Bureaucracy versus Education
“Bureaucracy is the death of any achievement.” – Albert Einstein
As the sponsor of Senate Bill 734, the purpose of the legislation is to ensure that children attending public charter schools in Kansas City and St. Louis City (the only places charters are allowed in Missouri) are funded to the same level as children attending traditional district schools in those areas. Even though both district schools and charter schools are public schools, funding is not equitable. According to information provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as well as the bill’s fiscal analysis, charter school enrollment in Kansas City is nearly 50% of all public school students. In addition, the information shows that charter schools receive about $625 less per student when compared to their public school counterparts. In St. Louis City, where charter school enrollment is nearly 40% of the City’s total number of public school students, that same information points to the fact that the City’s charter schools receive approximately $900 less per student than their fellow public school districts. Senate Bill 734 seeks to close that funding gap.
Currently, DESE calculates how much funding is dispersed per student according to a formula that includes both state and local tax revenues. Somehow, when charter school were authorized in Missouri, their funding was formulated differently, which accounts for the roughly $18 million they are currently underfunded annually when compared to other public school students.
It is unlikely SB 734 will receive a vote, much less pass this legislative session. From my perspective, public school supporters dislike competition and oppose any effort that would give parents options to their ZIP code-determined district school assignments. Once again, it appears the Legislature will not vote to expand charter schools throughout Missouri, or appropriate additional tax dollars to these public school entities through the budget process. In my opinion, opponents to the expansion of charter schools believe these institutions are less accountable when compared to traditional public schools. I believe this is an odd indictment since a student is not assigned to a charter school. Parents must choose them, and then if not satisfied, can choose another or attend their local district school. Nevertheless, in an attempt to satisfy such beliefs, there are measures in SB 734 to address such accountability charges.
There are a number of comparisons to support equitable funding reforms, but I believe these have failed to persuade district school superintendents who benefit from the current funding inequities and prefer to support the status quo. As you examine the following comparisons, which are based on annual performance reports provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, keep in mind how much more economically the charter schools are educating students: $625 less per student in KC and $900 less per student in St. Louis.
Charter Schools are:
- Public Schools,
- Open to all students through a non-discriminatory application and lottery process – NO ADMISSION TESTING;
- Required by law to provide special education and English as a Second Language instruction;
- Tuition-free; and
- Held accountable by the state academic performance requirements AND a legal sponsor contract.
Academic Performance (English/Language Arts & Math)
- 70% of the top 20 public schools in Kansas City and St. Louis are charter public schools.
- 75% of the top 20 English language arts public schools in Kansas City are charter public schools.
- 65% of the top 20 English language arts public schools in St. Louis are charter public schools.
- 65% of the top 20 math public schools in Kansas City and St. Louis are charter public schools.
- 63% of charter schools meet or exceeded the performance of their local district.
- Of the 99 district public schools in Kansas City and St. Louis, 74% fall below their overall district performance (proficient/advanced).
- 56% of BOTH Kansas City district public school students and Kansas City charter public school students are black.
- 28% of Kansas City district public school students are Hispanic and 27% of Kansas City charter public school students are Hispanic.
- 79% of St. Louis district public school students are black and 68% of St. Louis charter public school students are black.
- 5% of St. Louis district public school students are Hispanic and 7% of St. Louis charter public school students are Hispanic.
- In 2018-19, of the 4,907 student transfers in Kansas City, 77% were transfers from Kansas City district public schools while 23% were from Kansas City charter public schools.
- In 2018-19, of the 9,095 student transfers in St. Louis, 82% were transfers from St. Louis district public schools while 18% were from St. Louis charter public schools.
- Kansas City district public schools have a special education rate of 12%, and the Kansas City charter public schools have a special education rate of 9%.
- St. Louis district public schools have a special education rate of 15%, and the St. Louis charter public schools have a special education rate of 14%.
- In 2019, the Kansas City district public schools had a teacher certification percentage of 97% and the Kansas City charter public schools had a teacher certification percentage of 90%.
- In 2019, the St. Louis district public schools had a teacher certification percentage of 98% and the St. Louis charter public schools had a teacher certification percentage of 81%.
From my perspective, there are three questions that seem intuitive as a result of these statistics. First, why are the district school students, which are funded more, not performing better? Second, would equitable funding for charter schools allow their students to improve even more? Finally, why are district schools not starting their own charter schools and clamoring for charter school expansion throughout the rest of Missouri? Unfortunately, I believe the likely answer is that our state’s traditional public schools feel threatened by competition. In my opinion maybe it is time to start asking district school superintendents for answers.
Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. Thank you and we welcome your prayers for the proper application of state government.