families should be able to engage with public schools best meeting their needs, whether those schools are district or charter. Missouri has the chance to take an important step in that direction, but the window of opportunity can only be opened with effort and initiative on the part of state leaders to remove barriers restricting access to those options.
Aaron North is executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association in Kansas City.